Technical courses as a business

I went to MicroConf a couple weeks ago. After talking with some people there I decided that my next product business attempt (attempt number seven!) will be my educational site My plan is to offer paid courses there.

I have a belief that if you want to be successful at a certain thing than you should find someone who’s already doing that thing successfully and find out what they’re doing.

So my question is: does anyone here do technical courses as a business, or do you know anyone who does?

Things I’m curious about include:

  • What should I do, and in what order?
  • What can I do to earn my first dollar as quickly as possible to get the feedback loop going and to stay motivated and to provide evidence that it will work?
  1. Spend 1-3 months looking at beginners forums (like Reddit). Make a list of questions that come up again and again.

  2. Write great and detailed blogs answering those questions. Share on Reddit etc

  3. Add people to your email list

Don’t spend more than 2-3 months creating your first product, which will likely be a book with optional videos. The book must be based on something your email struggles with, and that’s causing them a lot of pain.

Prepared to start small- a few hundred dollars sales to start with. Keep adding products based on what your email list is struggling with.

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Have you considered using a platform like Udemy to start on?

It lets you focus on just the course and marketing it. No brand or website to build. You can always worry about owning the customer better once you get to scale on Udemy.

I don’t like Udemy because they charge 50% fees. You have to make your courses really expensive to make it worthwhile.

Also, last time I was there, I found a lot of people using borderline scammy techniques.

Which means you are totally dependent on them.

I’d say: Build your own brand, something that will help you long term.

Thanks for the responses. I have considered using somebody else’s platform, and I still think it might be a good idea, if and only if the marketing value of it more than offsets the cut they would take. I’m leaning toward owning everything on my own website though, especially since my website has already been built.

Hey Jason,
I was at MicroConf too, and there were a couple of guys there that provide technical trainings for developers. See the MicroConf contact list for their specific contact info, but I spoke with Derick Bailey and Joel Hooks, both of whom do this. (Their contact info is still available on the Slack channel for a couple of days.)

Jason, to be blunt:

  • Do you think the look and feel of your previous website (the hair salon app) was professional?
  • Do you think you had organic traffic figured out?
  • Do you think you had paid traffic figured out?
  • If not, what makes you think this time will be different?

Given that this is your 7th attempt I’d really try to get any sales I can. Who cares if Udemy takes 50% at least it’s an easier path to consistent sales. Nothing stops you expanding from there. Long term strategy of owning your customer only matters if there will be a long term in the first place.

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@Steve_Metivier Thanks. I met two guys there who do technical training but they were a different two guys. I’ll have to reach out to Derick and Joel.

@pjc I appreciate the scrutiny. The issues with the salon market were numerous.

First, I was effectively selling a B2C product since my market had B2C money and a B2C mindset. ("$30 a month? Hmm…that’s a lot of money for me right now.") My customers weren’t business people and they didn’t respond to price anchoring. They had an expense mindset as opposed to an investment mindset.

Second, hair styling is an offline profession. Many types of workers spend all day every day on the computer but they spend all day every day off the computer. The next best way to reach a person is presumably phone. Unfortunately that doesn’t work too well for stylists because a) their job requires them to be present with clients most of the day and not on the phone, and b) they are very very resistant to spending any time on the phone, especially with people who are “trying to sell them something”. This leaves a) reach them via trade shows (works but costs a lot of money), b) send them mail (works but costs a lot of money), c) take out trade mag ads (works but costs a lot of money), d) visit them individually (fine in the beginning but much much too time-consuming for a solo bootstrapper), or e) catch them online at 2am on Sunday night because that’s when they search for software. I did that, and I got people that way, but each salon was their own special snowflake that just couldn’t get on board unless the software had a certain combination of features. And a number of prospects, even after getting on board, just couldn’t handle the whole “computers” thing. Once I got a support call because a salon owner’s computer wouldn’t turn on, and she didn’t understand where the line was between a general IT issue like that and something related to my software.

The salon market could be conquered and has been, but mostly by funded startups. I potentially could tackle it as a solo bootstrapper, but I’d basically be attempting the whole product thing with one arm tied behind my back in that case. Better to cut my losses and gain the ability to use both arms.

No, my salon software site sucked. I didn’t have the skills or money to make it look good. I didn’t have organic traffic figured out except that I figured out that the organic traffic/beauty industry/Jason Swett combination is a terrible one. I actually did have paid traffic figured out to a decent extent, and it was my success with paid traffic that revealed to me how heterogenous, fickle and business-inept my market was.

Sorry for the rant. It was a frustrating five years.

Here’s what makes me think this time will be different:

  • I have strong evidence that I have something the world cares about. I casually farted out a few blog posts in mid-2014 and I’ve gotten between 4000 and 5000 visits a month every month since then without touching the site at all. The first blog post I wrote since I decided to restart it was featured in Ruby Weekly (and so were some of my old posts). One of my posts made it to #3 on HN.
  • I’m following a proven business pattern. There are a lot of developers out there just like me who have done exactly what I’m intending to do (technical courses), just with different technologies.
  • I know the domain. I couldn’t write blog posts about the beauty industry and I was never going to be able to. I was a total outsider and I had no interest in becoming an insider. With Angular/Rails there is no end to what I could write about.
  • I can test product ideas before creating them. With the salon software I couldn’t really pre-sell anything. With a course I can create a sales page before committing to doing the work of creating a course only to discover later than no one wants it.
  • This business synergizes with my other business which is my consulting career. One of Snip’s problems was that it was a distraction from my main occupation. has already been a huge authority booster for me. My daily work helps me get better at and vice versa. So even if never makes any money at all directly (unlikely unless I just don’t execute), it will still be, and already has been, a valuable asset to my consulting.

Having said all that, I’m not saying I think Udemy is definitely a good idea or definitely not a good idea. I think my next step will be to create a sales page on my existing site and see what kind of interest I can create there. If I judge what I get there to be good enough, then that’s good enough.

@jasonswett I think I’ve shared this link with your before: