Aftermath of 2 Failed Course Launches 🤦♂️
I thought I would be as rich as Bill Gates by now.
I’ve always wanted to build a video course. The economics of it seem so appealing.
Compared to writing code, a course is easier to build and maintain. You pay a one-time cost upfront and reap the rewards forever. Occasionally you may have to issue refunds, but that’s still less work than maintaining software.
With dreams of sipping cocktails on a beach as my phone buzzes from new sale notifications, I built two video courses in the last six months.
I launched both expecting a big fanfare. But the reality was…crickets. You can see the results below.
Looking at the course sales above, I haven’t broken even on either course. If I value my time at $10k/month, then every month spent building a course means I need to sell another $10k worth of courses to make up for my time.
Considering I spent 3 months on my first course and 2 weeks on my second one, I’d need to make $30k and $5k in course sales respectively to break even.
At the rate I’m going, I might not break-even on either of these courses for a long time.
The True Difficulty of Selling a Course
The success stories of people like Ali Abdaal making 7-figures from his courses are anomalies. The reality is it’s not easy to sell a course. Here’s the math to show you why.
Based on my course data below, for every 100 people who land on my course page, I can expect to make about 1.5 sales. So we can work backwards to figure out how to make a course sale every day.
The journey for customers goes like this:
You post content
People like it and click into your profile
They click your bio
And then click on your Gumroad page
And finally buy your course
You can imagine it as a funnel below:
So if I need 100 people to land on my Gumroad page to make one sale, I probably need at least 100x that amount of people to land on my profile page, and another 10x of that amount in the number of post impressions based on my impression to profile visit ratio below.
This means to get 1.5 sale, I need to get roughly 100k post impressions first.
And 100k post impressions is not easy if you don’t have a large audience in the mid-5 figures at minimum.
Considering I had 50k impressions from 46 tweets on Twitter, that means on average one tweet is worth about 1k impressions. Which then means:
I have to post 100x to make one sale on Twitter.
This means that if you want to drive course sales, you need to either:
have a large audience, likely in the high five-figures to six-figures to really make a dent or
sell on a marketplace that has a pre-existing audience like Udemy
At my follower count levels below, I probably have too small of an audience for each post to drive enough impressions to make a course sale.
My ego prevents me from going for option 2) selling on Udemy because they take a 63% cut of all course sales made through their platform.
So the takeaway here is even if you have a lot of followers, selling a course is not easy nor passive. You have to constantly post on social media or else sales will dry up.
How to Build Your First Video Course Quickly
I’m not saying that building a video course is a bad idea. But knowing that it could fail means that your number one priority is to launch quickly.
Every extra month you take to build a course means having to sell more courses to cover costs. So film quickly to lower the sales burden needed to break-even.
Furthermore, spending more time building a course doesn’t necessarily correlate with success. Daniel Vassallo talks about how he filmed his Twitter audience course in just a weekend, and he has sold over $250k worth of his courses over the last few years.
Compare that to my first course, where I spent 3 months and sold only a fraction of that, and it’s clear his ROI is many times larger than mine.
New course creators should focus on building their first video course in under a month to hedge against the risk that the course doesn’t sell well. Here’s how to launch your course quickly.
Treat Your Course Like a Zoom Presentation
Imagine you had to give a recorded 60-minute Zoom presentation to a live audience. Film that as your course instead.
This means whatever slides you’d use in a Zoom presentation, use that as your course slides. And however way you’d organize your speech in that same Zoom presentation, organize your course that way as well.
This will keep your course short and get you thinking more about your audience’s needs.
And you might be worried about the low production value of filming a Zoom presentation. But creators have had tremendous success doing this.
Dr. Berg is a YouTuber giving medical advice on YouTube and has amassed over 9 million subscribers. Yet his videos are literally just him recording himself on Zoom!
Chris Do is another YouTuber who sells a whole suite of courses on his website. His courses are recordings of his live workshops. So even top creators treat courses as Zoom presentations as well!
Don’t Do Any Validation — Just Launch Quickly
What cost me the most time for the first course, “How to Be an Engineer Influencer” was that I spent a month A/B testing headlines and trying to validate my course idea.
What I realized now is that most of that time was not well-spent, because surveys and A/B tests aren’t an accurate representation of what the market really thinks. The only real test is asking people to pay.
There is no such thing as “validation” besides bringing something to market as quickly as possible.
Note for example in my second course, I learned from this mistake and didn’t do any validation at all. In fact I started working on slides immediately on day 2, and started filming the very next week.
I’m certain now that skipping the validation step was the right approach, and I recommend trying to follow my schedule for your first course to get it out quickly.
And don’t worry if your course is not perfect because you rushed it. If you get bad customer feedback, you can always refund them the money and launch another iteration of the course later.
But you can’t get this feedback until you launch, so launch quickly!
Film Strategy for Beginners
One of my biggest learnings from filming a course was realizing how easy I have it as a writer compared to all the YouTubers and TikTokers out there.
There are so many moving parts to filming compared to writing. Editing film is not the same as Ctrl C + Ctrl V, or highlighting and deleting stuff like writing.
So here’s my advice on film strategy if you’re thinking about building your first course.
First I recommend filming 1–4 minute clips at a time and stitching them together as opposed to filming long takes. It helps reduce stuttering, and if you mess up a long clip, you might have to redo the whole thing.
I also recommend copying my equipment stack below:
Microphone: Shure SM7B
Audio Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Activator: Cloudlifter CL-1
Webcam: Logitech Brio
Slides: Google Slides
Video Recording: OBS
Video Editing: iMovie
File Compression: Handbrake
Course Thumbnails: Canva
The microphone equipment I used can be complex to setup, so starting off I recommend using your laptop microphone and camera if that means you’ll film faster.
Aim to create about 100 slides for your first course, because for me 100 slides equates to about 1 hour’s worth of content.
If you make 25 slides a day, then you’ll finish all the slides in 4 days.
And if you film 25 slides a day, that will also take 4 days which means most of the filming and course creation will be done within 8 days.
This gives you 6 days to work on the course description, editing, and final touches before launching in 14 days.
And lastly, before you hit “start record”, always remind yourself to 1) look into the camera when talking and 2) smile :)
I thought after building two courses, I’d be the next Bill Gates, lying on a beach, typing this email to you about how great my life is while sipping my umbrella drink as the sales rolled in.
But my phone hasn’t caught on fire yet from all the sales notifications. And I don’t think it will any time soon.
Although I don’t have the tropical beach to warm my heart, I do get some nice comments from customers to keep me warm instead.
That said, I don’t think I will build any more courses any time soon. If I do anything with course creation again, I’ll probably redistribute my existing courses on marketplaces like AppSumo or Udemy rather than film something new.
Either way, it was a good exercise on how to execute quickly. And even if I didn’t make much money from it, the meme below captures how I feel perfectly.
Speaking of failed course launches, here are the two courses I built:
“Beginner’s Guide to Medium in 60 minutes” - where I break down my entire writing process and show you how to grow your Medium following.
“How to Be an Engineer Influencer” - where I teach W-2 employees how to diversify their income streams by building an audience on social media.
Find me on social media here.