Credit hacking has typically been synonymous with using unique techniques to legally take advantage of credit card offers, such as sign-up bonuses. Within this world, travel hacking, also known as “churning”, has amassed a cult following of over 200,000 travel enthusiasts on Reddit.
The basic principles are simple. Using credit card offers, you can receive bonuses, cash-back, and special deals that can lead to free travel and help offset often expensive annual credit card fees. Now, there is a new wave within the credit hacking world.
Shawn Sharma, a Cornell-grad-turned-influencer, investor, and credit entrepreneur, helps thousands of people build a foundation to take advantage of such offers. From improving credit scores and accessing lines of credit to fund businesses, he has amassed a loyal following of over 575,000 Instagram followers and did over 7 figures in business in 2019.
To learn more about this emerging industry and Shawn’s trade, I sat down with him to learn more.
1. How did you get started in “credit entrepreneurship”?
After dropping out of medical school, I was lucky enough to meet one of the pioneers in the industry and receive mentorship from him. This opened up a new world of possibilities and made me realize the incredible amount of resources available to people that take advantage of credit in the United States.
Part of my passion is educating people on the intricacies of credit and making it a familiar resource in their everyday lives. This was all learned through extreme trial and error, testing, and a curious passion that was refined by the mentors I had in the industry.
The saying goes that you need money to make money, and growing up in extreme poverty, having excellent credit and access to thousands in capital allowed me the chance to take action on ideas and opportunities that people think only the rich can do. Many people think that you have to grow up with privilege to build great things, but with credit everyone is on the same playing field. Regardless of your background or socioeconomic class, everyone has the chance to build their credit score up, and build several hundreds of thousands in credit limits.
2. How has the credit industry changed in the past few years?
There is a constant cat-and-mouse game occurring between credit card companies and savvy churners. This has caused limitations to be set about how many types of cards one person can open within a certain time period. Fortunately, there are thousands of banks and credit unions within the United States, and we still have the most generous rewards and airline miles programs of anywhere in the world. It is not uncommon to get upwards of 5% cashback on purchases made on a credit card. Combine this with any revenue-generating business, and you have a powerful tool to add margin and profit to any existing business.
Most people don’t realize the benefits of using credit cards responsibly and reaping the rewards. If you make sure to make payments before your statement closes, you will pay zero interest; however, all your purchases will still accrue miles, points, and cash-back. The average household that spends $40,000 a year, could expect to have access to another $2,000-$10,000 in rewards or cashback, when using their credit cards optimally and taking advantage of sign-up bonuses and promotional offers.
Of course, the biggest thing I would stress is making sure to pay zero interest. If you pay interest, then this will easily wipe away the returns. At the end of the day, these programs are marketing methods used to acquire customers and entice them to spend and accrue interest payments, but if you are a savvy consumer you can use the system to your benefit. Back in the day, these marketing practices would lead many people to get into debt and pay interest that far outweighed the rewards; however, these days there has been a vast improvement in the education around credit cards. Young people are realizing credit is not a negative thing, when used responsibly. People are increasingly beginning to be responsible with their credit and the community of credit card churners is growing massively.
These days there is also a new group of credit entrepreneurs that use credit cards and credit lines from banks to start and fund businesses that generate more profit than what is owed in interest. Obviously, this is not automatic and takes a real business model and special planning, but for the first time in history access to credit and business financing is actually quite easy. The trick is making sure your approach is professional and is backed by a good track record – this is where I focus my efforts.
3. How important is personal branding to your business?
It has been extremely important. There are many people selling services that overlap but social media and personal branding helps clients understand who they are dealing with and that it is a legitimate service. Gone are the days that people will pay a company without knowing who is the person behind it or checking out reviews. Social media allows customers to connect with owners and also observe social proof instantly.
Some of the biggest brands in the world were built on personal brands: Steve Jobs with Apple, Bill Gates with Microsoft, Ralph Lauren with Polo, Elon Musk with Tesla, Jeff Bezos with Amazon. People want to buy from someone whose face they’ve seen, their story they know, and someone they can trust. Back in the day, you had to have some celebrity or spend massive amounts of money to get your story out there and even have a chance of having a personal brand. These days, personal branding is free thanks to social media. If you are a business, and not pushing your personal brand or on social media, you need to begin doing so immediately; it’s really the modern version of a resume.
My relationships in social media often transgress to phone calls and in-person meetings. When people get to know me they are surprised to learn about my humble background and hard work leading me to get admitted and graduate from Cornell University. After Cornell, I dropped out of Medical School to support my family after my father passed away, and credit was the fuel to accelerate the businesses I started at this time. Being financially responsible and having excellent credit allowed me to take a shot at entrepreneurship and making my family’s life better, and it worked out for the best. Nowadays, I am passionate about credit because it gave me the opportunity to push my family out of poverty and I know if people have the same knowledge it can help them do the same.
Something I think that is so valuable when it comes to social media is that it allows me to show the world my story, and I think showing people your DNA adds a level of authenticity that gives you a massive competitive edge in the marketplace.
4. What are some important takeaways you have realized from your work?
First, I always try to give more value than I receive. This happens through advice, mentorship, and answering questions without anything expected in return. The more value you can provide, the more bonds you will create and that will ultimately lead to paying customers that trust and appreciate your work and skillset.
Second, I think the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is expecting immediate monetary returns for their work. Oftentimes, progress is immeasurable and isn’t always monetary. Other valuable forms of progress can be skill equity (building more skills), relationship equity (gaining a bigger network), brand equity (greater presence), amongst many other forms of progress. An easy mistake is to discount these things, and only focus on the money. Oftentimes, equity in these other areas will eventually transform into monetary compensation overnight, but if you quit or don’t value those areas of growth you will never get there.
Lastly, I think with the advent of technology and proliferation of knowledge at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to be involved in any business that we choose. As I’ve grown and become successful in many facets of my life, I’ve realized that it is important to be involved in activities that give back or help people in some way. This is why I am so passionate about the credit repair, business funding, and coaching services I offer. They may not always be my biggest monetary returns across 20+ businesses I have come to own and found; however, they are probably the most fulfilling activities I do. I love helping people, especially people who were once in my shoes. Despite having call centers and sales teams, my passion for helping others is one of the reasons I still will reach out to customers myself and sit down in the office and get work done.
If I could offer you just one piece of advice, I would say there are a billion ways to become successful and make money, so pick something that gives you fulfillment. It’s one of the only ways to stay working hard at something long enough to build an empire and get that “overnight” success.
5. What do you have planned in 2020?
The journey never stops. If you are truly passionate about your business, regardless of how far you come, you will always feel like you are just beginning. This year I am looking forward to bringing credit knowledge to millions of people and looking to impact more lives. The thing I am most excited about though is that I also plan to release my financial literacy course, and I will be giving it away completely free! Personal finance and credit are things that the education system does not teach us, but they are probably the most crucial aspects to success these days. I plan to do my part to help our country!