2017 begins and I have a YouTube channel. I demo my work as a React Native developer. If you’re not familiar with React Native(RN), I’ll let you hear TechLead’s explanation(Thanks for crapping on us, dude). I got approached by a Company in California to publish a “React Native Recipes” course.
This article will cover
- Dealing with Imposter syndrome.
- Productizing YouTube videos.
- Customer research.
- Building an Online Course in 2017.
- Having a refund policy that protects your IP.
I am Youtuber
Taking the leap into broadcasting was really weird for me. The 2 big things holding me back were:
- I didn’t want people to see the little mistakes I made in my programming process and the knowledge I lacked.
- I didn’t want people to hear the little quirks that I had in my speech. Especially Black people in northern California who have notoriously been my biggest critics. Showering me with “clever” jokes and AD HOMINEMS!
So I procrastinate. I wrote this excessive PRD. It was all about how I thought Snapchat had planned for their tech.
With that done, I had no more excuses. I began to plan my very first video.
I landed on a format I like. It goes something like this.
My Format: 2 Complex Elements + 1 Controller
A bit more on the format.
2 Complex Elements: I would replicate or redesign two of the hardest/prettiest views of the mobile app.
1 Controller: I would use some, now deprecated,(react) navigation component to route between the aforementioned complex elements. We’ll talk more about deprecation and the cost of migration later on.
Sometimes I would throw in a silly animation here and there, but that’s it for what I had for video structure. I would also push my code to GitHub so that future employers could see what I could do.
Choosing the Right Course
A few things went wrong with this course and I’m going to jump into that in a second. Let’s talk about some of the things that went right.
First of all, where did the idea to start building an online course come from?
I was subscribed to Fizzle.co(podcast) & TropicalMBA(podcast) and they convinced me that I was doing my audience a disservice by not charging for a premium membership.
This is something I still believe and something that really gets hammered home when you’re listening to these podcasts everyday. It starts to feel like you’re doing something wrong if you’re not cooking up or planning to cook up an online course. This combined with my offer from a publishing company in California really sealed the deal for me. The course was getting made.
As for the contents of the course, I had to get polarizing and I had to get personal. I realized that there was no amount of research I could do that would be considered too much research. I knew that I would need to publish my course before time caught up to the tech I was teaching. I knew I could just ask my audience what they wanted and that’s exactly what I did.
In retrospect, this is where I began to make a few mistakes. While I believe that it was definitely a good idea to ask my audience what they wanted, what I didn’t do right was:
1: Take enough time to understand the psychology of why they were suggesting these topics. This would have resulted in a more shareable / “all encompassing solution”, but would still be vulnerable to time.
2. Provide enough examples and an infrastructure that could be amended if needed for scale, time and tool trade-offs(I know, this is a 2-in-1. That’s because I don’t really see the “examples” mistake as a major blundering)
3. Spent more time coming up with questionnaires and a solid feedback loop for the Developers that opted-in. My onboarding process was so obnoxious.
I asked people to join my email list if they wanted me to send them the course and I get over a hundred opt-ins.This was around the same time that the publishing company flew me down to California to meet with my very own personal editor.
Launching the Course
I hadn’t posted tutorial videos up until this point and I was starting to discover why.
I don’t like making tutorial videos. To get more specific, I don’t like making coding videos. It really burnt me out.
This was what carried me on to complete not just 1, but 2 online courses:
- I noticed that I had felt similar discomfort when I had started youtubing. So, I ruled my discomforts out as “fear of the unknown”
- I realised that the category space would be equally as harsh on any competitors that I may develop over time.
That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.― Lev Grossman, The Magician King
Here’s what caught me off guard:
- React Native(the facebook team) decides to change something(navigation) in their new version and all the videos I’ve made up until this point are now obsolete
- The skills that I’m covering in my course make certain assumptions of students(as a developer) and I have to write (as well as edit) docs for some edge cases.
- While going through all of this, I have no idea what it takes to do a successful “online course launch”. So I need to do my homework.
- I have to pick up a few additional skills from the React Native docs and each comes with it’s own set of bugs.
- I have to edit-out a lot of hard work for the sake of building a concise online course(this could mean hours of video content).
- I have to watch each video from a few different perspectives and create a watch schedule so that I keep a fresh perspective.
- Customer service is always filled with surprises.
Then, I hit the launch button and I watch the dollars start coming in. Sometimes, I would take a bus ride somewhere and notice that 2 new people had signed up for my course, so that felt nice.
I’m not going to share exact sales numbers, but I did have a coupon code that got used up in the first 30 minutes. It offered something like 20$ off a 90$ product. The coupon was for the first 9 purchases.
I got a few “thank you” emails and a few refund requests.
- In total, 6% of people that bought the course didn’t like it and requested a refund.
- 9% of people who bought the course loved it and wrote to thank me afterwards.
I was actually preparing for about 10% of people to ask for a refund from metrics I had heard about somewhere online.
Most of the people(~80%) that bought my course were silent. I even sent a few emails asking for their opinions on the content to no reply.
I had a 100% money back guarantee with 1 caveat. You had to show that you had taken the entire course. You could then say that it wasn’t for you and I would issue the refund(If this sounds familiar, it’s the same policy that TechLead and JumpCut have with their Online courses in 2021)
This would be easy to prove because I had several “code along” videos and DIY remote repo configurations. Customers would just need to send me a link to their Github page.
There were a few people that just wanted to see what was inside my course and once they did, they asked for a refund. The aforementioned caveat was to prevent this and maybe preserve my IP a little.
Needless to say, the tactic didn’t work.
1 of the people( that had received a refund) actually uploaded my course to a popular torrent site and started posting links about how to get the course for free.
Law on the internet is weird, dude.