If you are reading this article then I assume you fall into either of these 2 categories:
1)You are looking at starting a company that hopes to make money by selling online
2)You have already have an online training program with some initial traction.
Today the technology out there makes it so simple for you to teach learners anything - from software programming to leadership skills.
However, very few courses end up being successful because the creators / founders / trainers don’t know how to execute it successfully. I promise to leave you with 5 important aspects you need to consider to make your online training business successful.
These are not complicated things that will suck up your time and energy without assuring any returns. Rather these are things that have worked for me while I was building my own business in the edtech / online training space.
When I started CrackVerbal way back in 2011, it was merely an idea. I will be very honest, there was no earth-shattering-paradigm-shifting-disruptive-idea that many other Edtech companies that started alongside claimed.
However, when I look back I realize that there are some factors that have helped differentiate Crackverbal to grow to serve over 5000 students with a total revenue in the excess of a $1 million.
I have boiled it down to 5 simple factors that anyone who thinks he can make a career out of “teaching stuff online” should know.
- The student is looking for a solution not a feature
In my experience, edtech has to be outcome based. You can not brag about the number of questions you can provide or the amount of analytics you can throw at them.
Here is the deal: the student is just not interested to know this stuff! He just wants to sleep knowing more than when he woke up. He wants to go from a stage of being unhappy (job, health, money) with whatever he has, to being happy after taking up your course.
This sounds really simple, right? But most companies end up not focussing on this when they start out. They talk about how cool their product / solution / training is without addressing how specifically they can address the student problem. The student doesn’t care for your valuation or your traction or whatever goals you want to show to the VC.
Ask yourself what do I offer to make the student’s life better. Hint: If your answer is a product feature then you aren’t getting it.
2. Content is to education what location is to the restaurant business
The top 3 things for an edtech in my opinion are “content, content, and content”. Really the best software cannot make crap content look great. But great content can make crap software look cool.
The student tends to value content that can solve his problem and not give generic stuff that he can pick from the internet. It should be (or at least try to be) 10X better than the closest competitors. It is okay to overwhelm him with the value that you can provide.
You don’t need to do all of it from day zero - but remember to keep constantly adding and revising content. For example, in the test prep space that we are in - the test format keeps changing all the time. So even if you end up building great content to begin with, you have to constantly keep improving it. The Japanese have a term for it: Kaizen.
As an edtech entrepreneur ask yourself: Am I willing to invest the time, money, and patience to develop high quality content? In running the whole shebang of entrepreneurship - this is one thing that can quickly get de-prioritized. Between getting more Facebook “likes” and buying stationery, make sure you carve out at least 50% of the energy in content.
3. Support mechanism: How you do >> What you do
All the great products in the world cannot replace the intelligence of a teacher who can intuitively pick what is wrong with the student’s approach to solving a problem. I know big data, and analytics is supposed simply do away with the teacher - but not anytime soon.
Think of it this way: would you trust the diagnosis of a disease (based of course on lab results) from a big-data-chewing-analytics-crunching-monster or a human who can extrapolate the results, use his own judgement to arrive at possible conjectures?
Yes the VC world doesn’t like to hear dependence on people because it doesn’t allow for a hockey stick curve - but the fact is, the way humans learn is not going to drastically change in the near future. Yes, have all the “bells and whistles” in place - but ensure you also supplement with teachers who have real world experience.
This could be in the form of a product upsell where personal consultation could get more revenue. This could be a group coaching call where users login for a Q&A session online. Or this could even be a support helpline where you have a well-informed (and very, very patient) counselor hand-holding the students with the course.
4. Marketing is more important than Selling
Trusting someone with your career is a big deal.
Let’s face it: students tend to take time making this decision so if you want to immediately jump to grab a share of their wallet then it is not going to happen. This is a huge difference between the edtech world and rest of the businesses such as foodtech. The customer acquisition time could be longer, and more painful.
Plus it depends a lot on word-of-mouth and referrals so it is important for you to amplify the mic. You need to be able to show testimonials, and case-studies, and video interviews, and …..the list goes on. But the bottom line is: Trust!
The obvious advantage is once you are able to win their trust, and are able to build the brand, the student acquisition costs come down drastically. The more you are able to create trust in the minds of the student, the lesser you need to spend on marketing.
According to me, of all the points - this one is the toughest to achieve. But also the most important one.
5. Scale comes with operational issues
With 10 paying students things look great, and with 100 it looks awesome! But with 1000, is when the nightmare begins. You start running into admin issues such as customer complaints, requests for refunds, online reputation issue, and so on.
Among all the issues I have faced in my business (such as months with low cash-flows, key employee attrition), customer complaint has to be the biggest stress I have had. I take it very, very personally when a customer has a not-so-great experience with us as I feel I have personally let him / her down (goes back to point #4 above).
It is very crucial for you to have clear processes. You might think “let me cross the bridge when I get to it” but that is wrong thinking. When you get to the proverbial bridge - it might just be too late. So use a simple site like Process Street or even Google Docs - but ensure you document the marketing, sales, and delivery processes.
Having said this, one thing you need to realize is that even with 100% dedication, there will always be corner cases where it is beyond what can be fixed (such as expectation mismatch). So just suck it up and keep working.
So to summarize remember to:
- Solve a real student problem and not obsess over technology.
- Focus on content that is 10X of what competitors provide.
- Provide some human interaction to handhold them.
- Build a brand based on the trust that students can depend on you.
- Ensure creating processes to ensure student delight.
I am sure there are a bunch of other things that matter but just take a printout or copy paste this into a desktop sticky pad app & keep revisiting it every month while you are setting goals for yourself.
I love connecting with other entrepreneurs in the same field - do let me know what you think about this article. And also feel free to connect with me on my Twitter or Linkedin.