Udemy Instructor Strategy: The Business Strategy of the Super Stars

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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: 




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
55 Replies

Thanks Lawrence! Any idea how I can find more up to date stats on top earners? Im really curious!

Corey, you could take those same instructors and go on their profile page and see the number of students and reviews that are current. You could easily recreate the spreadsheet. I am afraid the $ per student or per review has probably declined in the past two years and it is about to decline a lot more beginning in January. Since you are new, you may have not read the changes to the revenue share for UB. 


Lawrence M. Miller

You always bring insights for us. Thank you. Any strategies recommend for instructors who have no work experience in the subjects they are teaching, but they have a university or training certification and want to dedicate in teaching on Udemy?

Freakishly brilliant thread. Thank you @LawrenceMMiller!

II've been thinking on this very same topic for a few days now, especially with the seemingly radical changes happening on Udemy, and will definitely use this a a blueprint going forward and for the new year. 

Did I thank you yet?

Thank you! 

Yup! Agree. Hey so,,,, what radical changes are happening? Im brand new here and curious what you meant by that? Thanks in advance! 

This is really beautiful maths. I appreciate your writing.

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