Finance

310: How To Convert Your Passion Into A Profitable Online Course, With Teachable’s Ankur Nagpal 

This question is likely on the minds of many people⁠, especially now that the pandemic is pushing people to turn to online courses as a way to level up their skill sets. Ankur Nagpal has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to this topic, from running his startup Teachable for the past six years to growing his online course platform to host 50,000 creators and reaching over 30 million people since its launch.

Nagpal shares insights on everything from how to create a full-time income from an online course to best practices to follow as a beginner course creator. He also predicts what the future of the online course industry looks like.

If there’s any other type of content you’d like to see that would be valuable to you during this time, please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected]

Nathan: Those that are not familiar with yourself or Teachable, first question is how’d you get your job?

Ankur: Yeah. Teachable has been around basically six years, and what Teachable does is we help people create and sell online classes. If you have an idea, if you have any kind of expertise or passion, we help you convert it to an online course. So we help, at this point, close to 50,000 creators reach over 30 million people selling information online.

Nathan: Yeah, wow. When did you start the company?

Ankur: We started the company six years ago, and it was interesting, because while I knew I wanted to build a startup, at the time I had my own course on Udemy and I was teaching a little bit in person, and I was excited by the idea of courses, but something was missing in the platforms at the time. So I built this almost as this little side project with a buddy of mine without… Obviously at some level, we hoped it could become a bigger thing, but in my wildest dreams, I never imagined six years later, here we would be with like 150 employees running this grownup adult business.

Nathan: Yeah. No, it’s crazy, man. You’ve had incredible success, and yeah, look, we’ve known each other for a few years now. Probably like three years, right?

Ankur: Yeah, yeah. It’s the best three years of my life.

Nathan: Yeah, we’ve had a fair few drinks, got loose together, have good stories we probably can’t talk about on this particular show. Maybe one day. Yeah, look, I really wanted to sit down and talk with you around the state of the market, online education, and what’s your take? What you are seeing is working? I know it’s super hot. We rank on Google for how to create an online course. We’re like number three. I think we’re just behind you guys, and we’ve seen that spike up big time. So, there’s a lot of interest here, a lot of people want to start their own course or use it as a form of, I guess, starting a second income perhaps, or as an alternative to their day job or, yeah, so I’d love to hear your take. What are you seeing first of all from the state of the market on your side?

Ankur: Yep, absolutely. I think a good proxy for the state of the market is investor interest. I remember six years ago when we were raising money, every investor was like, “Oh, I can totally see this being a good business, but really it’s such a tiny market. Even if you succeed, you’re building a $20 million company.” Fast forward to six months ago where Andreessen Horowitz sort of blog post about how the passion economy is a new big thing. And all of a sudden now every single investor has so much FOMO for the online education, the online course space, everyone finally, six years later, it’s like, “Holy … This is massive. How did we miss this unfolding in front of our eyes?” And I think that’s sort of what’s happening where by this industry that people thought was small, has already gotten very big and it’s growing at a frightening pace.

Just our numbers, we did over $250 million last year in total sales. We think we’ll do half a billion dollars this year and as much as I love us, we’re just one small part of this market. And this market is growing rapidly for a bunch of different reasons. One, you have the whole collapse of the full time job economy, where you have all these people who for whatever reason are less reliant on a single source of income that now are finding online courses as a great way to set up a side business. The second thing is the growth of the creator economy, which I’m sure you’re seeing too. You all of a sudden have people who built audiences on Instagram, on YouTube, on podcasts, but now it’s come time to monetize this audience and online courses are selling information directly. We’ve found it easily the most efficient and profitable way of monetizing your audience. So, that whole wave is happening.

And the third thing that completes this whole circle is traditional education is becoming less of a default and a go-to and very often people are realising their alternative ways of replacing what you would get with traditional education. The combination of these three factors has the whole online course industry sort of growing super, super fast. And then you add the pandemic on top of that. And yeah, it’s been a wild few months for this entire industry.

Nathan: Yeah. No, I agree. And I think there’s been a certain level of market adoption where people don’t tend to … For a long time there’s been a certain kind of person that purchases an online course and I think more than ever now, people are really opening up that idea that okay, if I want to learn online.

Ankur: Yep.

Nathan: Of course.

Ankur: Yep. Yeah. So, that’s interesting because when the whole lockdown started and at least in America, a lot of people started losing their jobs. 30 million at latest count. We internally forecast our core sales to start dropping pretty heavily because consumer spending started coming down. Interestingly, we’ve seen the opposite where our core sales have gone up. And to be honest, I’m not even exactly sure why. Internally, we still think it might come down as consumer spending slows down, but the best theory we have internally is maybe online courses are the cheaper version of some more expensive purchase, therefore it’s not the purchase getting caught.

Very often an online 100 to $200 or a $500 online course is the cheaper version of a 10,000, $20,000 in-person training programme. Or alternatively, an online course is a path to a better life and it’s a relatively cheap path to a better life. Those are our theories, but we’ve seen our daily sales continue to grow despite consumer spending in America being down massively. So, it’s been interesting to watch.

Nathan: Yeah. No, that is interesting. So, you would see a lot of interesting data, you would see what’s working, you would speak to your top users. I’m sure people would be dying to know what is working? Amongst the top 1% of users that use Teachable creators, what are the things, what does it take to create, let’s just say a full time income from a course business?

Ankur: Yep. A few different things, right? One is audience. Most successful creators have at least one channel that they’ve used successfully to build an audience. It could be Instagram, it could be YouTube. It could be writing, it could be a blog. It could be Twitter. There’s a million different ways. One of them isn’t necessarily better than others, but they all sort of build an audience somewhere. Step two, is they learn how to take that audience and convert it to an email list. For whatever reason, as great as a million Instagram followers and whatever is, the point of sale for most successful creators is still email. So, you’d grow your Instagram, grow your YouTube, capture email addresses and figure that out. The third thing is what we call the sort of transformation, but it’s really what is the outcome your course provides? Having a very clear outcome that people can get.

So, an example would be, how to launch a podcast in 30 days? But some very specific thing that resonates with that audience. The fourth thing is the offer, which is the combination of how much you’re charging, what someone can buy and how you structure that is? And we can talk more about how they run a launch and so forth, but getting the offer right. And you do these things, you’re in the top 1%. And if your question is within the 1%, what is the difference between the very best and the people underneath that. Are you familiar with how the net promoter score works just for products and stuff?

Nathan: Of course. We have net promoter scores for all of our courses.

Ankur: So, it’s something that, again, I haven’t developed this idea a tonne, but it’s almost like what we think the course net promoter score is, is what distinguishes people within the 1%. The very, very, very best courses are the ones that when someone takes a course, they get a result and when they get results, they can’t stop talking about it. So, it’s not fully a viral coefficient, but that’s course, NPS, or whatever, to me is the ultimate differentiator between the very best. What that means is you can still be as good as 99% without even your course being amazing, which is kind of depressing when you think about it. But if within the 1%, you want to be the top of that, it’s delivering an amazing product that gets people actual results.

Nathan: We’ll definitely talk about offers. We’ll definitely talk about launch and stuff like that, but when it comes to creating a great course and looking at it from a perspective of getting that transformation, is it length of videos? Is it amount of videos? What considers a good course? What’s best practise there?

Ankur: Yep. So length is largely irrelevant, but it’s a very common trap novice course creators fall into where they feel like the more information you pack into a course, the more valuable it is. But ultimately, we found that with the course, people are buying an outcome. They’re buying a transformation. If you think of a cheesy fitness commercial or the fitness pictures that have the before and after. They have the tubby, hairy dude and then six pack abs, or whatever. Think about your chorus as getting people to six pack abs, whatever it is for the topic. And if you can take someone there faster, that is a benefit. They’re willing to pay you for that. because if you want to mess around and waste hours of your life, there’s tonnes of free information. Your of course gets people results faster.

So as a result, amount of video, doesn’t matter. The other thing we find with courses is people don’t linearly consume a course the way you would consume a book where you read it, cover to cover. People dive in and out of topics. They skip stuff. They look at the things that are most relevant to them. So I wouldn’t really focus on lens, ultimately. I would focus on… What we tell people is build a quick and dirty version, or either do coaching, do something where you take people through this method in some quick way. Find out what works, and then make it a legitimate, good online course that looks good, and so forth. And that is one thing that we’re starting to see matter, which historically not matter, is like two years ago, three years ago, all the top courses had video that could look dodgy. It didn’t matter at all, but now we’re seeing production quality increase. And now they’re really good courses also started looking good. So that’s one change we’ve been seeing lately.

Nathan: That’s interesting. But if you were just to get started though, you could still shoot it from your phone, or if you wanted to do screen share, or a slide?

Ankur: Absolutely. And that’s what we recommend for your first course. Your iPhone. Even an iPhone right now is an incredibly powerful video recording tool. So for your first course, we recommend… Even if you’re using an iPhone, just because video looking good does not have to mean video has to be expensive. There’s a lot of… Just the way you use lighting, the way you set things up. If you can focus on video that looks somewhat decent for your first course, and just ensuring getting people results, that’s all that matters. And then maybe when it’s time for your second or third course and your bigger launch, that’s when you can think about a way of elevating the video quality. Early on, all that matters is are people taking a course and getting results? Are they getting the transformation? Are they getting the outcomes that you’re promising? And beyond that, that’s all you need to scale a business.

Nathan: Yeah. So when it comes to building the audience piece, and when it comes to launch and stuff like that, how big should people be aiming in terms of list size?

Ankur: So very roughly we say you can pretty conservatively convert 2% of your list. So it all can work out to simple math. And I’m going to embarrass myself to not be able to do the math in my head. But theoretically, like let’s say you have a thousand person list, and you can get 2% to buy, that’s 20 sales. And if you do it at 300 bucks each, that’s a $6,000 launch. So that’s a pretty good first launch. 300 buck chorus, which is a good starting point. $6,000 off a thousand person list. So those are just numbers. You can tweak the variables and figure out based on your goal is how big a list you need. But in my mind, most people can get to a thousand person list in, let’s call it one to three months. And again, I’ve seen people get there in days. I just want to set something realistic and then have a $6,000 launch at a $300 price point and accordingly tweak the variable to based on what their goals are.

Nathan: Yeah, no, that makes sense. And then when it comes to the offer, you talked about the offer and the launch piece. Can we talk more about that offer? How do you know what’s a good offer?

Ankur: Yeah. So the first thing… Actually, lets talk about launch first so that’s relevant and then talk about the offer. But one of the things we recommend to people for the first time, and for a lot of people new to online courses, it might be new for someone like you. You’re experts, you know this, but we recommend that instead of having your course available for purchase all the time, you do what in the industry, people call a launch. And all that means is the course is only available for sale for a limited period of time. And then you close it, so people can’t buy it outside of that limited period. And then you work with people inside the course to get them results. There are many reasons we do this. The biggest reason of which it drives more sales. When people have this urgency where they have to buy it now, or they can’t buy it because otherwise people will just wait forever.

That’s one reason. The second reason is its very easy, from a focus perspective, either focusing on selling the product or delivering the product. Doing both gets a little bit hard. So we recommend people do a launch for their first product. And now the offer itself is what people are buying and for what price. The first mistake, not mistake, but the first value we’ve seen people leave on the table is most people are very scared of charging an appropriate amount. A lot of people tend to discount their own knowledge and their own worth. So our recommendation for most people is to take whatever price they have in their… Whatever their first instinct is, and double it as like just a good rule of thumb.

A lot of people are out there trying to sell $100 courses and we try and push that to two, 300 bucks or something. I think that’s a good place to start with your first product. And when you do that, I think it’s normal for you to feel a little bit afraid, like I’m charging too much. I think that’s a healthy, normal feeling upfront. So I would tell people, feel free to go into that. And I think that that’s a good enough price point where you can start to build a somewhat real business off it versus selling 10 or $20 courses.

And network wide on Teachable, we are seeing the average sale price trending upward every quarter. It’s about a hundred bucks now. It was about $60 four years ago. And it’s very methodically climbing up five, $6 a quarter at a time. But it’s really interesting to see in terms of overall data.

Nathan: Why do you think that is?

Ankur: I think it’s a maturity of the space and people getting comfortable charging their worth. I think a lot of the cheaper products, like the $10 courses and stuff are kind of happening on Udemy and other lower price marketplaces. But when it comes to quality products, people are realising that consumers are willing to pay.

Especially if it’s someone in your audience already, if they’re already following you somewhere, you already have a relationship with them. It’s not like they’re meeting you online for the first time and you asked them for money right away. They’ve already been kind of observing you and they know you already. So consequently, they’re less price sensitive than someone in a marketplace where you’re searching for Python courses and you’re looking at whatever’s cheapest. So it’s a different buying behaviour altogether.

