Udemy Instructor Strategy: The Business Strategy of the Super Stars

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LawrenceMMiller
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Udemy Instructor Strategy: The Business Strategy of the Super Stars

Instructors should think seriously about their strategy and approach to Udemy. Many new instructors have an idea and the skills to produce one course, hoping to make money with that course. That is fine if your ambitions are very limited (keep your day job!) and you are willing to accept that the likelihood of success is low given that you are competing with more than 180 thousand other courses and 65 thousand instructors in the marketplace. The more successful instructors on Udemy have not merely published a good course, they have built a business. These super stars have pursued very different strategies that produce very different results. Lets learn from them.

 

The average instructor has published approximately 2.77 courses. Many of those have published one course and given up. But, the “super star” instructors who have built a successful business, have averaged 46.4 courses. I am going to take a group of highly successful instructors who have obviously developed a genuine sustainable business on Udemy and look at their numbers and their strategies. I am going to average the numbers of Angela Yu, Frank Kane, Phil Ebiner, Chris Haroun, Scott Duffy, Colt Steele, Jason Dion to get a picture of how these instructors have performed as a business. These are all superstars and are definitely NOT average! I consider myself a moderately successful instructor but not in the same category of success as these instructors.

 

Study their numbers, which are all from their public profiles. I arrive at the dollar earnings by multiplying the number of reviews by $11.5. Obviously, this is an estimate and will vary depending on the category and the number of free coupons or courses an instructor has given away. This is the multiple from my own data and I give away virtually no free enrollments.

 

Study the stars by the numbers: 

 

SuperStars.JPG

 

What is Their Strategy

Highly successful instructors, people and companies behave differently than the less successful. So, what do the super stars do?

 

1. Dedication and Expertise

First of all, these instructors know what the hell they are talking about, and you can tell. Frank Kane came to Udemy after a successful career developing data analytics at Amazon. Chris Haroun is a successful and popular Stanford Un. Business professor and investor. Jason Dion has had a career (and still works at a full-time job) in information technology and security. Their expertise is the foundation of their business. They didn’t just pick a topic they thought would be popular. They focused on topics within their known expertise.

 

Second, each of these instructors have been developing courses and building their business over a good number of years and they did not have immediate success. They stuck with it, got better at presenting and structuring courses, and their own marketing. Persistence in any field of endeavor pays off.

 

2. Presentation and Personality

If you really want to know why these instructors are successful, I challenge you to take each of their names and search for their courses in the Udemy search bar. Watch the promo video of each instructor’s most successful course. Why do they sell?

 

If you want to be a great basketball player, you don’t watch videos of your neighbor shooting baskets! You watch video of Steph Curry, Michael Jordon, and other greats. You analyze exactly how they hold the ball, the fractions of a second it takes them to release the ball when shooting 3 pointers. Great quarterbacks study film of themselves and other quarterbacks and they know that on average they have 2.5 seconds to get rid of the ball. Analyze the best. Be a student of success!

 

If you watch these promo videos you will see that these instructors do two things. First, how do you feel about them? Yes, I said FEEL. Take one of their topics and then scroll to the third or fourth page of the search results. Now watch the promo video of an average instructor in that category. How do you feel about them? Which instructor would you most like to have dinner or a cup of coffee with? I will bet it’s the one who gets the best business results. I have had a meal or a cup of coffee with each of these instructors (Udemy Live!). They are smart, entertaining, and fun to be with. You can feel that in their promo videos. And that is one of the primary reasons people buy their courses. They are “likeable.”

 

Another instructor once said to me “I know my subject, I don’t have to be an entertainer!” OK. But it is a well-researched fact that we buy products from salespeople who we like, who make us comfortable. We trust them. The best university professors are entertaining. We remember their entertaining stories, the things that made us laugh or cry. Learning is biased by emotion, as is purchasing. This is true for Udemy instructors also.

 

These super star instructors also sell the benefits of their courses. How will this course make a difference in the student’s life? We buy benefits, not features. The investment a student makes in a course is not the price, but the time required. We need to know, and we need to be reminded, how this is going to pay off for me. You have to tell them and tell them again. These instructors make the benefits clear to the student and they remind them of those benefits.

 

3. Super Stars have a Brand Strategy

Many years ago, there was something called “portfolio strategy” in the corporate world. Harold Geneen at ITT was a classic case of creating a corporation with a highly diversified portfolio of business units. It was a bit like a mutual fund. The research has clearly demonstrated that this diversification strategy depleted shareholder value rather than enhancing shareholder value. Successful corporations build an identifiable brand around similar products reflecting similar expertise. When I say “Johnson & Johnson” what comes to your mind? Integrity and healthcare products. When I say Pepsi or Coca Cola, what do you think about? Refreshing drinks and snacks, relaxation, fun. That is brand. None of these examples make computers or microprocessors, build airplanes or drill for oil. Those would be out of their brand.

 

Each of these super star instructors have built a brand. When you have ten or twenty courses in the same field of expertise you have built brand advantage. If I publish a new course in my area of management/leadership I immediately send out an announcement to my 157K students, and because I have built trust with them, many will buy my new course. When I send out any promotional announcement to my Udemy students and to my own mail list I am exploiting the network I have built around my brand. Each blog post I write is intended to strengthen my brand.

 

What is your brand strategy? How are you going to build your expertise, develop a cluster of courses within that area, and build your network of students interested in your topic? That is your brand strategy.

