In 2013, Chandler Bolt decided he was going to drop out of college.
He was a sophomore at the College of Charleston at the time, juggling classes, an internship, and — after years of starting and profiting from small-scale businesses in his teens — the itch to branch out and do his own thing.
The 21-year-old remembers weighing the idea of graduating early instead of leaving and realizing that he didn't want to take on the increased course load that would require.
"I was like, 'If I finish in three and a half years, that would be miserable,'" Bolt says. "And if it's not worth finishing early, is it worth finishing at all?"
He decided it wasn't.
With his scholarships and paying instate tuition, it would have cost him $7,000 plus living expenses to finish the next two years of school. "I looked at it like opportunity cost," he says. "Not what would it cost to finish, but what could I accomplish in this time? What could I be doing? How is school limiting me?"
While interning with a work-experience company called Student Painters and attending classes, Bolt coauthored and self-published a book on time management in November 2013 called "The Productive Person," based on the insights he had gleaned from working and studying in his teens.
The first month after publishing, it brought in nearly $7,000 that he split with his business partner James Roper, now 26, whom Bolt met through Student Painters. The book continued to steadily earn between $2,000 and $5,000 a month.
He delayed leaving school until after getting the chance to study abroad in Austria during his junior year, where one day a friend asked whether the book he had written was making any money.
"Well," he answered, "we were snowboarding all day yesterday, and I made $400."
Bolt remembers that day as the first time he truly understood the magic of passive income. In fact, when he dropped out of college after he returned from Austria in January 2014, the income from the book kept him afloat.
"I told myself I wouldn't stay in my college town and I wouldn't go back to my hometown," he says. "I wanted to make it tough to go back to school, because I didn't take the decision lightly. If I had to go back, it would be embarrassing."
So Bolt moved to Iowa to live in a house with a handful of other entrepreneurs for six months, then uprooted himself in September and headed to San Diego, where he is now. "I came out here to learn from guys who are a lot smarter than I am," he says.
Bolt — who is still working with Roper — is now building a company called Self Publishing School, which provides the guidance and resources for authors to get their books from idea to shelf in three months of 30 minutes to one hour of work per day, based on Bolt and Roper's experience writing four books together over the past few years.
There are two levels of service for authors, who can pay $1,000 for lifetime access to the materials and community or $3,000 for personalized weekly coaching. Bolt estimates that about 170 people have been brought through the program so far, and he says the company is considering lowering its prices for a while to get more people into the program. About 12,000 people receive messages through the company's email list, and Bolt and Roper are able to bring in money through the list and through affiliate marketing as well.
When Self Publishing School first launched last year, it brought in $86,000. This year it has already earned about $225,000, and its executives seem confident that revenue will break seven figures.
Bolt says, however, that he and Roper just started bringing home salaries of about $3,000 a month, or just enough to cover expenses. Everything else goes right back into the business, which he says he works on for at least 60 hours a week.
"I'm not doing this just to make quick cash — I'm really building this," he says. "For me, this is what I love to do. I couldn't function as a lifestyle entrepreneur, kicking back with my feet in the sand. As long as I've got enough money to live and have some fun, I'm fine with that."
Bolt recommends that people who want to follow a similar career path "learn from people who have done what you want to do."
"Don't be afraid to jump into it," he continues. "Don't be afraid of failing. That's something I have to work on right now — being OK with failing more often. Every time you fail it's a sign you're on to something. People who are more successful than anyone else have just failed more times than anyone else."
Bolt says he doesn't have any plans to finish his degree. "Since dropping out, I've written four best-sellers and built the business to over $300,000 on a steep upswing," he says. "And all of my friends are about to graduate."
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