In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike interview Andrew Connell and talk to him about making a full time income with online training.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Product Hunt
- A Startups Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant
- Kajabi Next
- Summit Evergreen
- The Single Founder Handbook
Mike [00:26]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be interviewing Andrew Connell and talking to him about making a full-time income with online training. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us episode 236.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob [00:28]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:32]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week Rob?
Rob [01:08]: You know I’m fresh back on the scene after going to San Francisco last weekend for Microsoft’s Build Conference, and Derek and I took a ride up there because we sketched out a little partnership between Drip and the Office 365 team. And they started a new program where, for the Office 365 developers, they are providing them with some software components and other stuff to help them build better software and sell more software, frankly. It’s just kind of like, if you have ever heard of the BizSpark program that they had for startups, it’s similar to that but it’s just for Office 365 developers and Drip is a part of that.
Mike [01:09]: Very cool.
Rob [02:00]: Yeah. It was nice. They essentially purchased a bunch of licenses from us and we went up and had a booth there and met a bunch of folks. Like any trade show, there is a lot of discussions that probably aren’t going to lead anywhere, you’re not going to get a lot of individual customers from there. But the ones that were really key were, the conversations we got in with a few Microsoft folks and as well as some affiliated folks of these other partners who then partner up with us. One company said, “Look, if you integrate with us, we’ll pitch you out to all of our customers, who might even add you as an add-on to one of our plans.” And these guys have a hundred times the reach that we do at this point, in terms of customers. If any of those pan out, that’s an enterprise sale cycle. This could take four months, six months to pan out. But if any of those work, that would be worth all the time plus more that we spent up at the conference.
Mike [02:02]: Cool. Congratulations and good luck with all those.
Rob [02:15]: Yeah. Thanks a lot. The other highlight for me was I got to say hi to Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley from Windows Weekly. I have been listening to that show for a couple of years. And I was able to hang out with Andrew Connell, who we’re actually interviewing in this episode.
Mike [02:18]: Well, on my end, the Single Founder Handbook launched this week.
Rob [02:19]: Yeah. Congratulations, man.
Mike [02:20]: Thanks.
Rob [02:22]: It’s a big deal. Got it out in, what? Four months flat.
Mike [02:37]: Yeah. It’s about four months. It was done in probably two and a half to three and then it took a while for the editing process, and I did a private launch just before MicroConf, and then this week was the public launch. I did something new, I don’t know if I mentioned it last week, but I ran what’s called Thunderclap campaign.
Rob [02:38]: Yeah. You mentioned it.
Mike [02:44]: And I got it up to 475,000 for the reach according to their stats.
Rob [02:45]: Do you think it drove sales?
Mike [02:55]: I’m sure that it drove sales but not nearly as many as I would’ve hoped or would’ve liked. Because the reach, it just didn’t seem to drive as much traffic as I would have liked to have seen. It’s really [crosstalk]
Rob [03:12]: It’s the social thing like, “Hey, I have 10,000 Twitter followers, I’d tweet this and 200 of them see it, and of those 200, ten of them click it.” It gets really small really quickly. Facebook’s the same way with the algorithm that your posts only show up to five percent or ten percent of the people you follow.
Mike [03:40]: Yeah. But, I mean, I ran the math on it and I still expected a heck of a lot more from it. I’m actually going to go through these numbers in a lot more detail then probably publish them, most likely, publicly at some point. But just to kind of give you rough numbers of what I’ve looked at so far, if it was about 500,000, I was expecting around five percent of the people to have seen it. So you figure that’s what, 25,000. And of those, how many people would actually click on it. You think maybe one in a 100 or something like that. So that will be –
Rob [03:41]: I would like a little more.
Mike [03:54]: – yeah. I ended up with about 500 people clicking through. At least that’s what I saw. I guess maybe two percent, maybe that’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would’ve been initially when I was looking at those numbers. I seemed to have expected more for some reason.
Rob [03:57]: Because half a million sounds like such a big number.
Mike [04:04]: It does. It was about 500 click throughs, it’s really what it came down to, so divided by thousand.
Rob [04:09]: Mm-hmm. Yeah, with social media for sure. I mean with the e-mail, I would’ve expected to have been ten times that, maybe twenty.
Mike [04:13]: Oh, yeah, definitely. My e-mail was definitely surpassed that, that’s pretty clear.
