Course Creators October 1, 2020

Releasing my course today (made +$2500 in pre-orders)

Peter Jausovec @peterj

I am releasing my second course today, after I made $2500 in pre-sales since launching the pre-order in June 2020. The course includes a book, 23 videos, and a set of practical exercises (I created a custom solution you can install on your computer and go through the exercises from your browser).

Labs

I released my first course in 2019. It started as an e-book, and then I added the videos to it later. I had around $2000 in pre-orders for that course and ended up making around $10,000 in total (I released the course on Gumroad and book on LeanPub). Not too bad, but doing the per-hour and pure profit calculation, it wouldn't make sense.

Istio sales

That said - I have learned a lot. About creating content, marketing, selling, as well as the tech I used. For the first course, I created a custom landing page from scratch. It took a lot of time. There was a lot of tweaking and learning. I am a developer by trade, so I feel like I can pick up tech quickly, however, that's not how it works with design :) I still think I'd be able to spend months changing the design, moving stuff around, and playing with it.

Landing page

If your goal is to validate the idea as quickly as possible and release as quickly as possible, don't spend time on building your own landing page. I could have just gone with the Gumroad page and it would probably work out the same way. Instead, I added another (unnecessary) step that potential customers have to go through (landing page > Gumroad > Purchase vs. Gumroad > Purchase). Plus, I'd have more time left to spend on creating the content instead.

Landing page

On the other hand, looking at the sales stats, 50% of sales that I made came from the landing page. In the second place with 32% are the sales from the email list.

I re-purposed the original design and page I had for the latest course as well, so it was less of a time investment this time around.

Email list/YouTube subscribers

I have started with an email list of 0 people for the first course. I have created a separate Twitter account where I was sharing my progress, and articles and links related to the content. I didn't get a huge following on that account (~1000 followers), but I got most of my email subscribers from that account that grew to ~400 subscribers by the end of 2019.

About 32% of the sales came from people clicking links in my emails. If you don't have an email list - start building one today.

I have 868 subscribers on my email list today.

mail subscribers

This time around I did a better job of sending updates on the course progress, which translated in most of the preorders coming from the email list.

I have also started a YouTube channel and got 202 subscribers at the moment.

Marketing/Promotion/Getting traffic

In addition to the course updates, I was releasing the bits and pieces from the course as articles on my blog, then creating posts on Reddit, Hackernews, and DevTo. Be careful with Reddit posts - don't just link to the content, as people will not click it at all. Instead, write a post, explain why you did what you did, and then include a link at the bottom. The Reddit crowd can be tough. I got lucky with Hackernews once, received 165 upvotes, and a substantial amount of traffic to my blog. I haven't noticed an uptick in sales from that. However, people signed up for my newsletter/email list or subscribed to my Youtube channel.

If there's one big lesson that I learned from all of this is that whenever I published something (blog post, sent an email, tweet, uploaded a video, etc.), there was always some effect from it. It wasn't necessarily a sale. It was extra visits to my blog, a couple of new email or Youtube subscribers, and in some cases even a sale.

To summarize, tracking the sales, unique visitors, email list size, followers, looking at the graphs and all is nice, but it feels like a lot of time is spent on that. Instead, spend time on creating content and then sharing it - it will always result in something. Perhaps not right away, but doing it consistently will bring you results.

I noticed a lot of people working on books and courses if you're thinking about doing the same - DO IT!

I know I haven't made gazillions in sales as some people did, but I'll gladly answer your questions or provide you feedback. You can get in touch with me through Twitter.

  1. 1

    Thought about turning it into an audio course with avocadoaudio.com ?

    1. 1

      No, I don't think it would work well as an audio course.

  2. 1

    Peter, what LMS you use to create your course ?

    1. 1

      I am not really using any platforms. Here's what I used:

      Book

      I wrote the book plain text using the Asciidoc format, then converted it to PDF, ePub, and Mobi. The syntax took a bit to get used to, but it's very similar to Markdown.

      Videos

      All videos were recorded with Screenflow. I didn't want to spend a lot of time on editing - in some videos, I imported the diagrams/figures and put them across the screen, but most of the videos are me talking with a code editor and a terminal window. (Here's an example of one of the videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2iN9Gl1zfM&list=PLy0Gle4XyvbGhGpX0CXAuiEsfL-MD-rND)

      Labs

      I created the labs 'platform' completely from scratch (Typescript/React/Tailwindcss).

      I have uploaded the artifacts from each of the above groups (book files, video files, installation instructions + supporting files for labs) to Gumroad (https://gumroad.com/l/kubernetes), and set up 3 different packages. Gumroad supports online reading and online video streaming as well as just downloading the files directly.

      1. 1

        Also, all diagrams and video title/end screens were made using Figma.

        I did a lot of manual/custom work :D I could have probably outsourced a good portion of this to make my life easier. (I did go to Fiverr for the book cover)

  3. 1

    I really enjoyed reading about your journey Peter. I had a post in mind to write here but it was going to be long. Reading yours inspired me to post it anyway!

  4. 1

    Thanks for sharing these insights, Peter.

    I was releasing the bits and pieces from the course as articles on my blog, then creating posts on Reddit, Hackernews, and DevTo.

    Could you elaborate a bit more about how you shared to these channels? Was it always an article on your blog and then you attempted to write its main message to these channels with a link to your original article? Or somehow differently?

    1. 2

      Of course, I'll start with the simplest ones :)

      Hackernews

      It's a title + a link; not much to write there; I did notice my stuff got picked up more if I posted on the weekends afternoon (PST zone)

      DevTo

      I used to copy/paste the articles from my own blog to devto, until I discovered they can read from your RSS feed and you can publish from there (they include the original URL as canonical URL). Before publishing there, I would check the list of tags (you can add up to 4 tags I think) and pick ones that my content falls in and have the most people following it.

      Reddit
      Reddit is tricky. I never know what I'll get from Reddit; also, it depends which subreddit you're posting on. In some, you can just post a title and a link, in others you have to write more in the post. Here's one of my best performing posts that's wasn't a link only :)

      1. 1

        Great! Thank you very much for these details.

  5. 1

    This is actually amazing to me. You created something out of nothing.

    From 1-10, how skilled/learned/knowledgeable/experienced are you on the topic of your course/content ? How long did it take to reach that point ? Do you have a track record of success yourself in those things you teach ?

    The reason I'm asking is, I feel bad offering a course on things I'm good at and passionate about because I still don't have the results to back up the claims, so to speak. For example I have self taught myself Direct Response Copywriting, Marketing, Advertising etc and I know for a fact that my skill and knowledge are better than 99% of the courses you'd find out there for extreme prices, but since I am not yet successful in the way I should be by my own standard I don't feel like I can offer my own content/course. I want to have a consistent track record of success before I do that, but on the other hand I already KNOW that my shit don't stink. Factually I offer more value and tested, proven to work practical advice.

    1. 2

      I've been working with this tech for years now. I don't consider myself an expert on it, because the space is huge, but I understand how stuff works, used it practically on projects etc. I have co-authored a paper book on the topic, but I don't consider myself an authority on it.

      I'd urge you to forget about it and go and do it. Even if you don't have the results to back up the claims, you have to build them somehow. Writing a book or articles on the topic are the results you want/need. Start a blog, newsletter, write stuff, share it on Twitter/Reddit/Hackernews. You never know what might catch on. It might feel like you're speaking to an empty room, but people will eventually start trickling in.

      1. 1

        This makes perfect sense. Just what I needed to hear. Thanks a bunch, Peter !

  6. 1

    Thanks for posting it, I need to see someone confirming that you don't need make all things from scratch. Sometimes I fall on this trap and waste a lot of precious time.

    1. 1

      That's very true. At least I can re-use what I've built the first time around. it also feels like procrastinating and not creating the course content :)

  7. 1

    Great write up. The installable exercises look very interesting - could you talk about those more please?

    1. 2

      Sure!

      I wanted to create an experience similar to the CodeCademy (or Katacoda), where you get an exercise description and a terminal window. In my case, there's I didn't go with any code editors as CC does, but it could easily be integrated if needed.

      The big idea was to have this hosted, users sign up, they get a Kubernetes cluster allocated to them and they can go through the exercises. That's all doable (of course :D), but it is a lot of work to pull it off properly in a couple of months. I also didn't have time to fully think through the infra costs that might be involved in doing that - a single Kubernetes cluster is ~$50/mo. There are ways to share it, but there's work involved to properly secure and isolate everything. There are also other things that would have to be figured out - not really doable in a short amount of time.

      I still want to get to that part at some point. So, the thing that I could pull off in these couple of months is to create a solution (React frontend, backend API) that users can install in their own clusters. So there's no issue with security - you're installing it on your, local cluster, you have access to it and (hopefully) no one else.

      You can access the exercises from the browser - you have the task description with a solution and a terminal window on the right side. From the terminal window, you get shell access to your own cluster where you can run any commands you could run in your own terminal. Additionally, I've built in the validation - so while you're solving the exercises you can click the VERIFY button and get back the feedback on how your solution looks like ("Check XYZ", "Have you added ABC", etc.).

      I'd still love to pull this off in a hosted model, where you can sign up and you get a provisioned space somewhere with the access to a sandboxed cluster (similar to what Katacoda does). An idea that's further out is to build a full course platform and have others run their courses on this; however, I am not sure if a Kubernetes-specific course platform is too niche. As I said, there's Katacoda, and it's free -- which is great. I can create my 'course' there, however, I can't charge $ for it :) They did offer an embedded Katacoda experience which you could take and integrate, but not sure if they are still doing that since they got acquired by Oreilly.

      Feel free to ping me if you want to hear more or if you want to see a demo if it.

      1. 1

        This sounds really incredible, thank you for all the detail. I've DM'd you on twitter.

  8. 1

    So in pre orders you give access to courses or you are giving access at the time of launching?

    1. 1

      No, the access to the course is once the product is published. When the customers pre-order they enter their CC information etc. but only get charged once you release the product.

      I have started with a long-ish blog post on the topic first, created a free product (the article in PDF), and got around 300 downloads (you have to enter your email to download). That gave me an idea to do a full book/video course from it.

      By the time I started pre-orders, I had that 40 PDF pages article and nothing more.

  9. 1

    spend time on creating content and then sharing it - it will always result in something.

    I am in total agreement. This method is working for me as well.

    Good informative peice. Thanks for sharing. :)

  10. 1

    This was super informative - thank you for sharing Peter!

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