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Meet Ernest Shahbazian of Trip Astute in Toluca Lake and Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ernest Shahbazian.

Ernest, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
About eleven years ago, I started working as a management consultant after leaving the Air Force and finishing graduate school. Consultants are known to travel all the time and my job was no exception. Spending many nights in hotels and early mornings at the airport made me understand the appeal of collecting points and gaining status for additional perks.

I soon found myself applying for credit cards to earn sign-up bonuses and discovering that I could travel for free using my points. I became completely engrossed into blogs and online communities that would dissect every program and card and also the travel associated with these programs. During this time, a friend of mine suggested to create YouTube videos to explain the intricacies of the hobby. At the time, I was intrigued, but I didn’t think that people would rather watch a video than read a blog post or explore a forum on the topic.

Fast forward to 2016 and a co-worker of mine was asking for advice on credit card points for travel. After giving some advice, he also suggested that I make videos on the topic and explained how he much preferred to consume video and audio content. This time, I researched to see what was available online and before I knew it, I was creating video tutorials based on what I had learned during my travels and collecting points. I decided to call my channel Trip Astute and like my experience of being in the military and with corporate clients, I decided to create a mission statement around my channel goals.

My partner (Fiona) and I, now create videos twice a week on a variety of travel-related topics. What started as a passion project is now a side-hustle that is quickly becoming a real business.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Time has been a constant struggle for us. Since we both work full-time, it has been a challenge producing two videos a week and supporting a business model around it. Every video requires scripting, filming, editing and a ton of post-production activities. It means we’ve had to give up weekends and nights to build our business, but the response and support that we have received from the community have made it all worthwhile.

Being online is also difficult in terms of feedback. We do occasionally get offensive and rude comments and to be honest, they still hurt us even though the majority of feedback is positive and supportive. In fact, when we were first growing, there were times when I contemplated quitting because of the stress, but I would get a comment saying how helpful and unique our videos were and it would motivate me to continue on.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Trip Astute – what should we know?
Trip Astute is a free resource to anyone that wants to learn to improve their travel experience. Our goal has been to provide simple but valuable information that would help travelers maximize their experience and journeys. Our core videos revolve around travel tips, destination reviews, gear review and points and miles tutorials. We’ve also started to add more videos focused on LA life and aerial (drone) footage.

I am proud that we’ve managed to create a community online where people can share ideas and ask questions. We’ve always had a philosophy that we never wanted someone to watch our videos and feel like it was a waste of time. While there are a ton of gorgeous travel videos and channels on YouTube, our channel has always been about helping people become better travelers and providing valuable tips in our videos that can easily be applied to improve one’s experience. In fact, most of our videos follow the same format of introducing a topic, breaking down the details and providing tips and tricks.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I think my perseverance and willingness to learn has greatly contributed to my success with Trip Astute. While I originally conceived the channel as a passion project, I have always treated it like a business. This means that I stick to my upload schedule, even when I travel or have a full workload with my clients. Just as I wouldn’t miss a deadline with my consulting work, I feel like I owe it to my audience to deliver my videos according to my stated schedule. This consistency has allowed us to gain that credibility with our audience.

I also never had an issue with taking action on ideas. I don’t know if that makes me a risk taker, but I’ve always been willing to jump into the “deep end” and learn as much as I can. It’s how I ended up joining ROTC and serving in the military after college, despite it being a challenging process. I don’t even think that I am a particularly confident person. Though, I do have a willingness to learn new things and the self-discipline to execute on my ideas and goals.

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