111
8 min 15 sec

Organic Chemist Earns Six Figures Blogging for Pre-Med Students

After witnessing the struggles that many students have with one of college’s most challenging subjects, a chemist creates a blog to help bridge the gap in knowledge.
Blog Education Science Writing

What It's About

After hitting a number of career dead ends during the economic recession, a chemist charts a new course offering online chemistry tutoring.

Business Model
Blog
Skills Required
Writing & Chemistry Instruction
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
High

Words of Wisdom

Lots of people want a business that makes money while they sleep, but in order to get there, James had to put in thousands of hours getting good at teaching people 1-on-1.

It was during that period that he got great at his craft and could also reflect on what was missing from the market. He then started building those products and sold them. 


Fun Fact

One of the things James' students had a hard time with was keeping all the "reagents" straight in organic chemistry, so his first product was a book called The Reagent Guide. The first version was a pretty basic, 68 page PDF created with a program called ChemDraw and fulfilled through Shopify, but he ended up making ten sales after emailing his 100 subscribers about it.

Notes from Chris

Episode 111

If you went to college or university or graduate school, sooner or later you had to declare a major. I originally thought that I’d be good at accounting, but that ended in disaster. Eventually I discovered sociology, and that stuck with me as something I was good at and enjoyed.

Today’s story is about an organic chemist who goes down a lot of different paths before he discovers his true calling tutoring pre-med students in organic chemistry and building a popular blog that serves millions of readers.

With a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry and a postdoc from MIT under his belt, James Ashenhurst was well on track to get a position in industry or academia. Unfortunately, the 2008 economic recession was also well on its way, and his job applications went nowhere fast.

Frustrated and uncertain of what to do next, he spent a lot of his free time in the local library "writing through" organic chemistry problems in his many notebooks. Despite how easily this subject came to him, he knew that there were a lot of students headed towards grad school who struggled with it, and that’s when decided to start tutoring. Better yet, he'd extend his reach by taking his services online. This was back in 2010, and almost nobody was doing it at the time in his field.

Over the next few years, he earned a good living doing online tutoring, but in his spare time, he worked on a related project: a free Wordpress blog on organic chemistry he’d created. He wrote articles and then used the articles to get organic search traffic.

Seven years later, his website continues to grow. Last month the site was the #10 most visited chemistry website in the world with 780k visits and around 1.2 million page views, and revenue is on pace for about 10% yearly growth. It's a healthy six-figure source of income—and yes, much of that income arrives while he sleeps.

The best part? He gets to write and think about a subject he loves, and he doesn’t have to answer to anyone except his readers.

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Quote of the Day
"One of the most important decisions I ever made was to take 2-3 months and move to a new city, live like a hermit, get "bored" and watch what I would do to entertain myself. I learned a lot about what I wanted, and it was very useful experimental data. "
—James Ashenhurst #SideHustleSchool

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Chris Guillebeau