HomeNewsThe Digital Nomad’s Guide to High-Income Skills and Making Money Online

The Digital Nomad’s Guide to High-Income Skills and Making Money Online

[ad_1]

Learning high-income skills can help you make money online—and a LOT of it! Just ask today’s guest, who worked not one but SEVEN internships to develop professional skills that would help her launch several successful online businesses down the road!

Welcome back to the BiggerPockets Money podcast! Jo Franco is an entrepreneur, YouTuber, podcast host, and digital nomad with multiple income streams. Born to undocumented immigrants, Jo didn’t have much growing up other than her family and a chance to pursue the American Dream, but what she lacked in money and resources, she made up for in pure work ethic. Throughout her teens and twenties, Jo worked all kinds of jobs, side hustles, gigs, and internships that allowed her to save money and even travel the world for FREE.

Since then, Jo has had her own Netflix show, built a successful YouTube channel, and launched her own journaling company. In this episode, she shares exactly how she made all of this happen, the keys to her success, and important money management tips for entrepreneurs. She also talks about the biggest mistake she has made in her career to date: hiring the wrong people!

Mindy:
Hello, my dear listeners, and welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. My name is Mindy Jensen, and with me as always is my single-language-speaking co-host, Scott Trench.

Scott:
Thanks, Mindy. I only speak English, but I am financially illiterate.

Mindy:
Ooh, that’s good, Scott.

Scott:
Mindy and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone no matter when or where you’re starting.

Mindy:
Today’s show is a conversation with Jo Franco, who is a traveling language learning entrepreneur. Jo designed her career to fit her calling and not the other way around.

Scott:
Today, you’re going to hear about the power of leveraging whatever situation you’re in to learn new skills for free and some creative ways to get paid to build your dream life. You’re also going to learn if you want to get all in to entrepreneurship and the opportunistic nature of that entrepreneurial journeys entail, you’re going to have to plan your finances different than somebody who has a W2 job and is going in a more traditional career path.

Mindy:
If you feel like you’re behind in life or you don’t have the talent to succeed or don’t even know what you want to do, Jo’s story is proof that no one is starting from nothing. We all have something that we can offer to get skills in return, whether it’s time, money, curiosity, connections, and if you learn to leverage whatever resource you have, you can build a life that is fit for you and you don’t have to resort to the traditional paths of wealth building and gaining freedom. In short, if you love a really great story, this episode is for you.
Jo Franco, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today.

Jo:
I’m so happy to be here. You guys give some really good tips, so it’s honestly an honor. It’s an honor to be here.

Mindy:
Jo, today, you are the founder of a young and growing company and you travel the world and you speak a ton of languages, but before that, you grew up as an undocumented immigrant in Connecticut. Can you tell us more about your childhood and what it looked like and how growing up undocumented shaped how you are now?

Jo:
I love that question, Mindy, because we’re starting at the root. A lot of people only like to look at the success when it’s already in existence, but all good stories come with a backstory, and my backstory is pretty crazy because I wasn’t even supposed to be speaking English. All my family is Brazilian. There was no connection to the US other than the fact that my mom’s brother moved to create a better life for himself and his family. So around 1998, I was five years old, my mom basically just asked me and my two older siblings, “Hey, how would you guys like to go on an adventure?” and me being five, I was like, “Yeah. Adventure? Sounds fun.” Cut to we’re in a plane going to some far away place where no one understands us, people don’t look like us, it’s very cold. I figured out what a Walmart was, and this trickled into this giant secret life that we had to live as kids.
For 12 years, we were undocumented. My mom was opening processes with lawyers and just trying to get our proper documentation, and that was really the setting. That was the moment where I started traveling mentally through learning languages, through looking at pictures and textbooks of what life could be like abroad. Ever since then, I’ve been traveling around. Obviously, I had to get my green card, so that happened around age 18, but the foundation of why I love languages, why I love travel, why I love meeting people comes from that young version of myself where I couldn’t do most of those things.

Scott:
This is a really fascinating situation that you found yourself in growing up here. What was the impact of living the secret life on your relationship with money and recollections you have around that time?

Jo:
If there are people out there who have any connection to immigration or they’re first gen kids or they’re the ones themselves who moved abroad, it’s really obvious from the very beginning that if you do not speak the language, you will not understand how to hack the systems when it comes to finances. So as a kid, we worked night and day, and my mom, she went from having two degrees in Brazil speaking French, speaking all of these cool languages, she went to the states where she didn’t speak English. So that’s the irony. My mom basically abandoned all that was useful in hopes of creating this American dream for her kids, but became a nanny and a housekeeper.
So as a kid, we would go clean with her on the office weekends. That was her bonding. She was like, “Oh, come on, kids, put the vacuum in the car. Let’s go hang out and clean the office.” I remember thinking, I was like eight years old when this started, I remember thinking this was normal. This is just like what people did on the weekends. They would go clean offices, clean houses, and it was fun. It wasn’t even like a treacherous thing for us because we did make it fun, and my mom started paying us. So my mom would pay us 20 bucks every time we clean the office. Then that payment started getting a little bit higher. I realized as a very young kid that if I didn’t spend my money the next week, I’d have double. I swear that was what created Investor Joanna because I just saw this magic of building your savings.

Mindy:
I love that, and I love what you said just a moment ago, “I didn’t know any better. This was my normal. This is what I thought was normal.” To everybody listening, how you grew up is normal to you. I love that you didn’t resent her for taking your weekends. You’re like, “I get to hang out with my mom and I’m going to earn 20 bucks.” 20 bucks, that’s a lot. I love that your mom paid you.

Jo:
Yeah, and she really wanted to teach us the power of independence from young, young ages. It was basically like if you show up and you do the hard work, you’ll get rewarded for it. Then when I was around 16, she started this painting company. So imagine me 16-year-old Jo, I’m carrying buckets of paint, scaffolding, rags, and I am painting. Now, this was paid hourly. So she was paying us $10 an hour, and I was in there for 12 hours not even complaining because I would leave with 120 bucks. So all summer long, I would actively choose to work and help my mom, one because she needed it, but two, because I love the money.

Scott:
What were you doing with this money that you were earning hand over fist here on these 12-hour days in the weekends and all day during the summer?

Jo:
I was saving it for a rainy day. A really big pivotal moment in my money story, it sounds superficial, but it was around prom. So I was going to my senior prom. So in addition to helping my mom on the weekends and during the summers, I also opted in to have two jobs after school when I turned 16. So I worked at a pharmacy and at a chiropractor, both of which were paid. So I was just saving, saving, saving, saving, saving. Then it’s like around February and prom was happening later that year, maybe in May, and I decided that I wanted to buy my own prom dress. I didn’t want my mom to have a say in what I looked like.
So it was like, again, she created a monster. She even says this. She’s like, “I created a monster who is so independent that she doesn’t even want her own mother to help her buy this coming of age dress.” So what did I do? I went behind my mom’s back, went by myself to the most expensive dress store in a bougie town in Connecticut, and I found my prom dress. I put it on layaway, and I paid 60 bucks every single month for four months until the dress was paid off, and it came maybe around May. My mom’s like, “So is it time to go dress shopping for prom?” and I’m like, “No, I already bought the dress.” She was like, “What?” I go to the closet and take out this beautiful giant designer dress, and she’s like, “That thing is hideous. We’re going to go buy you a dress right now.”
So I saw what money could do. I saw that the person who controls the finances controls the decision, and I’ve never stopped believing in that ever since. I think my work experience as a kid and as a teenager was so transformative and so critical that I wasn’t afraid of working. So this set up the rest of my life because the minute I go into college, I’m looking for work study jobs, which then pivoted into internships, which then got me seven amazing internships that taught me all kinds of skills from pitching executives, understanding how to edit videos, which then led me to pitch my own show, which got denied, but then I started a YouTube channel, which turned into a million subscribers, which then got me discovered on a Netflix show, and then the rest is history. So again, it all started with cleaning a toilet and it pivoted into this amazing global life.

Scott:
You touched on a chain reaction of events that led to astronomical success, and I’d love to just unwind and break that down, these seven internships, and the path from the high school prom dress to where you are today in a lot more detail. I’d love to know, while we’re going through that journey, what were you wanting? Was it always a dream to get to where you are right now? Was that your goal or was there a lot of happenstance along the way?

Jo:
So to backtrack a little bit, when you grow up with this immigrant story, you know that there was a mass amount of sacrifice. There was a giant sacrifice that your parents made, that your grandparents made, that everybody made for you, especially when you’re the child, for you to receive the opportunities to make a better life for yourself. So we all grew up with that narrative of like, “We came here for a reason. You have to make it count.” While there was pressure, it wasn’t like my mom put the pressure on us because all three of us, we did have that pressure internally because we saw how much she worked. We saw what happens behind the scenes.
So I think there was partially that immigrant pressure, that immigrant guilt that if all of this sacrifice was made, it must be for something. So with that in the back of my mind, I was like, “Okay. Well, what do I do to take myself to the next level?” I stress this because I think the difference between somebody who lives an ordinary life and an extraordinary life is the person who’s thinking, “Well, what can I do?” It’s this curiosity. When you ask yourself, “Well, what can I do? Who can I reach out to? Is there an event that’s happening?” those questions at all stages in my life have led me to the next chapter.
So I was asking myself, “Well, what can I do to get ahead before college?” I reached out to my mom’s boss. So my mom had raised four kids in Connecticut. The father of the family owned a marketing agency. We did not interact. They were lovely to us. They would send us holiday gifts. They were a distant part of our family from a very different financial background. They lived in a mansion. My mom cleaned their house. I would go over in the summer, clean their kids’ playroom. It was a wild situation to see the difference.
Anyways, I emailed him directly. I was like, “Hey, Mr. Mark. I’m going to college next summer. Can I please intern for you the summer before because I want to get ahead.” He’s like, “Joanna, show up with your brother on Monday morning. Consider yourself an intern at our marketing agency.” My brother had a job working for them as well because it was basically an understated agreement like, “You take care of my kids, I’ll take care of yours.” So I can’t stress enough how important having these guardian angels and these mentors from a distance has changed my journey as well, but it all started with me asking, “Well, what can I do to get ahead?”

Scott:
It also probably had to start with the guy seeing how hard you’re working as well, and the interactions that you had and the impressions that you’ve built over probably many hours to get to that. That’s an awesome … So this is the first step in this chain reaction of moving beyond the hard work and perseverance to opportunities to really begin moving the cycle forward is what I’m hearing here. So how does that go and what happens next?

Jo:
So I started interning. I didn’t know if I was going to get paid. I wasn’t doing it for the money. It was all for the knowledge. I worked every single day for three months, going 9:00 AM, leaving at 8:00 PM. At the last day of the internship, he gives me a check. I forgot the amount, but I remember it was thousands of dollars. It was around like $5,000. He’s like, “Joanna, if you ever need a job, consider yourself an employee here. You carried yourself more professionally than most of my executives. Have a great time in college.” I was just like, “What?” So again, it was doing the thing not expecting a reward and getting this giant gift because I had no savings. I was working a bunch, but I might’ve had a few hundred bucks in savings.
So I go to college. Before even getting to college, I looked up work study jobs, started working for the business school. I studied business, and because I worked for the business school, I became friends with a dean that approved internships. Normally, you could only get an internship as a junior, but because the dean saw me on the day-to-day basis, she signed off and said, “Yes, you can intern as a freshman.” So right second semester, right off the bat, I had this internship, Madison Avenue at a PR agency, and that was the first of my seven internships where I was always the youngest, always the only woman of color, always the one that came with this different background, but it was an amazing privilege because I was able to see a bit of how the world worked in these different industries.
So I did PR, learned about press, press releases, learned that world. I was gifting celebrities. Then I was like, “Eh, this isn’t for me,” but I gained some skills, and then I did another internship and had sales. I interned at NBCUniversal. I saw them selling ads. I was like, “Hmm, they’re not really selling social media. The person who knows how to monetize social media will be rich.” I go to Paris, and this is when I realized, “I don’t know if I want to work for anybody else,” and this is when I start making YouTube videos, but I still continue to intern in addition to making YouTube videos and going to college.
So I could go on and on, but basically across the seven internships, every single opportunity gave me another nugget of either skill or wisdom that opened the next door to be like, “Oh, I know how to write pitches. I noticed that people actually just cold email. It’s not a big deal. Just send the freaking email.”

Scott:
I have a question here because you have these seven internships while you’re in college, and you have a YouTube channel that’s starting at this point in time, you have all these ideas. I have a two-part question here. One is, what happened with your money situation during college? How were you funding these things? Were you getting paid well from these internships and being able to save up a lot? Second, and perhaps related, why did you decide not to take a job up after graduation when you worked so hard to land one?

Jo:
So I went to college back in 2010 where unpaid internships were way too fashionable. Again, I come from this background of being a workhorse. So I would get paid in skill and knowledge any day because I would then leverage the skill and knowledge to either open the next internship door or eventually make money. I just had a belief that knowing things and having skills was better than not knowing things and not having skills.
So when I got to college, I chose the most expensive option, which was foolish, but again, it’s just like that prom dress, I want the best for myself. I don’t know where this particular sense of conviction came from because my mom was like, “Joanna, you’ve spoiled yourself. I never spoiled you. You have spoiled yourself.” Usually, when people come from financially straining backgrounds, they would choose to go to college in state, they would apply for scholarships, they would go to a public school. I chose to go out of state in New York City in a private university. So I honestly chose the most expensive option, and I wasn’t even a citizen when I first applied, which believe it or not, when you’re a US citizen, it gives you more money from the government. I didn’t apply for any of the federal Pell grants or anything in the first year.
Coming into college, I was taking out about $25,000. The university cost around 54K. So I got half of it covered with scholarships like merit-based scholarships, but the other half, I had to take out loans. I had to take out loans in both my name and my mom’s name, but I told my mom, “I will pay this and this is it.” I heard somebody tell me, “Pay the interest immediately as soon as the loans start ticking.” So from the very beginning, I was already paying $200 a month on interest on my loan and a few hundred bucks on her loan that I was paying for her through her name. It was all kinds of complicated and mostly because they don’t let students take out such a large amount, but I had that in the back of my mind. I had those dollars racking up. That compounded interest, it was horrifying.
Second year, I decided to study abroad in Paris, and I found out that it was actually cheaper for me to study abroad in Paris for the semester than do a semester in my university. How crazy is that? So that saved me a bunch of money, but it was still scary because in Paris I couldn’t work. I tried. I tried to get jobs, I spoke French and no one was hiring me, but this is when I used all that free time to start the YouTube channel, which wasn’t making money at the time, but I was determined to make it something.
I go back to college. I applied for an RA position, a resident advising position before I even studied abroad. They were like, “Joanna, have fun in Paris. You got the job.” So when I come back from Paris, I go into a summer paid internship. Right after that, I go into RA training. I become a resident advisor for the next two years of college, and this sheds basically the other half of the tuition that wasn’t covered, and I was now a US citizen, which took care of the other chunk. All in all, I ended up leaving college with $65,000 of debt mostly from that first year, but every student job that was available I would apply for and I would get orientation leading. I was a desk attendant over the summer to get free housing and a resident advisor. I was speaking on panels. I was hustling.

Scott:
So I think that answers part of the question here in the hustling, but how were you traveling so often when you didn’t have any of these resources and had this debt and making this big name for yourself?

Jo:
In addition to all the internships, because most of them were unpaid, I used to have jobs outside of those internships. So I had jobs as a host in a restaurant in the meat packing industry. Then eventually, I got a job as a front desk agent at a hostel, and this was right after I studied abroad. I got the job and I was practicing my languages at the front desk, but then one day I was like, “Hmm, I wonder if I can pitch the GM of this hostel,” which it’s a part of a giant network of hostels around the world, “I wonder if I can pitch them to make promotional videos in exchange for the travel.” I had a meeting with a GM and it was just like another meeting with another powerful person where you’re nervous, but you’re like, “What do I have to lose? If they say yes, it’s more than I have today, and so I’m going to just go for it.”
Next scene is him saying, “Great. We’re going to fly you to three locations. Where do you want to go?” So it’s like California because it’s freaking cold, Madison, Wisconsin because it was close to my business partner’s state, and I think we went to … Oh, and Chicago just because it was different. This started, I started bartering. So then it was like, “Okay. I have this skill of making videos. Can I make a video for you in exchange for you to cover my accommodation?” Then it trickled into a three-month project with a Spanish language school where they sent us to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. They didn’t pay us, but they paid for the school. So I went to school and had to make videos. The accommodation was paid for. I paid for the flights, and this was the bank of content that we needed to start really taking our YouTube channel to the next level. So it was all bartering in the beginning.

Mindy:
This is just another example of you having the courage to ask the question, “Can I do this?” and look at all that you have. What did you just say? “If they say yes, it’s more than I had before. It’s more than I have right now.” What a great mindset. I love that so much.

Jo:
Thank you. It’s funny listening to this too because I’m 31 now, so these stories are from when I was 17 all throughout my early 20s. So around 2015, I graduated university in 2014, graduated with a business degree, a minor in sociology, the show I would travel around to pitch television executives. So I wasn’t just cold pitching now for work stuff, I was cold pitching to get in front of TV executives to say, “Hey, I have this travel show for young travel hosts that are multilingual.” I had maybe three or four professional pitches, the kind that you usually need to have an agent or a manager to get in the room because a lot of these executives, they won’t accept unsolicited pitches.
I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have an agent, but I would find the contacts. I flew to LA back and forth maybe three times to pitch in LA, and the other two times were in New York, and I kept getting nos. I got the last no the day I was graduating college, the day, in the theater. I remember shedding one tear and being like, “Oh, my God, why is this so hard?” Then I wiped the tear away. I went up on stage, collected my diploma, and I was like, “This will be just like everything else. I just have to make it happen myself. There is no golden ticket for me. I just need to do what I’ve learned to do, work, just work very hard for a very long time and one day hopefully it’ll pay off,” and it did.

Scott:
So you were offered a job following college, and you had a choice right around this moment when you graduated here. Can you walk us through the decision you made not to pursue that job and instead going to business for yourself?

Jo:
So there was a bit of a grace period. Right after I graduated college, I knew that the TV route that I was pursuing was a no-go, which was the traditional pitching, waiting for executives to green light, working … I knew that that was not the way for me at the time, but I did need to make money and I also wanted to live in the city until I figured out what the next step was. So I actually applied for a job two years prior. It was so weird. I applied to a job because, again, the universe throws bones at you. When I was a junior in college working at the hostel, a woman comes in, and she’s this fancy looking woman from Sweden. She’s like, “Oh, I’m here to do the scouting trip. I work for So-and-So. It’s a travel management company.” I was like, “What’s a travel management company?”
I learned that people get paid to go on trips to Scout for other companies. So immediately I was like, “Travel management companies New York City.” I found this company and they booked corporate travel. So I applied when I was a junior in college. I do not hear from them until I graduated senior, and they’re like, “Hey, we actually have a job opening. Can you come in for an interview?” At the time, I was working delivering groceries. I was one of the first Instacarters. I was doing the weirdest odd jobs on Craigslist because I wanted to maintain flexibility for travels, blah, blah, blah.
Anyways, I go to this job interviews for a full-time job. At the same time, I hear back from an entrepreneur, a coworking space to be a secretary. So I’m now juggling these two opportunities and I’m like, “I really want the coworking space because it’s going to give me time to work on my own stuff, but I want the travel management company to understand the ins and outs of the travel industry.” The travel management company gets back to me and they’re like, “We have good news and bad news. We want you, but not for the role that we expected. We created a new role, part-time, because we think you’ll add a lot of life into the department as an admin assistant, AKA color coding spreadsheets.” I was like, “I’ll take it,” because that gives me enough time to work at night at the coworking space from 4:00 PM until midnight. My business partner would come at around 11:00 PM, I’d close up shop, and we’d film our videos until 1:00 in the morning.
So this was the first six months out of college. I had two jobs, plus the YouTube channel, and it basically lasted until I pitched my own promotion at the travel management company. So this is another tip here, don’t wait for the promotions. Pitch them yourself. They had hired a new CMO. I put together this elaborate presentation of why I thought I would be better suited for the marketing team. I get the job. They gave me a pay increase, and then I did such a good job in the marketing team that they wanted to give me a promotion full-time, $45,000 increase, but I would need to be locked in.
This is when I turned it down. This is when I was like, “I know what’s going to happen if I take this job. I can pretty much foresee the future. I’ll have a cushy job.” 45K, it’s the most amount of money I had ever heard. At the time, I had a bunch of debt coming my way. The grace period for loan deferment was running out. So it was high pressure situation, and I still decided I knew what would happen, but I didn’t know what would happen if I left and went to LA and pursued the creative career on YouTube because at the time, YouTube was becoming more of a career opportunity. So yeah, I basically turned it down, quit the job, moved with a carry-on suitcase and had to work day and night to close the deals, but within the first three months, I was able to close a deal for 60K, and I was like, “Okay. I cannot go back anymore.”

Mindy:
I really love that. So you ended up growing, really growing online. You reached over a million subscribers.

Jo:
So I started working on this channel in 2012. So for seven years, early 20s to late 20s, I was doing young travel, but as life happens, I started realizing, “Well, I want to be close to family.” My nephew was born. I want to be in his life. I want to be able to choose when I go and where I go with whom I go. I started having these thoughts, always journaling about them. I was really clear around 28 years old that I needed to find the next step. This became very apparent that this was a beautiful chapter, but I had outgrown it. This is me making multiple six figures, flying around the world first class as crazy as it gets, and knowing that it started with bartered trips and sleeping in crappy hostels for most of the beginning stages.
So I had seen a full cycle of rags to riches, and I was like, “Okay. I’m done now. What’s next?” So this is what segued me into the Netflix chapter, which was crazy and unbelievable, and it was almost like the universe heard me and threw me another bone of executives asking, “Hey, can you audition for a show as a host to travel the world and be on a Netflix show?” and I was like, “Sure, I’ll show up and see what happens,” and then I freaking got the job.

Scott:
Going back a little bit here, you graduate with $65,000 in student loan debt, and then you build this amazing company over, what is that, a five, six, seven-year period from that point, and you’re making multiple six figures. Can you give us a very high level picture of your financial situation and how the financial situation as it presumably evolved dramatically over the six years empowered or gave you the freedom to make certain choices or decisions in this journey? Was that a factor in allowing you to wait for a couple months for that Netflix opportunity?

Jo:
So I think you can’t take the immigrant out the girl. Really, that work ethic that I had of going to the internship every day not knowing if I was getting paid or just showing up excited to be there even if it was grueling 12 hour days, that attitude has been the through line of my life. So when I went to LA, there was urgency. There was extreme urgency because I had a ticking time bomb of the loans kicking in. We didn’t have any support from external forces. My mom, obviously, there was no financial backing there, and not only was there no financial backing, but there’s also a pressure that I need to have enough in case somebody in my family needs help, which is another conversation for a different day of when you come from a background where your family might lean on you financially, which is an honor to be able to help them, but it does change the financial situation that you’re working with.
So when I moved to LA, it was a non-negotiable. It was like plan A or plan A. It’s like, “We’re going to make this work or we’re going to make this work,” and we made it work. Again, the first deal came in through me being in the right place at the right time. I think people often disregard how important luck is in these equations. Yes, you have to work, you have to work very hard, you have to show yourself and be in the game, but there’s a giant amount of luck that factored into my life, as well as in many other people’s success stories that I can’t lie about.
I was literally in the bathroom of an agency trying to renegotiate a deal because they were taking 30% off our YouTube AdSense and not giving us anything for it. So I was fired up. I was like, “No, you need to renegotiate our contract,” and my business partner was like, “Jo, you’re crazy,” and I’m like, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen? They could either change the number or we keep suffering.” Lo and behold, they did change the number so we got a better deal, but I went to the bathroom after that meeting and I was washing my hands and another person, an executive, sees me. She’s like, “Hey, you have a travel channel, right? I just pitched you for a deal with AT&T. When can you come in for a meeting?” I’m like, “Now.” She’s like, “Great, yeah, come in. Give us 15 minutes.”
This pivoted into our big campaign that I was like, “Wow, I guess I can make a full-time living from this,” but that was luck. That was complete luck. It’s being in the right place at the right time, having had a giant amount of work put in with no success at all, but it was a lump sum. That is a very accurate description of how my finances have been ever since. It is a lump sum that is dropped into my account at random times throughout the year.
I remember the first year I was like, “Wow, that’s crazy. I made this much money. I doubt I’ll make that much money again next year,” because again, these are from deals that come and go. You never know when you’re going to get an email in your inbox that’s a multiple six figure deal. You don’t know. At first, I was doing outreach, but then I had a manager and an agent do outreach. I’m not going to be telling them how to do their jobs. So what I could control was keeping my head down and producing the content. I never expected to make money, and that’s why when the money came I was like, “Ooh, this is fun.”
So what ended up happening was five, six years of just saving a giant amount of money, which then allowed me to pay off my student loans in one fell swoop about four years after college, and it bought me tremendous freedom because now I had a clean slate. For so much of those beginning years, first, it was basic survival. I need to be able to pay rent, buy food. Then after that was taken care of it’s like, “How am I going to kill these loans?” Then afterwards it was like, “Okay. Now I’m just saving for a rainy day.” I’m just saving for the prom dress situation, which in my case turned out to be my house that I bought during COVID, and I ended up having to pay in cash because the bank last minute, three days before closing, told me that on a technicality, my new company didn’t have enough tax history to be considered primary income.
So it was like, again, as an entrepreneur, you’re always dealing with these kinds of silly technicalities, but at least I had the money to be like, “Okay. Here’s a check,” and I bought my house, but I wouldn’t have had that money had I not been saving it all those years.

Scott:
So that’s, I think, a theme here in the context of your money journey is what I’m hearing you say is you had a very low base cost of living. There was not a very expensive housing or food and entertainment budget here. You were working odd jobs when needed to cashflow daily expenses, and then huge gigs, I don’t know if that’s the right word.

Jo:
Yeah, just these gigs that would pop up out of nowhere.

Scott:
That’s a result of the undercurrent of this work that really is your life’s passion and the piece that’s underlying it. That’s what’s driving it. It really took you four or five years to get the first big payday that allowed you to pay off the student loan debts and then actually have a pile of cash in the bank. Is that right?

Jo:
Well, so I’m more on the concerned, very cautious side financially, and I think everybody needs to understand what their relationship with money is because that’ll dictate a lot of how you move through life. There’s no right or wrong answer, but for me, I’ve always seen my grandparents buy things in cash, store money under their mattress. I got a little bit of a mattress stash as well, but I grew up seeing, “Okay. If you work hard and you save, you’ll have the cash.” There is, of course, the whole conversation with borrowing money when it’s cheap and investing in. That’s a whole different tangent that is important to talk about, but for me, I just feel like I always wanted to have the independence, and having the independence means having the cash, and maybe that cash isn’t a high yield savings account, which in my case it was, partially it was. The cash might be in investments, but nothing tied up too much that if you needed it tomorrow, you couldn’t take out.
I think the through line is work hard, keep your cost of living low, but don’t deprive yourself of things that you love, and also being strategic. So I was always and still am super strategic on how to make one thing more valuable than just for the cash. For instance, if I’m doing a job, if I’m getting paid to do some videos, I’ll explicitly want to learn something in the process, and I will want to get paid for that skill. I’m big on pay me, but also give me an opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s reading a book or even for my podcast, now I’ll do book reviews partially because I want content, but partially because I want to learn the thing that I need to learn in order to communicate it. Whatever the learning is, I could probably create a new strategy for a Jo Club or for my content.
So it’s almost like keep your cost of living low, but strategize how you can tick off more than two things with everything that you invest your time and energy into, be it finances, skills, relationships because you never know what is actually going to return more. It could be the money, but in my case, it’s almost always been the non-monetary value that has rewarded me tenfold.

Scott:
I just think there’s some great lessons in here. We talk a lot on this podcast about people who work W2 jobs and want to build wealth, at least in part through real estate investing. To do that, you keep a small cash reserve, you invest steadily, you take probably a 5, 10, 15, 20-year time horizon, you save every month, you put it towards these long-term investments, and that’s how you build wealth and achieve financial freedom in a formulaic approach. You completely disregarded all of that, and you built a business here that was very highly opportunistic that required you to have basically no stability so that when a $60,000 gig comes your way, you can drop everything and fly to the location that requires it for however long it takes, produce excellent work product, and then position yourself back and wait for the next one while you are floating things. You need a completely different investing strategy and money management strategy to make that work, low debt, low fixed cost of lifestyle. You’re not built according to a formula. You’re having it access to it in highly liquid, and that’s everything in your life seems like it is designed to work with your passion here around travel and the content that you produce.

