In this new series, we're spotlighting some of our most active community members to learn more about their Udemy journey. Let's kick things off with @FrankKane!
Frank teaches machine learning and “big data” on Udemy, having reached an audience of hundreds of thousands worldwide over the span of three years. Frank teaches under the brand Sundog Education, which is part of his larger company Sundog Software LLC located in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida. Prior to forming Sundog, Frank spent almost 10 years working at Amazon.com in Seattle and its subsidiary, IMDb.com, as a senior software engineer and a senior manager. Sundog Education is on track to reach $1.5 million in revenue from Udemy this year.
Why did you become a Udemy instructor?
I had been working at Amazon.com in Seattle for a long time, but my family just couldn’t take the weather in Seattle any longer! In 2012 we packed up and moved to Florida, with enough savings to last a few months and hopes of finding a way to make ends meet through self-employment. At first I started doing some freelance work, which included doing some data science curriculum development for live training programs in New York. Udemy caught wind of this somehow, and reached out to me - this was at a time when Udemy didn’t have enough content on data science, and was actively recruiting instructors in this field. I figured, why not give it a try? All I have to lose is a few weeks of time to put a course together, and it looked like there was a lot of potential upside. Well, that few weeks turned into a couple of months, but I did get that first course out the door, and haven’t looked back since. I had to compete on the marketplace just like everyone else, and at first that first course seemed like a dud. But I kept at it, kept building upon my audience, and today Udemy has become my primary focus.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a Udemy instructor?
Udemy is the ultimate win/win scenario. It’s hard to find opportunities where you can both make a decent income for yourself, and do good in the world at the same time. Udemy’s one of them. The scale of Udemy’s audience and reach makes it possible to teach valuable, and in some cases life-changing skills to hundreds of thousands of people around the world at accessible prices. There’s just nothing bad about that.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from another instructor in the community?
There have been several examples! Lately I’ve been following Jason Dion’s experiments in adjusting list prices closely and plan to follow suit myself in a few days. The hypothesis is that lower list prices can drive more sales in between big promotions, and I want to test that hypothesis myself.
What did your first filming set-up look like? What’s it like now?
Hoo boy. On my first course, I irrationally wanted to spend zero money in the process. I filmed myself with an older Android cell phone and a Blue Yeti mic that I already had, and used free screen capture software called BandiCam and the free Windows Movie Maker software, which no longer exists. For lighting, I put a white page up on my computer monitor and stuck it in front of my face! It was an unnecessarily kludgy setup, but I still managed to get decent quality out of it.
Today I’ve invested some of my course revenue pack into A/V gear. I’m using a Shure SM7B mic, a DSLR camera, a real lighting kit, and Camtasia.
What’s your favorite / most memorable student interaction (online or offline)?
A couple of times I’ve had random encounters with students in unexpected places. I’m also an amateur astronomer and sometimes participate in local events where we take our telescopes out to the local city park and let people look through them at night. One night one of my students ended up at my telescope and recognized me! It was a pretty surreal moment, and a reminder of just how wide of a reach Udemy’s platform offers.
If you could give a first-time instructor some advice, what would you say?
Be really, really, really careful with your choice of topic. Use Udemy’s Insights tool, and make sure you’re teaching a topic that students are searching for, and make sure you can make a better course than the ones that are already there.
Also, don’t come to Udemy looking to make a quick buck. Success on Udemy requires hard, sustained work and refinement of your presentation skills, and it happens over the span of years, not days. But it is worthwhile work.
What inspires you to continue teaching online?
The positive impact I’m having on students is motivating. A read through my positive reviews, or LinkedIn messages where people say I’ve concretely helped their careers, is a reminder of that impact that keeps me going.
Being an instructor on Udemy also forces me to learn and grow as a technologist, and that constant learning is also motivating. In order to teach the latest technologies, I first need to master them myself. It’s ironic that I’m more up-to-date on current tech now than when I actually held a full-time industry job in the field, but I love that.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Together, Udemy and its instructors really are changing the world, and it’s awesome to be a part of that.
Hi Frank i remember you sharing a book that you wrote back in Udemy Instructor FB group. I believe it was kind of a product that came out as a result of the preparation process of one of your courses. I get offers from book publishing companies time to time to create a book in the field that i'm teaching (mobile programming, cyber security etc.) I always hesitate to write a book since i think it would be outdated in a year because of ever changing codes, softwares, updates etc.
My question is are you happy that you wrote a book and will you consider writing another one?
I've authored four books as a Udemy instructor. Two were produced by Packt where they did the work of adapting a couple of my courses to book form. All I had to do was review the finished product. Apart from dealing with occasional errata reported by readers, it's basically been free money and it's not something I regret.
The other two were self-published on Amazon, where me and my family did the work of converting online courses to book form. It brings in a couple hundred bucks a month, but I don't think it's covered the massive effort it took to create those books.
So in short - if someone wants to write a book for you and give you a share of the profit, sure. But writing a book yourself is a LOT of work and it's not something I'm likely to do again. People have different reasons for writing books, though - sometimes it's just to beef up a resume or generate more consulting leads. But if you're doing it to make money, your time is better spent making online courses IMO.
Planning to take a hard look at it on Thursday once I have a weeks' worth of data. I can tell you that I've seen a surprisingly large number of full-price sales at $19-$49 list prices, but most sales are still via Udemy organic or ads.
Once you've created a new course in your instructor dashboard, click on the "curriculum" tab on the left. From there, you can create new lectures and upload video content to them. As you move the mouse around in the curriculum you should see a + sign pop up; that lets you add a new section or lecture.
Thanks for sharing this, @FrankKane. My story is quite similar - except that it took me 18 years to quit the corporate world. :)