Nathan: Because yeah, I know that that is something, you’re right, that people would get caught up on and hung up on. Because you look at the Udemy and you can buy courses 10, 20, 30, 40, $50. And then, who am I? It’s my first course. I’m not worthy. Yeah. How do you overcome that?

Ankur: That’s the other thing that’s been again, you know this, but it blew my mind as to how that was the number one objection people had or the number one kind of limiting belief of almost an imposter syndrome of look, okay. It makes sense that Nathan Chan has a course because he’s like baller, but how can I have a course when that is Nathan’s course? Who am I to teach when I’m competing against Nathan?

But again, that’s what’s cool about online courses is we found people don’t necessarily want to learn from the best person at this. They want to learn from someone who’s relatable to them, who has their story, has their struggles. An example I use is if you go to MasterClass, Steph Curry has a course on basketball. But dude, I would much rather take a course from a 5.10 skinny Indian dude teaching me how to dunk a basketball then Steph Curry. Right.

Very often we find you want to have the relatable teacher. Our top selling programming class was from someone who is actually a bad programmer, but he struggled and self-taught himself. As a result, that was more relatable. I want to learn from that guy because like that’s how I feel. Not necessarily like the professor, that’s so many steps ahead.

Nathan: Yeah. That is a big limiting belief. That’s why I asked you that question because I know that people go through that. And it’s something that I’ve actually personally gone through as well, myself. We’ve got a couple of courses at Foundr that I teach, but our big thing is actually being tapping into getting other people to teach.

Ankur: Yeah, yeah.

Nathan: Which I think has allowed us to build really scalable products, that as you know, as a platform. But I’m curious as well, when it come to that expertise, I know it’s a mindset thing, but how do you know that you’re truly qualified in some way, shape or form?

Ankur: Ultimately it comes down to, can you get people results? But here’s the thing, we teach all the time as humans, it might be to our sibling. It might be to people around us. I mean think about it. Right. Let’s imagine you have a child next year, Nathan, no pressure on you or Emily or anything. But what are you going to do? You’re going to ask your buddies that had kids recently. Right. I mean, you’re not thinking about it. You’re thinking about it as an online course, but your buddy who has had a baby recently, by default starts teaching you.

And we do this in our lives always. We do this with younger siblings. We do this with the people around us. We do this on the job. We’re always teaching people. So to me it’s like a natural extension of that. Now, it depends on do you want to teach 1,000,000 people or 1,000 people or 10 people. But I think all of us possesses something that we can teach 10 to 100 people.

And we are the best teacher for them by virtue of either being close to them, connecting with them, having a special relationship. I literally do think like it’s not just marketing spiel, but all of us can be a teacher because we already are. A lot of them, we just don’t think of it that way.

Nathan: That’s a really good point. I never thought of it like that. But yeah. So one thing I’m curious around and want to get into more kind of advanced stuff is you see a lot… A lot of people watching this would see a lot of stuff online, like how people are making millions of dollars selling courses, all these different things.

And I’m sure, you would have top creators that make over $1,000,000 a year selling online courses. What does it take to do that? To do those kinds of numbers? From your perspective, what does it take? Is it the concept of evergreen, selling or with automated webinars? Is it having 20 different courses and one launch every month? What does it take? Because I think there’s a lot of rubbish out there and you have a direct insider knowledge of what does it take.

Ankur: So, that’s one thing that’s been really fun to see. I won’t name names obviously, but it’s really interesting to see a lot of people’s marketing about the millions of dollars they made on their courses and then see their actual sales. And anyways. But with that said, so look, at this point, we have, I think, a little bit over 100 people that have made a million dollars on Teachable. This is lifetime, not over a year. But still, super impressive. There’s not really one type. Like there’s people who’ve done it with evergreen courses, people who’ve done it with launch courses, people who’ve done it with a mix of both. There’s people who’ve done it with a high price. The best practises we’ve shared higher prices than low prices is definitely …

Yes you can make a million dollars selling $20 courses, but most people are in the at least mid hundreds of dollars, and that level. The average price point for the top sellers, the last time we checked, was $374, and that is per sale, not per course. So if you sell a payment plan, that only counts the value of the first payment plan. A small technicality, but in reality, the number is even higher. So that’s one thing, they all do that.

