Today’s Featured Teacher: Rob Phelan
Rob Phelan is an entrepreneur and high school personal finance teacher in Maryland. He is a Certified Financial Education Instructor by NCFE and has also co-created the ChooseFI K-12 Financial Education Curriculum. He has helped over 200 entrepreneurs start their first businesses through the Simple StartUp virtual courses.
How did you select your side hustle?
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, the first side hustle I did was not the one that I kept for life. I do always encourage people who are afraid of going into entrepreneurship to try a lot of things before you find the one that actually works. So don’t get hung up on the idea of, “I need to spend a ton of time figuring out the one, because I’m gonna be married to this for the rest of my life.” You get to try a ton of different things out. So for me, I’m on side hustle… I think I’m on like 14 at this point. So this is like my 14th different idea.
I run a business called The Simple Startup and it started with a workbook. And then it has pivoted into becoming a virtual course for 10 to 18 year olds. I teach them how to start their own business. And over the course of 10 weeks, they actually go from coming up with an idea all the way through to actually starting and running their business.
I’m a qualified physical education math teacher. I’ve never taught phys ed in my life. I immediately ended up in a math classroom and I loved it there, so I stayed there and then I eventually got asked to also take on a personal finance class and then a very small part of personal finance is entrepreneurship. So that’s really where I get my entrepreneurship fix in the classroom. I also mentor a group called the millionaire’s club where we do focus on entrepreneurship a lot as well. So yeah, it’s, it’s in school for sure. And I’d probably make it a bigger part of school than it needs to be, but why, why wouldn’t you?
How do you find time to work on your business while teaching?
For me I’m a hundred percent virtual right now, so it’s a very unique situation compared to a normal school year. And this has actually been the best year I’ve had for just having time to work on my business. Virtual learning has allowed me to be very efficient in terms of how I handle the school part of my life. And then the other side of it, my business, I’ve been able to dedicate a bit more time to it as well.
But I have a young 15 month old son. I have a wife at home, so it’s during naps and it’s in the evenings for the most part is when I get to work on my side hustle. And I designed it to be something that does not dominate my life. It was purposely designed to be something that only needed a couple of hours a week to maintain and keep ticking along.
There’s a to do list. That’s probably like, you know, a good three feet long. Every time I get a nap or something like that, I go through it. I started the ones that I want to get done right then and there, get through those. And if there’s anything anytime leftover, I go look through it again and see, okay. I feel like doing this right now. That sounds fun. Let me go do that one.
What teaching skill has served you most as a side hustler?
I think there’s a, there’s a ton. I mean, teachers, you have so many skills that are super useful in the entrepreneurial world. There’s not just one that you’re like, “Oh, okay. Maybe I can make this work.” You have so many.
For me, I think it’s my planning organization. It’s my communication skills. My ability to just stand up in front of people and talk around a subject. My ability to break something down into small, easy to digest, understandable chunks. So particularly when I’m talking about my business, which is still an education company on teaching other kids how to start their businesses. It was really important for me to be able to take a concept like entrepreneurship and bring it down to a high school level, which is exactly what a teacher does with math or science or social studies, whatever you’re doing. So the same skills applied across to my personal business as well.
And dealing with customers it’s way easier than dealing with parents. But it’s still that same style of conversation. You’re always trying to be accommodating, but get your point across at the same time. And that has been a very useful thing I just thought of that’s been a very useful skill.
How has having a business positively impacted your teaching?
I think it’s all about my mindset as a teacher. I am really big into financial independence. I’m a part of the financial independence community. And the reason why I side hustle and do entrepreneurship is to increase my income so that I can invest more of it better and pursue a point where I no longer need to work. It’s a choice. And by having all this extra income and it’s going into investments, I see these investments growing and I approached that FI day where I could potentially leave my job if I wanted to. It makes my regular job just that bit more fun.
I’m not tied to this job at this point. I could leave if I wanted. And I would have plenty of emergency fund to fall back on. I could take a stab at doing my entrepreneurship full-time if I wanted. It’s given me the freedom to say, you know what, this isn’t permanent. It’s not forever. If I don’t like it someday I can choose to leave. And I think that just makes my whole mindset completely reset and refresh every single day. And I just have fun teaching now. Yeah.
That is the whole idea behind financial independence. And because behind a lot of the reasons why we do what we do, like we want the ability to choose. We don’t want to be tied to our jobs because we need the benefits or we need the paycheck to get to the next month. That’s a very hard way to live. And certainly something that we started going down that path and very quickly my wife and I were like, no, no, no, no, no. We’re not doing that. We’re going to do something better.
What's your favorite thing about having a side hustle?
I love the challenge of it. I’m a math teacher. I like to solve problems and entrepreneurship is the exact same thing. What’s a problem out there and how do you solve it? And I get to do that over and over and over again every day. Cause I work with all of these different kids who have their businesses and they all want help with solving their problems. So you just try flexing that entrepreneurship muscle over and over again with lots of people’s different businesses, which is just really fun to do. My favorite thing to do is just to have a conversation with a kid and be like, all right, what, what challenges are you facing? What are some ways we could overcome them? Things you could try. And the conversation always comes back to, how could you do this for free?
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