When starting your journey in the e-learning industry it is quite easy to throw a lot of money at it hoping something sticks. But is that really the right way to go about it?
In this section of the interview, John Bura throws in a few tips on how to work and flourish within your financial constraints and also how to go about making the most money from your courses.
John Bura | Quality vs Quantity Within Financial Limits.
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You may like to read the previous section of this interview with John Bura: John Bura | Role of Investors in Building Your Course Creation Business.
Let us learn more from John Bura.
Jerry Banfield: What I’ve found weird is, how do you set the balance especially with you having a company and you want to put out the best courses?
How do you balance out between, we need to get this released and have some good quality and at the same time though addressing what you just said, like it doesn’t matter sometimes. You put a whole bunch of time and energy into something and it still might not sell.
How do you work that balance between, let’s get some good quality out, but let’s not take forever on this?
John Bura: That’s a really good question because sometimes in business if you take too long, it’s wrong. Especially because we produce technology courses, trending is really important and the best way to make the most amount of money is to get the timing just right. Everyone loves our Wall Street Coder course. Literally everyone and it’s been out for months and it’s a pretty comprehensive course on it.
We also have a course where you get to make a Battle Royale. All the kids are playing Battle Royales, and we have a course on that. People love that course. We have to push it forward.
That’s another thing about a company. That when you’re working by yourself, let’s say you have a job and you want to just get a course out, it’s really hard to spend your free time when you can be watching Netflix or playing Overwatch or something, and you can say, I’m going to get this course on machine learning done. You know what I mean?
It’s really hard to do that, but if you go to a job and it’s your job to do it and you get to spend your day doing it, it’s a lot easier.
This is something that’s also overlooked in the company versus like solo instructors and it’s really hard to transition to that point, but I’ve had day jobs over the time. Like in 2008 to 2010 it was really difficult and I said as soon as I got my break, I’m going to work really hard and I did. It was like 50 hours a week and trying to iterate that, and eventually by 2015 it was closer to like 30 hours a week because I got more efficient at it. I’d say, I can just do all these things in a more efficient way and work less hours.
You always want to work less and make more money. You always want to figure a way to do that because you don’t want your day to be frustrating.
Why would you want that?
Productivity is not just about getting things done faster it’s also about making things less frustrating too. We always talk about the balance like, okay, this course was incredibly frustrating to produce. Why? Okay, well, let see if we can make it less frustrating the next time.
Even for the student’s side, the reason why people buy our course is that we take the time to make things incredibly easy.
Some courses are incredibly verbose. They’ll just be typing out code for like a long time or they won’t even type out code. They’ll just copy and paste code or just have PowerPoint slides with code on it. We’re typing it out and we make sure that it’s extremely basic so that anyone, you can like pull them off the street and get them to do a neural network or pull them off the street and get them to upload a game to the app store. That’s why people keep buying our stuff.
Jerry Banfield: I think you answered it very effectively. It is, how do you work the balance between quality and managing your time effectively. Quality of product and quantity of time you put into it. You said, keep it basic, simple and just get it out there and I’ve done that too.
I watched some of my old courses like, my God. I literally walked in front of the camera, hit record, talked for 10 minutes, hit record and uploaded it. I couldn’t be bothered to make a slide or anything, but you can always go through and if a course sells you can make an updated fancier version and sell that as the next version.
John Bura: Absolutely. That’s actually a smart thing to do. Let’s say you have a course and it takes off; you can always just re-record it with better quality.
Jerry Banfield: Have you guys done that yet with any of your courses? You’ve made one that was good and you’re like okay, let’s make a new version of this?
John Bura: We’ve never really hit that major grand slam of a product and it’s always been like we just constantly produce more courses and make more money. Going with the sports analogy, it’s like an RBI. We have got tons of RBIs but no Grand Slams and if I did have a grand slam, I’ve already got the plan in place to take this to the next level.
Jerry Banfield: What do you quantify as a Grand Slam?
John Bura: Like hundreds of thousands of dollars. If one of my courses was featured on, I don’t know, like Joe Rogan or something, and then like all of a sudden we got like five hundred grand to two million dollars.
It’s why I’m looking for an investor.
I see these companies get millions of dollars in funding and I’m like, look, I could probably do a better job and the content that we produce is awesome, and I have a plan for it. One Grand Slam and this company’s going to be huge.
Jerry Banfield: Well, from my point of view you’ve got several Grand Slams on Kickstarter already with these. Do you want to talk about that?
John Bura: Sure. Kickstarter again is our presales and it would be great if everything was as good as ‘Hello Coding‘ like a hundred grand each time.
Jerry Banfield: That is a Grand Slam on Kickstarter. A hundred grand. That’s a top 99% project at least.
John Bura: Yes. Absolutely. The thing is though if you want to hire a bunch of people, like paradoxically a hundred grand is both a lot of money and not a lot of money at the same time. But if I could do that ‘Hello Coding‘ like four or five times a year and I could consistently get it I think that would be awesome.
With ‘Hello Coding‘ it was a 170-hour project so it was huge. Our other projects aren’t as big and we did one this year where I teach entrepreneurship and it didn’t really do as well and that’s my other soft skills one.
My particular base didn’t want entrepreneurship tutorials from me even though I think all my students should take that course because I have so much awesome information. What I learned from that is if you want to do that kind of course you have to be a much bigger name. If Mark Zuckerberg did one it would be like -- Would he even do it?
But someone who’s bootstrapping companies, somewhat known, it’s not as catchy. It’s not as shiny, I guess.
Jerry Banfield: Well some things are just before their time too.
Your entrepreneurship course is evergreen from what you just said about it. That in 20 years might take off whereas some of the coding ones they come and go. So sometimes it just might need some more time to take off too.
But it is disappointing when you’re all excited about something.
I just did a new Kickstarter and I’m very grateful I got to two hundred in funding and then somebody cancelled. I guess my base is not that interested in more digital marketing courses from me which is interesting. But then, what do you want?
John Bura: Exactly. Another thing that I’ve done is I’ve segmented my whole list. I have a pretty big list on my own site. I have a pretty big list on Udemy and have a big list on Kickstarter.
I never promote Kickstarter to Udemy, Udemy to Kickstarter or my list to either one of these.
The reason is actually a very simple business case. So if I try to sell someone a Udemy course that is normally used to my own site I have to sell them on two things. I have to sell the Udemy platform and the course. But if I just get a bunch of people on Udemy and sell them a Udemy course that’s one thing I have to sell them. I have to sell them on the new course.
I found out that there are people out there that will only buy my Udemy courses, and they’ll never buy my Kickstarter and there are people that will only buy my Kickstarters and never put it on Udemy. They only do that.
That’s another thing that I’ve done and I think it works out really well.
Using the Starbucks example, a Starbucks has their coffee in Walmart. It’s not their best coffee, but it’s there.
From a course providing point of view we also do that. We also have our courses wherever people want to buy them and some people will only buy on my own site and we have a few other sites as well and the students will only buy there, and if I were to bring everything to my site I don’t think I’d make as much money.
That’s another thing that I do. Surprisingly most of my money on Kickstarter comes from Kickstarter.
Jerry Banfield: Wow. You’re saying most of your money that you make on Kickstarter is from people who just discover you on Kickstarter and then pledge to previous projects and pledge again?
John Bura: Yes.
Jerry Banfield: Wow. That is an outstanding example of why you want to use Kickstarter to pre-sell your courses. That’s access to an audience you just might not get otherwise. That’s amazing.
John Bura: Obviously you have to host them somewhere and having your own Teachable and Thinkific site would be perfect for that.
Jerry Banfield: We’ve got a question. Do you think it’s wise to teach when you haven’t finished the course with the excuse of not forgetting them before the end?
Yes. We talked about that a little bit and John said you just work through your resistance. Just put it out there with the best quality you can. Just get the course done and finished and then you can see what happens.
Commit. Make a decision that if you’re going to start something like a video course just finish it. I mean, I still struggle with this after making hundreds of courses. I could picture this course being better but in the realistic scenario in my life, this is as good as it’s going to be. No PowerPoint, just straight screen capture talking head videos.
John Bura: Absolutely. The other thing is like if you spend all the time in the course you know every single one of its flaws. But someone looking at your new course might not understand that.
The reason why we do this is we want to help people, so even if your course just highlights something in someone’s life and it makes a difference it’s a complete win and that’s what I think.
I’m a glass half-full kind of person just like a stereotypical entrepreneur. Like overly optimistic. I have had that happen. Some people said, this one little thing in this course was awesome and if I didn’t release it I wouldn’t have impacted that person’s life. So you’ve got to release it.
Jerry Banfield: Think about the person watching a course might focus more on what it’s helping them with and not what you don’t like about it. No matter how good, it’s always going to have flaws in somebody’s opinion.
Alright I have another question for you, John.
You talked about timing before and I’ve seen this a lot. It’s putting out the right course at the right time so that you can have a huge home run or you can bring in a lot of RBI’s overtime in baseball terms.
I guess there are two questions.
First, how do you find a topic? There’s a lot of potential students and buyers, there’s not a lot of good course on it. How do you find those topics, and then once you find them how do you actually make something out of it?
How do you get a course out there, and then the course meets expectations and is able to capitalize on that? How do you work on that timing?
John Bura: So, it also depends on what kind of course you’re doing. We usually work in technology and we just did an Unreal course and while it’s awesome, the Unreal Engine is amazing it’s a little -- Well I don’t want to say stale but not as shiny. Let’s put it that way. Our new Kickstarter, the Complete Machine Learning for everyone, that’s a little more shiny and when I first started this, Python was big but not as big as it is today.
When I first started Udemy like in 2011 and 2012 it was all about Java. Now Python I think just surpassed Java in terms of top programming languages and I produced a Python course and it was like, meh! It didn’t do anything. I was too early on that one. I was way too early and I focused on app development which was huge at the time.
What happened is that there was this old programming language called Objective C and was terrible to use, and then Swift came out, which made making iPhone apps easier. I made like a huge amount of content on that. I think I made an 80-hour course all by myself in a very short period of time because it had to be out. I had to make a lot of money off of it.
This goes back to performing. When you produce things it’s kind of like a performance, like a musician or an athlete. You practice and perform and hence I like to get a product out, and then kind of practice on a few things and then get it out again. So kind of like games if you’re a basketball superstar or whatever, you play your games, and then you work on your three-pointers or whatever and you go to the next game, and you hopefully score a few more of them.
If you get in the habit of making courses and making them quickly and trying to do a better job each time, if you have an idea and you know it’s dynamite, you can get that course out there before everybody else.
That’s what has been the advantage for us. We would produce an iOS course before all the big courses would. In fact, we’d produce it quicker than lynda.com would do and I would use that in my marketing material.
“We have an iOS 8 course today, Linda doesn’t and if they did ours will be bigger.” That just sells itself.
Jerry Banfield: What I took from what you said is, get on the trending topics, things that are hot. If you’re in technology you’ll know what’s hot because that’s what you already do. Get on those things that are growing and hot and just get a course out as soon as possible about it, put as much into the course as you can, and then you can always make another course on it if you want to improve or there are updates.
The key with that is, how do you stay on top of like what’s coming ahead of time?
I do digital marketing and I’m always caught by surprise. There’s this app, TicTok, one of my partners mentioned it like a year ago, but I didn’t pay attention to it and now I’m like, well, there’s only one TicTok course on Skillshare.
How do you stay up on these trends like that? How do you figure out where to go? Do you research blogs or articles or what is it?
John Bura: Well there’s a lot in there. With this there’s always a “Je ne sais quoi.” There’s just something about it that I know how to do, which other people don’t.
I guess you want to figure out what people really want. That’s really the question. It’s hard. Big companies get it wrong, but you have to figure out if I were learning today and I knew nothing, like if I was 22 years old and I needed a course what would I take? I spend a lot of my day looking at news. I spend a lot of my day doing other things that I’m trying to think about. I just try to think about what the next big course will be.
