“Hopefully, 5-10 years down the line, a big lesson from COVID-19 is that we don’t have to force curriculums down young people’s throats. Everything is available online – so why shouldn’t we let people choose their own destiny?”
Pausing for a moment to lean back in his chair, backed by the whimsical plant-covered wall of his new office and content studio, Ben Lee is in his element. He speaks with poise, excitedly, and it seems as though he needs to take pauses like this occasionally to collect his thoughts before they get too far out in front of him.
Lee moves fast: in thought, in speech, and in business. When he was 18, he climbed the ranks from busboy to manager of a nightclub making $20 million per year in revenue. When he started a digital agency, he scaled it from 2 engineers and a few laptops to over 150 employees, working with clients like Google and TikTok to generate 8 figures in revenue.
Over his decade of experience in the agency business, Lee has helped launch more than a thousand digital products, helped clients raise millions in funding, and even changed the way agencies do business by turning discovery work into a standalone, productized service offering. But now, standing at a crossroads both in his own career and in the world at large, Lee is changing course.
“I want to transform education,” he says. “Because let’s be real, we can do way better than we’re doing now.”
From Entrepreneur to Influencer
To realize that goal, Lee is shifting his energies into creating his own branded content. But this is far from the first time he’s made a foray into the influencer world. In fact, many users of LinkedIn may already recognize Lee from his fame on the platform.
“LinkedIn is where I first started to understand the influencer game, and it’s definitely what showed me the real power of what you can do with content,” he explains. “Oh, and for the record, I did not come up with the name broetry.”
He’s referencing a genre of content that he helped create and popularize on the platform, a format of posting based on short, emotionally vulnerable stories that deliver business or life lessons. When Lee and his contemporaries first created the ‘broetry’ format, it took over the social network and rocketed him to bona fide influencer status.
“Somehow, those stories just exploded on LinkedIn,” he says. “I would get millions of views and hundreds of thousands of engagements on each post – and I mean this growth happened over the course of weeks.”
But it was short-lived. The meteoric rise of the format provoked a round of negative media coverage where ‘broetry’ got its name, and shortly after, Lee found himself shadowbanned. LinkedIn changed its algorithm to penalize ‘boetry’-esque posts, and Lee’s traffic cratered.
“It’s come back since then, but it’ll never be what it was,” he says. “But hey, that’s what happens when you rely on one platform.”
Lee’s success on LinkedIn brought in untold new business for him and his agency. But now, he’s taking his expertise – both as an influencer and an entrepreneur – and channeling it into a new approach to e-learning.
School’s Out, but Class Is in Session
The inspiration for Lee’s new direction came, of all places, from TikTok. After testing different formats on the platform, he’s found a style for himself making short, snappy videos that explain basic concepts in finance, business, and entrepreneurship. He’s had videos about what banks do with deposited money go viral, and in the few months since creating his account, he’s amassed more than 40,000 followers on the social network.
“What I realized is, people are hungry for this kind of knowledge, but they aren’t getting it in a format that’s accessible to them,” he explains. “I’m trying to make it more accessible.”
But to him, the problem goes deeper than that.
“In so many ways, the conventional education system is designed to be the exact opposite of what young people need to thrive,” he says. “We need to learn to be more respectful and sensitive to everyone’s individual learning styles and preferences.”
One example he cites is the concept of “chronotypes,” or each individual’s own biological clock. People perform best at different times of the day, and many young people thrive in the evening rather than the morning. But with conventional schooling, students need to start studying as early as 7am each day – and a growing body of evidence suggests that this may have serious impacts on academic performance.
And of course, that’s not to mention the cost.
“At this point, I can get all the information I could ever want online, for free, immediately. But somehow a college degree costs $200,000? In what world does this make sense?”
Lee pictures an educational model that’s much more flexible, more personalized, and built on choice. He wants to help young people – and learners of any age – build their own roadmap to success.
A New Chapter & a New E-Course
Lee’s first venture in his new direction is the launch of a new e-course. Called “The Creative Playbook, it’s aimed at creative freelancers and entrepreneurs, distilling Lee’s 10+ years of experience in the agency business into actionable, combat-tested tactics to weather the storm of the COVID lockdown.
“What I really want to do here is disrupt all the wanna-be infopreneurs I see on Instagram,” says Lee. “We’re giving away basically $2,000 of value with this thing, all without any charge or even needing a credit card number.”
We got a chance to test the course ourselves, and it’s a genuine agency masterclass. It’s a true behind-the-scenes look into the playbook of an 8-figure agency owner, and what sets it apart is the level of detail. The section on LinkedIn alone showed us a whole new level of potential on the platform.
And, for now, it’s free.
“My executive coach thinks I’m nuts, but right now, I don’t have plans to monetize,” says Lee. “Honestly, I’m kicking myself a little that I’m not charging for this, but it’s something I feel good about. I’d rather build the audience faster and figure out monetization later – for now, my goal is to give away more value than anyone else on the Internet.”
Lee has lofty goals – there’s no denying that. And, if you didn’t know his professional history, it’d be easy to write him off.
But if his past is any indication of his future, that would be a mistake. Lee is someone who’s consistently exceeded expectations, even on his crazier-sounding ideas (starting a clothing line to turn his agency into a lifestyle brand, for one example).
He built his career by being a trailblazer, and now, Ben Lee is changing the game in online education. His new course takes digital creatives page by page through the playbook of one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the field – and as you can tell by talking to him, this is just the beginning.
“I’m already working on the next course,” he says. “I want to create a library – I want to take everything I’ve learned in 10+ years in the agency business and make it so anyone can replicate my success.”
Replicating Lee’s success may be a tall order. But Lee’s new move into online education is sure to inspire and empower a fresh crop of new entrepreneurs, and that, ultimately, is what he’s after.
“So many people helped me on my journey to get here,” he says. “And if I can get everything that I’ve learned out online, in a format that works for people, then who knows how many people that might help on theirs?”