Why I Left My $100k Job To Start an Online Course To Help Toddlers Read

Published: September 13th, 2022
Spencer Russell
Toddlers CAN Read...
from Houston, TX
started February 2021
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What’s up y’all? My name is Spencer Russell and I started Toddlers CAN Read to help parents and caregivers teach their little ones to read with amazing online courses.

And while many folks (especially women between the ages of 24-38 with young children) know me for viral social media posts…

Or for selling the best flashcards on the internet.

My core business is selling online courses to parents and caregivers who want to teach their little ones how to read.

And I have an incredibly diverse group of families who take my courses. Some of them have children who are 15-18 months old while others have children who are 8-9 years old. Some are trying to help their kids get ahead in reading while others are fighting to help them catch up. But no matter how parents find me or what they’re looking for: my 3 reading courses offer a simple-to-follow, step-by-step solution to help any parent teach any child how to read.

I believe that little kids are capable of big things and people are connecting with my message. For example, in just 12 months:

  • I grew my Instagram account from 0 to 130K followers
  • I grew my TikTok account from 0 to 270K followers
  • I grew my sales from 30 (pilot course 🥲) to over 2K families


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I used to think I was going to be an elementary school teacher for life. Before my son was born, I was entering my 6th year of teaching and had already won over $30,000 in teaching awards. I was presented at teacher conferences, spoke on education panels, and spent most of my time outside of school with my students and their families.


I went all in, early. I found my niche, learned about my audience, and built the best product on the market to support their needs.

But after my son was born, I knew I couldn’t be the kind of teacher I wanted to be AND the kind of daddy I wanted to be, so I left the classroom and started working for an educational non-profit specializing in curriculum-specific teacher professional development. In short: we helped teachers understand their curriculum so they could better teach their students.

In 3 years at this company, I had worked my way up from a $100K/yr director role where I helped to lead the folks who were leading the professional development for our teachers. And although I made a lot of money, had great benefits, and worked from home: I knew it wasn’t going to be my “forever” job.

And at the same time, people all around me were dying. Literally. It was a peak pandemic and I was reading story after story of loved ones dying. Old, young, sick, healthy…

So I decided I wasn’t going to die, sitting at my desk, doing a job I didn’t like, because it made a lot of money.

And to be honest with you, I didn’t know what I was going to do yet. But I was reading Good to Great by Jim Collins and he wrote that to find your dream job, three things needed to be true. Which, paraphrased, are:

  1. You need to find something you’re the best in the world at.
  2. You need to find something you wake up excited to do.
  3. You need to find something that will support your desired lifestyle.

And the answer to all three of these questions? Teaching really little kids how to read.

Now, I’m not going to say that the idea for Toddlers CAN Read came to me overnight. I spent nights thinking about these questions and many days meditating, reflecting, and talking about what I wanted to do.

But when the idea to start an online course for parents and caregivers to teach their kids how to read, I knew immediately I was going to quit my job and do it full time.

I still remember going outside that day, lying under the tree in our yard where I meditate, and deciding two things:

  • I would create the most effective early reading program in the world.
  • I would earn $1 million in 2022.

And while it’s hard to explain to folks who may not believe in any sort of “higher power” or “universal energy,” I got this gut feeling that I’ve only gotten 3 or 4 times in my life and I just knew I was right.

So that night, I started working on my business. And 9 months later, I left my six-figure job with virtually no savings, no profit, and no business experience to run Toddlers CAN Read full time.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I started working on the pilot course for Toddlers CAN Read in April of 2021. At this point, I was still working at my full-time job. But I knew I was sitting on something big. I knew I had discovered something that few people knew: that toddlers really CAN read. And I knew my approach worked for teaching them.


What I didn’t know? How to show parents and caregivers with no teaching experience how they could teach their little ones to read, too.

So when l launched the pilot, the goal was never to put out a completed product or a final version. The goal was to put out a course as quickly as possible so I could start talking with my families, collecting data about their experience, and using it to iterate on what we created.

And to get the ball rolling, I made two key decisions: 1) I hired my first consultant to help me create the course materials, and 2) I started pre-selling the course before we were finished. This was so I could both learn how to sell and also so we could keep ourselves accountable to a final deadline.

After about 2 months of work, we launched our pilot course to about 30 families who had paid anywhere from $49-$99 (I increased the price part way through the pre-sale.) I told every family the same thing: “My success depends on your success.” So I offered each of them 1:1 meetings before getting started, emailed them updates, texted their encouragement, and checked in on their progress and feedback as they worked.

