Vaughn Chung grew up in a very musical household. His parents came to the United States as refugees after the Vietnam War, but before that, they were both musicians in their country; his father played guitar and his mother sang. Vaughn’s dad gave him his first guitar lesson when he was 10 years old, but because his family didn’t have a lot of money, they couldn’t afford professional lessons. Instead, they bought him books and DVDs that Vaughn studied fervently to learn every technique he possibly could.
Now Vaughn is a singer and guitarist in a six-piece indie band called The Paper Gliders in Houston, Texas, and, thanks in part to Thumbtack, a successful guitar instructor with phenomenal reviews. Read on to learn more about his story, as well as the simple things anyone can do to turn their passion into a career.
What was it like starting your own business at such a young age?
Thumbtack taught me a lot. I realized very quickly that being the greatest player doesn’t make you the greatest teacher or networker. It taught me how to be better on social media, how to network, and I learned through trial and error what worked and what didn’t.
How did you think about setting your business up on Thumbtack?
I worked really hard on my profile and headshot. 90 to 95 percent of the work you get comes down to the first impressions. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your work if people can’t see proof. So I took professional photos and paid attention to every single detail. Do I look trustworthy? Do I look like a hard worker? Those are the qualities that get you really far. Your skills are only one component.
I’ll never forget how excited I was when I received my first student. That was four or five years ago. Then one student led to another, and now, I’d say 95 percent of my clients are from Thumbtack.
What do you wish you had known when you first started on Thumbtack?
I wish I’d known not to get down on myself when those first few requests didn’t get responses. People are complicated, so don’t beat yourself up too much. You also have to believe in your work and be willing to adapt. In my first two or three months on Thumbtack, I felt really discouraged and it lowered my confidence. Because of that, I didn’t put as much effort into it. But once I really sat down and revamped my profile, the requests came and the work I was putting into it, I was getting out of it.
What are your best tips for building your review base?
I wait until the third or the fourth session and ask the student face-to-face to give me an honest review. I never ask them to give me a five-star review — I tell them I’d like it to be as thoughtful as possible so I can do my job better. I understand the value of a really great review, but I also believe a thoughtful review is what separates me from the other instructors.
If you check out my reviews, most are at least a paragraph long and explain who I am and what I do. That is super helpful because it gives a new student a general idea of who I am and lets them figure out if they feel if I’m a good fit or not.
What’s the most critical element to succeeding on Thumbtack as a Top Pro?
The biggest thing is to treat it as a lifestyle. If you treat your business like it’s a side project, then it will become a side project. People get discouraged working for themselves because there are so many peaks and valleys. There are months you do really well and months you don’t, but adversity reveals who you are, so you have to believe in who you are and what your philosophy is.
How has Thumbtack played a role in your success?
Thumbtack has made it easy for me to get in touch with people who want to play guitar. With other platforms, there’s always a filter, but Thumbtack really finds me the customers I want to be connecting with. There’s no middle ground. I know that if someone is searching for guitar lessons, it means they thought about it for months or for years and I’m only a step away from helping them achieve their dreams.
How should new pros think about building their Thumbtack profile?
The first thing you need is a great headshot. Smile. Look presentable, friendly, and inviting. That’s the first thing people see when they send a request, so if they see a guy looking away or in a blurry photo, it comes off as unprofessional.
Display your method. You don’t have to include an entire encyclopedia of what you do, but show customers what separates you from the competition and what your specializations are. I think what separates my profile from others is that I don’t make any promises about what my students will accomplish. I promise to help them accomplish their goals and to teach them to love the guitar. I am honest about what the craft is and what it entails, and I bring a lot of passion to it.
Do you have a particularly memorable or rewarding job on Thumbtack?
I taught a very interesting Persian gentleman who escaped the Shah regime in Iran. He came to the U.S. with three dollars in his pocket and now he’s one of the biggest real estate investors in the state of Texas. We met through Thumbtack and I’ve never met a sweeter guy. He was dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and he’d read some research that music could help slow the disease down because music is imprinted in our memory and when you listen to music from when you were young, it takes you back. There’s science behind why we connect and why we remember these things, and he was hoping that if I could teach him the songs he grew up with he could slow his symptoms.
Within three years, he was composing his own music. The last time I saw him he was doing really well — he’d never been so mentally sharp. That was a really special thing for me because I felt like at that moment I was making a real difference in someone’s life.