Reinventing Yourself in A Changing Market with John Bura

For most in the e-learning industry, success is not necessarily guaranteed and you might find yourself in need of reinventing your approach. In the previous section of the interview, John Bura touches on a few ways to go about restructuring your business and in this section we explore that a little more.

In this part of the interview, John Bura focuses on how he has gone about adapting to the changing business environment, changing trends, and competition in the e-learning industry.

John Bura | Reinventing Yourself in A Changing Market.

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John Bura | Reinventing Yourself in A Changing Market.

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You may like to read the previous section of this interview with John Bura: John Bura | Course Marketing and the Future of E-Learning.

Here is the next section of the John Bura interview.

Jerry Banfield: What you’re saying for me is, in some ways this just might be something the market is not mature enough to really have that many clients for me? Where the person who needs my help will be able to pay an amount that I’d be happy to work for.

There’s lots of people who would like my help ranking their courses higher but not going to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to talk to me about it or buy a coaching package for thousands of dollars because it’s a side project for them. It’s not their main business. The bigger the market gets though then the more companies that are involved.

Companies could easily, when they’ve got hundreds of courses and paying someone like me a few thousand dollars a month, to go in and look at specifically, say you need more videos in this course. You need to get some more free coupons over to this. Then there’s a marketplace for my services and that’s a good example of a gray area.

The more money goes into the content, the more money will be needed for marketing. The key is to get the money coming into the content creation.

For Udemy it’s a tough business model because when you’re like Pluralsight, you can just dump money in the content creation, and you make all the money when you sell the course.

The content creators from what I understand don’t get anything after they’ve taken their paycheck. The income is so much higher for the company itself versus Udemy. You’re only getting at best like 50-ish% of a course sale and it’s $10 or something and there are no subscriptions either, so you got to keep selling all the time.

John Bura: Actually, that’s a really good thing.

If I put my things on a market place, I have no problem helping you out there. The App Store does the same thing and they take 30%, and then Steam take something similar.

All these marketplaces take something and I think it’s justified. They have expenses of their own but Pluralsight, you’re right. They spend all this money, and they spend a lot of money. They have an IPO too. They spend a lot of money on the content side, and then they have a recurring revenue stream.

I’ve been asking Udemy this for years. I would love to be able to sell subscription for $19.99 on my Udemy site and that would be the best way for me to grow my business because then I can get like anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 people to constantly subscribe to my content and that way I can grow.

Of course, they’re getting a cut along the way. Like even on the App Store now individual apps are subscriptions and most of the good apps, like if you’ve been on the App Store, they have workouts and whatnot. They have like workout apps.

They have these subscriptions that are tied to it and I would love to do the same thing. It would incentivize people to update their courses. It would be to incentivize people to make new courses. It would incentivize people to pay for support. Because the support thing is big and I think if there are two things that make top talent leave Udemy or the industry – Which is the worst because there’s always a talent crunch especially in coding. Because there’s only so many people that can do it first of all, so you have to find a way to keep these people there.

If I have to spend all my day answering questions, unless I really like it I’m not going to do it and most people especially like my employees they don’t want to answer questions. You give that to the support person. They just want to make the content.

If there are two things that make people leave the industry it’s the bad reviews which are unavoidable but it is what it is and then it’s probably support. Having a subscription and having even multiple levels of support, for example, pay an extra $5 a month to have your question answered within 24 hours and that way, I can say okay, well I’m getting X amount of questions per month and then it takes X amount of dollars to hire this person for a month, and so that way I can afford to do it.

With this one-price-pay-all it’s harder to budget with that. If companies could have a recurring revenue stream for just their Udemy courses I think it would be fantastic.

Jerry Banfield: Yes. I think it would be as well and that would address the support because when you get a lot of students taking a course and there’s 15, 20, 30 questions a day in a course, I hired people. I paid people 100 a week to answer questions in my courses because every answer to a question helps get a better review and helps get the course ranked higher, it helps get more questions in.

At one point, I was spending over an hour, seven days a week, answering just questions and that was barely keeping up, and I’m like this is crazy. Then you’ve got something like Skillshare that has a subscription and it’s such a good deal for students and it just doesn’t grow like Udemy does.

John Bura: What do we do?

Jerry Banfield: Yes. You’ve got a subscription for mammoth courses, I believe, on your website that gives you access to all the courses. How do you put all these different business models you’re working with at once together? For people that don’t know, you’ve got your sales, your courses on Udemy, things like one-time sales.

Are you on Skillshare?

John Bura: No. Well, they closed a bunch of their courses and apparently mine didn’t make the cut.

I never really made much on Skillshare to begin with. To be fair, we just put most of our obsolete courses on Skillshare. Hey, if they’re not making any money, why not? If we’re not making any money then the few hundred dollars I’m getting from them a month is something, but then I guess they caught on to it, and then they closed it down. Which I don’t think was the smartest move. That’s a topic for another time, I guess.

The thing about Udemy that people love is the one price. They don’t like the subscription as much and it’s really, really hard to sell subscriptions for this content. It is so hard. The people that buy my subscriptions want to and that’s because (a), they know that if they were to buy all the stuff we released per month, If they were to buy it by themselves each month it would cost them more, but they like our content so much that they want to subscribe to it.

I also say to them, “Look, it’s the best way to help out this channel.” It’s the best way to help out the channel. It’s the best way to help us because we literally take all the money that we get from this stuff, and we put it right back into the content.

It’s not like I have an island in the Cayman Islands. It’s not like that. Although, no. I still wouldn’t buy a yacht even if I was super rich. Probably just rent one just to see how cool it is.

Anyway, the thing that makes Udemy great is that they have their marketplace, and they have a subscription to UFB, and they’re doing one for IT now. Having like my core fans on Udemy to be able to subscribe to my content and maybe having an extra few levels where people can pay between 19 and 50 bucks a month to my service.

Udemy gets a cut all along the way and if I’m really good at marketing and I can use Udemy as my marketing, then I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. It would be awesome to have that subscription level for the instructors.

John Bura | Reinventing Yourself in A Changing Market.

Jerry Banfield: It would and I hope they make that available.

What other ways are there to earn money as an instructor? You’ve got Udemy. You can sell courses one time. You can set up your own platform where you can do with any kind of business model. You can put them on Skillshare and get minutes watched maybe. You can put them on Stack Commerce and get sales and bundles. You can try to apply for jobs however many there are now to get hired directly to create courses. You can even do private label rights.

What are some places where you can let somebody else sell your course or use their course as your own? What other opportunities besides that are there that you see to make money teaching online?

John Bura: That’s a really good question. The other thing is to have online boot camps and that’s something that we’re going to be focused on pretty heavily next year.

Jerry Banfield: Online boot camps?

John Bura: Online boot camps.

Jerry Banfield: What is an online boot camp?

John Bura: An online boot camp is where you basically get to learn something.

We tried this a couple of years ago and it was mixed but now’s the time because I think things change. You have to reevaluate your business plan like every three months now at least or every six months. I do that every six months.

Something that worked a year ago doesn’t work today and something that didn’t work two years ago works in the future. We’re going to be doing machine learning boot camps where you don’t know anything, I show you everything you need to know in about a five-hour span. An all-day boot camp of machine learning.

Jerry Banfield: Is it live?

John Bura: Yes, it is live and you can ask some questions and you get a certificate at the end. You can use it on your resume so that way, you can have machine learning on your resume or on your LinkedIn. That’s what we’re going to do. You will have a practical project that we get to make together and I can show you every step along the way how to do that.

That’s the big other thing. Live training. In-person training. Teaching online is kind of like a springboard to where you are going next, but that’s the big thing, I think.

Jerry Banfield: Well, thank you. That was the topic I really wanted to get into. What’s the next big thing? Because when you started in 2011, you were early on the teaching online game. It wasn’t even ready.

When I got into it in 2014 – very beginning of the year – that was a perfect time to get in. It was blowing up. There weren’t that many creators, there’s a lot of students, there was a perfect ratio. Where do you see now as the perfect thing where there’s not a lot of people, and there’s almost no companies.

Really what ruins it for individual creators is companies. 

John Bura: I would disagree to a certain extent.

Here’s why.

Because there are people on the App Store who do everything by themselves, and they make millions of dollars anyway.

Jerry Banfield: Because companies have added so much value to the App Store.

John Bura: Exactly. I don’t know, by this time next year a hundred million dollars has been put into the content side and companies like mine to make Udemy courses and other courses like that. I guarantee you that’s going to trickle down to all the individual instructors. I think this is where like a lot of people don’t like the idea of companies coming in.

It’s because like, “No, I have my own thing going on and it’s going to ruin it because that’s just the way it is.” The problem is that production creep will happen and there will be a point in time when people say this quality is just not good enough.

To a certain extent it’s happening already. Other companies are making amazing content with huge production teams and people are just going to say, I like this content better. People do say that about some courses in these marketplaces.

Jerry Banfield: Then that’s what draws people away from a marketplace to say, well, I’ll just subscribe to Pluralsight, they have great quality courses and it’s simple. I don’t need to buy or figure out?

John Bura: Yes. There are some laws of physics in business that are just inescapable.

Like if you ever hear Elon Musk talk about the laws of physics it’s kind of the same thing. I only have so much energy and so many hours, so I delegate the things that I can’t do or do as well.

Like my marketing person does a way better job than I ever did. My video editor, does a way better job. My instructors, they do a wonderful job too and sometimes we all have our own kind of style but like one guy does things better than I do and that’s exactly what the whole point is. That will make our courses good enough so that people watch.

We sell thousands of courses. Every time we talk to somebody and like even in the B2B deal, they say our courses are absolutely amazing. They always say that and I tell my employees that every day, “Look, people think our courses are awesome.” 

Don’t let that one-star review keep you up at night. It’s not keeping me up at night.

Jerry Banfield: Well, it’s clear having groups of people that are very organized and highly effective does often make it more difficult the threshold to get started and getting any initial traction goes up.

Where’s the threshold the lowest right now where the opportunity is there?

On Udemy 2014, the threshold was super low and even lower in 2011. You could just show up with a microphone and make a crappy course. I saw someone that made hundreds of thousands. That’s what inspired me.

I’m like, this course, ‘How I make 2000 a month on YouTube’. This is a crappy course with no good information in it. I literally can record something better than that. Where’s that same kind of opportunity now where someone can just show up and make an effort?

You said online boot camps before. I guess the question is well, where do you get started? What else is there where you can just show up and have the best chance of a good return? Especially if you’ve got maybe a little team or you’re just solo? Where you’re not on your level yet. Where you’ve got your whole business together?

John Bura: Yes. Well, it’s kind of not at the place where you can just show up and expect to make money now, but what I would recommend you do is to just produce as many courses as you can. That’s it.

The more you do it, the more money you’ll make and someone will take notice of this. Start a YouTube channel, get your own site, you get your own sales funnel on your own site, and then have that whole plan. Pre-sales, actual sales, and post sales. You want all those three things. I guess post sales is our subscription to our people who really like our stuff. We have our subscription so that’s really kind of all the things here.

We’re also working on a few other things which we’ll probably talk about another time for post sales. If you focus on those three things and you continue to produce it then you’ll probably make money off it.

Jerry Banfield: Your suggestion is just crank out online courses because for the long term there are so many opportunities.

That’s actually what I’m doing. I put all this energy into founding Uthena this year and I’m like this isn’t for me. I just want to make courses. That’s what I really like to do and have a business based on my courses and not everybody else’s course. I like creating the courses. I don’t so much like the day-to-day running a business and managing five, six, contractors all doing different aspects.

I’m actually doing that same thing and that’s what I did in 2014, 15, 16. Just crank out online courses. You’re saying just make online courses today because for the long term there are so many opportunities coming. Even if you’re just starting out and the courses aren’t very good. Just make some courses and maybe even if you don’t make that much in sales, you might have a fantastic portfolio to go to a potential company owner like you and say, “Hey, John Bura, look, I made five coding courses that I struggled to sell.”

Then from your point of view say, “Oh, well, I know you can finish a course and do a decent job of it. Come work for me and we’ll help you make better courses and sell them.

John Bura: Yes. You touched on something else. In other places you can flip your product. So it is a very standard business practice to make an app, gets let’s say 400,000 people into your app, and then flip it. A bigger company will buy it. You can’t do that with Udemy courses now.

If I saw somebody and I said, “Look, your course is making 5,000 a month that’s great for you. I’ll give you 200 grand for it.” You can flip Udemy courses. In fact, there are whole sites that are dedicated to just flipping websites and apps and all that stuff. There’s no like

Jerry Banfield: That’s a really good idea.

John Bura: Oh, yes. It’s great. I would love to see more of that kind of thing. It would be awesome if I’ve got some money and then I could just acquire some courses and add it to my portfolio.

That is a whole new thing too. Who wouldn’t take that deal?

Hey, you made this course in your spare time and someone’s going to pay you like 200 grand for it?

Yeah, of course. I’ll just make another course because I already did it once. I already did it once and I’ll do it again. Now you have a connection at that company. You could say, “Hey, look, now my new course is making $6,000 a month. So can you give me 250 for it?

I’m like, “Oh yeah.

If I see the metrics are good as a company then I say, “Yeah, I’ll absolutely do that.

That would be amazing if we could do that. That way, I think the marketplace would be huge if you could do that. Because you could do it with Google Play, you can do it with the App Store. People acquire other companies’ content all the time. In fact, Pluralsight it’s puts hundreds of millions of dollars into other people’s content.

It would be great to have that ecosystem on Udemy as well and that’s part of the gray area. Udemy doesn’t necessarily benefit from me paying somebody 200 grand for their course but the platform does because top talent will start making more Udemy courses and the whole thing will get better.

Jerry Banfield: I haven’t mentioned this publicly but I’m planning to flip Uthena and say, “Okay, I’ve laid the foundation I think it’s time for somebody else to take this to the next level and sell it, and let somebody else buy it and scale it up.”

That is an amazing idea for courses. The challenge with online courses is, how do you manage all the rights with that? If somebody’s course is making 5 grand on Udemy, and they’re the primary instructor and you buy it, well, they can still kick you off the course and keep a 100% of income or if they have a Skillshare profile.

I guess that’s one of the things that needs to be sorted.

I have paid to produce a bunch of courses this year. They’re collecting the income off of marketplaces like Udemy where they make that a little difficult and then somewhere like Skillshare where they literally have to send you the money from their profile. I guess that someone will need to work out how you collect all that income for these things on different profiles especially if somebody else set the profile up.

John Bura: Yes. I always go back to the app store just because everyone’s happy there. Most people are happy. Let’s put it that way. You can transfer rights of your app to another company.

Jerry Banfield: That’s what you need to be able to do.

John Bura: Exactly.

Jerry Banfield: Especially your rights on Udemy to somebody else. They might have that but I’ve never heard of it before.

John Bura: I don’t know if they do but the marketplace isn’t big enough but if people could do that then the IPO is going to go amazing. If they added that feature and I can go and acquire new courses – if it’s making $5,000 a month, that’s what, 60 grand a year?

So I could pay you 70 grand for that course and some people just take it. I guess that is a lot of money. I know I’m going to make that back eventually and it’s an investment and I can do that with apps. It’s a contract. You transfer the rights. This is done all over the place in all these different marketplaces and I think it would be great if we could do that with Udemy too.

The instructors would really like it but the thing is that again, Udemy doesn’t collect any money from it but I think they would collect a lot of brands capital, I guess, from that.

Jerry Banfield: Yes, that would be amazing too if you had a content creation team. Instead of making a new course you could buy one that already had maybe some students and their reviews and just clean out the original content and make a much better version of it. That would be easier to sell than starting something brand new.

That’s a great suggestion. I hope someone from Udemy is watching, taking notes.

All right, another question.

Hope said, how do you get the courses up in a saturated market like programming? How to get some sales and reviews? How to differentiate yourself when all the topics you know are things that are already saturated?

I know Facebook. I know YouTube. I know Live streaming. Most of these are pretty saturated. How do you match your creative skills to the places where you’re likely to get a good return versus on Udemy? It might be the 450th Facebook marketing course or Python coding course.

I understand that’s a big task for you to figure out too with every one each month. It’s working for you.

John Bura: Absolutely. You have to figure out. Again, you do have to work on figuring out what to do. A lot of times in business there are creative entrepreneurial types and business administration types. The business administration types, think of it like a train on a track. You get on track, you go as fast as you can, make as much money as possible.

The problem is that if that track moves and you’re going off a cliff you have to change which you have to go back to the creative entrepreneurial type. You always have to think of the best new course. It’s hard because being creative is hard. It’s difficult.

Now, I’m naturally like that so it’s not hard to me, but you have to figure out what people want first of all, and then second of all, you need to be able to produce it quickly, which is another big thing, and then you also have to find a way to differentiate yourself.

The way that I like to say this in restaurant terms is that if I were to say, “Hey, I’m going to start a burger joint.

No one’s going to say, “Ah, McDonald’s has got that covered no bother.” No one’s going to say that. People will go to these independent burger joints for that one burger. I don’t know. Breathed maple smoked bacon or whatever. You would eat like it’s something different and then you have to figure out your thing that makes you different.

One of the things we do is over the shoulder tutorials. So, we basically do screen cast. Imagine if you are right here and you see me code this neural network from scratch or something. That’s what people like and some people don’t like that, and they don’t buy our courses and other people really like that, so they do buy our courses.

It’s about your personal image, your style, your differentiation and then the more you produce, and the more you stick with it, the more money you make.

Read the sixth part of this interview in our next post.


Jerry Banfield