Rob [04:16]: Right. And you also get some love on Hacker News.
Mike [04:52]: The interesting thing is that although the Thunderclap campaign itself didn’t directly do anything, somebody saw it through that and then they’re like, “Oh my God, what is this?” and then they posted to Hacker News and it ended up at number two on Hacker News. Somebody else posted that to Product Hunt. Got up to like number five or number six in Product Hunt and then it ended the day in the top ten. Because of that, it ended up getting included in the daily e-mail that Product Hunt sends out. So I got the e-mail from them this morning even though it was posted yesterday. As soon as that e-mail went out, I went over and I started taking a look at my server, and sure enough, people started showing up on the server and inside of my analytics.
Rob [05:04]: That’s cool. And that’s the kind of stuff where would that have happened if you hadn’t have had all the tweets go out? Maybe the tweets didn’t result directly in sales, but if they result in you making it to Hacker News and Product Hunt, there’s a lot of value to that, right?
Mike [05:05]: Right.
Rob [05:08]: Because those places, I do think you could find some people who will buy a book.
Mike [05:39]: Right. I was looking at my server at one point and it was pushing between twenty and thirty megabits a second at one point, just because there was so much traffic coming in and people were signing up for the free chapter that I put on the website where you could just put in your name and e-mail address, just click the button and it would basically add you to the e-mail list, and then you could download a free chapter from it. And that was directly through my website, so, of course, had I thought about it a little bit more, I probably would’ve put it on like a CDN or something like that, but didn’t think too much about it. I wasn’t expecting it to have that much traffic that quickly.
Rob [05:41]: Right. Are you talking about sales numbers publicly?
Mike [05:43]: Not yet. I’m sure I will though.
Rob [05:46]: Have you been happy with the sales numbers or did you expect more?
Mike [06:06]: I would say they are probably a little bit low below what I expected, but the week is not over. And I also have a ton of e-mail signups that could theoretically lead into sales. I’m kind of in the neutral phase at the moment. I think if I were looking at just the raw numbers, I’d probably be disappointed. But because there is all this additional follow up that I foresee that can happen, I’m fine with it the way it is.
Rob [06:07]: Very good.
Mike [06:28]: In today’s episode, we are going to be talking to Andrew Connell, and he worked as a corporate developer for several years. He has been a member of Micropreneur Academy for a couple of years. He has been to MicroConf. He started a training company back in 2009 and he has his own podcast called the Microsoft Cloud Show, and he is going to be here today talking to us a little bit about how to make a full-time income with online training. How are you doing today, Andrew?
Andrew [06:30]: Doing great Mike. Thanks for having me.
Mike [06:42]: Excellent. So why don’t you just give us a little bit of your backstory. We know some of the details ourselves, but I think the listeners are going to want to hear a little bit about where you came from, what sorts of things you’ve done in the past, and what has gotten you to where you are today?
Andrew [07:45]: Sure. We always do long bios but I started as a corporate developer, classic, just an employee at a big company building stuff internally and for outside customers. In about 2007, I went to go work full-time for a company as a contract instructor. After a year of that, I kind of split out on my own to do contract instructing, but as kind of like a 1099 or an independent contractor. It was really appealing because, with training, essentially, you get ninety percent of the revenue before you even deliver the services. So it wasn’t that big of a jump to go from a full-time job to a contract instructor. After I did that for about a year or two, the guy that was doing it, guy by a name of Ted Pattison. I was contracting mostly for him. The two of us started a training business that we ran for about four years. They’re still in business but about two years ago, I decided that I wanted to go back on my own and sold my interest to him. And so for the last two years, I have been doing a lot of video-based training and then content generation for various customers. Very little consulting. I do almost zero consulting these days.
Mike [07:55]: So how did you get started with the online training. It sounds like you got rid of your interest in the training company, which I assume, was that doing on site training at different locations?
Andrew [09:04]: Yeah. And I still do a little bit of that. We hold a public course. We’d rent out a training facility or a hotel ballroom over the span of a week. And then people would register at our company and we’d show up with manuals and virtual machines. I just sit there and teach them all week. But while I was doing that, while I was running the training company, we started to stand up a side business or another line of business, where we were going to do on-demand training, where we would record the courses and then people would come to the site and pay us for the courses. But it was one of those classic things that it was more important to focus on the revenue generating activities, and at that time, it wasn’t. So we were never getting it off the ground but the silver lining in it was that we had a ton of video content that we just weren’t using, we just had no way to go through and deliver it. About that time, there was another company, that where all my stuff is today, called Pluralsight. We partnered with them to essentially do our video trainings. So we gave them all of our videos and just kind of got seeded with being one of the authors there that had a lot of content, because we just gave them, I think that’s 76 or 80 hours of content right out of the gate. We did that, I think, late 2012 or something.
Rob [09:11]: To give listeners an idea, these videos, is it like Screencast with you talking over them or is it an actual camera set-up and you teaching a classroom?
Andrew [09:21]: That’s a great question. There is no camera. It’s essentially like a Screencast. So it’s like PowerPoint slides and then Screencast and then people can download a code samples and stuff like that.
Rob [09:47]: Cool. So it seems like this was a natural transition for you from in-person training to moving online. You already had the skill set, you already have the content. Because you are a software developer at heart, was there ever something in you that said, “I’m releasing an info product rather than an app.” Is that like an ultimate goal of yours to release a software, to build a SaaS app or build plugins or whatever or is the info product probably the right path for you?
Andrew [10:46]: Well, it’s funny you say that. In the last few months, I’ve been wrestling with myself about that. I thought that my goal was to build a software product. I’d always loved the idea, I’d always wanted to build something. But I think recently, I’ve looked at it and said, “I’ve got a knack for this info product stuff.” And as much as I really want to build a product, I had started on the SaaS product but let’s do the podcast for, I guess the better part of the last two years, something told me that say, “You’ve never done this” and these other guys were all saying that it is the hardest thing to jump into and you’re finding it’s the hardest thing to jump into, you should pretty much stop and focus on the thing that’s going to be the best revenue generating for you today. So right now, I’m solely focused on doing info products or video-based training. And there is a lot pieces to it. I’ve got two other friends that are doing software products that I hear the challenges that they’d run into and there are certain things with an info product, specifically around video training, video on-demand training, that I don’t have to deal with at all as far as a software product goes. Major headaches that are just not going to be an issue at all.
Mike [10:48]: Could you give us some examples of what those are?
Andrew [11:28]: Yeah. Sure. The big one is support. I don’t have support. So what I can do is people may send in questions from watching course and I can answer those questions, but there is no ongoing support. There is nothing that breaks, [it’s a video?]. Sometimes you have code samples that don’t work after whatever you’re basing them on is the technology has changed, but it’s not that big of a deal to go fix those. So I don’t have like outages or anything like that that I have to deal with. Because right now where I host my courses, you could think of it like a book publisher model where I just give my videos to a company and then they have a master catalog and people subscribe to their catalog and I get paid royalties based on the amount of minutes that they watch of my courses.
Rob [12:09]: Interesting. I think this is such a fundamental question that if you are listening to this, you should ask yourself. Are info product is something that you are interested in doing? Because I know that some software developers absolutely have no desire to teach and they don’t have, whether it’s the skill or the desire and they don’t want to do it. And that’s okay, and if that’s the case, then I would think about doing like stair-step approach that we’ve talked about here. I think that if you are interested in teaching, that the benefits that, Andrew, you’ve laid out, of the no support, of you can create it, it tends to be a little more evergreen, doesn’t need maintenance, that stuff is a real benefit of info products. And I think putting info products into the stair-step approach, is absolutely a viable way to go especially if you have the skill for it.
Andrew [13:30]: I completely agree. I definitely don’t want to put across the perception that this is the way to go. I mean, it is a way to go and for me, I have a knack for doing this and I enjoy doing it. One of the things I always really enjoyed was standing in front of a crowd or at least a small room and teaching some people, is that I get a satisfaction or endorphin rush or whatever you want to call it when I explain something that someone was confused about and you see that light bulb go off in the same way that when someone purchases a product and that solves the business problem for them or makes their lives easier, the same way that a software developer does. I get that same rush as well and I’ve just decided to say, “For me, this one kind of works.” I just finished three brutal weeks speaking between Europe and the U.S. at a couple of different conferences and I really get a lot of satisfaction from explaining something to someone that was really confused and seeing all these light bulbs go off and having people come up afterwards saying, “Thank you. Now I understand this stuff.” To me, I feel like I have helped someone and so the video training kind of helps that as well. Yesterday, I was doing a presentation, had a bunch of people come up afterwards and they’re like, “I’ve been watching your videos, super helpful. Thank you very much.” I definitely don’t want to put across that, like what you said, Rob, that, “This is the way to do it.” It is a way. There’s so many different ways of going through and doing this solopreneur or entrepreneur kind of lifestyle. This is just the one that works for me.