Jo:
Yeah. So I do have to highlight the fact that the risk tolerance is not for everybody. I did take advantage of the fact that I was in my early 20s to go like a wild pirate. I was just rocking and rolling. I didn’t have kids. I did have a giant amount of debt and I had the family guilt, but I didn’t have real … I didn’t have to feed a child. So I want to be very transparent that this kind of risk is not for everybody.
However, I think two things. There was always a level of calculation before I took these crazy jumps. So again, when I was in college, I was interning, I was learning, I was creating backup opportunities for myself in case I did need to go backwards, but that was always my thing. I was like, “I have the skills and the contacts to go backwards. I don’t know what’s going to happen if I go forwards.” So I do have a plan B, which is go back to New York with my tail between my legs and get a full-time job, but again, that would put me on a path that I could pretty much predict. I didn’t know what would happen if I went forward. So I think having a level of safety is critical because it allows you to move forward with more comfort.
The other thing I was going to say is that as I got older, this Wild, Wild West mentality started getting a little bit too crazy for what I wanted because, again, around 28, I was like, “Hmm, I miss my family. I don’t really want to be waiting for the emails to pop up.” It was too like a yo-yo. One day I would get so much money and the next six months I wouldn’t even see a paycheck. This is when I started to pivot. I started to pivot emotionally, mentally, and then eventually the Netflix opportunity came and pivoted me professionally where I was getting a paycheck every week on that show, which by the way, there is so much freedom in getting that paycheck every Friday. You’re like, “Dang, all I had to do is show up,” because again, my previous 10 years of entrepreneurship showed me it doesn’t matter if you show up every day because there’s no guarantee you’re getting any money. You could show up work 12 hours and nothing is going to happen until one day, a six-figure deal comes through and you’re like, “Man, am I lucky?” It’s like, “No, look back at all those hours of your life that you didn’t get a penny.”
So again, entrepreneurship is a different level of risk appetite. I did experience the paycheck. I saw that it was incredibly just rewarding to be able to really get good at the job that I was hired to do, but then after the show, I was spat back out into the real world and I got to see both sides. I got to see what being an entrepreneur was, being a paid employee was, and I realized I wanted a blend in this next chapter, which is when I launched Jo Club because I wanted to build a company that could be scalable without me needing to be front and center.
So now, I have an organization, a company where I’ve trained 10 facilitators. They lead journaling classes. I’m not even in the room and the company is making money, and it’s also helping improve people’s lives. In addition, I still get those random deals. I get booked for speaking engagements. I host corporate workshops for journal client. I do a bunch of things, but I see those as bonus payments. So it’s become a mix of a strategy now.

Mindy:
Jo, you’ve always talked about wealth building and finances in your content, but you’ve done some things in a pretty non-traditional way. What would you say is your biggest money mistake?

Jo:
It’s tough because I feel like all those mistakes taught me the valuable lessons that ended up making me more. It’s hard to say. One of the mistakes that I’ve made, it’s not really a mistake, but I wouldn’t do it again is hiring people that I thought would solve the problem for me when in reality, they didn’t and wasted time that I could have been spending learning how to solve the problem or at least learning more about the problem to hire somebody who could actually solve the problem. This is just the economy we’re living in. Everybody’s selling a solution, but you have to know enough about the problem to hire the right person to solve it for you or help you solve it.
I think anybody who hires people has a window in their early entrepreneurship where they’re like, “Wow, I was just bad at hiring.” I think hiring is such a skill and a powerful skill because it’ll save you time, money, and not only hiring, but training people because then the expectations are clear, and overall, the process is streamlined.

Scott:
The takeaway is getting an ROI from an investment in people is a skill, and it sounds like you have now paid the price of learning how to develop that skill at this point, and you’re going to reap it for the rest of your career as an entrepreneur.

Jo:
Expensive lesson, but sometimes it’s good. We need those expensive lessons.

Scott:
Go to have it, and you had it early in your career. A lot of people don’t get those experiences until later. So I think it’s great and a wonderful takeaway. I have one final question here for you before we wrap up. You have a video where you say, “What’s crazy about growing up as a minority and an undocumented immigrant is that you’re told to never put your voice out there.” How did you change that mindset because that is clearly something that you did not subscribe to and grateful?

Jo:
So people might not believe me, but I grew up very shy, very timid. I was not a lovely extroverted kid. I was so quiet. I was the youngest of three. So it’s like, “Who am I to be speaking up?” When you grow up with undocumented status, you’re even more in hiding because you’d never want to cause too much attention. You just want to put your head down, do the work, don’t be noticed. It’s really like a job to try to morph and be camouflage. The irony is that I’m a woman with brown skin, big curly hair, and I was in a sea of people with milky white skin and straight hair. There was no way I was blending in.
So I would tone down my personality as much as I could to try to be even less of an obvious burden, at least that’s what I told myself, which is so sad. I wish I could go to little Jo and just hug her and be like, “It’s all going to work out,” but those early years brought me inward. I started writing from a really young age, and again, the journaling has now become the next chapter of my career. So if it weren’t for that timid time, I wouldn’t have such a relationship with my inner voice because I felt so outcast.
Then I think it was around New York, it was the New York chapter in my life. When I moved to college in New York, I remember it took me, I think, four subway cars to muster up the courage to push my way onto the number four train going downtown from Grand Central. I had this thought, I was like, “Well, if I don’t create a bold personality, I will get swallowed whole in this city,” and that started this new journey of becoming more extroverted, becoming more, at least claiming more space because I was still put in a position where I was the youngest intern, the only person of color, the only woman. I was always checking those boxes of being so different. So I would not come in the room trying to take up the space because I knew physically I was already different. I would already call attention to myself, but I became a little bit more confident in my skill.
I think that was the big change. It was not only moving to New York, but when you become confident in your skills, when you really know skills wise, you know what’s happening, you’ve trained for it, you’ve worked hard, you just show up in the world with more confidence. That, I think, it’s humble, but it’s also contagious in a good way where people are going to want to approach you, and then everything happens from that point on.

Scott:
Fantastic. The subway example is so vivid, such a vivid imagery of the change in your mentality around this. So what an awesome, awesome story there. Where can people find out more about you, Jo?

Jo:
So I am all over the internet, but primarily on YouTube, Jo Franco, J-O Franco, F-R-A-N-C-O, as well as on Instagram, and my handle is @Jo_Franco. For any journaling things, you can follow my company. Our site is www.joclub.world. I also have a podcast. I should have you guys on my podcast.

Scott:
Oh, we don’t know how to do that. No, that would be wonderful. That would be awesome. Can you tell us about the podcast and where people can find that?

Jo:
It’s called Not Your Average Jo, and I talk about things that’ll make us all a little less average, so interviewing on all kinds of things, skills, especially money. So we’re going to need to talk offline about that.

Scott:
Absolutely. Well, it would be a pleasure, and it has been a pleasure having you on the BiggerPockets Money podcast today. Thank you so much for sharing your story, so much for sharing the little tidbits that have big lessons for so many people, and what an inspiring success story. We look forward to following your journey and seeing where it goes from here.

Jo:
Thank you, Scott and Mindy. You two are so lovely. I’m such a fan.

Mindy:
Jo, this was an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate your time, and we will talk to you soon.

Jo:
Yay. Have a great one. Thank you.

Mindy:
All right. That was Jo Franco, and that was flip flapping amazing, Scott. I’m going to go out on a limb and use three F words there, flip flapping amazing. I love her. What did you think of the show?

Scott:
Her story is just incredible. Her content’s amazing. Her entrepreneurial journey is fantastic. This is the hard work, effort, and a continuous unending flow of energy towards her passion over a 10, 12, I guess 12-year journey at this point starting from high school. Just normalizing the work on the weekends as an undocumented immigrant child to leveraging that background to get a fantastic internship opportunity, to the college experience that she had, and to her entrepreneurial journey, it’s just an incredible sequence of events. She talks about luck. She worked unbelievable hours and set up her whole life to put herself in position to take advantage of that luck when it struck. She would’ve been successful even if those events hadn’t happened because she would’ve kept putting herself in situations where that luck had the opportunity to strike. So really amazing.
Again, the big takeaway here that I had is we spent a lot of time on this show talking about the more traditional journey to financial independence for folks who are starting off in W2 job and slowly doing the grind and creative, the fire approach to building wealth, the traditional FI path, and hers is completely different, and it required a completely different money mindset, and everything she did with her money really tied in to that overall approach.

Mindy:
Scott, it is amazing how much luck you can have when you work really, really hard. It can seem like luck, but I think that if she hadn’t put in all of that work upfront, the luck would not have been there. So I don’t want to discount luck because there is a lot of luck that comes into it, but I also don’t want to discount the immense hard work that she put in there.
The takeaways for me were take action, ask for what you want, and you can be successful in non-traditional ways. You don’t have to follow the same path that everybody else is following. The best time to be adventurous and take risks, like she said, is when you’re younger, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take risks when you’re older.

Scott:
I will put a hypothesis out there though that I think cash is really, the amount of cash you need to have set aside begins to creep and creep and creep, and then maybe exponentially grow as you get older. You can do it with $65,000 in debt and $10,000 or less in the bank when you’re 22. You might need 200 grand in the bank to do that at 32 or 42 to have the same level of comfort with those types of risks if you have a family and other obligations, for example.

Mindy:
Yes, but you can always have this entrepreneurial spirit no matter what your level, no matter what your age is. You just have to have some safety nets, but I absolutely loved Jo Franco’s story, and I am so delighted to have spent this time with her.

Scott:
Should we get out of here, Mindy?

Mindy:
We should. That wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He, of course, is Scott Trench. I am Mindy Jensen saying, “Stay free, honeybee.”

Scott:
If you enjoyed today’s episode, please give us a five-star review on Spotify or Apple, and if you’re looking for even more money content, feel free to visit our YouTube channel at youtube.com/biggerpocketsmoney.

Mindy:
BiggerPockets Money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Kailyn Bennett, editing by Exodus Media, copywriting by Nate Weintraub. Lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.

 

 

Help us reach new listeners on iTunes by leaving us a rating and review! It takes just 30 seconds. Thanks! We really appreciate it!

Interested in learning more about today’s sponsors or becoming a BiggerPockets partner yourself? Check out our sponsor page!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

[ad_2]

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments