Welcome to Aure’s Podcast.
In this episode, I interview Jellis Vaes, a therapist, adventurer, and the CEO/Founder of The IPS Project, an educational platform on life.
You can listen to the interview here, or read the edited version below.
Hey Jellis, thanks for coming on the podcast. Why don’t you introduce yourself?
I’m a therapist and founder of the IPS Project, an educational platform about life.
How did you come up with this platform? Actually, let’s start from the beginning. What did you do after high school?
High school was a tough time for me. I was pretty unhappy with life and myself, bored with everything. Life was a routine: waking up, going to school, doing homework then going to bed. I hated it.
I had dark thoughts coming from losing my dad when I was young or from being quite short for a guy. All of this started to bite on my self-esteem.
How tall are you?
1 meter 64, so that’s like 5’4. It was one of the many ingredients that led to not liking myself. So I got in a very dark place between 12 and 18 years old. It changed when I was 18 and could leave school.
I knew I had to take a chance to do something about how I was feeling. I wasn’t able to keep on living this way.
I made a plan and booked a volunteering project in South Africa. I went for two months there and came back completely different due to everything that I saw, all of the opportunities that were possible. So I kept on traveling for three more years.
Was school making you unhappy, or the whole routine thing?
School was one of the ingredients, but it wasn’t the only thing that made me unhappy. Losing my dad and never having had anyone to talk to about that (I lost him when I was four years old). School was a big element though, it gave me the impression that life would always be that boring.
Ok, so it was the fact you weren’t in charge of your life?
Yep. I also didn’t feel intellectually challenged by what they taught so I wasn’t paying much attention.
How did you earn money during these three years of travel?
I did a working-holiday visa in Australia for a year, then I did a lot of Couchsurfing, hitchhiking, and wild camping to make the whole travel cheap.
And sometimes I came back to Belgium for like three months to work in a restaurant and earn some money, then I’d go back again to another country. That’s how I could travel to many countries at a young age.
So while everyone was bored at university, you were exploring the world and learning about real life.
Yeah, well, you learn different stuff at university.
I just learned other skills and I learned who I was. I didn’t know who I was when I was in high school. I didn’t know what I was capable of, I knew nothing about myself.
Traveling made me explore who I was and what the world had to offer, and it was much more than I had realized when I was depressed.
It was amazing. Traveling saved my life because it changed me completely.
How did the IPS Project start?
This project started when I was 21 years old after I came back from these three years of traveling. This is when I started to work on this idea of making a platform where I could bring things that you don’t get in school, like all of these topics that we know very little of and that school definitely doesn’t teach (and neither our parents.) Like mental health, the mind, relationships, the body, and the brain.
All of these categories are so complex and we know nothing about them. So I wanted to create a place where people could come to and find that kind of education. The IPS Project started as a simple blog, then over the years, because I have been working on it for 8 years now, it became an amazing platform that has thousands of people visiting.
I get a lot of private messages on Instagram and emails from people thanking me for the content. It’s really awesome!
Is it now, or in the beginning that people were thanking you?
Not at the beginning, but over the years, more and more. And now I often get emails and DMs for people thanking me for a specific piece of content on the platform.
When you started the blog, did you already have the vision for what it would become, or did it evolve as time went by?
A bit of both. I had the exact idea of how and what I wanted to create, but I didn’t know how to do it.
I also had to figure out everything. I didn’t know how to host a website, how to create one, or how to do a podcast. It was through learning all those skills that I started to build the vision of what I wanted to have.
But that took years of process and progression and refining that rough stone to more of a finer diamond now.
How did you start to monetize the website? Ads, affiliates, products?
In the beginning, I was thinking about it but I was more focused on building it out, creating the content, so it wasn’t a priority.
You weren’t like “ok give me the money now!”
I was at that time also a photographer. That was one of the ways that I was earning money while traveling. I fell in love with the world and wanted to capture it and share it with other people. I started to love photography and worked as a photographer for a few companies abroad.
The money I was earning while building the IPS Project was coming from photography. I had a lot of stock photos and by that time, I was also working on one of the first courses I ever made, my photography course for beginners, which still ranks on Udemy in the top 3 photography courses that you can buy.
Ok. You said you got some clients for photography. How did you find them?
Just the Internet.
What do you mean?
Together with a friend, we teamed up and traveled to a few countries, like Iceland for example. Before we went there, we went through all the companies that we were interested to work with. We sent an email to all of them with our offer.
If you make a good offer, at least someone will be interested. That happened to quite a few of these companies. So we went there for two weeks and worked with three companies. So it wasn’t only about money. The photos I took that they didn’t buy, I sold them on my stock portfolio.
What did you shoot for these companies? Ads? Content?
It was mainly content for their website and social media.
And then? You sold photos online.
And then you built for Udemy.
Which year was this?
I think I was 22 years old or something (2015).
You were very early in this online course space.
Yeah. It definitely helped in ranking it so high. But it’s also a really good course! *laugh*
You gotta be lucky sometimes that you’re just an early person on the platform, but it still has to be good.
So, I was very early.
Were you following anyone that was doing this, or you just figured it out? How did you find the ideas?
Actually, I have no idea how I came up with this. I don’t know.
It just happened?
There is a reason probably, but I can’t really remember. Probably I was looking for ways to earn money online. In the beginning, I was also figuring that out. It probably came like that. And now it’s like, just making things, making content, that’s mainly what I do with the IPS Project. I just like everything around making courses.
So it just seemed like a fun idea to do. And it was surprising when it worked out much better than I thought. I was like “wow, alright, it’s quite interesting, something to explore more.”
So, you were traveling and taking pictures and investing the money into the IPS Project and at some point, all of these investments paid off. When did the IPS Project start earning money?
It’s a bit hard to know exactly. The moment that I started to create the first course was when the big money came in. I think it was when I was 23 or something. I made some other photography courses back then when I was 22-23. Then I made my first course for the IPS Project when I was 23 or 24. And that worked out really well too.
Back then I had started a podcast and was interviewing interesting people, which I still do.
You already had a podcast by then?
I had it quite early. Yeah.
So when the pandemic hit, and people were like “oh I am gonna make an online course”, you were like “guys I have been doing this for ten years.”
Yeah, same with the podcast.
So you went all-in on online course creation.
Yeah. Since I enjoyed creating courses so much, I wanted to do a library on all of these different subjects like mental health, relationship, the mind, with guests who had been on the podcast.
So I started doing that. By now, the first two guests who have been on the podcast have made courses. And this year, I am also working with three more guests. So, the idea is to create quality/fun courses that will bring you some life education. But mainly I am trying to do this more with the podcast guests.
And occasionally, I create one course myself.
Ok, so the goal is to build some sort of Udemy on your own.
Yeah, or your own Netflix or something like that. I am not saying I can make that much content. Now it is on Udemy or Skillshare, but the goal ultimately is to have it on the IPS Project exclusively. But I just need a few more courses before it becomes a good offer.
Why don’t you explain what these courses are about and the benefits people get?
In general, they are about life education. I’ll give some examples.
Someone that I interviewed is a two-time world record holder from Sweden. She is an ultra runner. We created a course on goal setting and confidence. It literally has thousands of students and so many people are enjoying it. You learn from someone who really knows what she is talking about on goal setting.
I created a course on CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) because this is what I specialize in. You learn how you can apply those tools of CBT to heal past wounds or unstuck yourself in life. Another is a meditation and yoga instructor. She created a course around meditation and managing stress. Those are just a few examples.
So, you are a photographer, entrepreneur freelancer, content creator, and then, you are also a trauma therapist.
Yeah. I would say CBT therapist, but I have also specialized in trauma. Mainly, I help people individually, in one-on-one sessions around depression, trauma, and suicidal thoughts.
How did you become a therapist? Did you go to university?
Yeah. After I worked for the IPS Project for some years, that’s when I did some specific education to become a trauma therapist which took two years and after that, I volunteered for the suicide line.
And the reason why I am interested and give one-on-one therapy sessions is that I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts and traumas. So it’s also for personal reasons. And now I am in university to become a clinical psychologist.
After going away from the school system, you went out and learned all of these skills in the real world, then went back to university.
Yes. After I knew who I was and what I wanted to do.
But university is also way more engaging and interesting than high school.
I think as you said, it’s important to know what you want to do in life, and that’s something that few 18 years old know. When I was at university, I felt all 18 years old I was with went to study because that was the path everyone took. I didn’t feel anyone was really pulled by the topic they were studying. And you did the complete opposite. First you went to find out what you wanted to do, and after many years, you decided. Is it correct?
Yeah. It’s different for everyone, but when you are 18…take a year to explore who you are. This is a good long-term investment. Go and travel for a year. See a bit more of the world and the options and possibilities there are. When you’re 18 you’re so young.
And you know nothing. I remember at 18, I knew nothing. I am 27, I still think I know nothing, but I know more than at 18. When you’re 18, you know nothing. So, what are you doing now?
I am studying. Since I work full-time on the IPS Project, I study part-time, so it will take me some four or five additional years before I finish the study.
Also, I am working on taking the online “off line”. What I want to do is to build a real-life community center instead of online.
I don’t want to talk too much about the specific details, but I know what I want to create.
So that’s also very exciting. I want to do more in-person events with the IPS Project.
Then I have other side hustles…
Like the camper van!
Yeah, I bought a camper van four or five years ago. And I traveled a lot with it, and even lived for two years full-time in it.
You lived two years inside?
Yeah. And I actually met my girlfriend…
In the camper van? You opened the door and she was there?
*laugh* A year ago, I was living full-time in my van in Antwerp. I was using the city bikes to move around, and went to a co-working space there. It worked perfectly, and I loved it because it was extreme freedom. Now, I am together with someone so we have an apartment, it makes more sense.
But yes, I was living more of a digital nomad lifestyle. When I wasn’t living in my van, I went out for 4 or 6 months to travel during the winter.
In which countries were you when you were living in the van?
I was in Antwerp mainly. In the winter, I went away for three or four months, to warmer countries.
The upside is that you don’t have to pay rent.
Exactly, there was no downside at all.
I really should do that…
I made a vlog explaining everything about living for two years in the van, you can find it on my Youtube channel.
This whole van life thing, this is also recent, but you were doing it much before everyone else. So if we want to predict future trends, all we have to do is to watch you do whatever you do now and in 5-6 years, it will be mainstream.
There are some people out there who are good at predicting the future, but it’s not so much predicting. It’s sort of knowing and seeing what will develop, and in a way, I have been quite alright doing that.
I am not saying with everything, but with certain things.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received? Something you wish you knew 10 years ago?
It’s not something I wish I knew 10 years ago, but something I think is a good piece of advice for anyone: do not forget to enjoy the journey. I have worked so much on the IPS Project. Every day, there is always more work to do. There are a lot of benefits to having your own company and being self-employed, but there are some downsides too because it never ends.
Sometimes, when I look at the long-term goals, it seems like such a big mountain, but it’s about the journey toward that mountain that is so important. It is during the journey that happiness and growth occur. And I try to be more mindful of that. It’s good to remind yourself of it.
Whatever you are going through, don’t forget that. Even if it’s hard, in a way, try to enjoy the journey.
Tell us where people can find you.
And my Youtube Channel is Jellis Vaes.
Thanks for coming!
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