I f you were a teenager who made over $1.2M in profit, imagine what you’d do with it. You’d have the whole rest of your life to learn, earn, and do it all over again. Sure, you’d invest some of the money. But what else would you do with it?
I know what I’d do. It involves a pit stop to a car dealership and renewing my passport.
These days, there is no shortage of young millionaires from all over the world. Despite all the fake ones on Instagram, there really are a lot of young, successful entrepreneurs out there making more money than they know what to do with.
I’m both jealous and captivated by these people because I was never that successful in my youth. One of these teens is Iman Gadzhi, founder of IAG Media and the Agency Incubator program. Online, he has a massive following of fans and students. When he made it big, do you know what his big money spend was?
It wasn’t a car or a fancy watch. It wasn’t even a trip to some exotic paradise. He paid for his mother’s expensive divorce. From there, the money kept rolling in and he drafted plans to make his second big expense: giving it away to an education charity.
This is ironic because Gadzhi is a 19-year old high school dropout.
The Education System Is Broken
Children do not learn in school; they are babysat. It takes maybe 50 hours to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. After that, students can teach themselves. Mainly what school does is to keep the children off the streets and out of the job market.
-John Taylor Gatto, NYC Teacher of the Year 1989-1991 and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991
When you think about our education system, there is plenty to appreciate about it. However, in the past few decades we’ve seen that it’s not entirely effective for a lot of individuals.
We’re all told in high school to be hell-bent on getting into a good college. Is that right? Educators are often told to teach to the test and to keep up with state standards. With all the antiquated forms of teaching, it’s a miracle that any real learning happens in classrooms these days.
When I think about Gadzhi from an educator’s point of view, I don’t think he failed out of school. The education system failed him. And schools fail millions of students a year because they don’t teach bright minds useful things.
But the education crisis in school is just scratching the surface.
Higher Education’s Increasingly Lower Value
Just like high school, many universities are top-heavy with theory and offer little in terms of real-life application. But the Yin and Yang of a good education is a cycle of voracious learning and authentic application. Unfortunately, most graduates have a lot of knowledge and pretty much nothing to show for it terms of authentic experiences.
They’re all Yin and no Yang.
As a business owner who hires people, I often don’t look at degrees or where someone graduated. We’ve all seen the “credential inflation” phenomenon that Professor Bryan Caplan talks about in his book The Case Against Education: Why The Education System Is A Waste Of Time And Money. Lots of people have generic degrees that provide little relevance to in-demand jobs. The stats back this up.
In a recent article by Business Insider, the author claims that since companies like Google, Apple, Netflix, and hundreds of other large national employers don’t require their employees to have college degrees “this could soon become an industry norm”.
Some highly influential business leaders seem to have take radical positions on education, for example:
There’s no need even to have a college degree . . . If someone graduates from a good university that may be an indication that they are capable of great things, but that is not necessarily the case. -Elon Musk
This is highly controversial because there are professions where we need people to have degrees and licenses, like medicine or engineering. However, to insist that everyone should prepare for and attend college is absurd.
As an employer myself, I look at what applicants have made. It’s okay if they don’t have a lot of experience, as long as they had some kind of relevant experience. And these experiences don’t necessarily have to be company-sponsored. I just want to know what they did and what results they got.
Before my first digital agency, I built several websites for free. That portfolio got me in the door to do paid work. I didn’t intern for anyone. I went from a total nobody to a technical lead in a few months. I figured if I just made things people wanted, someone would hire me and pay me well for my services.
What Gadzhi teaches in his courses is the one thing most universities forget to teach.
People pay for tangible results.
That’s exactly what the crew at AJ&Smart said when they hired Gadzhi as a marketing consultant. This award-winning international design agency hired a seventeen-year-old to teach them how to run their campaigns better and set up their sales funnels. They even flew him out to their business and paid him handsomely for his time. Why did they do this?
Results, results, results.