 

4. Super Stars are Internals, not Externals

I am not talking about their bellybuttons. I am talking about how they respond to external events. You will rarely if ever hear any of these successful instructors posting complaints about a bad review on the Udemy Community. And it isn’t because they don’t get bad reviews, we all do. It is because they don’t waste their energy complaining about external events or things they can’t control.

 

In psychology there is something called “locus of control”. My first career after college was working in youth prisons in North Carolina. I had a prison population of 350 convicted felons. I interviewed most of them. What I learned was that none of them belonged there. They were all there because of someone else. Someone else was to blame. The judge was unfair. The police, their lawyer, and always the infamous “other guys” who got them in trouble. The other guys got all of these guys into trouble. Inmates, a reliable sample of unsuccessful people, are highly external in their locus of control, genuinely believing that others are responsible for their failure. Highly successful entrepreneurs, business executives, or athletes, have great faith in their ability to over come difficulties. They recognize their own failures, learn quickly, and move on to the next challenge. They process feedback well. They have an internal locus of control. Super stars don't blame others, they practice continuous improvement based on processing feedback.

 

I love it when I see a post in the community that says something like “After three years on the platform, Udemy has failed, and I am quitting.” OK. But the truth is that it isn’t Udemy that has failed, they have failed to succeed on Udemy. And they will continue to fail if they are predisposed to blame Udemy (the other guys) rather than study their own performance, learn, and rise to the next challenge.

 

These are just four characteristics of highly successful instructors. Study them. What other characteristics can you identify?

 

 

Lawrence M. Miller
Author/Instructor
46 Replies
Maged-Koshty
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Great post as expected @LawrenceMMiller ... thanks for sharing

Really nice write up but I feel it's lacking some key details. I first heard about Udemy as a student by searching for courses that would teach me web development. This is when I came across Colt Steele's course - which was around 5 years ago. 

 

Udemy has changed since then - 

  1. There are far, far more mentors producing courses
  2. When competition was scarce, it gave a far higher chance of a new course becoming popular
  3. Those that did reel in students established a name for themselves. This is common on particular topics where a particular mentor is known for their courses 
  4. By establishing a name, it is far more easier to produce more sales for new courses. Mentors often promote to their existing userbase to generate sales and is why new courses from existing successful mentors see fast sales upon release
  5. Udemy brought in new rules stating your course can only be published on the Udemy platform. No other platforms can be used, which was another avenue to generate a brand

 

The pricing model has since changed - 

  1. Mentors tend to get less revenue after the recent change to the pricing system
  2. When I started I was making around $5 min per student. That figure is often now around $1.50.
  3. Combine the revenue cut with the increase in competition, it's no longer comparable to when someone like Colt or the more established mentors made a success for themselves
  4. Similar student enrollment figures while receiving less revenue means more work for less money. If student numbers remain the same or increase, then it's likely you will need to provide more time and dedication towards answering questions and supporting students. This can make it less appealing - hence why some people give up after creating a course or two.

 

I'm not arguing with what you have said. You've given some very useful advice - but I do not agree that it's now all in a mentors hands. New mentors coming to Udemy today will be fighting a very uphill battle to make a comparable success to those that are already successful. 

 

LawrenceMMiller
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@GianniBruno011  I agree with most of your points. Of course Udemy has changed as it has grown. Every marketplace becomes more competitive and mature and there are advantages to those who have built their brand on Udemy. 

 

Just to clarify a couple things: You must be exclusive to Udemy to be in the Udemy for Business catalog, but not in the general marketplace. 

 

It is not correct that we receive less per enrollment now. I monitor my data very closely. Last month my average revenue per enrollment was $3.11. It was about the same a year ago. This differs depending on a lot of factors for each instructor. But, what really matters is not how much you receive per enrollment, but how much you receive in total revenue. A  good measure is the average growth rate from year to year. In September the average monthly revenue grew 52% as a two year average. That is close to the growth rate of Udemy overall. 

 

I agree that many people give up after creating a course or two. That is why the strategy needs to be to build a brand with a good number of quality courses in your category. It is more difficult for new instructors today. 

 

Lawrence M. Miller
Author/Instructor


@LawrenceMMiller wrote:

It is not correct that we receive less per enrollment now. I monitor my data very closely. Last month my average revenue per enrollment was $3.11. It was about the same a year ago.


Actually, it is very much correct. Revenue share has dropped and you can read about it here. Udemy also introduced a withholding tax at source for students enrolling from India. This was introduced over a year ago and is taken at point of sale, meaning a 20% tax in processed prior to the revenue being posted. Yes, this is to do with regulatory compliance, but it still reduces revenue considerably and appears to be solely at cost to the mentor. 

It may impact you less if your students are mostly based elsewhere. I teach software development subjects and my courses tend to be popular with students based in India, since technology is one of the leading sectors in the country.

 

This is also confirmed by my sales data. Most organic sales from India generate roughly $1.70 per enrollment. This was closer to $5 when I started teaching.

 

 

LawrenceMMiller
Community Champion Community Champion
Community Champion

@GianniBruno011 I am very familiar with that change, the change from 25% and 50% to a common 35%. We have had endless discussions about that change. How it affected each instructor is somewhat different depending on their mix of marketing channels that bring them customers. If you are tracking the outcome of that for your own revenue than it may be different than mine. But, overall it was not simply a "reduction" as you stated. 

 

I can't speak to the withholding tax because that change didn't affect me. 

 

Again, the "bottom line" is the net amount of revenue we receive. For many of us that has been going up each year. 

 

 

Lawrence M. Miller
Author/Instructor
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