Welcome to an amazing interview with John Bura here, an e-learning company CEO having sold over 700,000 courses online, over 300,000 in Kickstarter project funding.
John Bura | How I Got Into Creating and Selling Courses.
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He’s on Udemy, he has got his own website, Mammoth Interactive, he’s done some amazing things with his courses that you’re going to love hearing about. I’ve been hoping to get this interview with John for months.
He’s got some outstanding information if you’re trying to sell courses online, earn money, build a following, teach people, help people and serve. I’m so excited for John to share his experience here with you.
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Let’s get started with the interview.
Jerry Banfield: John, thanks for being here. Welcome.
John Bura: No, problem. It is my pleasure.
Jerry Banfield: John, I gave you a bit of an introduction. Will you help us get to know you too?
John Bura: Yeah. Okay. Sure. As Jerry mentioned, I’m the CEO of Mammoth Interactive. It’s a company that I started and it has actually quite an interesting history, and you know we sold over 700,000 courses worldwide and we’re thrilled with what we’ve done so far.
The cool thing is that people keep coming back and they keep buying more courses. We sell thousands of courses a month and we always get people coming in and they say, “Wow, your courses are so awesome.”
But how I got into this area was interesting.
I graduated in 2008, which was no fun. I tried to get a job, and it just did not work out. So what I did was to be an intern at my own company.
I’ve been programming since 1997. I was that kid that went to this local university, and when I was 12 I took a coding course. In the 90s, this was not cool to do. Nowadays it’s cool, but in the 90s it was not cool and I learned so much. I learned C++ and a bunch of cool stuff, and at the time I wanted to build this RPG in my bedroom and that did not work at all. So I learned the hard way how to limit your expectations, especially with coding.
But over the years I started to become an entrepreneur. When I was 17, I taught 53 students a week guitar lessons. I had a goatee when I was like 18 years old and a beard actually, and I just walked into a guitar store and said, “Hey, I want to teach guitar.” They gave me 50 students a week, and I was making three times in a wage and the next year I was making five times minimum wage. It was absolutely crazy.
I got this teaching experience and the coding experience, and then fast forward to 2008, I’m like, “Okay. I should make a game.”
But how? I was a C++ programmer. What I did is I bought an online course. I went through the tutorials; I made a Xbox 360 game and then freelancing gigs just started rolling in.
Everyone’s like, “Wow. You actually made this from scratch?”
I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool.”
The next year I released several iPhone games and apps, and I would always talk to somebody about this.
“Hey, look at this cool app I made.”
Literally everyone was not interested in the apps at all. Like, how did you make it, right? How did you make it? It was really frustrating.
It’s like I made like a hundred level puzzle platform game and it was so cool and I’m like, I put so much work into it and like, “Hey look, you can do this little cool stuff. It’s got a hundred levels. This is bigger than Super Mario Bros 3.”
And they’re like, “No. I don’t care. How did you do that?”
It was frustrating, but I’m like, I guess everyone wants to know how to make this, and then somehow I think I saw like a new company at the time called Udemy on Groupon. I said, you know what, I can do that too. So I made this huge course on how to make a game from scratch. Coding. Arts. Music. Everything.
At the time I had quit like some of my jobs to just focus on the games and apps and I was running out of money, and I remember it so clearly that I was on a vacation with my family and we were in the flight terminal on Boxing Day.
If you don’t know what Boxing Day is, it’s the day after Christmas where they have huge sales in like Canada and Britain, etcetera. So it’s like this huge sale day and I’m like, “Oh man, I’m going to have to just do something else.” Because there’s almost no money in my bank account. Then, BAM! Thousands of dollars from AppSumo came up and then the next year I started to release more and more courses and it’s all history from there. Now, again, we have sold over 700,000 courses and it’s been a wild ride.
Jerry Banfield: Well, that is a fun start. I like how what you thought you were doing wasn’t what people ended up wanting you to do. You love making the games and just giving that a try, and people are like, “Tell me how you made that.”
John, you started out teaching online. You said the rest is history. What would have been some of the big challenges you’ve got through?
I’m making my own courses online by myself. Pretty easy. Don’t have many expenses. It’s just me. Now you’ve got a company, employees, payroll, lots of expenses.
How did you go from just doing it yourself to making a company out of this?
John Bura: So, there’s a lot of things that kind of happen along the way. I really like the lean startup idea and I would basically take it upon myself to learn a new skill. So when I first started this my graphic design skills were less than they are today, but over the years I would say, “Hey, look, I can either pay a graphic designer to do this or I can go learn a new skill, make the graphic design stuff myself and then maybe make a course out of it.”
Then that’s exactly what I did.
I’m getting paid to learn it, in one way or another. I would do that over and over and I would work so hard. I have a 10-10-10 rule and this is my favorite rule. Every project you do you have to do the next project ten percent better, ten percent faster and make 10 percent more money.
The last one’s the hardest one. It’s so hard to make 10 percent more money, but the first two are 100 percent in your control. So every course that I did I’m like, okay, what went right, what went wrong?
There were some technical things that went wrong in this one, so I’m not going to do that in the next one, and if I eliminate that then it might be 10% faster, right? I had this hard issue on this one particular thing and the students didn’t really like it so I’m just going to axe that from future courses, right?
Every course I would do, I would make it 10% faster and well 10% better hopefully. I always be my own worst critic and to iterate as fast as possible and that worked for a long time, and then it was 2015 and basically, I’m like, I don’t know if I can do this by myself anymore. I’m just looking at what the competition is, and then I moved across the country and started up in a new city.
Jerry Banfield: Across Canada?
John Bura: Yes. I used to live in Toronto and now I live in Vancouver and there’s actually a really crazy story on that too.
My wife and I were leaving Toronto and I had set up this office meeting to get the office space here, and it was absolutely amazing. This office has got like curved offices. It’s so good. I wanted to meet the landlord that day but there was a snowstorm in Toronto and I’m like we better get off the ground because my whole future hinges on the fact that I have to make this flight.
I remember sitting there and it is like, “Oh, we’ve got to dice the plane.”
“No. Come on.”
Then, they finally got up, I got the office; it was awesome.
But essentially, I wanted to scale this business and I now have people that do a better job of marketing than I ever did, that do a good job of course creation and do a better job of video editing. Because I couldn’t do it anymore. It was just taking up all my time.
Jerry Banfield: So you moved from Toronto to Vancouver. I noticed you said you could find someone to do all lots of things better, but then the course creation, how did you find people to do the courses? Because for me that’s been kind of the hard part. How do I find somebody to create courses as good as I like for them to be?
John Bura: One thing that I do a bit differently than the other course creators is that I have an office and I have employees go to that office. Most people just do it online, and then they do things at their home office which I 100% agree with, but there’s a certain level of quality that you get to have meetings with people.
We have meetings on how to make our course better. We try to do that 10-10-10 rule every single time. We’ll look at somebody’s courses and I talk with my employees and I’m like, look, that course is amazing. Let’s do this the next time, and then the next course is better. Or let’s see if we can pump out a little more.
Now it’s really hard to pump out hours of content, but we have a special technique on how we do it.
We’re releasing anywhere between 20 and 60 hours a month, and this is just a small team with no funding or investors. We’re lean and we would love to take this up to about 230, which is what the big guys do, anyway. So we could probably do that for almost next to no money. It’s the idea of having people come to the office and we talk about everything and to make sure that you can get it done.
Because not everyone can work at home. There are distractions everywhere, but if you go to an office, you can focus and get things done and the people I’ve hired are fantastic. They’re great. The way that I like to think of it is, you can go to another company. You might do some QA. What are you going to really learn? But this, you get to build the courses and people love these courses.
Hundreds of people if not thousands of people will look at your course. They’ll be getting information. You’ll be helping people right away.
Do you want to do a QA job or do you want to do this? That’s how I usually get people to do it. It’s that office. But the problem with that is that even though I have an amazing office with amazing rent, there are expenses.
Jerry Banfield: Well, I’m very interested to know your income, and you obviously can be as exact or obscure as you want. You’ve got a lot of online courses and many creators want to know, where are the best places to make your online courses to make money? Which courses should I make to make money, and which websites do I put courses on that will actually give me an income versus just take my course and never pay me anything?
What’s your experience with all that?
John Bura: Again, every company’s a little different, but we want to think of your wholesale streams as pre-sales, actual sales and post sales and every company does this in a specific way.
For instance, Apple has pre-sales of their iPhone, they have their actual sales of their iPhone and they have their post sales which is their services. Every company does this and for me my pre-sales is I put them up on Kickstarter and this is the one thing that I think is awesome, and it’s a very tried and tested and true way of selling stuff.
If you want to buy a condo, they have pre-sales for condos all the time where you can get it at a slightly better price, and then you buy it, and then the developer gets a bit of money. Then they get to build a building, and then hopefully the condo appreciates for you taking that risk.
Now it doesn’t always work, but most of the time it works. Then using that model the developer will sell the condos, and then after the fact they don’t really have a post model, but you have to figure all that out.
For me I put everything on Kickstarter first because it’s my pre-sales and pre-sales are huge, and I would love it if Udemy for instance, which is where my actual sales come from and my website, StackCommerce, and a few other websites. I’d love it if they had pre-sales because I could get more pre-sale money because it’s great. Because then, I can sleep better at night knowing that the payroll’s covered, which is another thing.
It’s hard to have payroll because there’re many mouths to feed. I have a family now, too.
Jerry Banfield: I understand that. I’ve just recently made drastic cutbacks across the board myself as I tried bootstrapping my education platform and it just got to where I’m like, “How am I going to be paying other people when I’m borrowing money to feed my family?” That’s crazy. The bigger the numbers get, it gets more and more challenging.
How do you manage like the stress of that? Balancing out, how much money is this course going to make? How much can I pay people? How much do I need to save? How much can I invest in this?
How do you balance all that out?
John Bura: Well, I am a stereotypical entrepreneur and for so many reasons I’m just a stereotype. I can handle stress a lot more than other people naturally, just like some people have a higher pain tolerance than others. It’s the same way and the crazy thing is that the successful entrepreneurs almost don’t even care about losing a million dollars or two million dollars. But for me it does.
There are some sleepless nights, especially when income fluctuates across platforms and it just happens or just something in the market happens. It’s just life. But at the end of the day, I can always take a look at how I can do better, and the way that I look at things particularly is that I look at things as in blocks here.
For instance, if there’s a bunch of blocks in a different order, if I have the blocks in an order and if I just rearrange them, then maybe I can profit in some way, shape or form, and that’s what I do. It usually works. Sometimes it fails, but it usually works.
Jerry Banfield: You’ve mentioned about being interested in having investors.
Corey Chambers I see is watching live on YouTube here. Corey was helping me look for investors and I didn’t find any, and I got a lot of feedback though in that process.
People were saying, “Hey, watch out for investors.” They’ll do a little smooth move to like put in a bit of money and then end up owning your company over some legal maneuvering and I’m interested to know like how you’ve bootstrapped all the way to where you’re at today.
Are you looking for investors, and if so, what investors are you looking for?
John Bura: That touches on something a little bigger. Technically, any business is investable. A bakery is investable. A bakery can make chocolate which is something you could buy at the grocery store anyway, right?
They can make chocolate and it can be the best chocolate in the United States and it will make millions of dollars, but they need some investment money to get there. The question and the big question is whether these course companies are investable at all.
Because there’s been like millions if not billions of dollars being put into the companies and some of these companies they put it on to the content side and some of them put it on to like the marketplace side, and I look at some of these companies that get money and I’m like, if I got that money I could change the world.
I’m always open to looking at investors and one thing that I learned because I’ve been reviewing my pitch deck as well, in a business you should always be open to that. Sometimes someone likes what you do and they say, hey look, this would be awesome if we just work together and we’ll all ride this into the sunset. But like you said, you have to look out for making sure that you keep your company.
But one of the things that I’ve learned is that the investment world today is hyper focused. It’s almost the more niche you are the almost kind of better it is. So if you could sell to like a specific niche versus going all out, and I like a stereotypical entrepreneur, is great at divergent thinking. I’m like, hey, do this, this, this and this. Bring it in, focus. That’s what I’ve learned. If you are pitching the investors, make sure it’s hyper focused and you want to focus on the numbers as well.
Jerry Banfield: Well, what’s the pitch for your company if there’s a potential investor watching or broker that might want to help? What’s the short pitch for why your company’s investable? Because you’ve told me and it sounds great to me.
John Bura: Well basically we can make this tutorial content at 1/5 the time that it takes the big companies, and how I do that is the process that I’ve curated over the years.
Jerry Banfield: As an investor, they might not understand like, okay, you make tutorial content. I’ll help them out a bit. Like that’s a video course on Udemy. How does the money add up for having somebody making videos and turning it into courses? Why is that an investable business in terms of the income potential?
John Bura: Well, there are lots of things in that. When it comes to being investable people, we sell thousands of courses, but I would like to sell hundreds of thousands of courses per month. That’s what I want to do, and you mentioned earlier in the podcast we have the Wall Street Coder which is learning how to code in Python, machine learning and to do all the trading all in one big bundle.
One of the things that we do is try to be a little ahead of the curve. FinTech will be huge, especially next year, and we already have a course on it. If I just had maybe two or three more people, then I could definitely compete with some bigger companies on that. From the content side, we really have things nailed down. We can make a ton of content, content people like. People do like our content and as you can tell like on Kickstarter, people keep coming back. We need to scale up that approach and that is challenging, but at the same time though, we can we can definitely be a huge content provider.
Read the second part of this interview in our next post.