Eventually, I learned enough from the first pilot course to launch a second pilot course (although I did not call it that) and enough from the second pilot course to professionally record and edit the final version of my course that you see today.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching the business was tough. There were a lot of ups and downs but there were more downs than ups.

After quitting my job to run this full-time, sales still weren’t coming in the way we needed them to to make a profit. My credit card bills were getting bigger and bigger and at the same time, I was actively turning down any outside funding or partnership opportunities because I didn’t believe I needed them.

I asked myself daily, “What would I do if I truly believed that this business was going to make $1 million in 2022?” And the answer, every time, was: keep working and keep spending.

I also learned some hard lessons right off the bat, like it’s easier to get a verbal commitment than it is to get a sale. And: just because something is going to work eventually doesn’t mean that it’s going to feel good in the meantime. And: people with no profile pictures who troll my TikTok videos live very sadly, sad lives.

Ultimately though, while there were a lot of very small and strategic steps to get the business off of the ground, that were a few big principles that guided our decision-making:

Make the thing, and then make it better: This meant instead of spending a lot of time designing a perfect course, a perfect website, or a perfect logo, etc., our goal was to create a course, a website, and a logo… and then improve each thing over time.

Make no assumptions, test everything: This was especially true for our funnel where we had a ton of ideas but just didn’t know which ideas were better, which were worse, and what would ultimately convert to sales. So we focused on creating and testing as many versions as possible: a sales page, a PDF, a quiz, a webinar, a quiz, AND a webinar… we tracked the data ruthlessly to know what worked and what didn’t.

The simpler the better: Ultimately, the families I serve want something very simple: they want to create better opportunities for their children to be successful. And my job is to give that to them. This means my information should be easy to understand and apply. If they have questions or concerns, I should be easy to reach and talk to. If they enter my funnel, it should be easy to access my training and follow up with questions. And if they buy my courses, they should be easy to follow and see results.

I’ve tested, split-tested, and re-tested my funnel again and again and again to maximize conversions. In the process, I’ve increased my conversion rate from a baseline of 2.5-3.5% to over 10% of folks who sign up for my free training.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Honestly, while my business has generated a lot of sales, I think we’re nowhere near our potential because we’re reliant on two sources of traffic: Instagram and TikTok.

We haven’t yet tapped into Email Marketing, Facebook Ads, Google Ads, YouTube Ads, YouTube, Blogs, SEO, or Pinterest.

So over 90% of my sales come from organic posts on social media, which means if the algorithm and I aren’t seeing eye to eye, then I’m not getting in front of new families and we’re not making money.

What I will say though is that my free webinar (I use Webinar for their live chat, in-training interactions, and detailed analytics functions) is very effective in converting my followers into leads and my leads into sales.

Here’s a quick peek at the analytics for the latest version of my free training:


And part of the reason why we haven’t run ads, written blogs, or dived deeper into SEO is that we’ve chosen to focus on one part of the business at a time. So we’ve gone step by step and said, ok:

  • Do we have the basic business and legal structures set up to make sure everything works, folks get paid, and we’re covered legally? Check.
  • Do we have an amazing course that helps parents and caregivers teach their little ones how to read? Check.
  • Do we have a high-converting funnel that can turn followers into leads and leads into customers? Check.

And with those three things in place, NOW is the time when we are setting up the systems, the structures, and the roles to ramp up our traffic and multiply our sales.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re doing well.

Currently, we have over 400K followers on Instagram and TikTok and are in the process of launching a YouTube channel that we expect to outperform both of them.

In just over a year, we’ve grown our email list from 0 to 30K and have sustained consistent course sales, despite having no coherent email marketing strategy (I’ve hired a kick-ass marketing agency to help fix this.)

I’ve tested, split-tested, and re-tested my funnel again and again and again to maximize conversions. In the process, I’ve increased my conversion rate from a baseline of 2.5-3.5% to over 10% of folks who sign up for my free training.

And what’s more, we spend $0 on advertising (again, we’ll fix this) and are still growing our business month over month.

Moving forward, my team is laser-focused on establishing the systems and structures we’ll need to scale and multiply our business in 2023. And while I currently have no full-time employees or official job titles, I have the equivalent of a COO, CPO, videographer, and communications director (all of which may be full-time roles in 2023.)