The other thing is longevity. There’s very few people that get to a million dollars right away, but you put at it long enough and you will get to a million dollars, which I know it sounds obvious, but a lot of times it is just resilience and sticking with it. Yeah, I mean, outside of that, again, I don’t think the million dollar number is any more significant, as much as once you let it get to 100,000 or so, at that point, you probably have a million dollar business, it’s just a case of doing whatever you need to make 10x more. Once you get to 100,000, I think is the harder thing. 100,000, it’s just like, sell 10 times more courses, or charge a little bit more and sell five times more courses.

Nathan: Yeah. I see. What about audience size? Building email lists, all that side of things. What’s required there?

Ankur: Obviously you need to find your audience channel that is working for you. I’ve seen every single thing work, but you need one thing to work, and again, the things that could work are on one end of the spectrum, it’s like YouTube, Instagram, and stuff, big social networks. In the middle is sort of putting in more work and audience building on a channel that you own. Could be a blog, could be a podcast, something like that. The third thing is, and if this works, this is both the best and worst. The best because it can scale, the worst because you could lose a bunch of money figuring it out, is paid marketing.

You have these sort of three buckets. You can, honestly, any one of them is good enough. Put any one of them to work. When people get super advanced, and they start having one out of each of the three buckets. Maybe they have a big presence, I guess your business is a good example. You have a big presence on social networks you don’t own, Instagram. You have your own assets, like your podcast and your website, and then you also have paid to be an amplifier.

You want to really, truly think about not just a million dollar business, but a $10 million business, you can think about one from each of these three buckets. But initially, just any one of these three things working could be a good start. I think a lot of it depends on what you enjoy doing. A good friend of mine, his name is David, he uses Twitter and writing because he likes writing. In another life, he would be a writer. Another friend of mine, she’s great, she’s a very visual person. For her, Instagram was super easy to make her platform.

At the end of the day, it’s important to also have fun with what you are doing. Don’t try and master every single social network. You don’t need to be everywhere. Find the one that you kind of find a little bit fun anyways, and you would do no matter what. It could be podcasting, if you want to establish good relationships and meet other cool people. Find your channel, kind of plug away at it. You don’t have to be everywhere. But to build a million dollar business, you certainly need one of them to start you off.

Nathan: Then what about, I guess, when you create your next course? Should you only focus on one course? Or should you have many courses? Focus is key, right?

Ankur: Focus is key, but what’s also important is listen to the people, right? Listen to the people. Listen to what they want from you, whether it’s your surveys, or just talking to people in your audience. Simple, again, it sounds super basic, but when you have an audience, the simple act of asking them what they will buy from you will ultimately make you more money. At times, they won’t say, “Hey that course you have, would love if you did an updated version of that course.” In other cases, it might be another product.

But again, what a lot of great creators have done is they’ve started to form a mini brand about what you can consider their signature product, which is the one thing they do. Then they start making a lot of their revenue from there, and that becomes their core focus, and it becomes their brand almost. Another example is, there’s a creator we work with, his name is Tiago, he built his signature course called Build a Second Brain. It’s about note taking, and ultimately, how do you scale your knowledge and scale your brain? It’s super interesting.

But at this point, that brand has become so powerful, that no matter what he does, he’s going to make less money than him relaunching the course repeatedly. And that’s the dream, right? For other people, it’s sort of been the approach of having lots of little courses and so forth. If you do go down a signature course path, I highly recommend continually making your course more expensive. Tiago used to sell that course at $300, I think most recently, he sold it at 1,000 bucks, and my guess is he’ll eventually go up to $2,000.

That’s great for two reasons. I mean, one, people who take a chance on you earlier get it for a cheaper price. The second thing is, your course keeps getting better, so charging more for it makes sense. It finally trains people to buy your course whenever you sell it, because they know anytime you’re selling it, this is the best possible price, and it will only get more expensive in the future.

Nathan: Yeah, no, that makes sense. Yeah, look, from my experience, it depends on the price point. Some courses, depending on the level of transformation or the level of work required, yeah, different price points work. But definitely, yeah, the higher the price point, from my experience, the more revenue you can generate as a business. But there’s also ceilings, and you can sell less at a higher price point as well.

Ankur: Yep. And I think the idea of… Again, you don’t want to start super low, but the idea of continually increasing your prices gets you the best of both worlds, where when you’re establishing yourself, you get more of an audience, and eventually, you can keep turning all the monetization lever higher and higher.

