In this episode I talk to Wes Kao, co-founder of altMBA. Her latest startup is called Maven, and it’s all about cohort-based courses.
Wes is fantastic at course design. Before Maven, she did a bunch of amazing things working with a lot of different creators.
We talk about the State Change Method, which is something I use to make my presentations much more interesting. We talk about building an audience on Twitter. We also talk about course design, cohort-based courses, and a lot of other fun things.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Tips for writing short-form content that boosts engagement
- A big advantage Twitter gives you over other platforms
- How to know if your content is ready to publish
- Why cohort-based courses are so lucrative
Links & Resources
Wes Kao’s Links
- Wes’ website
- Follow Wes on Twitter
- Wes’ blog post: Course Mechanics Canvas: 12 Levers to Achieve Course-Market Fit
- Wes’ blog post: The State Change Method: How to deliver engaging live lectures on Zoom
I’m a huge proponent of craftsmanship. Most people don’t think enough about craft. They think about the result of craft; getting big, being known, being admired.
They don’t think about putting in the work that makes you really good at something, so when opportunity strikes, when luck strikes, when people do come upon your work they are rewarded with amazing content that feels like it wasn’t a waste of time.
In this episode I talk to Wes Kao.
Wes is the co-founder of a new startup called Maven, which is all about cohort-based courses.
Before Maven she did a bunch of amazing things working with a lot of different creators, but probably the one you would have heard of the most is co-founding altMBA, with Seth Godin.
Wes is fantastic at course design. We talk about building an audience on Twitter. She and I are both doing that. We talk about something called the State Change Method, which is something I use to make my presentations—particularly a long zoom presentation—way more interesting. She’s reduced it to a framework. I adopted that framework and I love it.
We talk about a lot of different things. Probably the biggest takeaways would be around great course design. Cohort-based courses, what they are, and why you should do it. Growing on Twitter. A lot of other fun things.
Wes is so thoughtful, and I think you’ll love this episode.
Wes, welcome to the show.
So, let’s just dive right in. I want to talk about your Twitter growth. This is something that I’m interested in. I’ve been active on Twitter for a decade or more, working on growing an audience, kind of passively. I tweet things. Sometimes I think about it and I’ll write a thread.
Over the last month and a half, two months, I’ve been inspired by you and plenty of other people. I’m like, “Okay, I’m actually going to get serious about this,” and I think I’ve gone from 40,000 followers to almost 60,000 in the last two months of working on it.
You’re pushing, you’re pushing 90,000 followers now. I’m curious what made you dive in on Twitter? Then let’s talk strategy and what you’re actually doing.
Yeah so I’ve been on Twitter, I want to say for years or so And the first nine years I had zero to a thousand followers. So all of the growth that I’ve seen has been in the last months or so eight months, maybe a year, a year ago is when I, when I started going. The last seven months is when things really started to take off.
So, being obscure, on Twitter is something I’m very, very used to. yeah, so I think one thing that’s been, really exciting and validating is that a lot of the threads I’m writing, I’m writing about one thread per week, are based on essays that I wrote a couple of years ago. So last year, 2021, I, no wait in 2020, I wrote 43 essays and in 2021, I wrote five.
So there was a huge drop in the number of essays because before that I was a crater or consultant, I was a freelancer, you know, working with different clients, solopreneur. and then last year I started Maven and kind of shifted from being a content creator into being, being an operator. So definitely want to dive into that.
Cause I I think. there’s a, unique challenge with an operator And creating content at the same time that if you are a, pure crater, it’s a little bit different. but yeah, it’s, it’s been really great because I think past west for writing a lot of these essays and thinking about, a bunch of, a bunch of frameworks, ideas, topics that, you know, I’ve been thinking out for, for a very long time, before actually writing them down. I think if I had to create content on a weekly basis, now it would be a lot harder because on a daily basis, I’m in pure operator mode. And for me, it’s two sides of brain, like content creator mode versus operator mode. but I think with, with thread writing, it’s something that that’s been a recent endeavor.
And I think a lot about craft involved in anything. So I’m a huge proponent of craftsmanship. I think most people don’t think enough about craft. They think about the result of. Getting big being known, being admired, but they don’t think enough about putting in the work that makes you really good at that thing.
So that when opportunity strikes, when luck strikes, when people do come upon your work, that they are rewarded with amazing content, that feels like, it wasn’t a waste of time. So with the craftsmanship aspect, I am blown away by the required to write great threads and, and excited by it and fascinated by it.
You know, before four I’ve been writing my newsletter and blog since 2010, so 11, 12 years now. the long form essay was something that I was really used to. there’s a certain structure, right? There’s, there’s certain constraints within, within, articles and blog posts. But threats have a completely different, different medium with different constraints and there’s a different style.
And so even with translating, articles that I’ve written that have been popular, as I know, you know, performed well and resonate with people, even translating articles into threads, not a one for one copy paste. a re-imagining of the content to distill it into, you know, the key points and capture the spirit of whatever the articles about.
I found if you just try to copy and paste from one medium to another, it, it doesn’t work like you lose magic of, of whatever was in that original format. And it’s kind of like this with, cohort-based courses and MOOCs. So massive open online courses, evergreen courses on LinkedIn learning you to me, for example, these are basically a series of videos. so, you know, I, I, I think there’s similarities there too, because when you are, when you have a. you are steps ahead from someone else who has no content at all, but translating a LinkedIn learning course or a teachable course, that’s static into a core base course is still a process. There’s still a transformation that happens.
And I liken it to turning a Broadway play into a feature film or a feature film into a Broadway play, right. It’s like, oh, you have the script. You have, you know, the characters, you have dialogue, you have the setting and scene, but things work in live theater that don’t work, the big screen.
And it sort of things work on victory that don’t translate well to theater and or practical for theater. So I feel like translating from one medium to another, that’s been interesting to see, the shift that needs to happen and kind of learning the new craft of that new medium. So that’s something that’s really fascinating to me.
Yeah, I’m, I’m all about that. taking the same message and putting it in a very different format on, you know, on, on a different medium. I think a lot of people, who are writing for Twitter, know, are doing the same thing, right? Like I’m doing the same thing you are of going back through, know, five, 10 years of blog posts and going, okay, what are the things that I want to retell?
Cause I’m also in the same position of you, of being a business operator rather than a full time creator. like, 10% of my time, know, actively creating. So what is there an example that comes to mind of a, you know, a blog post, of these essays, you, you had to, know the essence of it is still the same, but you had to the hook or reformat it so that it actually, know, works well, on the medium of Twitter. you know, versus the blog.
Yeah, literally every single thread. So all the, all, every single thread. that I’ve done, I’ve had to re format and restructure. I think in the beginning, I thought I wouldn’t have to, So that’s why mentioning it at all, as, you know, a learning and an insight is because at first I thought, well, I’ve already put so much effort into creating this high quality long form essay that I feel really good about.
And you know, can’t I just copy paste into a thread format? and was, was through trying it and it not working that made me realize that I need to, to, rethink the content and that, you know, having some content to work on and, and, solid thinking behind an idea is one of the hardest parts.
So, you know, I had that to go off of, still needing to think about, the unique constraints Twitter and flow and, you know, being a lot more. I think is, is one thing that you need to be on Twitter versus, articles and blog posts, where there’s a little bit more there’s more character count and word count to build your case and lead into your point.
Whereas with Twitter, are reading this media and when they’re scrolling, they’re distracted, they’re probably watching TV or checking them out at the same time. there’s not as much room for subtlety. being more direct with the point, tends to work better, in my experience. but you know, I think I was talking to, Sono, from a 16 Z Andreessen Horowitz, choose their editor-in-chief of many years of, of their, publication.
And we were catching up in San Francisco. last summer is a content genius. one of those people where you talk to her and you were just at how. high quality, her thinking is how brilliant she is, how good at her craft she is, how competent she is. I say competent as the highest form of a compliment, by the way, I know that, you know, insights, some people think like competence is baseline.
I actually think 90% of people are incompetent and disappointing most of the time. So to call someone competent is like huge compliment. So I think Sonia was just incredibly confident, competent, incredibly good at what she does. anyway, she was saying, she’s been doing content for like, you know, 25 years.
And she was saying that people always think they can reuse content you never can like, just stop trying, like everyone wants to repurpose the shit out of their content and like copy and paste from one to another. And it just doesn’t work, you know? And I think the nuance of it is that that it can work, but it requires thoughtfulness and reconfiguring, is not what most people think of when they think of just like repurposing.
So that’s something that I continue to see. but I think that learning nuances of a medium and, thinking about what you need change is as part of the exciting and yet, excruciating part of the creative process. So like, like literally on, on, you know, the day before I am bought publisher thread, you know, usually something still doesn’t feel right.
And I can’t put my finger on why, so that’s, I’m sure you felt this before. It’s a super uncomfortable, like really disconcerting feeling where you’re like, know this is not great. Like it’s passable, it’s not embarrassing, it’s not great. so I could publish it or I could make it better and make it something that I’m really, really proud of and really proud to point people.
I’m kind of obsessive. So I hate doing things that I’m not super proud of. I just feel like that’s gonna be the one thing that everyone ends up looking at and then judging me forever by. so so usually I will want to think about how do I make this better. and it’s partially driven by, my intellectual curiosity or obsession about trying to figure out the problem.
Like knowing that there is something that, I know is off, but I can’t figure out why. So I’ll usually try to figure out why. and you know, a couple of weeks ago I had a thread that did pretty well. It, I 13,000 likes, would just, you know, a lot for me And, even the day before didn’t really feel right.
And the morning of I changed the hook in a completely different direction. I had four or five hooks before that I had drafted that, W have a certain angle. And then the day of I changed it to a completely different angle, which reframed the entire thing required me to kind of make a couple of changes, elsewhere in the thread.
That happens a lot, like all I’ll end up, shifting tweets that were at the very bottom as recap tweets all the way to the top, because it’s more direct and it kind of hits the point and sometimes, you know, it takes a while to, to, for you, to, even as a writer, understand what you’re trying to say.
And so sometimes the stuff at the bottom, I moved straight to the top. sometimes I’ll realize that I’ve I’ve overwritten. so I’m, I’m cognizant of that too. I don’t like beating a dead horse and feeling like I’ve repeated this point in this insight, like a billion times, a billion is usually like three times in a thread.
So I will remove like one or two of them to just tighten it and not feel like I’m my audience over the head. I always want to respect the intelligence of my. So, I don’t want to assume that they are dominant to be told something 50 times. Like, I want to keep it moving, keep, keep up a good rhythm.
So I will often combine or delete tweets that I feel like, are belaboring the point. then other times I can go, the hardest part is thinking about the logic of the idea itself. I think a lot of times what I call limbo writing, like writing that’s, you know, neither super good or super bad. Like if it’s obviously good, you would ship it.
If it’s obviously bad, you wouldn’t. But I think most of the time writing is writing where you’re like, okay, there’s something here, you know? And like, how do I, is it possible to make it better? And how do I make it better? Right. So like when writing is in limbo writing, I find that, there are usually two main areas that that could be wrong.
One is idea itself and the thinking itself is unclear. And then two is the expression and the execution that idea is. So like most of the time people think it’s bucket to where they’re trying to Polish up the writing, make it snazzier. when really the problem is that the idea itself doesn’t hold water.
It’s not rigorous enough. the thinking behind it doesn’t really flow, or it kind of like makes sense on the surface, but upon further questioning, or like looking a little deeper, it’s like it’s too surface level. So that’s the harder problem to solve, for me. And so when I, when I realized that, okay, this is a logic problem, this is not special expression problem.
It’s, it’s, it’s a logic problem. I will think about what, what is the logic of what I’m trying to say here, and how do I convince my audience that this is a great framework, or that this is useful? Or this is something that they should try? think a lot about how do I convince my. How do I prove to them that they should try this idea or keep reading or whatever.
And I feel like holding that onus of responsibility a writer is great because you don’t assume that people would just care. You don’t assume that they will just understand you really, realize that you have to reduce the cognitive load, make it easier, make it intuitive, them viscerally.
Understand what you’re saying? so yeah, so I feel like when I think about limbo writing, I usually try to identify, is it, it a thinking problem or is it a craft of writing problem?
When you’re, you think of something as a, like a thinking in a logic problem. Cause that resonates with me. I have these ideas that I’ve thought about for a long time and I’m like, oh, let me write it. And then. It doesn’t quite come together. Do you, do you deliberately put on a different hat of like trying to view it as a skeptic or trying to, know, see how it’s going to be received?
It’s something that I find is that I often like ask a friend review it or be like, Hey, and they’re putting on the like supportive, know, I’m Nathan’s friend, his cheerleader, all of that. Right. And they put on that hat and they’re like, no, it’s, it’s great content, know, do you have like sort of different, either friends to send it to who are going to be very skeptical and push you on it, of like pointing out the flaws in your logic?
Or like, do you have a way of getting yourself into that mindset?
Yeah, so there’s a couple things that I do. One is if I send it to a friend, will out that I think that there are logical gaps that there are certain parts that are not compelling enough. I might say, you know, I don’t think I’m illustrating the problem in the beginning for the solution and pay off to feel exciting.
Like there’s no, there’s no drama because I haven’t made the point about why this is a problem that’s worth. and so I’ll say like, okay, in the beginning, the first, you know, there’s a hook in the first two tweets, I want to do that better, but like, I feel like the way I’m doing it now isn’t nailing it.
So I will kind of them on the kind of help that I want. so that’s, that’s one thing I think the other thing is, setting the expectation that, want positive feedback per se. Like I already know that it’s decent, but I, I, just don’t think it’s good enough. So like tell me how to make it better or which parts for you are falling flat, because I already think it’s falling flat. like, I’m not looking for encouragement. There were some times when I am looking for it. So, you. know, like, clarifying when you’re looking, you know, when you’re looking for certain kinds of advice is super important. The worst is actually as an advice giver. I also clarify with people before jumping into advice, because I remember once a friend asked me for about, at this business idea I tore it to pieces, I was like this, basically this, idea sucks for all of these reasons, which are very obvious to me. and you know, after This whole like diatribe where I thought you’d be like, oh my God, Westlake, thank you This is awesome. He was like, oh, okay, well, you know, like I’ve pretty much started already and like invested a bunch of money in it already. And I was like, oh my God. Oh no. Like, I am like, like Like I felt terrible. Right? Like it was terrible. Like I really should’ve checked. What stage was he in, in this idea? Like, are you, are you shipping this thread? In 30 minutes and you want a little bit of something that’ll make it a little stronger or is there not a timeline and you can rip out the foundation and reimagine it.
So like, as an advice giver, I try to ask that upfront avoid, you know, messiness on all sides. So, yeah. So if I’m asking someone for advice, I will say, like, I am shipping this in an hour. Like, can you take a quick look, right? Or like, I feel like this needs to be reworked. help me rework it and think about what direction we need to rework it in.
So I find that to be a good way to get what you need from other people.
Yeah. I mean, being specific about that is so important because even if you said like, Hey, I’m feeling really down about my creative work right now, will you just tell me that this is actually good? like that is totally thing to ask of a friend and they’d be like, yeah, here’s what I love about it.
And you know, and they might just leave it at that. Or you could say, tell me what you like about it. And then also I do want to improve it, you know? So you can be
Yes. Yeah. I’ll ask people to highlight the parts that they liked the most. So that helps me not accidentally delete those parts, because if you don’t know the parts of people, like you might, you might think that, you know, it’s just kind of part of all the other content. so I like knowing that, so I don’t accidentally get really.
Yeah. okay, so I’m talking about the, like why Twitter and what’s come from it before you, right? Cause there’s a lot of startup operators who, you know, are, they might read Twitter in their free time, but they’re like, that’s not worth my time. That’s not interesting. That’s not to be heads down building my company rather than, you know, building an audience and talking about the company.
What made you decide to go all in and say, Hey, this is worth it too. actually I made an assumption that you went all in, but what made you decide to put the effort into growing Twitter? and how does it tie back to growing Maven?
I see that concentration for me right now is about 2%. 98% is focused on, on being an operator. and for the first 13, 14 years of my career, I did not invest in an audience. this whole, investing in an audience thing is, is fairly new and is a shift for me, as someone who was, you know, always focused on being an operator. and I think that the shift came because my co-founder Gavin Biani, who was co-founder of UME, had invested in growing his audience. And it was the way that we found our technical co-founder , who, was the first engineer first employee at Venmo, and helped build up the engineering team, and, and, and grow the business.
And he saw one of God and sweets and reached out and, and wanted to chat with us. And we ended up bringing him on, you know, early on as, as a co-founder. and we’ve also a ton of amazing. From people who saw us on Twitter. and so that for me was this, this light bulb moment where, you know, before I kind of seen Twitter as this, separate ancillary vis digital appendage, like that humans don’t eat any more kind of like this like side thing, you know, it’s like serious operators operate.
