- Thomas Frank used Notion to plan YouTube videos and later started playing around with the platform.
- Last year, selling his two Notion templates generated $1 million in revenue.
- He describes becoming the “go-to person” in his niche through starting with free resources.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Thomas Frank, who is from Denver, about selling templates for the note-taking software Notion. Insider verified his revenue with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve been making content online since 2010. In 2012, when I was a freshman in college, I started studying management-information systems.
It was right after the financial crisis, and my dad — and a lot of other people I knew — had lost their jobs. I went into college thinking I had to be hyper-competitive because the economy had tanked. I was reading every college-prep book that my library had, and I was working two part-time jobs.
I set up a blog called “College Info Geek” after applying to write for Life Hacker and being rejected. A few years after graduating, I was focusing on the same blog and trying to make it into the best resource for students in college to study better, to get better grades, and to interview more effectively for jobs.
Through doing that, I got interested in other kinds of media. I started my main YouTube channel in 2014 and started transitioning out of college-advice content. The channel currently has 2.8 million subscribers and focuses on productivity, organization, and life optimization.
As I expanded my team, I found that I needed writers, an editor, and a better system for tracking our video-production process. We then found Notion, a note-taking software platform.
It blew my mind when I realized Notion let me create a database that had all the shots I wanted in a video placed chronologically next to the script. I made a few videos about it on my main channel, which people liked.
For a while, I was just having fun making stuff in Notion. I had this hunger to understand its edges.
I even have a page on Notion called “Notion test ground,” with hundreds of internal pages.
I started giving away free templates, including our “Video Product Tracker” template, and a task-management template called “Ultimate Tasks.” We also built up an email newsletter with an audience of roughly 50,000 people around those free templates.
In 2020, I said, “Let’s try making a YouTube channel specifically about Notion.” That idea became “Thomas Frank Explains.”
I thought it would be interesting to see if I could build a super-niche channel. On my main channel, I only posted sponsored videos — there was pressure for every video to perform well because brands were paying for good performances.
In 2021, I launched my first paid-for Notion template, “Creator’s Companion,” on Gumroad, an e-commerce platform for selling digital products. That’s our YouTube-planning system turned into a Notion template.
At that point, “Thomas Frank Explains” had about 10,000 subscribers. But the template did well with minimal marketing, making around $15,000 a month in 2021. I let it run on autopilot because I was still focused on my main channel.
“Creator’s Companion” has always cost $140. If I don’t have to raise prices, I can get better distribution and bring in more sales at the same price. That way, we still make money, and things stay accessible.
I then launched “Ultimate Brain,” a project-management Notion template, in April 2022, which costs $49.
I also have a bundle for both “Creator’s Companion” and “Ultimate Brain,” which is $179.
I have never marketed either of my paid Notion templates on my main YouTube channel.
I don’t think the number of subscribers a channel has matters too much in today’s landscape, because the YouTube algorithm is now smart enough that, if your video’s getting traction, it’s going to promote your video to an audience far wider than your base.
In 2022, I made $1 million in revenue from selling “Creator’s Companion” and “Ultimate Brain.”
Our customers are in a range of different fields
We have creators doing theatrical work, another creating meditation content, and another creating B2B marketing content.
I wanted to offer active support for all my Notion templates from the beginning. There’s a lot that you can mess up if you don’t know what you’re doing, so I didn’t want to sell a complex template that doesn’t have support.
When I first launched “Ultimate Brain,” I spent six weeks doing full-time support myself, answering support-forum questions all day long, until I decided to hire for it.
It makes me better and more knowledgeable about Notion and my templates, because users will ask me questions that I wouldn’t have thought of.
I have a team of seven people. I made my first hire in 2016, my best friend Martin, who’s the main developer. I also have a video editor, another developer, an executive assistant, a director of operations, a chief operating officer, and a researcher.
If I’m developing a product, I like to work in short bursts from sunrise until about 9 p.m. Other times, I might decide to take a half day and take my dog for a walk. Recently, since I’m not in burst mode, I’ve been working from about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. from my converted garage studio.
The Notion community has had copying problems before
My strict rule for myself is to not look at other people’s templates to avoid any — even unintentional — copying. I wouldn’t want a smaller creator to think I’ve copied their work. So, I don’t look at templates, not even templates of creators who ask me to check theirs out.
I also don’t worry too much about people copying me — it happens in every industry. I think the people who copy templates don’t understand the guts of them. So, they’re not going to be able to do things like provide active support or add new features because they don’t understand the tool as well as somebody who built it from scratch.
If you become the go-to person in an industry where there is demand, and you put out free resources and help people even if they’re not paying, people are going to think of you and buy your products.