Nathan: You talked about the signature product. Should people look or focus on a niche or market to serve and just focus on that particular niche or market, let’s just say as an example, you want to be in the keto space, and then you just focus on that particular market. Or I want to be in the fitness space or work here. What is your take there?

Ankur: Yeah, I’m a firm believer on, if you’re speaking to everyone, you’re speaking to no one. People tend to underestimate things that are niches can actually end up being substantial businesses. Another great example is one of our top selling creators of all time teaches Facebook ads for fiction authors. Right? You would think it’s like highly specific, but it’s a massive, massive, massive business. And you know why? Because if you’re a fiction author, that’s wondering about marketing, that course is the single most recommended product in the world. So no matter what your niche is, if you can figure out. Yes, could you teach a Facebook ads for all marketers course? Absolutely. But I would venture that he would actually do less well than finding your very specific audience and serving them. Especially if most niches are big enough on the internet.

Nathan: Yeah. Well, that’s really interesting, man. So yeah, that’s super niche.

Ankur: It’s a massive, massive, massive business, but think about it, there’s like a million people on the Kindle store. The internet… Things that we consider a niche because how many Kindle authors or book authors do you, or I know? In my entire life, I might know three out of the thousands of people I know, but multiply that by a billion people, billions of people on the internet, every one of these things is actually a really large market. So I think it makes a lot of sense to niche down early. And then eventually you can always broaden who you’re talking to, but if you were to start out with a Facebook ads course, you’re competing with every other Facebook ads course. From my Facebook ads. If I were to have a Facebook ads for Chinese Australian podcast hosts. No, I’m just kidding. But yeah again, if you talk to a specific audience, I think that really helps.

Nathan: Yeah. Okay. You talked about surveying and speaking to your community or audience. I think that’s really smart. Pre-selling thoughts?

Ankur: I’m a fan. It depends. It depends on what type of pre-selling you’re doing. Are you pre-selling to validate whether you create the course at all or are you pre-selling before you deliver the product? They’re both different. Pre-selling to even validate whether to sell the course can sometimes… It’s a good idea, but can sometimes be stressful. For a lot of people, it’s discomfort, any distress to sell a thing that does not exist at all and potentially refund people. So I typically have not. I’ve seen people do that, and I’ve typically not gone that far. I think if you can build an audience around your topic, people will buy it. I absolutely do think you should sell a course before it’s fully developed because I don’t know about everyone else, but for me, I work best when there’s massive deadlines in front of me.

So then when you sell a course, then you have to actually start delivering the final product. It actually is highly motivating to me. So I’m a huge fan of pre-selling before you have the whole thing developed. With that said, I generally like having some part of it developed. So you get some kind of balance of, it’s not like there’s nothing there, but I am developing the curriculum as people are going along. That also allows you to tweak what the product is as you see how people are responding to it and what they need more help with.

Nathan: Yeah, no. I love that. We’ve tried and founded different variations of that. What we find from our experience now is just, we just can find a bunch of topics and we presale a bunch of topics. Then we see what gets the best take rate because we have such… We’re blessed and cursed because we’re going to have hundreds of courses one day, but at the same time, it’s so broad. So we just want to know what are the hottest areas? For example, one of them definitely is Facebook ads. Another one is sales funnels. Another one is copywriting. So yeah, it is a blessing and a curse, but yeah, you’re right. It just depends, but definitely you’re right. Throwing your hat over the fence, selling the course, then saying, “Guys, this is when it’s going to go live,” and you give yourself like a week to do the first module, and then you drip feed it out. That works.

Ankur: Yep, absolutely. That’s how we’ve done a lot of our stuff.

Nathan: What was the first course that you wanted to teach or were teaching on Udemy?

Ankur: So the first course, it’s embarrassing. I had to contact them to remove it because it’s cringe-worthy. I literally recorded it with my iPhone headphones, and I start the first lecture with, “What up party people.” Like it was not the end. That too was a course on how to take an HTML website and put it on the app store. Not the course to start with, “What up party people.” But yeah, that was the first course. It basically showed how you could take a website and convert it to an app. After that I wrote courses on mobile marketing, Facebook marketing, it was always around growth marketing, specifically for entrepreneur audience, but all based on what I learned running a Facebook app business prior to this.

Nathan: Yeah, dude. I remember first hearing about you Ryan Holiday. I was on his list and he emailed about, “Yeah, we’re running something from Fedora.”

Ankur: Yep, yep. Yep, good times. So that was again, he had a course on growth marketing and he was indirectly invested in our company. So as a special favour, we worked with him to take a copy of his book and convert it to a course. And that was the old, old … That was, back in, I think late 2014, actually. Super early.

Nathan: I remember as well, I bought an offer from you guys in the very, very early days where it was, I think it was a buy one, get one free. Do you remember that offer?

Ankur: Yep. It was a course called Million Dollar Instructor. I remember it was still early enough that our top-selling … We only had a few people really making money on our platform and we were concerned that our sales for November and December weren’t going to be very high. Because we’d had a really good August and September and stuff. So we were like, “Why don’t we make a course with our top sellers and sell that ourselves?” Because we needed decent sales numbers.

So we flew to Berlin where these guys lived and we filmed their story and how they run their course business. It was our first course on courses. Again, that was also later in 2014, or 2015, it all blends together at this point. But yeah, that’s when we ran our first course. Again, we look at it now, and we’re embarrassed by it. But at the time it was still great. It accelerated our business meaningfully. We found a lot of people weren’t ready for our software, they needed training on how to do this. And yeah, we still somewhere in the archives have the Million Dollar Instructor course.

Nathan: Yeah. The dudes were programmers, Asian dudes, right?

Ankur: Yeah, well, one of them.

Nathan: Yeah. Are you surprised that I remember all that? Because we haven’t talked about it.

Ankur: Yeah, we haven’t talked about this, blowing my mind. Yeah. John and Elliot. John and Elliot, we had a great time in Berlin recording this. But yeah, it was the old days of startup life, man. We had six people in the company, two of us were like, “Hey, by the way, we’re going to Berlin. We’re skipping Thanksgiving.” We skipped Thanksgiving with family and stuff. They were like, “Why, where are you going?” And we were like, “Oh, we’re just going to Berlin to record a course with these guys. We’ll be back in a few days.” And we did that and we shipped the course two weeks later. So, good times.

Nathan: That’s awesome, man. So look, we have to work towards wrapping up, but I think this is really, really valuable for people that are thinking about getting into starting a course or looking to start a business like this because it is a very lucrative business model because it’s a digital product that you own a hundred percent of it’s infinitely scalable.

Ankur: And especially when you think about the arbitrage of courses relative to books. The same information packaged in a book is worth $8. For a course, it’s worth a few hundred dollars and that’s insane when you think about it.

Nathan: Yeah, I agree. So I’m curious as well, where do you see the future of this industry going, particularly with everything that’s happened, the pandemic? Obviously it’s booming right now because a lot of people are at home, a lot of people are using these opportunity to skill up, people that I used to work with hit me up and was like, “Oh man, I’m thinking of doing this, cause now I’ve got the time. Now I’ve got the time.” What’s your take, what’s your predictions?

Ankur: So, a couple of things. One, I think the form factor will likely evolve. I think 20 years from now when we look back in time, what is an online course, will it realistically look different from what it looks like today? What it will look like, I can’t tell you, but I can guarantee you it’ll look very, very different. That’s one. The second thing is I genuinely do believe online courses and forget what we consider online courses today, but just this world we are literally if you’re comparing this to the Empire State Building, where we are today is we’ve climbed the second or third floor. There’s so much growth to go we are so, so early because this is … Taking one step back, our entire civilization right now, we used to live in a world where entrepreneurship was selling physical items and we’re finally transitioning to the digital age where the most valuable things you can sell is knowledge and information.

And thus far we use to think about selling knowledge and information as the schooling system and the education system. I think it’s one step further now. We’re moving to a knowledge-based economy, knowledge and information is the most valuable thing out there. It’s the thing we all possess and we all can sell. And this sort of future of us selling knowledge and information, I think it is how everyone or the majority of the world will make a living in the future. So I think from that sense, all these things now, it’s cool and interesting, but the ground floor, it’s nowhere, but up from here. Even though the specific form factors I’m sure will evolve and change as we develop crazy new technology. So, it’ll be interesting to see.

Nathan: Yeah, I agree. Tools, besides using Teachable to get set up to start your course, what other tools do people need to consider using?

Ankur: Look, there are specialised tools for everything. My advice to people is to, in general, not get too hung up on the technology part of things, especially until you get to the stage of scaling a business. I think tooling can become really important to try and go from your first $10,000 to a $100,000. But upfront, I would not spend a tonne of time on tools. Again, most things are teachable from a delivery perspective. Eventually, you’ll probably want to figure out an email autoresponder how to run email funnels, but again, upfront, you could potentially even skip it. And later on, you can work that in. We work a bunch with ConvertKit, but frankly there’s a tonne of other tools too, so I don’t think you’re going to go super wrong with it. My advice is generally, don’t overcomplicate it upfront, but I don’t know. What works for you?

Nathan: Mailchimp, they allow, I think, free for the first 1,000 or 2,000 subscribers.

Ankur: That works totally fine. So I think upfront, too many people I see get too fancy with tooling before making their first sales.

Nathan: Yeah, 110%. because they’re sexy.

Ankur: It’s fun, it can be almost a distraction.

Nathan: Okay. And you recently had some really exciting news around the acquisition with Hotmart. What’s exciting for you right now, now you guys have merged?

Ankur: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the biases most people have, you probably don’t, because being in Australia it’s different. Beliefs in America … a bias a lot of people have is, they think of America as the centre of the world, which I mean, in some ways it is, but it’s also a big world out there. So when we got acquired by Hotmart and running the companies together, our vision is to take what Teachable is doing, but build a truly global business out of it. Hotmart is about three times our size in Latin America, now you add in our volume, all of a sudden, we’re this massive online education company. And over the next couple of years, we’ll be thinking about how can we … Excluding China, which is a really hard market, how can we take it to every other market out there and build a truly international company doing this?

So this move for us is all about internationalisation. And I’m super, super excited for what this can develop. Whether this goes public or not, there’s a lot to be determined, but in my mind, again, I’m very biassed, but by virtue of this transaction, we’ve created the most significant business in online education. And as much as I love running my own company, that was the tradeoff. Are you willing to give up control to build the most significant business in online education? And the answer for me was a resounding yes. So super excited to see how that develops. I think it also gives us a lot more resources that we can put straight back into improving our product, which I think, when you think about this industry five years from now, the best product will win. So yeah, super excited.

Nathan: Yeah. Look, before we wrap there, I want to talk about that because that’s one thing I actually have learned from you because you’re very San Fran, Silicon Valley inspired.

Ankur: That can either be a compliment or an insult, but I’ll take it.

Nathan: No, it’s a compliment because I interview a lot of dudes out … a lot, not dudes, but girls as well … a lot of successful tech founders out of San Fran. And that’s the big thing, it’s the obsession with the product, the best product wins. Your pro product versus marketing.

Ankur: Yep. I mean, again, it depends on who’s asking. Compared to the online marketing industry, yes. Compared to the typical tech startup, we’re all marketing and no product on the entire spectrum. But why? It’s because I do believe on a longterm basis, the best product will win. And especially if you want to build a scalable business, I think a great example is, I think Shopify is the master of all examples when it comes to the power of product. I mean, they built a better product in a really big market and even now, they’re growing insanely fast, 16 years later, they’ve just become one of the… they are now the most valuable business in Canada, period. Bigger than any Canadian bank that’s been around for hundreds of years. An example, I think, that show the power of product.

At the same time, I am further along than Silicon Valley peers that don’t believe in marketing. We still hustle and try and make growth happen, but to me, product is a prerequisite on which you build growth. If you, again, don’t want to name names, there are some companies that have built these massive, growth machines on a weak foundation and it’s like a house of cards, one thing can fall and the whole thing can come tumbling down. So for me, product is the bedrock of everything.

Nathan: Yeah. No, thanks for sharing, man. Well look, last question. Where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself, Teachable and your work? I know you started a fund looking to invest in companies, helping people get in touch with you. DealFlow, or maybe not.

Ankur: DealFlow, absolutely. So I mean, Teachable … is easy, teachable.com or Teachable on every social media platform. I’m on Twitter. It’s probably the best way of finding me. I’m also on Instagram, Nathan’s working to get me verified so I’ll be a big deal pretty soon. No, I’m just kidding. But yeah, all the regular social channels are great, and we’re at teachable.com.

Nathan: Okay. And what’s your Twitter?

Ankur: It’s my full name, Ankur Nagpal, A-N-K-U-R N-A-G-P-A-L.

Nathan: Awesome. Well look man, thanks so much for taking the time, bro, it’s awesome to catch up, and it was an awesome interview.

Ankur: Yeah, absolutely man. Thanks for having me.

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