Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.
I'm Kevin Lamping, a front-end engineer who's been doing full-time salary work for the past ten years. However, in the past few I've been trying to start my own profitable side business. I've had lots of failures, but I've also learned a lot.
I'm building an online course teaching a niche subject (automated testing with WebdriverIO). It's made up of 12 modules, each with 3-6 short videos of about 5 minutes each. It's intended for front-end developers and QA engineers testing websites.
How'd you get started with your business?
When I started the course, I was working full-time with 2 young kids at home. I had a fairly stable career and had almost all my debt paid off with the exception of my home mortgage. In an attempt to become less dependent on full-time salary work, I had been looking into various ways to generate some side income.
I was interested in creating online courses, but it wasn't until I ran across Paul Jarvis' Creative Course article that I started really taking the idea seriously. After some research, I found example after example of success with online courses as a significant source of passive income, so I decided to pursue the idea.
My main goal starting out was to learn what it takes to create and market what I feel is a valuable product in a niche market. Once I've completed course development, I hope to invest the money earned into building a full-scale app.
My first step in building the product was to create an initial landing page to capture email addresses. Then I published a short, free intro video on the software. I posted to Reddit and Facebook, mainly asking for feedback from folks on videos and the landing page. After receiving some positive feedback and a few signups, I decided to move forward. It's in early access right now, which means that you can buy the course at a discount while the content is still being created (I'm in module 4 of 12).
How have you found the time and funding to work on this?
With 2 young kids in the house, it was a huge challenge to find the time to create the project. I mostly worked at night after the kids went to bed and sometimes during the weekend when I could fit it in. I've had to give up most of my other free-time activities like watching TV and playing video games. I still do those things from time to time, but it's just not as enjoyable to do when I know I should be working on the course instead.
To save some time, I purchased a landing page theme off of Envato Market. This saved a fair amount of time, and frankly looks better than what I could come up with. Also, it took about a month to pick the course software I wanted to move forward with and get the first few videos put together.
I didn't raise any funding, instead using some of the income from my full-time job to pay for SaaS tools like MailChimp, GitHub, and Thinkific. My biggest expense is the monthly Thinkific subscription at $49/month. They host all my video, so I think it's a fair deal.
What's your tech stack?
My tech stack is really simple. I use GitHub Pages for the landing page hosting and Thinkific for the course hosting. Thinkific integrates easily with Paypal and Stripe for payment processing. I use Screenflow for my recordings and a Yeti Blue mic for audio recording.
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How have you attracted students to your course so far?
I launched the WebdriverIO Online Course through my email list back in May of 2016, although that was only a few dozen people. I also posted about it to my personal Twitter feed a few times. Next, I reached out to the WebdriverIO Gitter chat room for folks interested. I also posted on Reddit and Twitter.
Currently, I use Google Analytics to track my progress. I have a goal set up to track sales, but I don't have a ton of traffic yet. However, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been pretty helpful in getting some traffic to the site. Sometimes I post on Reddit and get some decent traffic from it, but I'm not too comfortable with posting my own stuff to Reddit. The best responses I've gotten there have come from posting my free blog content to front-end tech related subreddits.
I'm actually getting a fair amount of visitors from my blog posts, so I've spent extra time in the past several months writing up more blog posts on the subject to help get people interested in the content. I also have a free 6-day email course on Visual Regression Testing using WebdriverIO. At the end of this free course, I pitch the paid course as a "learn even more!" kind of thing with a discount code. I've had a couple of purchases through this.
What's the story behind your revenue?
I started with charging $47 for the super-early-bird access, then bumped it to $97 after two weeks, and it's currently there right now. I plan to increase it to $137 as a launch price and $197 as a regular price (with regular discounts available).
I get paid through Stripe, which was really simple to set up. My first paying customer was a QA tester, and I'm actually not sure how they found the site. I made about $200 in the first few weeks, which was cool to see and helped me build up some money to pay for the SaaS tools I've been using.
In attempting to build revenue, I continue posting regular videos to the course. I realized that half my challenge is getting people interested in WebdriverIO to begin with, and then I need to get them interested in a course on it. On that note, I started frontendtesting.com and a related newsletter and Twitter account for it. It's tough to balance this with the content creation of the course, but I'm really interested in the subject, so I manage to keep going.
In August 2016, I made $500 through approximately 6 sales. I'm writing this response on September 9th and I haven't had a single sale this month so far :-\ I'm hoping to generate some real revenue when I complete the content and do a full-blown launch.
If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
I'd definitely start smaller. 12 modules is just way too much content for me to make in a short amount of time. I'd reduce it down to about 4 modules and charge about 1/3 of the price. Then, when I finished with that content, I could create the follow-up in-depth course based on what customers requested the most.
Overall, I haven't had too many problems starting the business. Financially it's low-risk, since it's just my free-time I'm using plus a little bit of cash (~$100) each month for software subscriptions. I'm making good use of SaaS tools, so a lot of the technical parts have been taken care of.
What would you do the same?
I think the content is really good. I really enjoy making the videos, and I think they're fairly high quality. I'm also happy with Thinkific as a tool, as it has a lot of features for a decent price.
It was also helpful to research other courses to see how they set things up and what to expect income wise. I would definitely recommend the following books and articles:
- Amy Hoy's Year of Hustle
- Paul Jarvis' Creative Course article
- The $100 startup
- The Focus Course launch Week Case Study
- How Jeff re-launched an old product and made $2,500,000
Also, making the videos themselves has really helped me stay motivated. I've really enjoyed it, and I and wish I could commit to it full-time. I have to become financially independent to have the career I want, and this is a major step towards that.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to finish the course, which still has a lot of work to do. I try to get in at least a video each week, if not two. Once I finish, I want to do a big marketing push and have a launch week. Once I finish a couple more modules, I'm considering selling these first modules as a smaller course for anyone not wanting to pay the price for the full course.
What's your advice for other aspiring indie hackers?
This is the best time in history to start your own thing. Read The End of Jobs if you need more clarity on that. Start small, then start smaller than that. Figure out what the audience wants more than what you want — after all, they're the ones paying. But also find out what you can provide for them that you're passionate about.
Where can readers learn more about you?
You can find out about my webdriver.io course at learn.webdriver.io. I'm happy to talk about my experiences so far and share useful resources that I wish I had starting out.
Also, don't hesitate to leave a comment below. I'll try and respond: