Jonathan’s story is a testament to the amazing impact a teacher can have on a child. Although in his version, it was a college professor that transformed this self-reported awkward, failing student into an honor roll student, teacher, economic researcher, and entrepreneur.
As a teenager, Jonathan Elfreich was a mediocre student at best who preferred the company of YouTube over his peers. In fact, he viewed the creators of his favorite channels as his personal friends. With a passion for fencing, Jonathan sought out YouTube videos to hone his skills and became quite attached to one creator in particular and followed him for years.
After high school, Jonathan decided to attend the University of Southern Indiana (USI) as a computer science major; however, his lack of interest in school remained a challenge and he was warned after his first semester that he would be asked to leave if his performance didn’t improve in the second semester.
An economics class and Dr. Perry Burnett would prove to be a turning point for Elfreich. Dr. Burnett took a special interest in Jonathan, encouraging him to apply himself. Burnett tutored and mentored him, with the payoff being a found passion in economics as well as a 4.0 student and a salvaged college career. Not only was Jonathan allowed to stay at USI, but they had him teaching economics classes his Junior year.
Behavioral economics became Jonathan’s area of specialty. He credits USI’s Griffin Experimental Economics Laboratory as the best in the Midwest, and with Dr. Burnett’s encouragement, he sought a license to conduct human subject research on how people respond to different economic incentives.
His newfound passion for behavioral economics soon collided with his passions for fencing and YouTube when his favorite fencing creator on YouTube announced he could no longer produce his videos on a fulltime basis. Changes in YouTube advertising policies undermined the revenue stream for many creators who produced videos as a viable fulltime career.
Jonathan was crushed at the thought of losing someone he considered a friend. He was pondering how he could possibly help, when one morning in the shower he picked up his razor and thought about trying a subscription service – similar to Dollar Shave Club – with repeatable revenue stream to a Youtuber.
With that, his initial foray into entrepreneurship began as an experiment. He researched the razor blade business and found a blade manufacturer that could serve as his supplier of blades and razors, and thus Patron Blades was born. His idea was to advertise the subscription service through YouTubers and share the profits with them. Another USI professor, Dr. Peter Cashel-Cordo, encouraged Jonathan to apply for an Eli Lilly grant, resulting in $10,000 in startup funds.
The beauty of this advertising angle is tapping into the loyal following of well-established creators as well as the cascading effect of prominent YouTubers following each other.
What began as one creator willing to advertise Patron Blade subscription services quickly grew to twelve advertising partners. Today, there are over 200 requests sitting in his inbox from other creators wanting in on the action. In the first two months, $40,000 in annual repeatable revenue was sold. His initial entire inventory sold out in a month and videos reached over 2 million views. The fencing creator who initially inspired him gained over 200 sign ups and was able to return as a full time YouTuber.
The experiment was an obvious success, and Jonathan is now seeking additional financing to take his Content Creator Support System to another level. It is not his goal to build a razor empire, but to create a platform for subscription-based services to be sold in partnership with supporting artists, creative workers, and perhaps non-profits.
YouTube may have been his initial focus, but his model should translate well to Instagram, Snapchat and whatever the next platform is that creators gravitate to in creating loyal followers…. And consumers!