People pontificate all the time about why they think the education system is failing and how to fix it. There is no one answer and it’s very complex. However, one basic thing we must get right is what I just described above: teach a viable skillset and show students how to get good results from it. Allow students to make stuff, test out passion projects, fail often, and then make more stuff. This is what Gadzhi understood early on about education and it’s what he instills today.
Three SMMA Skills That Coincide With The Future Of Work
I have a feeling that even if Gadzhi’s niche wasn’t SMMA, he’d still provide an educational platform to help his students make millions doing something else.
Strategically embedded in Gadzhi’s Agency Incubator course are three vital skill sets that will benefit any student in any field. Master these skills and you’ll be a highly-marketable worker:
1. Leadership — Gadzhi constantly talks about personal leadership and group leadership. You have to master the self first. Managing others is the only way to scale and you have to personally be disciplined to do that. A lot of mindset and habit creation training is emphasized. You see, Gadzhi does not have small goals. He needs his community to think big and lead big to dramatically improve their personal lives, create a remarkable business, and lead missions to tackle the world’s toughest challenges.
2. Creative Problem-Solving — Not everything is templated and easy in business. We all know that no case study or situation is exactly the same. Therefore, to succeed in business and life you’ll need to have creative problem-solving skills to move forward. Like Marie Forleo has said, everything is figure-outable. Gadzhi’s approach to solving problems for his clients is very creative and his students are advised to adopt the same framework.
3. Sustainability — This concept is near and dear to Gadzhi. He doesn’t just want to build a business, he wants to build a legacy. He wants to build a business he’s proud of and that will get better over time. His legacy also extends beyond his needs or wants. (More on this topic later.)
These are three skill sets most people can master over time. However, not everyone has the means to do so.
Reforming Education From The Inside Out
In an interview with Espree Devora of the podcast We Are LA Tech, Gadzhi reveals that building schools for underserved children have always been a goal for him. In fact, it was one of his key motivations to master online marketing and the SMMA business model. Gadzhi said,
“One thing I don’t see enough of in the info product space is philanthropy, and that’s something that I really wanted to change. My mission is to reform the education system.”
Gadzhi’s idea of education reform has two levels. On the first level, we have first-world countries. Countries like America and The United Kingdom have an extreme advantage of course (despite some people not taking advantage of it). If you’re lucky enough to live in places like these, you have access to a great public and private education.
The only qualm Gadzhi has with this education system is that what they’re teaching isn’t right for everyone. A good foundational education is necessary, but where he draws the line is what we talked about previously. Some students just need to be exposed to more vocations and the skills taught should be useful in the real world too. For this reason, Gadzhi believes that at a certain level, self-education for in-demand skills should be stressed.
This is where Gadzhi’s education company shines. For example, in Agency Incubator (an SMMA course), he tells you exactly what clients are yearning for and what online skills you need to deliver this service. If you’re hard-working and just follow his lead, you can learn most of it on your own. In addition, he shows you how to scale a highly-profitable micro-business.
And Gadzhi practices what he preaches.
Working with real SMMA clients serves as a case study for his course material. With his agency team IAG Media, he takes on ambitious client projects to generate $50,000 to $300,0000 Return On Ad Spend (ROAS). He tests different Facebook Ad tactics, digital sales funnels, copywriting phrases, and Calls To Action. All these tests are meticulously documented and improved on a regular basis — and then he shares it all to the private Agency Incubator community.
In sum, everything he learns in the field he teaches in his courses, which is why so many of his students are incredibly successful. It’s a master course in problem-solution fit, product-market fit, customer validation, and profitability.
A lot of other SMMA educators either don’t have an agency anymore or they’re doing just servicing a few clients here and there. The majority of the money they make is by selling courses that become outdated within months. The truth is, Gadzhi would make far more money focusing on clients than attending to his online courses. In fact, his agency has a massive waitlist of big clients that he’s in no rush to talk to. Gadzhi’s education company and philanthropy work has to proportionately scale to satisfy his goals.
His modus operandi for reforming education in first-world countries is as follows:
“How can we get real education to as many people as possible? The vehicle in which they get it, or the lane of how they get it, that I’m not as concerned about just as long as they’re building their dream life.”
This is a strong motivator to create the most efficient and effective agency he can. His work on his agency and all the philanthropy work are in total synchronicity.
However, it’s not the only motivator. On the second level of Gadzhi’s idea of education reform he speaks directly to third-world countries. In his talk to Devora, he explains:
“If you have the internet and a computer, self-education is going to better than education, in my opinion. What about people that don’t have education at all?”
The Triple Bottom Line
As a teenager, I didn’t think much about others on a global scale. Like most people my age, it was all about me. What did I want and need? What can I get out of this? That’s what’s different about Gadzhi and his mission. Even before he was successful, he intended to selflessly make his mark in education and philanthropy. Gadzhi has more in common with a Native American tribal chief than his peers.
For example, the Iroquois Confederacy created the Great Law of “seven generations stewardship”. With every decision they make, they think seven generations ahead into the future.
Actions done today will impact children 200 years from now.
This immediately puts sustainability at the forefront of every decision. How will today’s actions impact the world now and into the future?
Modern businesses and organizations turn sustainability into a priority framework that honors The 3 P’s: People, Planet, Profit. It’s also known as The Triple Bottom Line. As you might have guessed, it’s a collection of best practices for creating a better future for all. And we’ve seen companies that excel at preserving the 3 P’s such as Tom’s Shoes and Warby Parker. Buy one, and give one.
You can even make your commitment to sustainability official. B Corporations are the hottest trend in certifying your company as a sustainable organization. The Honest Company, Patagonia, Allbirds, and nearly two-thousand more companies are certified B Corps.
What’s exciting is when smaller businesses, who are a far cry from a billion-dollar valuation, are operating with sustainability in mind. In online marketing and specifically SMMA, it’s unheard of. Besides the incredible results he achieves for clients, this is what really sets Gadzhi apart from everyone else. He lives the 3 P’s of The Triple Bottom Line.
PEOPLE: Make People The Core Of Your Work
Everyone in Gadzhi’s community knows how much he takes care of his people. He pays his team well and makes sure they have the necessary resources to consistently perform well. Beyond that, he’s known to lighten their workload if he notices their stress levels are too high. He passively monitors this from each employee’s Oura Ring.
If you’re in his private Facebook group for purchasing the Agency Incubator course, Gadzhi has three administrators at your disposal to field SMMA questions. Weekly, there are free coaching calls and his course modules encourage posting your thoughts or results on the Facebook group page.
It’s the strongest and most encouraging group I’ve ever been a part of.
Actually, I don’t think I would have been successful with my SMMA without it. This kind of work can be lonely and it’s nice to have a cheerful place to check in and talk business with supportive people. The course itself is great, but the culture is priceless.
However, Gadzhi’s ambitious goal is to take care of people he doesn’t even know. He’s building schools to provide basic education for those who don’t even have a seat at the table. Developed countries have advantages unfathomable to third-world countries. Building schools helps level the playing field of knowledge. This is the chief aim of social equity and it’s one of the most magnanimous ways to serve people.
PLANET: Keep The Planet Green
One of the great things about running a digital agency is that it’s extremely lean, which is one of Gadzhi’s most frequent words in his teachings. You can run a seven-figure agency with just one full-time person. Many of his Agency Incubator students have 2–3 part-time freelancers working on the business. This frees up the SMMA owner to just do focused work 2–4 hours a day. It sounds like a dream, but I’m wondering if it’s the standard within the SMMA community.
Because people work remotely, the overhead is low. There is no office space to house your employees. Everything is digital so there is no paper waste or harmful toxins involved. There is zero commute for employees because they’re working from home usually. All of these things make SMMA’s incredibly planet-friendly.
Now just think of the thousands of boutique agencies or service-based companies that demand big offices to impress their big clientele. To anyone in our community, we think that’s all a waste. The smartest clients just care about results.
The truth is that several virtual SMMA owners have major contracts with iconic brands around the globe, and they’re all working from their laptops at home. In fact, I wish more service industries ran this way. Sure, physically working with local teams is fantastic, but that’s what WeWork is for.
PROFIT: Making All Your Profit Count
While most businesses do what they can with philanthropy, few make it a top priority. And I don’t blame them. Business is hard. The first few years of business are spent trying to generate revenue and claim your stake in your industry. But what happens when you accomplish this sooner than expected? Moreover, what if making gobs of money is only part of your overall goal in business?
It’s a surreal pace at which six-figure SMMA owners are minted every month. Nearly all my close colleagues in Agency Incubator are making six figures or more. However, not everyone is rushing out to buy or lease the latest sports cars so they can post it on their Instagram stories. Gadzhi hasn’t even bought a car yet even though he could have a stable of supercars by now.
Your priorities are different when you want to change the world.
Suddenly, material things don’t matter as much.
Now granted, Gadzhi has become a true fan of horology. On any given day, he sports a watch that’s valued anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000. He lives in a nice apartment and travels frequently, but he saves and invests most of his money. So what does he do with the rest? He gives it away. Perhaps it’s better to view it as a sustainability investment.
That’s where Gadzhi and his education company is unique. Gadzhi has proven his business model, made millions from it, and teaches how to replicate his success to countless others. That’s where most online entrepreneurs stop. Gadzhi goes a step further and takes a large part of his profit to develop schools in Nepal. He calls this his Full-Circle Approach. So far, he’s donated over $150,000 to this cause. It takes about $50,000 to build a school so for this year alone Gadzhi has built three schools.
FACT: More than 11% of the world population is living in extreme poverty and struggling to fulfill the most basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation, to name a few. -The United Nations
The Future Of SMMA And Sustainability
The world seems to be coming to terms with some harsh realities about education and better methods to create a meaningful livelihood. Yes, we’re still dealing with different education ideologies, the $1.5T college debt epidemic, college drop-out rates, college grad underemployment, and overall unemployment.
There is no quick fix for these problems. However, one teenage entrepreneur has given us a partial solution. He offers a “conscious curriculum” built on doing our best to create an ethical business that serves our planet and people. For many, it has given us a glimpse into finally understanding what it means to be traditionally educated, self-educated, and truly fulfilled.
How many teenagers do you know that have a grasp of these epic world problems and are doing something about it?
Gadzhi might be one of just a few, but it’s a start. Regarding the global Triple Bottom Line movement, he’s a visionary and a change agent. And as an influencer in the SMMA world, in time a legion of his students will join him for this great cause in changing the world.
More schools will be built and the idea of social equity might actually exist. The result will be a good education for those underserved, and an alternative education for those interested in entrepreneurship (courses like Agency Incubator). Now if everyone did things the Gadzhi way, just think how much more fulfilling our world might be. He has indeed built a model business and way of life.
In December of this year (2019), for the first time Gadzhi and everyone in his staff will be taking a trip to Nepal. It will be a time to visit with impoverished children on the brink of getting three new schools fully funded by Gadzhi. So many of us in his community wish we could be there to witness this. But maybe we will be there one day too with our own staff and our own new schools.
Until that day, all I can think of is building a great business empire and the mantra that Gadzhi has set for us which reads:
“The only thing we leave on this earth is how much light we brought to it.” -Iman Gadzhi
Iman Gadzhi and the Grow Your Agency team would like to thank all the donors for their ongoing generosity and support for the charity work in Nepal. Also, a special thanks to Pahar Trust and executive director Alan Sweetman.
Become A Donor Or Get Involved. Visit Pahar Trust Nepal.
Update: 11 December 2019 — Images from the trip to Nepal.
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Arlie Peyton is a brand advisor and writer who has served as Oregon’s state representative for vocational education. He helps private clients and global companies tell brand stories that attract ideal customers. Learn more at arliepeyton.com.