And then like there’s a side thing that you could do called Twitter and like ruin your audience and stuff that felt like a distraction, seeing the traction, that, that Goggle was able to help generate for our business through Twitter, both on the hiring and, team-building side and for, craters and instructors to come join the platform and to attract students to come take courses on Maven platform helped me see the power of channel and the power of platform where you could share more stories about what you’re learning about your company’s mission the kind of people that you want to work with, about ideas that you have, you know, and for me, I had been writing on my blog and newsletter for a decade before that.
So I kind of, you know, I always loved sharing what I was learning and sharing my best frameworks, sharing the, the different, lessons that I had that I thought would help other people that, you know, I’d kind of proven in my own life. and sharing on Twitter felt like an extension of that. it felt like, okay, I’ve already been doing this.
And how can I cheer a lot of these same ideas in, in this new channel where there’s a lot more interaction and a lot more. I hadn’t spent a lot of time growing my newsletter either for that. So It was kind of like, I’d send out a bunch of emails, you know, but wouldn’t really hear anything back, you know, like I had, you know, my usual people would reply to everything and stuff, but it, it, it always felt a bit quieter.
Whereas on Twitter, I think that the exciting thing is that you get real-time feedback on, you know, what we’re thinking, the questions that they have, things that you could have explained better because you, know, people, people misinterpreted it. and you get a real sense of what the market is reacting to.
And I think that, you know, in some ways people can say that, you know, at the worst it can be pandering to an audience and just like, you know, doing things for clicks. Right. So that’s, I think that’s the worst side. Seeing what the market reacts you in the best side of that, and a really, real, upside of understanding how the market reacts is that it makes you as a writer, as a thinker, as an operator, as a founder, sharper, like, you know, if you are starting business, if you are a content creator, if you write a newsletter, if you were an influencer, whatever, who has a business or, or has an audience is, serving that audience, serving those customers.
So if it’s radio silence, every time you put stuff out that is data that you should think about, you know, and I, as a founder, as an operator and as a creator, want to know what are people reacting to? me honest, knowing that am, I will get market data on what I put out and, and I think it, it continually.
Levels of the bar of the work that I, that I put out, because I know that, that I will get data on, you know, are people resonating with people? Are they finding it boring? Did they find this too generic? is it too, you know, is it drowning in a sea of sameness with everyone else’s point of view or is it spiky?
Is it offering value? Right. and so I think there’s a, a lot to be gained in putting yourself closer to reality and to how the market reacts. I, I think a, lot about not being delusional. I don’t want to be delusional and think something is a great idea. If minute someone else sees it, they would not agree.
Right. I’d rather know that maybe this isn’t a great idea and then I can edit, iterate, change it. and so by being able to test ideas out on Twitter, it’s as amazing way to interact with a bunch of people who share the same interests or in the same community. and can give you that, that.
But what you’re talking about on the of growing your audience really resonates because, know, as you a startup founder and you’re trying to figure out what do I spend my time on? Right? Cause you can spend your time on an infinite number of things you read the articles, right?
What does a see a CEO do? What does, you know, this type of executive, what does that job look like? And a lot of it comes back to recruiting, Like your job is to build the team. And so on one hand, you know, you’re like, oh, I’m heads down recruiting and trying to meet people, all of that. And the sweater thing, like asked to a side thing realized that wait, Twitter is driving the most recruiting, you know, I can amplify everything.
And the candidates that you’re talking to have read your tweets and your threads and, you know, articles on your site, or listen to podcast episodes and learn more about your company’s name. And the challenges that the juicy challenges that you’re trying to solve. Right. And so is, it’s pretty interesting.
Cause at first it seems like this side, you know, that it’s like, how helpful is this really? but, but since growing my audience, I’ve had so many inbound emails, inbound, DNS from candidates who were interested who heard me talk about court based courses on a podcast, or read a certain article on rigorous thinking or spiky point of view and, and loved the depth of it and wanted to join a team where people are thoughtful about their ideas and, have high standards for work.
Right? It’s like, I think, I think the other piece of, of all this is you have a platform, you have so many more opportunities to share your thought process, your thinking, your vision, your approach to problem-solving your excitement about your industry and your field. know, like if you, if, if no one were listening.
It’s like a tree kind of falling in the forest. Right. But if you are building that audience and building that community, you have a chance to nerd out with people who care about those same things. And I really think that one of the most exciting parts about, you know, working in, in today’s era is being able to find people that you can nerd out with, know, like these, these long-tail communities, you know, whether you’re a course creator or a newsletter writer, or if you’re an operator and you’re looking for a certain kind of person, like I’m looking for pretty specific types of operators to join Maven because we have a pretty specific culture.
And Twitter is a great way to share more about.
Yeah. you also, talked about the, like sort of the trifecta of the content out there to recruit talent, which you need, but then you also need to recruit, the creators who are going to make the courses right. And convert, can we have the same thing? Right. We need the creators to switch over their, audiences onto ConvertKit, you know, so then use to sell the courses or whatever else.
And then the third piece of being able to create the fans and like bring the fans. so if you’re talking to, say in the very early days, right. You’re talking to someone and they’re like, why should I launch my course on Maven? You know? Or they’re like, if they’re in that have all the feature based stuff, you have all the course design and everything else, but then you can just say like, Hey, and we’ll help promote it too.
You can, bring in some of that to get three pieces of the people, building the platform, people, creating a, the content on it and then the as well. think that every business can quite get to that trifecta, you and I both with our businesses can get to that.
And so it’s like, I mean, that’s the answer to the question of like, why build, build an audience on Twitter is because I think we both came to that same conclusion. Okay, this is a high leverage use of Thomas.
I think something? else, as you were saying, that, that I just thought of is I think too many businesses try to waste customers time. And as we’re all, know, even business owners are, consumers themselves, right? Like we get pitched emails, we get, added on lists and spammed with, with emails, right.
And a bunch of inbound stuff. and I think not enough founders and operators creators, think about how do you add value you ask for something? So Twitter is another great way to add value. You know, when, when I do threads, I’m not spending 90% of time selling people. I am spending 90 to 95% of my time sharing, useful ideas that have helped me in my life and in my world.
That I think could be useful for my audience. And then at the bottom, the last tweet I might drive to the Maven course accelerator, which is a three week free course that I teach on Maven teaching you how to build your own course. or I might, I might link to, my, my website or Maven site or whatever, or mavens roles for hiring and working there a lot now.
I think like that idea of do you add value and not waste people’s time and not just spam people and like add more noise. Cause there’s so much noise. I think that’s a really good internal barometer and just bar of like, am I adding a lot of value here? And if I’m not, how can we add more value before I hit post.
I love that. Let’s dive into cohort based courses and then Maven as a whole. Right. but I think for someone, might be easier to start with what cohort based courses are and how they’re different, than, you know, what someone might traditionally do of like, look, I’ve got my camera, my mic, me record for half a day.upload it to, I don’t know, pick your random course platform to me or wherever. then I’ll sell that for 50 bucks and move on. Right. A cohort based course is entirely different. And I’d love for you to explain, the different style and then like the focus on outcomes.
If you look at the past 10 years of online learning, dominant format for courses were MOOCs, massive open online courses. So these are on demand, evergreen courses that you find on you to me, LinkedIn learning masterclass teachable. So they’re basically a bunch of. Video files, which have recordings that you as a student can watch on your own time.
So there’s not a lot of community, there’s not a lot of interaction. It’s a solo activity. It’s completely asynchronous. So on the flip side, court based courses are completely different. They have a set start and end date. So the course might be days, one week, three weeks, six weeks, but there’s a set period of time when you’re going through that course.
And there are set number of students that you are learning with. Usually people who are like-minded and, and really want to be there. and it’s much more community driven. So instead of it being this passive content consumption, mode, you are actively learning and actively producing content yourself.
You know, let’s say you are taking, a LinkedIn learning course on design. You might watch a bunch of videos about, composition, typography balance. and, you know, you’re just kind of watching these videos yourself, but if you were taking a court based course on design, you might learn some of these concepts the instructor would say, you know, all right, we’re going to say five minutes.
You’re going to design a flyer and you’re going to incorporate some of these elements. And then at the end of the five minutes, we’re all going to share screen or hold up our design, you know, in front of the camera and check out each other’s designs. And then we’re going to put you all in small groups of maybe four to five people where you can discuss debate critique role-play, give each other feedback.
And then maybe you come back into the main room and the instructor picks a couple of examples to live critique, can all talk through and learn from what everyone just did. And by doing that, you as a student, get a much richer experience and much better outcomes, because you are actively thinking about, about what you just learned and actively putting those things into.
So it’s a, it’s a new form. Corporate scores are a new form of online learning that really combined the best parts of in-person learning with the best parts of online learning, you know, and a lot of people will say, well, less like corporate courses, just university courses, or K through 12, like literally going into a classroom with 30 other students.
And in some ways, yes, like that, that, you know, the best parts of in-person learning were interactive, experiences with an instructor who really cared, where you were, you were learning in a kinesthetic way. but it’s taking that aspect and combining it with the best parts of online learning, where there’s accessibility there, scale, and there’s convenience.
So It’s really merging those two things and, offering a much more interactive, motivating experience, for the learner, bringing that online and that’s on the learner. And then on the creator side, the instructor, the instructor side, it’s a much more, lucrative experience many times then teaching a teachable course or, or, you know, Udemy course where you are charging 10 to $20 for a movie, content, you know, nowadays is not scarce.
It’s very abundant. If people aren’t buying your course, there’s a bunch of other, other evergreen courses out there, a bunch of free YouTube content, a bunch of your own articles, even that people can can access. and the scarcity that people are willing to pay for community. So cohort-based courses have community, and that is what is scarce these days.
If people just wanted to read a textbook or read a manual or, or follow step by step instructions, there’s plenty of other places to do that, but there’s actually not a lot of places to meet fellow designers, fellow product managers, fellow women in tech. fellow crypto enthusiasts and for a focused period of time, learn something together, build together, give each other feedback, and, and really learn together.
So that community aspect, is what allows creators to charge 10 to 50 times more for a cohort based course. on Maven we’re seeing courses go for anywhere between $500 per student to, $2,000 per student. And in other corporates courses all to MBA, for example, which I co-founded with Seth Godin, we charged $4,500.
Perell Write of Passage charges between four to $6,000 per student. So the fact that you can charge so much more because students are excited about the community great for, instructors who can now invest in a really high quality course and give that group of students a lot of that.
Yeah. I mean, what’s happened in pricing just with, you know, digital products as a whole over the last, 10 years or so that I’ve been in this space. I think it’s pretty fascinating of like, just the move of, you know, it used to be, you’d sell your ebook for $5 or maybe $9 if you were, getting a little crazy.
And then someone’s like, oh, I’m going to charge a lot for this. Cause this is a course, this is a video course. And so I’m going to charge $29 or 49, you know, or something like that. and it was fascinating because the content, you know, is on the level a one at the time, a lot of people who are not putting in the quality of education design or whatever, right.
So, we can’t like blanket across for all courses, but, of people creating courses, you know, selling them for say $99, we’re putting in the level of quality for production and everything of. you know, a university course or something like that, it was just missing the community and the feedback and everything that you’re bringing on the cohort side.
I think it’s amazing that, you know, if we talked about Write of Passage by David Perell, you know, being in the three, four or $5,000 range, someone might go like that’s insanely expensive. And then at the same time, if we’re comparing it to what’s the cost per credit these days, know, for college, like it is wildly expensive.
And I guarantee that, pretty much whatever school you go to, if you’re taking a writing class there, not going to be as good as like Rite of passage. You’re getting, know, the, best, because you get to pick who you want across, know, a whole it’s like if you could pull the best teachers from a bunch of different universities instead of the one university that you ended up going to.
Absolutely. And I think that the other thing is that a lot of the creators that you can learn from the experts you can learn from for core based courses are not in universities. So even if, even if, you know, you wanted to learn from someone like them, you know, in traditional higher ed, you couldn’t find that.
A, because a lot of them are, operators and. or, you know, doing a bunch of other projects and don’t want to teach full time as a professor. They don’t want to be in academia because the topics are, too cutting edge to be in college courses yet. Pompe a course on crypto colleges are still trying to catch up.
You know, I don’t know what the approval process is for getting a new course approved in, you know, at Harvard, but I’m sure it’s, it’s a longer process than spinning up a course and being able to, you know, pumping able to go directly to his audience. So Pompe hasn’t even course where, he has run a bunch of cohorts now and, is now in, you know, every month or month and a half cadence of running his cohort.
And a bunch of people have gotten jobs at crypto companies by taking his course, and have gotten a lot of, a great foundation in, crypto from taking his course that they wouldn’t have been able to find it. I think Sahil bloom is another great example. audience building course, teaches you how to grow your audience.
And we’ve had multiple students reach out to us and tell us that they went from, you know, a thousand to 50,000 on Twitter in months after taking course. And any, everything that I know about Twitter, I learned from Soho bloom too, so I can attest. So he has me in the course as well.
And, and so I was not the kind of person that would want to teach in a university. You know, he has his investments. He has, you know, the, his, his podcast. He has his newsletter, he’s tweeting, he’s a bunch of stuff going on and has no interest teaching at a university. So if you want to learn from the best from.
Proven, proven skills and I’ve kind of, you know, shown their skills on the market. You can learn from people like Pompe from people. I saw hope bloom from people like Lenny Richie, for example, who was an early manager at Airbnb who now writes a sub newsletter and hasn’t even course he has a course on product management.
So, you know, you can learn from people like Lenny, who grew up, you know, building amazing internet products and, building great software, you know, or you can learn from a professor who, you know, maybe was an industry 30 years ago and kind of has been in academia since. And not saying that that’s, know, not great, cause there’s, there’s definitely a use case for that.
But for a lot of working professionals, being able to take a three-week course, you know, two to four week course, and learn from who is in the field, and in the same industry recently is really, really valid.
Yeah. What do you think from, I guess, talking from the creator’s perspective, And so if we’re analyzing their business and, you know, trying to optimize for their revenue, their quality of life is they’re thinking about selling a course.
Do you think on frequency of launching these courses? some of them, you see, do this big launch once a year, I think Write of Passage is twice a year. and then, you know, on the other end, someone might be running one continuously every single month. There’s a new cohort, know, or every six weeks. What do you recommend to creators? and then what sort of questions would you ask them about their business and their goals to get to the right answer?
I think the best thing about core base. As a creator is that you can mold them to fit your lifestyle and your business goals. So someone like Pompe wanted to have a court based course be big of his business. And, you know, he had already built up Twitter following a following newsletter following, he wanted to be able to give back to his community and offer them something more than just content.
And so for him, he wanted to right off the bat, run something that would give people a lot of different options of, of different start dates, where they weren’t just waiting for twice a year, let’s say to be able to join. and he has a small team to help them with that. So it made sense. And then you have other creators who are more solopreneurs and, you know, they want to handle everything themselves, or they want to, keep things kind of bit simpler.
And so they might want to only do two, three cohorts. And have more students in each and kind of streamline, streamline your operations there. and so for that kind of crater, that format truly works. and it’s not necessarily that the more cohorts you run, more revenue we make either. So, you know, it depends on a lot of different factors.
I have a canvas that I called the course mechanics. Canvas has 12 different leavers. we can link to it in the show notes, it’s told different leavers that you, as a creator can think about to assess your own situation, think about your own assets, leavers, and constraints, so assets or anything that you have going for you.
So a big audience that you can market to a strong network, former clients paying customers. Those are, those are all, assets, existing content that you have a book, a movie, those are all assets that help you, the, make it easier for you to create a corporate scores, a team, right support, then construct.
R, that you are working within. So you might say that the constraint is, I don’t want to hire other people, so this should be something that I can do by myself and keep it really simple, right? Like the, the company one kind of philosophy. great. So if you want to do that, there are certain price points you can offer certain cohort frequencies.
There are ways to structure a cohort where you don’t need coaches, facilitators, alumni, mentors. and so looking through these 12 different leavers helps you think about what is my situation and what are some examples of other traders were in that situation that are running thriving courses. and there are different creators with all kinds of different setups.
So, I think that, starting there helps you as a creator. Think about how do we want to structure this course? What makes sense.
Yeah, because there’s many different things. Like know some creators who love being like active on camera live, you know, engaging with people there’s others who say, I w. I want to do that a little bit, you know, I want the feedback, you know, but I don’t want to have a set schedule, you know, I don’t, I’m worried about getting burned out.
And so maybe what are some of the different cadences that you see say if we’re operating a three week course, you know, is it very video, heavy prerecorded, all of that with these hours versus, you know, you’re pushing to have a lot more live and then, there’s homework separate. What are some of those models?
Yeah. I think when some people hear cohort based course, they assume that it’s the anti video driven course. It’s the anti-nuke and that’s not. So even in the Maven course accelerator at the course that I teach, we have gradually moved towards turning some workshops into prerecorded videos. And the reason we do that was I realized that there were some workshops where I was monologuing for, you know, five to seven minutes teaching a certain topic.
And it was content where it had to be knowledge transfer, right? It had to be setting a certain baseline of transferring knowledge before, before students could interact, do exercises and have enough context to be able to do that. and you know, if something is pure knowledge transfer, you might as well turn it into something that people can engage with on their own time.
You’re not wasting precious, real time, minutes together doing something that is passive. So was one reason why we started to think, okay, how can we turn some of this into pre recorded lectures? The other reason for doing that is because I was teaching maybe in course later, you know, coming on the fourth.
And for an instructor, you know, first couple of times you’re like, wow, like this is really exciting to talk about. And then as you go, you’re kind of like, okay, like as we’re increasing, the cadence of teaching, part of me was like, oh wow. Like, I feel like I just said this like couple of weeks ago, and here I am like needing to bring level of energy.
Like you’re, you’re explaining it for the first time, you know? Cause, cause your students, deserve that, right? Like I wanted to bring that same first time level of energy, when it was my 10th time explaining something and realize that, wow, like I’m not my best self if I’m not able to bring that energy.
And so how can we turn some of this into pre-recorded videos so that, so that I can save that energy for interactions that are, and make sense to do, you know, actively together when we’re all in the same room, on zoom. and so, we started turning some material into prerecorded lectures and that gave me a lot more level.
And a lot more bandwidth to focus on activities, projects, discussion Q and a fireside chats. so that’s something that I think is, is an option for a lot, of course, creators. we definitely have some course creators who say, don’t feel that comfortable in front of the camera. can do it, but I need to work myself up to it.
You know, you have to like herself, like get yourself amped up. It’s not something that they would naturally do or get that much energy from. and so for a lot of creators in that bucket, don’t just write yourself off and say, oh, I guess they can’t do a live course. You know, live does not mean every single thing has to be asynchronous.
You can have prerecorded materials where your students watch those things on their own time. then when you were in person, there are, group discussions there’s debate and there’s role-playing and there’s critique and there’s Q1. And you can bring in other moderators and coaches who can help facilitate you on that.
Then you might join for Q and A’s, let’s say, or you might, introduce a certain topic and get people going, you know, go off camera after that, once you put people into groups. So there’s a lot of flexibility with how you might want to structure something so that it works with your personality, with your strengths.
And you know, I’ve seen, I’ve seen creators who, you know, speaking of leaning into your strengths, I’ve seen creators who are great, have great technical skills. So they like video editing or they like production animation. They’re good with design and they make their stuff really high production value.
And that’s amazing. And I’ve seen people with no technical. who hate messing around with, you know, how do I adjust this column with, and how do? I figure out how to get the text to change color, like, and, and, they have thriving courses and they, their stuff is lower production value. And that’s great because there are other things that their course offers that their, student is not looking for production value for their course.
So it’s a lot about how you position your course, thinking about what your strengths are. what are the things that you don’t like to do versus things that you do like to do? and I guarantee no matter what your setup is, there are core based course creators out there who are, who are similar and, have courses that are thriving.
Yeah. There’s so much in that. in the teaching style and everything else. I think what I love most of the cohort based courses that can adapt it to your personal model and you get to say, like, okay, I’m going to be, on for this period of time. And this is what gives me energy, Like a live Q and a, it gives me energy every time I love it, you know? or whereas teaching the same material, maybe doesn’t. and so you can find for you personally, what gives you energy? What doesn’t and then craft it of, this is the live part. This is the prerecorded. is the coach. The TA equivalent, you know, and have all of that.
Another thing that I want to ask about, you have this, blog post that I love called the State Change Method. I’d love for you to talk about that, of how you think about, you know, teaching on video, whether live or otherwise. and what are some of the things you look for when you, you, know, if I was telling you like, okay, well tomorrow, well, let’s give him more time than that.
So I’ve typed in facts. Let’s say in weeks, I have to give this hour long presentation and I want everyone to be really engaged. what are the things that you would like talk or coach someone through to actually make that engaging, you know, for, zoom.
I think most of us have experienced sitting through a long meeting or in an online lecture where it was really hard to stay focused and to have your camera on sitting super, still steering, you know, forward looking at screen and listening to someone monologue for, for an hour, hour and a half. and so the teaching method is a framework that I created that is the antidote to a monologue.
In a monologue, person speaks forever, Just like that. It’s just that person talking on the other hand with a change method, you are punctuating every three to four to five minutes. You are adding a state change of some sort that jolts your audience awake. So that might be asking a question. And having them put in their answer in the zoom chat box or unmute and answer, it might be switching speakers. It might be going from gallery view into sharing slides or going from sharing sites back into gallery view. So we can see each other’s faces. It might be going into a breakout room doing a guided exercise where, everyone stays in zoom.
We still see the grid, but we all silently work in place. and then when we come back, might be a little bit more lecture and then sharing out. So the state change is those are all examples of stages. They’re basically ways to, snap your audience back into attention by offering, change in the rhythm, a change in the pacing.
And it’s a really great way when you are teaching something online or even hosting a meeting to, help keep your audience.
Yeah. Well, I’m just thinking about that. definitely all spent time and probably even delivered, you know, some of those presentations that are like 30 minutes or 40 minutes. So you get to the annual, like questions and you realize that everyone’s not paying attention like 20 minutes ago, know?
And they’re just there because they feel socially obligated to, and so thinking about it since reading your post, what I did. I think when this was maybe six months ago, just thinking about a presentation I had my outline my keynote and you know what I’m tying to presentation. I’m thinking, a minute per slide, that’s just a general quick rule of thumb of I’m wondering how long it is.
A 25 slide thing is probably about 25 minutes for me. and so I just counted every four to five slides, okay, what’s my state change going to be. And I wrote it into my notes and planned it out it made it so much easier because went from being scared of, how is this, how am I going to hold people’s attention?
How do I have the perfect story at the perfect time? Whatever else too. I’m on, honestly, this is going to be a little bit of a hack. Like it’s a cheat code of, I’m just going to you know, I have a list of possible state changes and I’m just going to put one in at each one of these places. it was really easy to go through and be like, oh, this is the perfect time to have this person share a story.
Good. We have a different voice. That’s a state change. and then, you know, this is the perfect time for a quick breakout. This is the perfect time for asking a question. So anyway, all that to say I’m a big fan.
I love that example. That’s amazing. I think the, yeah, the big part about the stain she invented with the every three to five minutes is that it just makes it really easy. You don’t have to think about the perfect moment to add this or that. It’s almost like, okay, well it’s been X number of minutes or X number of sides in your case time to add a state change.
You’d be surprised by just purely thinking. I should add a state change. usually an easy one that you could add, Like if you were to just, if you, if you were to think about it from scratch, you might think, know, which ones do I add or how do I do it? But, but every three, four slides you’re like, oh, I need to add one.
Usually a natural place for it. know? And it, a lot of times it’s even, changing something that was a statement into a question. So if you were going to drop, you know, an amazing factoid, right, or a statistic, you might ask people to guess instead, like, guess how many, hours of learning content, people watch.
Right. So I might’ve said, 50 million, I forget the actual number, but like 50 million hours or something. But instead of just saying that, I might say like, okay everyone. Yes. Right. Or I might do a poll, I might say, you rather do this or this? And then raise your hand if you’d rather do this, raise your hand.
If you’d rather go, well this proves my point, that next slide blank, And so it’s, it’s this great way to challenge yourself, to think about, you know, how can I make this more interactive?
Yeah, it. Okay. Last thing I want to talk about is just sort of the switch that you’ve made from, being, a creator and focused on, you know, both your own ventures and then helping other people build them out, into like being an operator. And what were some of the challenging things in that? has that shift been over the last couple of years of, you know, going all in into Maven and then maybe that’s too much of a leading question, but were there any habits that you had to like learn new or let go of old habits as you made that shift?
Yeah, I would say that I consider myself an operator first, and been for most of my career. So actually being a creator was, the shift. That was the hard part. So, yes. and I think now that I, you know, it was an operator then became a creator and then, you know, kind of back to being an operator.
I think that the creativity and, storytelling and sharing of being a contact rater is something that I find hard to switch back and forth from when I’m in operator mode, I’m solving problems that we’re facing that’s business or, or like, you know, troubleshooting this or giving feedback to my team or, or figuring out, you know, how we wanted change an offer instructor, an offer that we’re giving craters, it’s just a different head space.
And it’s, it’s, it’s something that I have been grappling with. And I think my, my weekly threads have helped a lot in terms of, creating, creating a structured, contained isolated kind of pocket for creative work where, is pretty doable. It’s based on, you know, some ideas that I’ve had before.
And so it’s, it’s creative work. That’s not, that doesn’t, you know, where the gas doesn’t, to fill like, you know, the entire week or day or month, et cetera. I think when I was a crater, it was, it was harder to, to kind of. Like there there’d be days or weeks where I was thinking about how to, how to write a certain article or how to, how to, explain a certain topic.
And it would be pretty excruciating. whereas now it’s like, okay, I’m doing it throughout a week. and, I’m using, you know, there’s more constraints I’m using articles that I’ve done for, and then reshaping them. And so it’s a bit more contained and I feel like that helps me stay close to the creative work, which I think is really. important.
Especially because we are a creative economy company, like we work with face, these struggles, like they face these excruciating, you know, internal challenges of how do I explain this? Or like how do I structure something, you know? And there are, a thousand micro decisions that go into producing anything, whether it’s a podcast episode an article, you know, a subject newsletter, you know, that you’re shipping every week.
And I feel like if you don’t do some of that yourself, it’s hard to really. To the thousand micro decisions, you just see the end result and you’re like, oh, okay. Yeah. Like, of course the thumbnail looks like that. And of course, like the show notes look like that and right. And behind the scenes back rater was looking at all different ways of how to structure something, you know, should I put timestamps in the show notes?
Is that worth doing or is it not? even like interview questions, figuring out when to move on from a certain topic versus not like these are all creative decisions that that creators make on a daily basis. And I like staying close to a little bit of that pain, a little bit of that struggle because I feel like it helps me better understand our, our audience and the customers that we’re serving
Yeah. Oh, that’s fantastic.
Okay. As you’re working on growing Maven, what’s the biggest bottleneck in the business right now where you’re thinking like, “Oh, I have to…”
Right now. Yeah. I answering before you even finish the question. Hiring. Finding great people. I’m in full hiring mode.
Before, we were thinking a little bit more about product market fit and what offers do we give certain creators. We’re still figuring out some of that, but we have solid traction with instructors that have bitten. We’ve offered some things and they’re biting.
Now the constraint is, alright, we literally don’t have enough brains on deck to fulfill the things that people are now wanting us to do. So the problem has now shifted to, how do I find great people who are sharp operators, rigorous thinkers, who want to build something big?
Yes. That’s right.
So, if you are a competent individual listening to this, and knowing that competent is a high bar, where should someone go to see what roles are open right now?
Maven.com has a careers page. If you click on “Careers,” you’ll see a bunch of open roles on both the engineering and product side, and on the business side.
I love it.
Where else should people go to follow you, and do you have anything else on the web?
I’m @Wes_Kao on Twitter, and then WesKao.com is my blog and newsletter.
Sounds good. Wes, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Thanks Nathan. This was awesome.