The Smart Brand Marketing Podcast: Online Business | Content Marketing | SEO | Sales | Lifestyle Design
SBM 149: Sell Courses in an Environment Controlled by You with Panos Siozos
Manage episode 271728455 series 1462156
Panos Siozos is the founder of Learn Worlds (online course platform).
This is the 149th session of Smart Brand Marketing.
MY BIGGEST TAKEAWAY:
Research shows that people snooze after 12 minutes. 6-10 minute modules work best.
- The beginning
- Why a course platform
- Target audience
- Making teachers better
- Customer success
- Acquisition methods
- Doing it the hard way
- The hosting solution
Hey, guys, we’re back with another episode of Smart Brand Marketing today with me, I have Panos, who is the founder of Learn Worlds. It’s an online course platform. And the goal here, for the most part, is to put a face to a platform, which maybe you’re familiar with, maybe you’re not. But I always think it’s like we had the founder of Thinkific Before and then a couple other people. And I think it’s always nice that, you know, there’s someone real behind it.
Thanks, Tom. Great to be here. Yeah. So when I looked at your website, like, I just got into it because I looked at the pricing. Right. And it was interesting because you had a couple different packages. Right. And the most popular one was for multiple creators. Right. Like most platforms will go after just one consultant, one expert. But yours was like the most popular was seemed like almost like you build a school on your platform.
So my initial question would be, you know, other than, you know, why you got into it, who are you actually going after with this platform? Yes, well, the other ideal customers are those that already have an audience and already have the content, so usually they are professional trainers or training organizations, businesses that already have a clientele of trainer of students and huge audiences. So they require something big. They require a platform that is powerful, versatile, that allows them to upload easily all their their content and start selling right away.
So effectively, we have some multimillion dollar businesses of the role that run completely on unleveled. So you can run an entire online school, an entire academy, and serve all the way from two hundred to two hundred thousand students with just one platform.
Yeah, that’s what sort of made me wonder about it. Right, because one of the most popular package, when it’s 20 instructors, that is much bigger than what I see offered on those platforms. Like most, there’s just one instructor, one on admin. So this seems like more targeted towards like coaching groups or companies, you know, and I wonder why you chose to really focus on that.
It’s it’s not precisely the way you position it, because that’s just one of the offerings that we have in our total package. So indeed, some people take this package because they have multiple instructors or in certain cases, there are folks that are building marketplaces. So they’re bringing in other instructors and they’re sharing the audiences and they’re also sharing the revenue. So that’s a new thing. And we’ve seen a great increase in that, especially under covid people like, let’s say, different coaches or fitness instructors or trainers that teach different complementary fields that were coming, joining forces, creating an online school and bringing in all their content.
So that’s why they needed more licenses so that they can have multiple instructors. But that’s just one of the extra things, additional things that we have in our total package, in our most popular package. There are other things that are a bit more high end. And in fact, we are the only ones offering something like that, such as the interactive video. That’s an amazing tool. It’s a cloud based tool where you can just upload your traditional linear videos and sometimes even boring.
We’re all guilty of that, sometimes creating like boring instructional videos. And you can give them a totally second life. So you can add on the fly, you can add titles, you can add subtitles, you can add pointers. You cannot we automatically create transcripts of the videos. And one of the most exciting things, and that’s my personal favorite. In the end, our customers really love it is the possibility of creating quizzes on top of your videos.
So imagine you have a scenario where you’re explaining how to do a fitness exercise or you’re explaining how to use certain equipment or how to do something on the software. So the video poses a question, pops up like a multiple choice question, and based on the user’s answer, they get different feedback or they even get sent forward or backward in the video where the right answer exists. So that’s a super paradigm change. Instead of having passing users, passive students that just go through the video and sometimes, I don’t know, fall asleep or something, you have a video that is engaging, interactive.
It asks you to do stuff on the video. So that’s huge we see huge user engagement and also user satisfaction with something like that. So our top package has a combination of features. And indeed, one of that is for larger schools or for schools that have lots of content and they have multiple instructors and they need that. In other cases, it can be just a small team like one or two guys, but they need the premium features, like the interactive video.
Yes, it’s interesting, I’ve been seeing of movement from one of the top creators, right, because there’s, you know, different segments. You have the new people and the more established into exactly what you’re saying and to into building brands and marketplaces and getting other instructors under them. So this is very interesting that you’re actually going after those more advanced users, which I really like. Also, why did you decide to go after this market? You know, because the online course space, it’s definitely growing, but you do have quite a bit of competition with the platforms.
Yes, indeed. I have to say that we have been preparing for years to get onto this path as a team.
We are three co-founders and we have a very strong background in e-learning. We have studied e-learning extensively and we have studied computer science and all of us did postgraduate studies in e-learning. So the two of the three co-founders have these in the learning. And we’ve been working in this space for about 20 years. Initially, we were just researchers. We were just seeing what is the state of the art of learning. And we were creating experimental platforms, doing experiments with students and publishing like in scientific journals.
That’s all we did for the I guess for the first eight, 10 years. But at some point and we didn’t have any entrepreneurial background, we didn’t have any idea. Some of our professors came to us and say, OK, that’s amazing platform that you built here. You could be selling that. But we always said it’s OK, we’ll just have another idea, will publish another paper. And we were happy about that role. But after we went out into the industry and started working in different projects and research projects and stuff like that, we showed that there was a huge gap in what was the actual state of learning that the actual platforms that people were able to use in the businesses and individuals.
And I have to say that we were allowed to say so. We were pissed off by the state of learning, by the kind of platforms that people were using that was so far behind the things that we were doing in the academia, the state of the art that we had. So we thought that we could do better. We knew that we could do better. We knew that we could take all the things that we’ve learned, how you can increase user engagement and participation, how you can increase user satisfaction.
And that’s what we started building into the language platform. So that was a long process. It took us a couple of years to create our super first prototype and to be satisfied with what we had in other hands before putting it out to customers. And in 2014, we officially launched. We had some great input by customers that wanted to use that. So in 2014, we started selling the platform. We incorporated a business and started selling the platform.
But still after that, we also had to learn lots of things about marketing. So I would say in terms of the competition and comparing to the competition, we are the only ones who deeply know e-learning other businesses. We have tremendous respect for them. They have created some great e-commerce products, helping you to sell courses and videos. But in terms of the kind of content and the kind of user experience that you are able to create into the courses, I think we are by leaps and bounds far ahead from the competition.
We have a tremendous focus on the learner experience, what people see, how people feel, how people learn within the platform. And that’s something that professionals and people that have been long in the space they can really appreciate, because right now people are very demanding with the kind of digital experiences they have. So people are used to having great digital experiences with their iPads and their gaming devices, very interactive things, very engaging. So the traditional form of doing e-learning and online courses, which is just throwing a couple of videos or a couple of PDA people or emailing them a PDF and say, OK, that’s your course for today.
That doesn’t cut it any more. People cannot tolerate that anymore. They want something that looks good, is mobile, friendly, responsive, fast, efficient, interactive, engaging. It’s almost a detainment. It’s like a combination of education and entertainment. And at the end of each course, they want to feel satisfied. They want to know that they learn something, something new for that day. It could be something mundane, something that has to do with, I don’t know, a whole bit like better how to better do a yoga exercise or something.
Or it can be a professional skill that people have paid hundreds of dollars to acquire. And we want to have an amazing learning experience. And I think we’re succeeding that that’s the feedback that we’ve been getting from our customers.
Yeah, the one challenge I can see here is when you mention all of these great experiences and stuff like what that requires is great teachers. Now, when I see a typical new expert come in and just want to do the. Videos do it quick, just build something they can sell multiple times, I think it might scare them, you know, like, wow, how do I create a great experience for people? Because all I do is just, you know, I’m used to doing video, so I create an hour and a half course with some PDFs.
So I think you kind of require the teachers to get better. You know, we help them get better.
That’s a great observation that you make here, but we help them get better because everybody can be a great teacher. Everybody that knows the subject deeply, which can be anything that you can imagine. It doesn’t have to be like professional or academic or anything else. People we always learn that’s the normal state of a person is to always learn, keep learning. If you don’t learn, you use, you sit and die. That’s that’s how we understand it.
So everybody everybody has something that they can teach to another person or whatever. How no matter how mundane it is, there’s always a niche that wants to learn something that, you know deeply. It could be about podcasting. It could be about how to set up your your computer. It could be about how to meet a swathe or whatever or how to do data science and data analytics and something super complex. There’s always demand. So somebody that knows their stuff well, they can always teach it.
And we give them lots and lots of advice. And we think the platform, we give them some tools that help them create these engaging stuff easily. So the interactive thing I mentioned before, the interactive video, it’s something that has been created for normal, everyday users. You don’t need to be an instructional designer. You don’t need to be an expert, like having done a video editing. It’s just like editing a PowerPoint and that some things are more or less anybody can do.
So we give them ideas and we give them structure and we give them suggestions on how to create the best possible online course that they can do. And one of the first thing that we say to people is, you know, your staff, you have an amazing video. Don’t ever throw to people a 60 minute video. That’s a disaster. And we have all the research data to back that up. After ten, twelve, twelve minutes, the user participation and user engagement drops rapidly.
So just split your video in the six, ten minute videos. That’s the best thing that you can do. And it’s much easier for you to produce. It’s much easier for you to replace a video if new information comes along or to insert a video in the middle of that, don’t create something that is it’s much more difficult for you to do and it’s much less effective. So we try to give them this advice and help them create easily for them the best possible version of their video.
And I totally get what you say, that it can be scary and intimidating. And we have lots of people that say, OK, I like I very much like your platform. That’s what I will use. But I first need six months in order to prepare my course. And we say, no, that’s a huge mistake. Don’t spend six times six months of your time trying to create a course that you don’t know whether there is demand for that.
So just go out there and create an MVP and first mini version of your course, just create the first chapter, launch it, give it out to people, get feedback. You can even presell it. We had some amazing, successful, amazingly successful customers who managed to get thousands and thousands of dollars just by reselling the first couple of chapters of, let’s say, a ten chapter course, which it means that they validated that their demand. They got super useful feedback about what the course should about and how they should go about completing the course.
And also they had the first say so huge incentive to go out and complete and complete the courses. So it doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t have to be like a super production with multiple cameras and videos that are very complicated and all sorts of science. We try to make that as easy as possible through the platform. There are some great very easy tools to just create a few quizzes. That’s very easy. You just show a video and then you create a mini quiz with ten multiple choice questions that people can use to self reflect on what they’ve just learned.
So some very easy hacks, let’s say teacher hacks that people can do and a platform that helps them do that, accomplish that what they want very easily. And anybody can become an amazing teacher with with a platform that helps them. But obviously they need to start from knowing their content, what they’re talking about.
So the first lesson that every course creates very quickly learns is that creating a course is the simple part. The hardest one is how to sell these courses. So what sort of marketing support or type of advice do you give to to your clients?
That’s again, that’s a. Important observation, we have some amazing teachers that know their staff very well, they have some amazing courses, but they also need to learn marketing, learn what is not a marketplace. So we’re not selling other people’s courses. We are one can see where a Shopify for online courses. So we help people create their own their own store and 24/7 sell courses. So what we do is a two pronged approach. The first thing that we use that we integrate with all the marketing tools that people would need or whatever they have in there, are they having their marketing arsenal?
We integrate with email marketing tool. We agreed with Facebook pictures and Google analytics and so that you can track the effectiveness of your campaigns and all the stuff that you that you may need. And the other thing is that we teach people we will produce some great content and we bring in experts and we do webinars and all the tips and tricks that we learned from our successful customers. We try to disseminate with the community. So we publish, we do regular webinars and we publish some great content and also some online courses of our own where we teach people how to take advantage of Facebook advertisement for their online courses with very small amounts of money.
What is one of the basic things that they can do, how they can use email marketing, how they can use content marketing to increase their school so we cannot generate customers for them and we cannot fish for them. But we teach them how to fish for themselves and be independent and be able to create a lively business that brings them side income and passive income and something that will grow. And there has never been a better opportunity for online courses under these terrible covid conditions.
And all the trends were already there for getting skills of your own outside the traditional education system or trying to get reskilled or trying to get passive income on top of what you get from your main business or try to be independent. These were already trends that were that were there in the economy. And all these require some marketing skills. So you need to promote yourself. It’s not enough to be just be a follower or an employee. You have to to be a leader and you have to get mixed with these tools and start using and promoting yourself and promoting your business.
So all these trends under covid have really coalesced in that. There’s a perfect storm for getting into these online courses and online entrepreneurship. So we help people. We teach them, we give them all the content, all the templates, all the things that we can think of and all the things that we learn from our customers to help them become successful in their own business as well.
Let’s go back to your business a bit. You know, you mentioned that you started in 2014, and since then you had to learn a lot about how to grow the business, because I think it’ll give people some insights over the stuff that you guys went through as well. How did your marketing change and your acquisition of customers?
Because when I look at the YouTube channel is not very active, not really a big Facebook group. So I kind of wonder, how have you guys been, you know, working to acquire customers and how has that changed over those last five, six years?
Well, initially, I have to say that we were terrible marketers. We were traditional engineers and scientists, which doesn’t always work in most cases. It doesn’t make for a great business model. So we thought that obviously we have the best platform because, you know, we are the experts and we have these. So people will just realize that we have the best platform and they will flock to us. But obviously, that’s not how it works. So we had to learn how to sell our platform and how to put our product and our value proposition in front of people so that they can understand what we give them.
So the thing that initially and still is, is our best channel is content marketing. So we produce some great content, some great resources, some amazing e-books. And I’m not talking about, like, you know, 10 page ebooks with like 500 words of marketing lingo. These are actionable, actionable stuff. All the things that we learned promoting and doing our own marketing. We try to make that applicable to our core sellers as well and help them sell so people can find these resources.
The second thing and I would say growth hack that we did is that we launched our own academy trying to educate our customers. And we realized that’s how I understand that it sounds stupid, but we didn’t realize that at first that we have to educate our customers. We took us a couple of years to do so. We launched our own academy, which now has more than 8000 users.
And we created there are some amazing courses. About how you can create the best possible version of your online course and how you can sell your online courses, so everything that we produce, we have a very active content marketing team, everything that we can establish with customers, we trying to get to pick their brains and get and get all the ideas and the things that they’ve been testing and the things that are succeeding. We put that we create content around that ebooks and online courses and we share it back with the community.
And our online courses are amazing lead magnets. So we just create some free courses. We put them out there in social media and people find them and they get to learn about what our online courses and how people can sell, and that at some point they realize that we not only have the best platform, but we also have support for them. We give them the content that they will need to succeed. So content marketing has been at the heart of the ad, always at the root of what we do and also doing creating our own academy, which is accessible at Academy Dot Lenovo’s dot com people can just go there.
We had a few premium courses. I have to admit that we were only giving to customers of our premium package. But because of covid, we decided to just open everything up and help as many people as possible to learn about the opportunities of learning. And that was received tremendously well. So these are two marketing channels, I would say complementary marketing channels that have worked great for us. Another thing that we have been doing and traditionally that works very well for both for platforms of online courses, but also for selling online courses themselves, is affiliate marketing.
So we partner with bloggers, influencers, podcasters, people that have large followings and successful entrepreneurs. And we also inform them about online courses and what are the chances there, and they inform their own users. And our field channel has been a super success for us as well. So these are mostly the things that work for us. And after such a certain point, after you reach a certain size branding and word of mouth and being able to serve thousands of customers with hundreds of thousands of students, that itself creates a huge network effect.
So you have more and more people finding a language course, being amazed with the experience and saying, OK, I want to do one of those. So I may be a student in one subject, but I know something else very well. So why not teach it and get profits out of my knowledge?
I think the main part of this that I like and I think it’s brilliant is that you control your marketing, right? So why not being on YouTube, not being on Facebook as Martoni Sociales like you use them to bring people in, but you keep your lead magnets and everything in your own firm. Right. So it’s on your website, your own academy. I think it’s very smart.
You know, like even with your marketing, it seems like you build it once and then use it multiple times to have it work for you. Same with affiliates. You know, it’s just building relationships. So actually, you know, it didn’t seem like you’re doing as much marketing, but the more I look at it, it’s very smart.
So I got to give you credit for that.
I have to say that it wasn’t the easiest way to do so. The easiest way to do is to, I don’t know, go spend money on Facebook or try to create super effective videos or something and pay marketers. I think because initially we were a bootstrapped company. So we we hadn’t received any funding. So we’re spending our own money. And we were learning the ropes and we we understood somehow or other perhaps we were a bit masochistic as well.
We understood that we need to do the difficult stuff and the difficult stuff is to do the work, write the articles, create useful content, try to educate people and to give them value. So that’s that’s much more difficult than spending a few thousand on Facebook and be dependent on on Facebook whims and and algorithms. And that’s also one of the things that we say to our people. So learning is a social and therefore you don’t learn on your own.
You learn much better if you’re part of a community, part of an offer of an active group of people that are on the same level or slightly lower, slightly higher level. It works much better this way. And we always say that our most successful customers are those that are not just selling courses, but have managed to build a community around our brand, around the content. And so they have ambassadors and they have other people coming in and helping in providing answers.
That’s always an amazing thing to witness. No matter the subject where we see a community, we understand that there is a successful online school behind that. Not easy to create, always to. You need to have a critical mass, but once you have it, it’s like a flywheel, then it rings, it keeps on bringing more. So one of the things that we’ve said to our customers, and that was, I guess, the very first thing that we put into the platform initially by our research driven design was that we wanted the platform to be social first.
So within the Liberals platform, we also you also get your own group like your own Facebook, your own private Facebook group with similar. So if you want to create a community, you don’t have to hand your data and your students over to Facebook where you don’t control the experience. And that will certainly get bombarded with ads and distractions and you will lose them after ten minutes. But you have a community of students which is safe, controlled by you.
You control the experience, the data, the ownership, whatever, and this happens right into your school. So right next to each video, right next to each Cui’s, whatever, people can ask a question, receive an answer in a safe environment which is controlled by you.
So that’s one of the little smart ways where we help people with not much effort from from from the instructors because users can link and submit content themselves, lots of user generated content, lots of interactions. And in certain cases, students do the work of the instructor by providing answers themselves. People like to know to show what they know. So we’ve seen that the learning experience with a community, the built in community that we offer is really elevated and it works well and it brings in results of the bottom line.
At the end of the day.
Yeah, your focus and control is like a lines a lot with what I teach. So. I’m know that I think about it, this is probably one of the best platforms that I’ve been hearing about because it does allow for all of this. You know, like having Facebook groups is very risky. Having someone on, you know, a third party is very risky. Yeah, it’s very interesting. How long did it take you because you guys went the hard way, which is the best way, but it’s hard.
How long did it take you to gain traction with learning worlds where it actually kind of took over and you could hire people out and have the marketing that you put in new systems in place actually work for you?
I guess it took us about a year and a half to start growing past the first, I don’t know, 50 customers being at the point where we could, like, hire some help.
And initially we knew that we had a lot of things to learn. So we even though we weren’t at our first youth, let’s say we weren’t like the usual like twenty four twenty year old startup or something. We did all the everything that we had to do. So we had we attended competitions and pitching, coaching and try to be better at what we do. I guess it was after a year and a half towards the second half of 2015 where we started seeing that all the work that we had been putting there started to bring us a steady inbound traffic of like people that were visiting our website and staying around and asking for a trial.
So at that point, we started hiring a couple more people. Again, we couldn’t afford it, so we weren’t making any profit. But we started bringing in extra people to work on our marketing and improving the platform. So I guess the first couple of years until we reach the first 100 customers were quite, quite difficult and we had to learn a lot and do everything by hand. But after that, we fine tuned our offering. We started accumulating content and useful stuff that we could say to our people, to our customers and some nice Kastari, some very successful online schools of people that trusted us.
And that was a hard thing for them to do because we were like a new company. We didn’t have much to show, but they trusted our vision and what we wanted to offer. They stuck around with us and after a certain point, all they started working on its own for. So I guess for the past three years we have been growing at very fast rates of more than one hundred percent per year and obviously are now under covid. This thing has accelerated vastly because it’s not just traditional online trainers and people that we’re looking for a platform, but now there’s all sorts of new market segments and all sorts of new industries that are trying to find ways to be online and reach their customers.
So right now, in certain cases, in most cases, actually, if you cannot offer training online, then you cannot offer training at all. So it’s a super difficult and we have all those people that we’re making conferences and summits and all the staff and trainers and even fitness businesses who can be in the gym right now. My most gyms in there, half of the world are closed. So all these people are now jumping into online courses or creating info products or creating digital downloads.
So I think we are at the best time ever for online courses and this will not change. So online courses and online e-learning has changed permanently after this experience.
So let me ask you one of the most important questions before we finish up, because the only real goal of a customer to get onto an online course platform is to have their courses hosted and have good interaction with the students. Right. So what do you do and where is the hosting base and what do you do to make sure that the courses stay up?
Because I’ll tell you, you know, looking at most of the platforms, they barely do what they’re supposed to. You know, there’s so much downtime and so many problems with the whole thing that it’s said. I’m like, no, the only reason for you guys to exist to some of these platforms is to actually host courses.
And you can even do that properly right now. That’s that’s unacceptable. And we have been lucky to have from very early on some businesses which were very large and very demanding. So we knew that we have to offer a top notch service.
So right now for the past couple of years, our actual uptime server uptime is slightly higher than a 99.95 Percent, which is probably, I don’t know, a few hours per year for usual maintenance.
So that’s we have some schools that are running with hundreds of thousands of students. So we make sure we have a top notch engineering team and we make sure that everything is very well taken care of. We use Google cloud servers mostly, although we also work with some other providers and some local providers, and we use cloud servers in multiple data centres around the world with lots of CDs and everything that’s needed. So depending on where we are and where they’re their own customers are located, we always trying to find the best architecture to do so, that everything works flawlessly, we know how important it can be not only to have it that’s absolutely essential to have a to 100 percent uptime and so that people can find you at any point and purchase.
You don’t want to lose any any any sales there. But also it’s super important to have a very fast and responsive website that’s important for Google and CEO, but it’s also important for students. Students cannot just sit around and wait until a page loads or something. So we’ve made sure that was I think we were very lucky because we had we had tremendous engineering experience in the past and we and and a great team. And in terms of performance, I think we rank much higher than the competition in terms of what we can deliver to the to the customer.
And we always treat, I guess, all our even our smallest customers. They’re always located at the top notch and locations and servers, and we try to offer them the best possible service.
That’s good to hear because it’s very important. You know. I agree. I agree.
You know, after the problems I’m seeing on a lot of platforms like this is now one of the main questions I want to get an answer to, because, I mean, if a platform can’t host a course properly, I mean, what’s the point?
Yes. Yes, I totally agree. So I think it’s very it kind of suits you guys because, like you said, you came from the eLearning and the computer science background. So you have both of the skill sets that I think are necessary to build a good platform. So that’s really good to know. OK, let me finish this up so I’ll tell the audience where they can find you and we’ll wrap it up. Yes.
And gladly. People can always find us on our website w w w dot learn worlds dot com. And as I mentioned there, from there you can find some of our amazing resources which are free from anybody, regardless of whether you need a platform or not. You can just find some great content around online courses and online business models. And you can always attend one of our weekly webinars to learn more about the platform and the opportunities that now exist in the e-learning space.
Very good. Thanks again for coming on. Thank you, Tom.
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