Mike [13:46]: One of the things that you brought up earlier, which kind of contrasts against my experience doing training was that, it sounded to me like you develop the training courses yourself. You started your training company and you were doing the training for people, it sounded to me like you were saying, you created all that content yourself. Is that the case?
Andrew [14:32]: That’s true. Yeah. It’s a bunch of companies where you can actually buy content and training courses from vendors. I have Microsoft background and Microsoft has a thing called the MOC or the Microsoft Official Curriculum, and you can purchase that each book or each kit. One kit would go to a student from Microsoft and then you can teach it, you can re-sell it. But for us, what we did- we founded our company more of a boutique style where we built our entire training course and then we turned around and we would sell it as our stuff that was better than what you will get from vendors. We also repackaged it and sold it to other training companies to go through and teach. We did all of our own stuff and I tell you, it was quite the learning experience going from building a five day course to building an on-demand course that the packaging and the delivery and how you structure courses, is just so radically different.
Mike [14:46]: Yeah. Different experience that I had was that we were basically mandated. We had to teach the official courses and if we didn’t we would have our training certifications yanked. So we had no options at that point. It was use their stuff or don’t be a training company.
Andrew [15:30]: Yeah. And that was a decision that we had to make. Because, I primarily have been teaching SharePoint or .NET or Office 365 over the last six, seven years, eight years. And with Microsoft, when companies would buy a lot of software from Microsoft, they would usually get training certificates that included as part of their purchase and we had to make a decision that we are going to do only our own stuff. But what that meant is that, we couldn’t accept any other training vouchers that these companies had because we weren’t teaching the MOC curriculum and we weren’t certified as Microsoft trainers. We went the different model of saying, “We’re not going to sell a Ford or Chevy style training, we’re going to sell a Lexus or a Ferrari style training and be a little bit more specialized.” And that worked out really well for quite a few years.
Mike [15:36]: But at the same time, you’re almost an off brand as well because you are not necessarily officially sanctioned by Microsoft either, right?
Andrew [15:59]: We weren’t. We were actually brought in by Microsoft quite a few times to help teach a lot of their developers and a lot of their consultants would send people to our courses. But you wouldn’t get a discount by Microsoft sending you to us or anything like that. We didn’t have any way to accept any of the vouchers that Microsoft was giving their customers. It was just a business decision and which way we want to go and how we wanted to structure the company.
Mike [16:13]: Yeah, the vouchers is the thing that I could see where that would be a painful decision to have to make, because you don’t know what the result of that decision is going to be and ultimately, it could torpedo your company. But at the end of the day, it may also turn out completely fine, you just don’t know in advance.
Andrew [16:44]: You really do. I can’t take too much credit for this one because the guy that I was teaching with as a contractor, he had written his own course where when he quote, unquote “hired me,” I did that in quotes because I wasn’t an employee, I was just a contract instructor, he told me he’d keep me busy at least one week a month and that was like that for a year, which was just a fine income and so, at least on the training side that was a fine income. I saw that that business model already worked and so we just ran with it and just said, “Yeah, we’re not going to take vouchers.” I wish I could take a lot more credit for that, but I can’t.
Mike [16:55]: So in transitioning to doing online training, you said that you use Pluralsight. Are there other training platforms that you evaluated that I guess or was it just what was available at that time and seemed like a good option?
Andrew [18:42]: At that time, we didn’t look at anybody else. And the reason why is because, at the time they were known as a Microsoft Development Training Services Company for on-demand training, but where they were lacking was where we were strong and that was in the SharePoint content. They had a bunch of content that was already there, but they had a ton on-demand and they were trying to get it in there and they couldn’t really get it in or it was going to take them a lot more time to grow it organically. And so we just worked out a deal with them where we provided them all the content that we already had to see their catalog and grow it by, I think it was either, two or three [X?] in that one category. And it made a lot of sense for us because the model that Pluralsight follows is that they essentially, like a book publisher, they do all of the marketing, they do all of the sales, they do all of the customer management and stuff, and you just provide the content and you get paid royalties based on the amount of content that people watch over the course of a month or over the course of a quarter. Since then, I have looked at a couple of different options. There’s other companies out there that follow much more of a, I guess you’d call it a self publishing model, like Udemy or Kajabi. These companies, you provide your course to them, they host it for you, either for a monthly fee or they just take a special cut, and then you are incentivized to sell it yourself, to advertise it yourself and to grow your customer list yourself and in exchange, you bring back a much bigger percentage of each sale than what you would with someone that’s doing more of a hosting model. It’s almost the exact same model of the difference between publishing a book with a publisher, like an O’Reilly or somebody like that, versus doing a self publishing. You keep more of the profit for you when you self publish, but in exchange, you also put a lot more of the leg work in the marketing and the sales and the customer generation.
Mike [18:47]: So how was Pluralsight set up for the customers who are purchasing the training packages?
Andrew [19:46]: Pluralsight’s got a huge catalog of courses and they just pay a subscription to the entire catalog. There’s two different levels. There is one for if you just want to watch it online, and then there’s another level that you get additional things like code downloads from the courses that have them, evaluations, and access to the mobile clients where you can cash courses offline if you are like on the subway or something and you want to watch it. So they pay a subscription and then they get access to the entire catalog. The authors get paid based on the amount of minutes watched, and so it breaks it down. The really simplest way to explain it is that, if Pluralsight pulled in a pool of money over the course of a quarter and they looked at how many minutes were watched of the entire catalog, if you are responsible for, let’s just say, ten percent of that, then you are responsible for ten percent of the entire revenue from the quarter and then they look at your royalty number and they say, “Oh, if your royalty number is,” let’s just pull a number out of the hat, let’s just say it’s fifteen, “Then you get paid fifteen percent of the royalty amount that you are responsible for for that quarter.”
Rob [20:01]: Do you think that Pluralsight was something that worked really well because you got in early or have the terms changed? Meaning, if I came in today, let’s say I went and launched ten or twenty Pluralsight courses of my own, do you think I could achieve similar success to what you’ve seen?
Andrew [21:10]: Yeah, you could. The terms are essentially the exact same as far as I know. Each time I put a new course in, I have a separate contract. So the process they work, again, it’s just like a book publisher, I submit an idea to them for the course, I have to make sure that is not already covered in the catalog because that would be cannibalizing one of the other authors. We go back and forth a little bit, they generate a statement of work, and then we agree to an upfront payment when the course is complete and a royalty percentage. And so the higher upfront payment you get, the lower your royalty is. But the higher your royalty is, the lower upfront you get. So you can say, even though it’s a lot of work, you say, “I only want to take like $250 or $500 when I complete the course in exchange for the highest royalty percentage I can possibly get.” That’s a bit of a game that each author has to play. It’s funny there is a constant debate that each author has amongst each other. Because if you pick a topic that you think is going to be somewhat timeless, I would think you would want to maximize your royalty instead of getting a big upfront payment. But if you pick a topic that might be a flash in the pan, then you may want a bigger upfront payment to get more revenue upfront.
Mike [21:15]: So you are kind of gambling as the author either way. It’s hard to tell which way to go sometimes.
Andrew [21:38]: Yeah. Most of the authors are doing it part-time. They have other jobs they are doing. Most of them I think are trying to get more of the upfront payment in exchange for the amount of work that you put in. Because it’s definitely not a trivial task to put a course together. It’s taken me quite awhile to optimize my development and production process to get it down to a number that I feel really works in profitable way for me.
Mike [21:44]: So with that question, how long does it take to create a course and how long are the different courses?
Andrew [23:08]: Generally speaking, they try to keep courses anywhere from one hour to four hours. And if you are outside of those parameters you have to have a pretty good case and have a back and forth with your editor. For me, I think that most courses work best if they are between an hour to two hours long. Partly because, a lot of authors or a lot of customers use on demand courses as the same way to use textbooks. We don’t go grab a textbook out of the bookstore and sit down and read it like a novel. We pull it off the shelf and look at the index and find that answer that we need or hopefully find the topic what we are struggling with at that time. And so you really have to be creative and smart about how you structure the course and that you also chunk little videos together in maybe two to five minutes segments, so that someone who needs an answer can just dive right in real quick. If you go through and you have a problem with something, you’re trying to figure something out, you find a course that looks like has the topic of what you need, the last thing you want to do is find a video that looks like it’s about 25 minutes long that may have the answer you want. You want to go dive and find a two minute video that explains what the problem is and how you can fix it and maybe has other videos that build off of that. But watching 25 minutes in hopes that it going to answer your question, that’s not a good way to package your course. You want to make sure that it’s easy for someone to get in and out and to be able to take advantage of your course a lot more. So I rarely see courses of, at least of mine, that you watched it all the way through.
Mike [23:21]: So are these videos, are they separated into little subsets of videos? So if you have a course that’s, let’s say ninety minutes long, are there like nine, ten minute videos in there or how does that work structurally?
Andrew [23:32]: So you have course and then each course is structured into modules. So a module would be like a major topic or like a chapter on a book, and then inside of that module, you have multiple clips and each clip is a video file.
Mike [23:33]: Got it.
Andrew [23:47]: I try to make mine anywhere from 45 seconds to no more than five minutes at a max and if it’s a demo that’s going to take a lot longer than that, I try to chunk that demo up into multiple clips into different components and different pieces.
Mike [23:50]: So for a one hour training course, how long does it take to put one of these things together?
Andrew [25:28]: Not to change the question, because it makes it easier for me to answer, but let me explain why I’m doing this. It’s hard because some modules you spend more time explaining than you do actually showing. A module that is mostly slide or is explanation and animations, is a lot easier to put together than a module that is much more demo heavy. And I’ll give you a couple examples. The last four or five courses I’ve done have been anywhere from two to four hours. I first started out with my four hour courses, took me anywhere from 120 to 140 hours to finish the course and that’s from planning the whole thing out, building the all the demos, building the slides, recording everything, cleaning up all the audio and stuff and then editing the videos, producing them and then rendering them all out and writing the questions and such. I have been able to get that workflow down anywhere from a 90-minute to 120-minute course, I can get it done in about 36 to 40 hours. But it’s a process that each author struggles with it. We see a lot of people talking, not just in Pluralsight but I see other people as well, how do you get your process down, how do you take advantage of sites like oDesk, now it’s called Upwork, and how you can take advantage of contractors to help you with the audio clean up, how to help you with the video? The hardest part of this entire thing of doing these video training courses is by far the audio. It is incredible how hard it really is to get into and get it done the right way, audio levels, background noise, good equipment. A lot of people think you can and say, “Oh, mine is just fine” but you can’t get a headset with a microphone on it and think that, “Hey you’re just fine.” You really need some professional equipment both hardware and software to get a really high quality sound out of it.
Mike [25:34]: I laugh because that’s exactly what we do for this podcast, we have had headsets with microphones on them.
Andrew [26:09]: For the podcast that I run, I use my recording rig. But for the headset mics and everything, what we find is that a lot of the background noise, a lot of the extra stuff that comes through that’s not on a dynamic mic or directional mic, that you don’t get from the headset ones, when you’re listening to it for a very long time, which is different from a podcast, but when you’re listening to it for a very long time, it can get to be pretty challenging for people. So the research has shown that it’s a little bit better to have a higher quality sound to get a much better output. So I have invested somewhere around $400 or $500 in the hardware that I’ve got sitting on my desk now.
Mike [26:16]: Now for the courses, you don’t have any control over pricing in any way shape or form, right? That all goes through Pluralsight, correct?
Andrew [27:29]: That’s correct. So for the company that I’m with right now with Pluralsight, I have no control over the pricing and it’s one thing that I have been kind of struggling with or I have been thinking about recently. I do a lot of work for one major software company and I would like to have the ability to package up a bunch of my courses on one topic and sell them to that company for them to either use internally or for them to give away to their customers. Today, I don’t really have that ability. I have the ability to give away free trials. This is the part where it’s a little bit different from a book. Any of the marketing that I do for my courses where they currently are, I’m really marketing the catalog and then trying to convince the people to go watch my course once they have bought a subscription. If I don’t do that, if they just go through and the buy a subscription and I’ve tried to get them into the catalog and then they go start watching someone else’s courses, there is nothing in it for me. It’s challenging because I have no visibility on when I send somebody there, I have no visibility into who my customers are. So that’s another thing that I know that, at least as a listener of the Startups podcast, and I’m sure some of the other listeners are too, that’s something I’ve always kind of struggled with and that I have no way to talk directly to my customers unless they ask a question through a little discussion form that we have on each one of our courses on the Pluralsight website.
Rob [27:36]: Right. It’s kind of like the app store model where you can’t really build a list or an audience and you’re a little bit at the whim of Pluralsight, essentially, in terms of communicating with them.
Andrew [27:56]: Yes. It’s exactly like the app store model. It’s just something that, anybody that’s built an app like that and you want to talk to your customers and do research, you’ve just got to hope that they will interact with you on the comments. So that can be challenging. You have a beat on what people want, you have a beat on what the market needs and stuff and you do your research, but no replacement for talking to your customers.
Rob [28:02]: Right. And just to give folks an idea, you have almost thirty courses in Pluralsight, is that correct?
Andrew [28:10]: That’s correct. But thirty courses, and I would say, ballpark, about anywhere from 100 to 115 hours or 110 hours, something like that.
Rob [28:11]: Of course work?
Andrew [28:13]: That’s correct. Yeah, across all of them.
Rob [28:32]: Andrew, I’m curious. You’re using Pluralsight, you’re obviously having success with it, making a full-time income from it. How much though have you given to looking at a platform like Udemy? There’s several others that are less of a publisher model and they are more of direct connection with your audience where you get a bit of high royalty rate on it, but it probably wouldn’t be as lucrative for you upfront. Have you thought about doing that?
Andrew [31:37]: Yes. So I have a Google doc with about ten different options that I have been doing a ton of research on and spending a whole lot of time looking at it and trying to do the whole like pros and cons on each one. I have the opportunity to speak at a bunch of conferences and I have the advantage of followers on Twitter and something of an audience and I would like to be able to take advantage of that a little bit more than just putting courses inside of a catalog and letting somebody else market them. It’s nothing negative about who I’m with right now, the part of building a software product that is appealing to me is the marketing side. Because I find that it is something I don’t know and it’s a challenge that I’d like to try and tackle. And what I’m doing right now, I don’t have the option of really doing that. So there is two of them that I have been looking at a lot recently. One of them is Udemy. They have a very different model from what I’m doing now where you build the courses, you publish them on the Udemy platform and you don’t pay anything for hosting them there. But if you sell the course through one of your promotion codes, then you keep a hundred percent of the sale minus the credit card transaction. If a customer finds your course organically through Udemy’s advertising or they’re an existing Udemy customer and they find your course by just going to their catalog, then you receive only fifty percent of the transaction. Udemy collects the other fifty percent and you split the transaction cost. So Udemy’s advantages to having a huge catalog and then they can turn around and they can sell their catalog to customers and make fifty percent on each transaction. But I have the ability to market straight to my customers, and let’s just say, if I did a course and sold it for $100, if I sold it, I may sell it for fifty bucks. If Udemy sells it, I’m only going to get fifty bucks as well. So either way, it’s splitting the difference. It works good for me. There are some downsides to that though, where with Udemy, you don’t get your customers. You have a way of talking to them either through broadcast messages or, I’d compare it to like a Facebook style Messenger chat where I can see their name and I can see that they subscribed, but I can’t get their e-mail address. There’s another one that I have been looking at called Kajabi Next. It’s a little bit different in the sense that you pay a subscription per month for hosting a certain number of courses. You get five for one level and you get unlimited for another level. But with that one, all of your transactions happen through Stripe and whenever someone registers for your course, you can do a Webhook to where it get sent out. So if I’m using any other mailing list to go through and maintain a list of customers, I can immediately capture all of my customers that purchased my course. They don’t have a whole discounting model or a whole promotion code model like Udemy does, but I could stand up my own little store or even if I wanted to go, I could use something like Groupon and sell my courses and then get their e-mail address and go into Kajabi and then, it’s called inviting an individual to your course. It’s basically like saying, “Give us their e-mail address, we will send them an e-mail. They can get it for free now.” So I’m kind of going between the three different options. I’m looking at them for a couple of different things. I have a few courses I’m still working on with Pluralsight, but I’m looking at just a couple of different options to see what different challenges are. I really want to take advantage of marketing my own stuff and see what I can do with that, just to see if I can do any better with that kind of a business.
Rob [32:12]: Yeah. I really like that the options are laid out. I used Udemy with my Startup VA course, that’s startupvacourse.com, if folks want to check it out. And I had good results, but it’s as you said, you don’t have access to your people. You don’t know who bought and aside from kind of the internal broadcasting stuff, it’s been fine. If I were to do it again or if I were to release another course, I would probably look at something like Kajabi Next, just because it’s such a no brainer to have that Stripe, [Hookfire?] put it into Drip, right, because we integrate with Stripe and just have that list there and you’re constantly adding to your audience. I think there is a lot of value with that.
Andrew [33:57]: The two things that are bugging about that one. I agree with you, that’s the one I lean towards. But the two things that bug me about that, one of them is that when someone registers for your course, let’s say that they do it outside of Kajabi Next. And so you’ve set up your own store to where if you have courses and you want to package them together and you want to sell them for one rate, you would have to make that sale outside of Kajabi Next because they don’t have a way of doing that. So I would have my own store, I’d sell them those five courses, but then it would be a manual process for me to go grab their e-mail address and go invite them into each one of those different courses and I have to keep track of which ones they have access to. It’s not that big of a deal and it’s something that you could definitely outsource that to a VA, but my fear in that is that if I go down that approach, that someone is going to purchase a course, I’m going to be unavailable for a little bit and I’m going to definitely need to have a VA. They’re going to want to jump in and start looking at that course right away. And will it [out?] being automated, it can be a challenge. The other one though that’s a big one and you just cannot discount this one enough. So Kajabi, they have a bunch of courses, but I don’t think that there is a tremendous population that goes to Kajabi looking for a course. They’re going to find the course through your ads and through your different ways of marketing your course. At Udemy, they’ve got six million people that are looking at their courses. And I’ve got friends that have told me that they have courses there and that, anywhere from three quarters to two thirds of their revenue comes direct from Udemy and not through their own marketing efforts. They are not marketing their courses as much as I think that I would do it, but six million is hard to just say, “Yeah, I’m not going to look at that. I’m going to do it on my own.” That’s the one that really keeps pulling me back and just saying, “Maybe you can live with the fact you can’t talk directly to your customers.” But I’m not sure where I stand on. I keep going back and forth everyday.
Mike [34:27]: I think there is a spectrum there. There’s a tipping point in the middle where early on, it doesn’t makes sense, so you lean more towards something like Pluralsight, where they’ve already got the audience versus much later on when you’ve got your own audience, then you would lean more towards building it and hosting it yourself or doing through something like Kajabi Next, where you kind of maintain control of that audience. But there’s that middle phase that it’s like, “How do I go from this side over here to that side over there, so that I can make more money doing the exact same thing.”
Andrew [35:18]: It really falls down to the person that’s doing the course. If you are doing a development style course, like all my stuff is all about development, software development, and if the traditional developer may not have the desire or the skill set to do the marketing and they may just want to say, “I want to build the course and I want to put it somewhere and let you guys go through and sell it.” To me, I’d like to have the opportunity to try the marketing and to really figure out how to talk to my customers and how to get them to come in, how to re-sell to certain customer and how to do special deals for the companies I do a lot of work for. Or if I’m speaking at a conference, I’d like to be able to say at the end of the conference, “If you like this, here is seventy percent off of this course that I have.” And if they get in there, then I can up sell them on another courses. It just depends. I think it’s part, what you said Mike, and then it’s also part of do you want to go through the effort of trying to market it. It’s just to each their own on this one.
Mike [35:24]: Another platform you might want to look at is called Summit Evergreen. Keith Perhac is behind that. He was one of the sponsors at MicroConf this year as well.
Andrew [35:55]: There’s a [slot?] group that stood up around the Founder Café and I think he was the one or someone else was the one that actually pointed me to them as well. And so I haven’t dug into them as much just yet. It’s on my list of like seven, eight, or nine that I was looking at. For me, I know that I’ve got two things ahead of me before I can actually make this jump if I decide to make this jump to somewhat another platform. I’ve got about at least three months or four months before I can actually do this, and so that’s another one of my research that I have to go through and take a look at.
Mike [36:03]: Well, if you want to hear more about Andrew Connell, he has the Microsoft Cloud Show that you can go listen to, that’s a podcast that he runs, and Andrew, where can people follow up with you?
Andrew [36:12]: Two best places, I’ve got a blog that’s just my name, Andrewconnell.com. Two n’s, two l’s. And then also on Twitter, same thing, just @Andrewconnell.
Rob [36:13]: Sounds great, man. Thanks for coming on the show.
Andrew [36:16]: Absolutely. Thanks a lot for the opportunity, guys.
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