Generally, if it’s popular it’ll probably do better because anything that’s trending nowadays will get magically picked up in these algorithms. If Battle Royales are trending, you produce a Battle Royale course. If machine learning is trending you produce a machine learning course.
E-Sports are trending you can produce an eSports video. That’s the kind of thing. You got to look at what’s trending and the quicker you can get out a course the more money you’ll make.
Jerry Banfield: Yes. That first course to the marketplace has a huge advantage over the ones that come along with it, which is a good segue to get into.
You’ve made a lot of courses in areas where there already were courses on those. If you’re making a course in an area where there’s already courses, how do you make a course that’s better and give yourself the best chance to over time do better than that course that came out earlier?
John Bura: That is tricky. There are a couple things.
First of all, I’m sure you get this and every course creator gets this.
Why don’t I look up these videos on YouTube?
I mean everybody gets that and there is an answer and that is, our courses are more in-depth. They take you from A to B quicker and we do it in a specific way that you do not waste your time. There are no ads and we try to give you a practical project you can put in your resume.
We can do all of that in 5 to 20 hours depending on the course. When it comes to producing these things you want to make sure, again you just got to find the trending thing and to produce as fast as possible.
Jerry Banfield : Do you only produce trending things where there’s no existing courses or how do you decide what courses you want to produce? It sounds like you’re always working on courses. You probably have three to five in production now among the company?
John Bura: Yes. That’s a good topic. So over the years a lot of the top Udemy courses are really bundles of courses.
They’ll have the introduction to web development, and then you’ll build a website here, and then do some back end there. There is really like big bundle of a course even though it’s like one course.
What we do is we try to make like a five-hour course. It’s like Introduction of Python, Introduction to Graphing in Python, and those are at different levels. By doing that, we get to sell the bundle, which will naturally sell more. But we also get the individuals too.
We have a bundle, and then we have individual courses. Then sometimes you can use those videos in the individual courses with marketing materials which is an efficient way of marketing your course.
Just use the video in the course.
If the video is not good then well, I think you probably have some problems. You have to make your video, whatever it is, marketable.
Not every video is going to be marketable. For instance, people who produce graphic novels. They might spend a ridiculous amount of time on one frame, but they’re going to use that frame in their marketing materials, whereas they might spend like a fraction of the time on all the other frames because they’re not as marketable. You got to do the same thing with your courses.
Jerry Banfield : That’s smart.
So, pick out which parts of the course are most marketable, and then share those for free and you can drive sales. Remembering what you said, to fill in some of the gaps on getting sales, you said the key thing is presales.
You pre-sell your courses on Kickstarter and as we saw over here, you’re pre-selling the Complete Machine Learning course for everybody right now on Kickstarter.
You’ve got a great presales system down. In terms of once you’ve actually got the sales coming in, what are some of your top funnels?
For example, like Google organic search for this goes to Udemy courses, goes to a sale, goes to another promo announcement for another sale or YouTube video.
Like you said, the marketable material or YouTube video come over to Mammoth Interactive, buy the bundle. What are some of your top sales funnels that are your bread and butter?
What are your bread and butter sales models?
John Bura: The main thing that I do is I have a couple free courses and I have them on my website and I occasionally give them away for free. They get shared. We get signups on a daily basis to our main list, but a lot of our stuff is organic and on specific platforms.
So, whenever we release a Kickstarter, we get a lot of organic traffic there. Whenever we release a course in Udemy it’s a lot of organic traffic there. What’s interesting is that if I put my big list to Udemy, I’ve done this in the past, it didn’t really raise my search ranking on Udemy, so I stopped doing that and like almost nothing changed.
The same thing on Kickstarter, I sometimes put my list to Kickstarter occasionally though. The main funnel is the free courses on my Teachable site and I am selling the courses through there.
The other things is, that’s the platform for getting out any form of new venture if I want to and it’s worked out pretty well for us.
Read the fourth part of this interview in our next post.