In this part of the interview, John Bura gives us a bit of insight into the role of investors when you want to grow your business. At one point, your course creation business may require that a bit of funds be injected into it to move into the next phase.
Are investors important? What are the things to look out for? How can investors help you grow?
John Bura | Role of Investors in Building Your Course Creation Business.
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You may like to read the previous section of this interview with John Bura: John Bura | How I Got Into Creating and Selling Courses.
Let us learn more from John Bura.
Jerry Banfield: Well from my view, your company looks extremely investable because I see e-learning, the long term is just huge as there’s this shift to let’s learn and watch a course online instead of go pay a fortune at a university and come out with that. I guess, where’s the disconnect in investors not getting how exciting this is and how do we help them bridge that gap?
John Bura: This is the one thing that I set out to find when I first expanded and it was working pretty well until about maybe last year September and there’s a lot of real reasons for that. One thing I want this space to be, this e-learning space, is to be more like the App Store and Google Play and other online marketplaces. I want them to be scalable.
I want these marketplaces to be able to fund multi-million-dollar companies and these companies to make that. So, for instance, a lot of the industry is based on people just making their content in their spare time kind of as a side hustle and putting it online and that’s like most of what you see on the kind of Udemy, etcetera.
It’s good but Pluralsight and all these other companies, they’re spending millions of dollars on the content alone and I think there’s, and I’ve noticed over the years, that there’s content creep just like in film.
A movie ten years ago doesn’t cost as much as a movie today. It costs so much to make movies nowadays and the same thing is happening with courses, and I’ll give you a really good example.
One of our best Kickstarters was called ‘Hello Coding‘ and it sold over a hundred thousand dollars. It was really awesome. There are a couple of things that happened here.
I didn’t do a lot of that work on that. I just managed my employees and the name itself came up through my assistant. This is the thing that these marketplaces aren’t quite understanding, is that even if it was just me and I had a team, my content would be better with a team than just me.
It always is like that.
Like even singers, songwriters or comedians, they have teams with them and sometimes the bigger comedians and singer-songwriters they have like a PR person. They have like a bunch of people working for them, and I think that the course is just ready for that.
If it was more investable if you like our Kickstarter’s, which we know sell well, we can do your Kickstarter page for you.
If there were let’s say a hundred companies on these marketplaces that were making over millions of dollars a year, we could end up doing the marketing for some of these companies as well and that would be awesome because I love doing that.
The other thing about the App Store is that there’s the app store money and then there’s the grey area around the app store. There are all these programmers. There are marketing people. You can go search ‘how do I market my app’ and there will be hundreds of companies that will help you do it. But if you want to say ‘how do I market my online course’ I don’t think there’s any.
So we need that grey area to grow as well and we have to make the content side of this more investable and not locked up between subscription sites and I think if that were to happen in the industry, the marketplace that makes that happen will be worth a gazillion dollars.
Jerry Banfield: So what you’re saying is comparing to earlier iterations of film where it was very much a kind of freestyle, do-it-yourself music, I’m just going to get a microphone and make a record, and then as people have organized more like top artists have whole teams of songwriters, they literally just get handed lyrics, they show up and sing into a microphone and what you hear reflects a bunch of people working together to produce that. It’s not just her writing the song herself and using Ableton and putting it together.
What you’re saying is there’s a big opportunity in online course creation.
Right now it is mostly just people like me at home filming by themselves and uploading it themselves and trying to sell it for themselves and that investing in an e-learning company especially now or making your own e-learning company is a great opportunity to organize put out higher quality content and for the instructors it’s nice because, like me, I have no secure job security.
If I stop as I’ve done, I stop making online courses my income goes down or you lose one market place’s support your income gets devastated.
You’re saying organizing in e-learning and especially if a marketplace can help facilitate that organization there’ll be a lot higher quality courses, more security for instructors, easier to sell courses and you’re at the leading edge of that?
John Bura: Yes. It’s interesting because there’s this happy, sweet spot between investors, students, the people that work at these marketplaces and the people who create it. The other thing is I think like the App Store, there are very little complaints about that. Apple’s happy, the customers are happy and the developers are mostly happy.
Occasionally something happens with the developer, their app gets taken down for some weird reason and that’s going to happen because people push the system.
In any kind of product or in business someone’s going to try to push the rules and try to break the spirit of the marketplace, but I mean those people are kind of few and far between. Most people just want to get up and create a good business.
The other thing about making it investable is that if a marketplace gets 100 million dollars put into the content side that means that chances are that marketplace is going to make more than 100 million dollars too.
Billions of dollars are put into the App Store and Amazon and millions of dollars into Kickstarter.
Kickstarter is a good example. You can go hire a marketing company to market your product and if it’s good, you can really make it big on Kickstarter, Amazon’s like that to an extent. The app store is like that and Google Play’s like that. Steam’s like that and all the while in all these marketplaces there are those solo developers and solopreneurs I guess that are still making a ton of money.
It’s just that the bigger companies help facilitate the entire growth of the marketplace and I’d really like to see that and I really think that if that were to happen then not only would everyone be happier but the whole thing of why I started this is that I like helping people. I could help more people in a better way.
Another thing about companies is that you can streamline each of the processes.
When you’re usually on these marketplaces, you have to deal with support. Well, if I’m by myself and I have to answer five hours of questions a day that’s five hours of time I can’t be making new content. It’s five hours time I can’t iterate and make a better product. But if I get some support person to do that, then I can go do that. So with me I still do produce courses today just like how if you were a doctor’s practice, doctors work a long time. They’re still doing that.
I have got to produce good courses too.
So we have three people and that’s how we get 20 to 60 hours of content per month.
It’s roughly about an hour a day for each of us and it’s awesome and so when it comes to that the people who are making tutorials aren’t doing the support. They’re not doing the promo video. They’re not doing the video editing. They’re just focusing on making that course really, really good and the bigger companies they have a team of people just working on the course to make it good and they have a team of video editors to make it awesome and they have a team of marketing people.
I just have one person doing like each of those things, and my employees are amazing so that they can do that.
But I’d love to have a marketing team. A video editing team. If I were to get an investor, I could have three people in app development, three people in web development, three people in game development, etcetera, and I think it would be really awesome and we could really pump out those hours and the more hours you create the more money you make.
Jerry Banfield: Yes. That’s how I ended up making so many courses online. Just film more and more hours and I make more money. It’s a great deal. Thank you.
John, I was wondering next, you’ve got a lot of experience working your way into building an e-learning company and you’ve given us an idea of what’s possible for the future. What experience can you share for all the instructors out there who have made their own courses, who have set up a kind of business where they’ve got maybe a video editor or graphic designer but there’s still the only one that does the filming?
I’ve run into a lot of instructors especially on Udemy they’re like, okay, “I’ve got 25 courses now. I teach all of them.”
What experience can you share on what you did to build up?
I went so aggressively at it this year. I went so fast it kind of wrecked.
To build up in a sustainable way, where you get someone on board and you keep working with them versus taking a whole bunch? How do you build up from being a solopreneur to a company?
John Bura: This is another thing. So even though for maybe the first half of this year I didn’t really record a lot of tutorials and I was focusing on building the business which takes a lot of time.
Now, before I had my office and my employees I took nine months because I wanted to move in a specific time and it took me nine months to figure out how this worked.
Through that I have these iterations, a kind of what would work and what wouldn’t. When I first started out, I’m like, I’ll do all these things and that was not what I ended up doing.
Most of our courses are programming courses and in programming and like in engineering there is something called rapid prototyping where you build something really quick and see A; Does it work? Okay. Let’s do another one that’s like 95 percent the same. Does that work? Then, eventually, if you do like 20 of these prototypes, one of them is going to be good. By definition one of them is going to be awesome, the best, and the other is going to be the worst just because it’s a list and I did that with the possibilities.
I said, let’s do all of these things in a specific order and then let’s kind of figure it out. Then eventually I came onto the conclusion of this and there’s a lot that I needed to do. Like soundproofing which is really complicated and kind of expensive, microphone setup, computers. All of these things I have to take account of.
When you want to expand, I would recommend taking some time to just figure out how to do that.
Now I have a plan to scale this up to an eight-figure company and I really want to do it. I mean, I’m a big picture kind of guy here so it would be awesome to to do that. But we just need to to get the money in and if I had some of what the top sellers on Udemy had I could really make a huge impression.
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?
John also asks, do you have a course catalog?
Yes. You can look at all of John’s courses on Udemy. Just search for John Bura and you can also go to Mammoth Interactive where you can see all John’s company’s courses here. You can go to the Bura Tech YouTube channel and subscribe for the new videos from John here. You can also go to the Kickstarter project.
You can see John’s newest course here and you’ll be able to find all John’s courses that way.
What was the key question? You’re talking on the last question about how you scale up a company. You said you took nine months to think about and plan about it. How you’re going to have a microphone and soundproofing. That’s really smart. If I had to do this a year over again, I would definitely do that and instead of just immediately thinking I already know, I’m just going to hire people and we’re just going to do this, take your time with scaling up and take it one step at a time.
Let’s get down to the basics. Especially when you’re hiring people, how do you make sure those courses actually get finished and when you start it out, because so many of us will start things and not finish them?
Then with employees, how do you make sure your ideas turn into reality?
John Bura: Okay. So when I was in high school, and I think this is what most people have anyway, but there would be people around me who could just finish things.
How do you do that?
I would just start something and then just be completely lazy about it. One day I just kind of woke up, and I said, you know what, I just got to finish things regardless of quality and this is the kind of thing that I did and if you are younger, this is easier to do, like if you’re 18 or college age. High school is even better because no one cares about what you do.
Use a different business name or kind of like a pen name to whatever it is your doing and I would just finish things and remember that you can’t get things out that have a 200-million-dollar budget. If you like Pixar and you like animation, for instance, you can’t do that in your bed. Get something out of the door.
What I did when I was like 20 or something is that I tried to finish a bunch of projects regardless of quality.
I said, “Look, I’m just going to do it.”
Then I’m going to do that additive and iterative approach that 10-10-10 rule although I didn’t call it that at that time but I just did that again. With courses, you have to release it. You just have to release it and even if you think it’s a B+ course or B- course or C+ course you’ve got to release it. Because big companies don’t get it right all the time, too.
I mean there’s been app iterations of Apple iPhone that have been worse, well not necessarily worse, but not as good. I mean Windows, like not every other Windows iteration is good. I mean, this happens to the big companies too. So if you produce something and it doesn’t work it’s a learning opportunity.
You can say, “Okay, well, I guess people didn’t like that. I guess I really should have maybe done this a different way.”
Then you do it in the next one. But I would finish it. There are many courses out there that I’ve produced and I’m like, “I don’t want to release this.”
I just don’t want to release it and it’s sold a bunch, and it got very high reviews.
There was one course when I first started at Udemy, it was a Stencil course and Stencil is like a non-coding game engine and I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was my best work, and I didn’t think the course is very good at all but it got a ton of good reviews and people loved it and like the reviews that came in were like really surprising.
“This is a really good course.”
I’m like, “Oh, well thank you.” I was about to not release this.
Sometimes you don’t know and if you fail, you can always just unpublish the course, anyway.
Jerry Banfield: Well, that’s beautiful, John.
So, to summarize, what John just said, just commit to publishing. Just get it out there even if you’re not happy with it.
I’ve taken the same approach, especially with my courses online. I’ve released stuff I can’t even stand to publish or submit for review on this right now, but I just want to be done with it. Then some courses I didn’t think we’re very good sold and ironically some of those that I thought, this is an awesome course —
How many times have you been through that? Like, this course is amazing. It’s perfect. It’s going to sell. Then it comes out and your like, really? Bad amount of sales?
John Bura: Okay. I have two really good examples. These are really good examples.
The first example I did is if you’re a coder you spend all of your time in front of a computer and it’s frustrating because things don’t work the way you expect them to. When you go to meet people, you’re in this frustrating mode and soft skills are essential for technology workers. They’re just essential and I knew this and what I did is I partnered up with another Udemy top seller in a different area and we made soft skills for techies and coders.
Fail. Absolutely fail. I was a little upset about this one too. This can happen. You release something and it’s something that everybody needs but what I’ve learned from that is that no one really wants to work on that.
A pro tip, if you’re a coder, soft skills will get you that raise. Sometimes it will get you that raise over your actual coding ability because at the end of the day people want to work with good people and it’s something that you need to know.
When I was in high school, my soft skills were terrible and even in college, they were terrible. I woke up one day and I’m like; I need to get better at this. Because I noticed a lot of successful people, they always had a smile on their face and they’re always really good to work with and I’m like, huh, I’m not good to work with all the time so I should change that and I did.
A side note here is, I actually had a job at Starbucks one time and that really taught me how to smile even at 4:30 in the morning and it was actually a really good job believe it or not.
So if you’re in high school or college work at Starbucks for six months reverse engineer how that billion-dollar company works and I guarantee you, you will be more successful in the long-run. It’s not like any other job, but Starbucks is particularly good.
Jerry Banfield: I love your advice and your stories, John. That’s something for me that’s big with doing these interviews. Sometimes I’m like feeling, what is my face looking like right now and I get myself to smile. I see my face and like, man, that’s don’t look very happy.
John Bura: That’s true.
Jerry Banfield: It’s like, how do I genuinely be happy? I’ve had so many of the same things. Like I know people need this and they need help with it but convincing people that they need help with something that they don’t want to admit they need help with and they should buy a course on it.
You enjoyed making that course; I imagine.
John Bura: Yes. I thought it was a little different. We used GoAnimate which is now Beyond and it was a lot more challenging than a lot of my other courses because the way we do our courses is like we pull up a Python file and we just code from scratch and that makes it really efficient. But at the same time though, this one we had to script it and then animate it and it just took a long time.
Jerry Banfield: You put a lot of time and energy into a course that you’re really excited about, that you know people need, and it doesn’t sell.
John Bura: Yes. That’s the thing. It’s like, just because you put a lot of time and energy into something it doesn’t mean it’s going to sell which is something I already knew. But every so often you have to be reminded of that.
Read the third part of this interview in our next post.