I’m also working with a marketing agency that is helping us update our logo, branding, website, blog, and email marketing. This agency has worked with some of the biggest and fastest-growing online courses for toddler parents and I’m pumped for everyone to see us grow into the business that I’ve always pictured in my head.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

When I first came up with the idea for my business, I knew it was going to be successful. I didn’t know what the steps were or how it would happen: I just knew it would. And when I pictured my success, I often imagined going on talk shows or being interviewed for podcasts or publications (like this) and being asked: “What was your biggest mistake?”

I pictured myself being asked that question over again and again. When I was making big decisions when I was testing my funnel when I was spending on my credit card… I knew I would be asked the question and I knew I wanted to be able to say “I don’t think I made any mistakes.”

This is all to say: I don’t think I made any mistakes. I went all in, early. I found my niche, learned about my audience, and built the best product on the market to support their needs. I’ve given information freely and generously and focused on earning my families’ trust before earning their money. I’ve surrounded myself with people I trust and respect and pay them fairly for their role(s) in growing the business.

And not everyone is going to understand this, and that’s OK. But what I learned was that if I stayed hyper-focused on a goal, if I visualized achieving that goal (in detail) again and again and again, and if I put in the work day in and day out to make it happen: then there are no mistakes. There are only lessons learned.

In the (oft-debated) words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

So yes, I’ve learned a lot about business (like, a LOT about business.) But lots of folks know far more than I do and are far less successful in their endeavors.

So what’s helped me? It’s not learning more stuff, crunching more numbers, or hiring more people, although all of that is needed. What I’ve learned is that our minds are more powerful than most of us can imagine. And if we’re able to take advantage of our minds, then there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.

I think the late Bob Proctor said this best when he said “If you can see it in your head, then you can hold it in your hand.” And from the day I started this business and imagined what it would grow to become, I believe this mindset has been my biggest advantage.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use a whole suite of tools to support Toddlers CAN Read and each plays a very specific role in the business.

  • (#1) eWebinar: free webinar + live chat (tripled my conversion rate)
  • (#2) Monday.com: internal project management (can’t imagine not having it)
  • (#3) Kajabi: website and online courses (comes with a great mobile app)
  • Active Campaign: email marketing
  • Interact: free quiz funnel
  • Deadline Funnel: unique timers on special offers
  • Shopify: selling our flashcards
  • Shippo: shipping our flashcards
  • Zapier: integrating software
  • Slack: internal communications
  • Quickbooks: business finances

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I think one of the biggest mistakes many people make is consuming too much information. Analysis Paralysis is a real thing and I’ve seen far too many people fall victim to “over-learning” instead of “over-doing.”

So from the first time I searched “online course podcast” on Google in February of 2021, I have only listened to one podcast: The Online Course Show by Jacques Hopkins. The only advice I got was from Jacques and his guests and the only books I read were books he recommended. I wrote down quotes from the show and ideas I wanted to remember. When I had enough action steps to take, I’d pause the podcast and when I was ready to do more, I’d turn it back on.

Ultimately, business is about results. And while it seems like everyone who has ever made an online course has also started a podcast or coaching program on how to start online courses: it was important to me to pick a mentor who had already done what I wanted to do: start a 7 figure online course. So that’s what I did.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I’ll be honest with you. When I started Toddlers CAN Read, I put a lot on the line. I quit my job at a time when I had no savings and virtually no course income to replace my salary. I spent over $50,000 of my own money (software, materials, advertising, coaching, consultants…) and worked literally around the clock to help my business succeed.

If sales stopped, I would stay up all night and adjust my funnel or my strategy until they picked back up. If I got negative feedback from a parent or caregiver I’d adjust my messaging or my courses to better meet their needs. If I wasn’t sure what the best decision was I’d meditate, or split test, or mediate and split test.

And while I didn’t know when the business was going to succeed, I knew it sure as hell wasn’t going to fail.

So my advice to entrepreneurs who are just getting started? Burn the bridge. Burn it.

If you’ve reflected, and you’ve thought, and you’ve read, and you’ve listened, and you’ve tried, and you’ve failed, and you’ve adapted, and you’ve tried again, and you’ve decided THIS is the thing that you are uniquely meant to do, then do it.

No bridge. No safety net. No plan b. Just do it.

And just to be clear, this advice is NOT for everybody. It’s probably for very few people. Because if you’re not willing to put in the work, or if you’re not skilled in the work, or if there’s no demand for your service, or if you’re ignoring the market, or if you’re resistant to change: I would think very long and very hard before spending another minute on your business.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!