EPISODE 172

How to Prepare Slides for Teaching Online Courses and Other Instructional Design Secrets with Janet Kafadar

In this episode of LMScast we discuss how to prepare slides for teaching online courses and other instructional design secrets with Janet Kafadar from JanetKafadar.com. Chris Badgett of LifterLMS and Janet talk about marketing funnels, the different stages people go through when building a course, and how to remove the roadblocks that are standing in the way of course creation.

Janet is a course creation expert who works with specialists in various fields to turn their knowledge into an online course. She has been working on this business for around four years now and she has learned a lot about what it takes to make courses successful. She shares the strategies her company uses to turn an expert’s knowledge into an online course, and you can use the startegies to improve your course building processes.

Many experts in various fields will struggle with building courses, because they throw together content, but lack the instructional design element of course creation. Janet’s company has the experts write out the content they are teaching onto index cards with one point per card, and this will translate into roughly one point per slide in a presentation. She then has her team listen to that content and turn it into an engaging slide that helps get the learner to an outcome. Then the expert can re-record their presentation, and it will have a stronger instructional design within their course. Janet’s company also works with the experts on how they lay out their course and what should be said in their course.

When building an online course it can be very easy to get sidelined, distracted, and slowed down. Many course creators fail to launch their courses, because there are so many pieces that need to come together to make it happen.

You want to be cognizant of where, when, and how your students will be learning your course material. Are they going to be at their child’s swimming lesson listening on their phone, or are they going to be in front of their computer with a notepad and pen? Janet highlights this key element of focusing on the student experience as it applies to course creation, because being mindful helps to make your content stronger.

Chris and Janet talk about how beneficial it can be for you when creating courses to do a deep dive on your course structure and outline before diving into the content. This makes it so that you don’t have to do as much editing work on the back end of your course, and you can focus on the content moving forward.

Focusing on the outcome is something that Janet and many course creators believe is key, because the customer most often purchases the course to attain a desired outcome. When building courses you want to always think about how you are taking the student from where they are now to where they want to be.

To learn more about Janet Kafadar visit JanetKafadar.com/quiz to take her course journey quiz that will help you determine the next steps you should take with your course creation to make it a success.

You can subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, Janet Kafadar from JanetKafadar.com. She is a course creation expert, and we’re really excited to have you on the show. Thank you for coming, Janet.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Chris Badgett: Janet shares a unique knowledge set that I love to geek out about, so we’re gonna have a lot of fun on this show. We’re gonna get into instructional design, marketing funnels, the different stages people are at when they’re trying to build their courses. And a lot of what we’re going to get into is how to remove roadblocks that are standing in the way of course creation, ’cause it’s really easy to get sidelined, distracted or slowed down, or failure to launch, because there’s all these different things that need to come together to make it happen.
One of the things I’d like to get into with Janet, it has to do with her approach to instructional design. I heard her on the Productize Podcast with Brian Casel, and I was really interested to follow up with her, because she was talking about one of the things she does with her Done For You services, work with experts on getting their course launched and set up. And she talked about a process of really getting into the slides.
So this there’s whole problem that happens where if you’re an expert and you want to have an online business, you need to go through this huge gap, which is called instructional design. Not to mention the selling, and the membership, and mocking down the content and getting the money and all that, but you actually gotta take that expertise in turning it into an online course.
How do you do that, Janet? Talk to us about slides.
Janet Kafadar: Oh my goodness. Yes, no, I totally hear you with what you’re saying there, and that’s the set of a really big problem that my clients have. So what I’ve found over the years, I’ve been doing this for about four years now, coming up to four years in this business. I had a previous business before. But in this business, what I’ve found with my clients is at the very beginning of trying to get them … it was just me at the time working with my clients to try and tease the content out of them and get it down on paper, and get it down on slides, and then in a way that I can translate that. And so they’re students, and learners can get the most out of it.
But it just didn’t work. Now when I did this in my corporate setting it was fine. You could quite easily go ahead and talk with the subject matter expert, and you can sit down and have a clear discussion about that. But because most of my clients are overseas, I’m over here in Australia. Most of them are either US or Canada or UK. Having that fluid discussion didn’t happen so easily.
So a way in which I found to work for me and my team, and for my clients as well, is for them to just get out a blank slide, a blank slide deck with nothing on it, it doesn’t have to be fancy, nothing at all. And just write one point per slide. Now I say it like that because that’s literally how it needs to be. One point on this slide, one point on another slide. Yes, you may end up with about 200 slides in the end, but it works, because then I get my clients to then record themselves talking through each of those points. And so the things that they may not necessarily say to me come out when they’re talking through it on the slide. So things that they may want to get across, or an area that they wanted to elaborate on, they can do that quite freely. Then it’s easy for my team to then go away or listen to what they’re saying and then translate that into an engaging slide that helps the learner get to an outcome.
So that’s the way we found it to work the best, and yeah, my clients, students and learners seem to get the best results from that. So if anyone’s kinda struggling and that’s their big roadblock and they don’t necessarily have a team or anyone to help them, that is my best advice to you. One point per slide, and just record yourself doing that and then you’ll realize that there are bits that you may not say that come out that actually really do help you and you can use them either on a side deck or you can use them in worksheets or anything like that.
So yeah, I hope that’s answered your question. I think I went a really long way around your question.
Chris Badgett: No, that’s really good. So what happens if somebody doesn’t do that, or what is the default mode of operation for an expert if they’re not going one point per slide, what’s the alternative?
Janet Kafadar: Well the reason that I like this method the best is because it works if you know your content and you know your subject matter inside out. Now if you don’t and you’re kind of not sure about it, this is not going to work, this method. And if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be creating a course because you should only be creating it if you are an expert at what you’re doing.
So if someone is kind of struggling with this, then don’t … and if that even kind of freaks you out a little bit, then don’t worry about it. Just go ahead, just get out a slide deck and either type it out or use images. I’m a big fan of images and the ink. I’m a visual learner, so I have to have images. Text just doesn’t work for my brain, so having images or even symbols, or you know those little icons that you get where it’s just like a person sitting at a laptop or something, or just little outline images? Use those instead. Use diagrams to help illustrate your point or whatever it is that you need to get across. So that’s another way in which you can go about if putting one point per slide is not ideal for you.
Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic. Well let’s talk a little bit about your Done For You service. What would your team then do with that slide presentation?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so it’s then their job to go through, so let’s imagine the course is four or five modules. And then there may be three, four lessons per slide. Sorry, per module, then it’s their job to go through and then translate what the client has said in that recording and in that plain deck that they’ve sent across to us, and then translate that into their branded slides or whatever it is.
Chris Badgett: So are they re-recording the presentation, or is this the editing function, or they were just-
Janet Kafadar: Yeah-
Chris Badgett: … research or how does it work?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so they’re collecting all the information from that they’ve done. They’re then creating a brand new slide deck and interpreting what the client has said, either using images or diagrams, or whatever it is and putting those all into a slide deck. Handing it back to the client and then they can go and re-record it, ready for us to then upload into their members area.
But prior to that, a lot of work on the actual structure, the outline, what’s going to be said inside of each lesson and each module has already been determined beforehand. So we never really get to appoint where a lesson is anything more than 20 minutes long. We always try and cap it at the 20 minute mark, because people lose interest and no one wants to watch a video for 30 minutes. So it’s really important that we see everything from the learner’s perspective [inaudible 00:08:23] really conscious about how they’re going to be engaging with this information. Where are they going to be? Are they going to be on their phone whilst their son or daughter is at swimming? Are they going to be in front of their computer? Being mindful of that really helps us make sure that the content is stronger.
So yeah, so then that’s what my team then go away and do and work on the slides for the client, and then hand it back to them for recording. So yeah, it’s quite a lengthy process, but especially for my clients who are time-poor, they just don’t have the time to sit and try and put all the pieces together and work out what needs to go on the slides and all of that. That’s our job to take that information, their expert knowledge and turn that into a course for them.
Chris Badgett: That sounds like a really professional approach. It also sounds like a very professional expert who sees the value in getting some help. ‘Cause if I’m an expert and I’m going to do the work of making 200 slides where I’m going over these key points of my expertise, for me, it makes a lot of sense that I want an instructional designer who really knows their craft to help take that further.
So I love what you’re doing, and you’re also making it an iterative process where it then comes back to the expert, am I right? Where then they are gonna come in with some voice or …
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. So it’s all their voice and all their recording. So they go through the slide that we send them, and most of the time there are only like a couple of things that they want to change and they can change that when they get it back. That’s fine, it doesn’t have to come back to us to do, but it works quite smoothly because they know when the slides are coming to them, and then I tell them and my team tell them beforehand, “Okay, you’re going to have to block out at least an hour or an hour and a half on your calendar on Thursday because we’ll need you to sit down and do your recordings so it can come back to us.” And then they just put it in a Dropbox folder when it’s done.
And there isn’t really much editing to that, once it’s done they just-
Chris Badgett: Because you did the hard work in the slide creation process.
Janet Kafadar: That’s right. And even at the very beginning where we’re working on the slides and all of that stuff. So working on the lessons and what’s going to be said, and how it all links together. All of that stuff, there’s not very much for us to do, maybe just put some intros and outros if we need to. If the client has that.
So to anyone that’s got a listing, my best advice, do your planning and really deep-diving into the content structure and how it’s gonna hang together and what’s going to be in it, and then start recording ’cause that frees you up a whole heap of time when it comes to the editing side of things if there’s any editing and kind of getting things uploaded, ’cause that in itself [inaudible 00:11:33] a whole heap of extra time. So do as much of that work upfront, and then it will save you in the long run.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. That’s almost counterintuitive, I see a lot of people how just put a Himalayan effort into creating content, and then someday later they figure out the editing process. But why not make it a little more structured on the front end so that the editing on the back end is a lot more minimal?
Janet Kafadar: Yes, yeah, absolutely. Like it may just be a few ums and ahs or something like that, but I normally just tell my clients “Okay, just pause it, and then get yourself together again and start again.” Like don’t even worry about it. Don’t think “Oh, I’ve got to start from the beginning … ” “No, don’t worry. Just press pause, just keep going.” Because as soon as you think “Oh god, I’ve gotta do it again,” then you know what happens. You kinda get in your head and you start fumbling and it just makes it really difficult. So I’m like “You’ve only got an hour and a half on your calendar, remember. So don’t even worry about it.”
Chris Badgett: The heavy lifting of the core structure and curriculum is already there, so I mean that’s really the biggest worry.
Janet Kafadar: Yes, yeah. Exactly, right. And they feel relieved, they’re like “Oh, okay. I’ve got this and it’s fine … ” It always comes back “Oh, I’m really sorry. Around the 10 minute mark I really mumbled … ” I’m like, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine. We’ll just cut it out, it’s all good.”
Chris Badgett: I have to ask you, I need to understand a little bit of the story behind all this. This is a really unique skill set, and you mentioned in your … I believe in the corporate clients in the past or something, how did you develop this skill?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so god, really interesting question. So in my corporate days I worked for a management consultancy and we did a lot of learning and development, and creating workshops and training programs for government departments here in Australia. So I am an Australian assistant but I was born in the UK, so I’ve been here for about eight years now.
So when I first moved out here, this was the main job that I had and very different from what I was doing in London. I was working in advertising and marketing and stuff. When I moved out here, I wanted to do something totally different, so I launched myself into working with this management consultancy, worked as a project manager there and then kind of worked my way up as kind of a consultant, and working on creating and developing course content.
So once I did that and … I really got to see how programs, ’cause these weren’t courses so much then, they were a more three day workshops, or three day masterminds so to speak. And it was really interesting at a high level, at a government level, having to help these leaders within government, help them get to an outcome at maybe over the span of 12 months or over the quarter or something like that. So the content that we had to create had to be really robust to lead them to an outcome.
And so that kind of curriculum, e-learning, development kind of came about then. Then I had my son and my other two kids, so I’ve got three kids, and then I just realized, especially when I had my eldest son, “I can’t do this. I can’t work for anyone and I don’t want to.” I think it’s more the fact that I just didn’t want to work for anyone else. I just wanted to do my own thing. And I’d already kind of had that [inaudible 00:15:15] in the back of my mind but I had no idea what that was.
And so once I had my son, my eldest, sorry, I kind of figured out like “What am I going to do with myself? How’s it going to look?” I didn’t even imagine that it would like how it is today. It wasn’t even on my radar, and so when I first started I kind of did a bit of VA work for people to kind of figure out what it was I wanted to do, and so that didn’t work at all, having a newborn baby at that stage. My son and I had to go to sleep school, we have sleep school here in Australia, which helps new moms kind of figure out what to do with their babies. So I suppose three days trying to learn how to put my son to sleep and myself to sleep, because we were just really struggling.
And shortly after that I was searching on the computer, I think I came across … I thin it’s like Brendon Burchard’s, like the YouTube video or something, you know how it is. You click on something and end up randomly somewhere. And I watched his video all about living your purpose and doing your own thing, and then I clicked on something and then I ended up on a sales page for a course. Now, I bought the course and it wasn’t Brendon Burchard’s, by the way. And I bought it, I went in there and I thought “Holy smokes, what is this?” I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, “And I’ve just paid $1,000 for this. What is this course?” It was really messy, totally all over the place. Yeah, the content was okay, but just the structure was not there. Just the delivery of the course … the content itself and the slides, I just thought “Wow. Is this for real?”
And that’s really where it began. I thought “God, there must be someone teaching people how to do this. Surely.” This is four or five years ago now, so the landscape’s a little bit different now. I couldn’t really see anyone. Yeah, there were a few people here and there, but not that many. I thought “Well, it looks like people …” and then I realized that in the expert industry there are people that need help with this to create products to leverage their time, et cetera. That’s where it really began and I just kind of one step at a time, just put one foot in the other and just started helping people out with creating courses. Because what I was doing already in my corporate days was already really transferrable to what I wanted to do, and I just nerded out on tools and plugins, and all of that stuff. I enjoy that, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to kind of figure it out, and I kind of had a knack for making sure that my clients were using the right ones and the right fit for their business and their goals.
So yeah, that’s a pretty short version of how my business came about.
Chris Badgett: That’s super cool. I love that story, and you’re right. There’s this whole expert industry and there’s a lot of focus on the e-commerce, or the selling, or the launching. But not so much on instructional design. And even on community building, like list building or growing a following on Facebook and stuff, there’s a lot of information and stuff out there. But the active actually teaching through the internet, there’s a gap.
I heard you in that gap, and I was like, I gotta go talk to Janet and get her here ’cause people need to hear about this part, ’cause it’s important. And I’m also a big believer in … there’s a lot of “Escape the 9 to 5” type stuff. I have kids at home, we do the homeschooling thing. We’re home, I spend a lot of time with my kids, I love the lifestyle. But I also know there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge that we can pull out of the corporate world of management consulting like you mentioned, and there’s a lot of ideas and information and research and investment that have gone into figuring things out on a corporate level that can come down to small business and startup. And we don’t [crosstalk 00:19:44] reinvent the wheel down here. We just need to understand and know some best practices.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, absolutely and I think that’s a really great thing that you brought up. So I remember my early days, like I had a lot of people reaching out to me like “Oh, can you help me start my business?” And I was like, “I have no idea, I’m just starting mine.” Like I am not the right person to be speaking to. But I want find quite interesting was that a lot of these people … and that could’ve just been their preference, were really just discounting what they knew how to do really well in their corporate jobs. So what I was doing already, I just transferred over into my own business, really. So I wasn’t really moving too far away from that.
To anyone listening, if you are in that place like “Oh I don’t know what to do,” or “I’m not sure which direction to go in,” yeah, you can go and follow your passion. Do what you really want to, but don’t discount what you know how to do. If you’re really good with processes and systems, or project managing, like seriously, just move forward with that for now until you kind of figure out what it is that you want to do kinda further along down the track. I think you’re so right, but there’s so much investment of time and energy has been put into us as people in our corporate careers, and so just kinda use it and leverage it to your advantage.
But then also going to what you said just a minute ago about people really focusing in on the marketing and community managing and all of that stuff, I always say to my clients and the type of clients that I work with, I say to them, don’t worry about the sales and marketing stuff. If you focus on your message, the positioning of your cause, and you’re already an expert in what you’re doing and you’re already doing it every day it will sell. Because you’re already doing it and you’re already serving people who need what you have, you’re just repackaging it and presenting it in a different way.
So the sales and marketing stuff will come. It won’t happen overnight. Don’t believe anyone who says you’re going to blow the roof off in 30 days, they are lying. It’s just gonna take some time to figure out … if it doesn’t happen … you will get some sales but it may not happen as some may say. And it’s just an iterative process. You’ve just gotta keep working at it, updating it, changing it, tweaking things here and there to be able to get it to a point that you think “All right, I think this is … ” it’s never going to be done, just like a website, but it’ll get to a point where I can feel satisfied with it and I’m getting the desired results that my students require from it.
So yes, doing the work upfront on the course structure is hands down the most important thing to do.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I’d encourage anybody listening to this to press pause and go back to listen what Janet just said there, ’cause it’s not just about the marketing. And if you’re already getting paid every day to do a job, or you’re in a job looking outside, looking at this whole online education industry and your employer’s giving you money to do stuff, it’s a very valuable skill.
And tailing off of what you said there at the end, having it be an iterative process, even what you do in your services are iterative. And I love that, that it’s not just like, okay, there’s this starting line, and then the money comes in and then the product comes out and you’re good to go. There’s a little bit of back and forth with the customer in terms of getting the course curriculum dialed. It’s almost like a Done With You [inaudible 00:23:50] service, I would call it. It is done for you, but there’s a component where the customer puts something in, you put something better out, then they [crosstalk 00:23:57] and then they do more with it that then creates the ultimate awesome product.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: And then the whole iterate approach to collaboration, and consulting, and productized service I think is really powerful.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it really works. It’s taken probably good year up until now, so last year this point is where things kind of really took off and started to feel more like “Okay, right, we’ve got this. We’ve got this process kind of down and it’s working for us,” whereas before it wasn’t pretty much, I’m not gonna lie. It was a hot mess.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:24:38] I recommend that. I’m doing a book club right now about this book about instructional design called Design for how People Learn, and there’s skill development. Skill has to happen. You have to work on it.
Janet Kafadar: Absolutely, I 100% believe that. So yeah, so it was really messy, it was very stressful, and I’ve not long had my third child about a year ago, so it was really quite difficult and I was feeling quite burnt out and thinking “Oh god, I just want to close the whole thing down and go to holiday.” I was just over it. And then a friend of mine said “Why don’t you just hire someone else?” And it didn’t even occur to me. Like “Oh yeah, maybe it shouldn’t just be me and my assistant. Maybe I should bring on someone else.”
And then at that point is when I brought on a project manager, they deal with the client. So they only kind of come to me when they have something they’re not sure about, but they kind of do the client delivery of the work and kind of manage that communication between them. So that really has kind of freed me up now to just have some breathing space. I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to do that. I hit my every day, like “God, why didn’t I do that before?”
Chris Badgett: Well I have to ask you about this, and I guess it’s probably a skill that also came from the corporate time, but in order to successfully bring in project management, it’s helpful to be skilled at developing processes.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: For them to manage. Otherwise it just being like, “Here you go,” you’re just trying to stick a body on a problem.
Janet Kafadar: Oh gosh, yeah.
Chris Badgett: I think you’ve done more than that based on what I’m hearing, how did you get so good at process development?
Janet Kafadar: You know what? I think I just really love it. And I didn’t realize that I really thrive on a process and knowing how something works. I’m one of those people like if I think back to my corporate days, I wanted to know how it all … what I needed to do and the steps I needed to take. Leave me to go and do it, and I’ll come back if I have questions. I don’t want to keep bothering someone, and I think that’s something that stuck with me. And when I remember going early on in my working career, I would find myself working somewhere and I was doing a little bit of temping work, and I got into an office and I said, “Oh what’s the process?” And the lady looked at me strangely, like “What process?” And I equally looked at her as strangely thinking “What do you mean you don’t have a process?” It just didn’t compute. And it’s not how my brain works, and it’s not that I like processes so that I know where I’m a real stickler or anything like that.
There’s definitely room to move around that, but I like having everything laid out so that someone can just go and do it, and obviously come back when we have … especially when you’re training up new people, but come back to me if they have any questions and we can work through it together. To be able to do this, sometimes we have five, six clients’ projects going on at a time, obviously at different stages, there needs to be a process there for us to be able to communicate as a team, for us to be able to communicate with a client if an issues arises, to identify which stage people are at. It all has to kind of come together, and it didn’t all happen at once, it just kinda happened bit by bit quite organically. That’s where my nerdy brain goes to and I love it.
Chris Badgett: Well I have to geek out with you on another part of your nerdy brain. [crosstalk 00:28:41] said earlier in this conversation from your corporate background, which had to do with the outcomes?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Badgett: So in online education or information products, or membership content, premium content, there’s this whole knowledge thing. Like premium content, there’s great ideas, curated well, great information. That’s a given these days. But results and outcomes, in many ways is almost more important than the actual content itself. Based on your experience from corporate or just in your own way of developing in your skills and your offer here, how do you help experts help people not just get great information, but get to outcomes?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so that’s a really good question, and focusing on the outcome is the only thing that matters. When I say “Outcome,” I’m not talking results. Because when people sometimes think of a result, they’re thinking of a result that’s monetary. That’s how I differentiate the two. I’m not really into that kind of [inaudible 00:30:03] marketing where it’s like “Oh, get X amount in 30 days,” or something like that. It just doesn’t happen, it’s rubbish, chuck it out the window. Chuck the course out the window.
But outcomes focused courses really focus in on taking the person from where they are right now, the struggle and the problem that they are having to the solution and what they actually want. And what they want, yes, might be monetary, but at the core of it, it normally isn’t. “I actually just want to feel better,” or “I want to have a pathway to be more fit, just guide me to that. Guide me on those steps in that journey to get to that outcome.” And that’s the only thing that matters for us as a team, focusing in on the outcome and taking them from where they are right now to that point. So at least it can be broken down in stages. It doesn’t necessarily have to be like you’re gonna promise that person the world. Don’t do that if you’re not going to do that, if you can’t.
So yeah, focusing on the outcome is the only thing that kinda matters, and is the most important. Because with an outcome you can’t write any form of marketing, or sales message or something like that. But don’t make it hypey and based on money, because that’s not always the most important thing, and you’re actually leading people down a path to disappointment. And the fact that they actually won’t complete it as well, if you hang everything about your course or mastermind, or program or whatever based on money. That’s what I found, anyway.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. Janet Kafadar, ladies and gentlemen. That’s JanetKafadar.com, check her out. She’s got a quiz on her website, can you tell us about the quiz?
Janet Kafadar: Yes, yeah. It’s JanetKafadar.com/quiz, and it’s a course journey quiz. So if you’re kinda stuck with whereabouts you are and what you need to do and the next steps you need to take to be able to create your course, then just go ahead and take the quiz. It will ask you just, I think it’s five or six questions, and then you’ll be given two action steps to help move you forward along with a couple of videos as well.
So this has kind of come after four years of working, and basically what I’ve seen from talking to hundreds of people, and I’ve put that all into a quiz to help give you the right steps and what you need to do.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. For those of you listening, you have to wear many hats as a course creator. You have to be an expert, you have to be an entrepreneur. You have to be a teacher, an instructional designer. A technologist and a community builder. Those qualities are very rarely found in one person. If you need help with the teaching and instructional design and strategy, it’s Janet. As soon as I heard her on some other shows, I knew I had to get her on here and help share some of her wisdom with you all.
So Janet, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.
Janet Kafadar: Oh, thank you so much.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Is there anywhere else people can connect with you?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so you can also connect with me on my YouTube channel, Course Creators TV, and I do video tutorials and platform reviews, and I’ll also do one for Lifter as well. I do reviews of platforms and all of that kind of stuff, so yeah, you can find me on Course Creators TV, or even if you just type in Janet Kafadar to any social media platform you’ll find me there as well.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well thank you so much, Janet, I really appreciate it.
Janet Kafadar: Thank you so much, Chris. I appreciate it.

EPISODE 171

Learning, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship with Pippin Williamson of AffiliateWP

We discuss learning, leadership, and entrepreneurship with Pippin Williamson of Affiliate WP in this episode of LMScast. Chris Badgett of LifterLMS and Pippin talk about affiliate marketing for your product or service and what it takes to create a strong brand. Pippin shares his story from growing up surrounded by nature to entering the software development and WordPress space.

Pippin grew up with four siblings and his parents on an apple orchard in the middle of central Kansas, about 30 minutes from the nearest town. He had a very nature-oriented childhood and a technology-oriented family, so Pippin developed a love for the outdoors and a passion for software development.

Pippin has done a lot of interesting things as an entrepreneur in the WordPress space. He created many plugins for WordPress, including AffiliateWP, Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, Sugar Event Calendar, Love It Pro for WordPress, and many more.

Competition is the driver for creativity and progress. Chris and Pippin discuss competition and how niching down to a particular set of people with your product is key to its success. Pippin talks about how he builds products to serve a specific purpose, and how he would rather send customers to his competitors rather than make the platform do something that it was not meant to do, because those customers shouldn’t be using his platform in the first place.

Affiliate programs can be complicated to set up and run for your product or service. Chris and Pippin talk about the major pain points when setting up an affiliate program for your product, and how you can go about avoiding those obstacles.

Affiliates have a significant impact on your brand, so it is important to vet them carefully, lay out specific guidelines, and make sure they provide value to your brand and image with your customers.

‘Build it and they will come’ is a popular saying in content creation, but unless you have a really stellar brand or product, this is not going to be the case. It is important to educate your customers and affiliates on what your product or service is and how they can use it.

Entrepreneurs often suffer from overload with work, and it is important to constantly re-evaluate what is important to your business and your success. Often you will find projects in your business that are not enjoyable and that are not making you any money. When you find these resource wasters, you can cease working on those activities and repurpose the content you have. Chris and Pippin talk about this, and Pippin shares his thought processes behind shutting down products and services he has offered.

To learn more about Pippin Williamson head over to Pippin.com and PippinsPlugins.com. Also check out the AffiliateWP plugin available for WordPress.

You can subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett from LifterLMS. I’m joined by a special guest, Pippin Williamson. Pippin is somebody I look up to in the WordPress space and as an entrepreneur. He’s done a lot of interesting things for WordPress, as an entrepreneur, as a product company, as a leader of teams, and just as an all around interesting guy. We’re both twins. There’s a fun fact for you out there. I want to start by just welcoming you to the show, Pippin, and ask you about your tagline, just on your side or your blog or whatever where it says, “A nature loving farm boy that found his way into the internet and technology.” I’m kind of a nature first guy technology then the technology thing happened, but how did that happen for you?
Pippin W.: Sure. Thanks for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be here. That comes from growing up. I come from a pretty large family. There were five siblings and then my parents. We grew up on an apple orchard in the middle of Central Kansas about 20 to 30 minutes from the nearest town. We grew up, really, unschooled. We were, pretty much, free to run around the property. We had about 100 acres of woods and prairie out there. Growing up, I grew up surrounded by nature, encouraged to go out and be outside all day. I prefer to be outside all day. I ran around barefoot most of the time.
We had very just nature-oriented childhood. That has become very much part of me. Being out in nature and being connected to the natural environment is really, really important to me, but at the same time, we had a very technologically-oriented family. My dad is a software developer. We had computers in the house. As long as I can remember, we were one of the first houses in the area to get high speed broadband. We’re probably one of the first to have a dial-up connection. Then we were the first to have a fiber connection. Even though we were very nature and outdoors oriented, having an apple orchard and a little bit of farm, we were still computer people. That naturally transitioned into me turning into a software developer as well. I gained love for programming pretty early on. Maybe around 10 or 12 years old when I started programming robotics.
During college and late high school, I started transitioning into web development, building things online, which then eventually turned into business that I run today, but I still go back and try to remember the importance of being outside. Yesterday, for example, I decided I have enough for the internet and decided, “I’m going to spend the evening just splitting firewood and going back and having a goal of being completely sustainable on our own.” If I could be anywhere in the world, it would be outside in nature. Well, I’ll probably take my laptop with me.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah, I really relate to that story. Just for those of you listening, unschooling, it’s actually a parenting style that I practice where our kids are homeschooled without a traditional curriculum and just lead what they’re interested in. We facilitate that as parents. It’s an emerging trend now, but it’s been around for a long time too. I’d like to get into a little bit with you, Pippin, about just that piece, how old are you right now?
Pippin W.: 28.
Chris Badgett: Pippin, some of the products he’s best known for in the WordPress space is AffiliateWP and then there’s a membership system called Restrict Content Pro and then Easy Digital Downloads. For those of you who are familiar with Lifter for sewing courses, it integrates with AffiliateWP. If you want to add an affiliate program, you can do that with Pippin’s product. We’ll get into that a little later, but before we get into the business and the technical stuff, what was it like as a … When did you start your first company? You’ve got between one and 200 WordPress plugins free and paid out there. You’re prolific. You started programming robotics at 10 years old or something like that, but how did the entrepreneurship start?
Pippin W.: That probably started maybe around when I was 14 to 15. My brother actually beat me to it. When we were about 14 and 15, I have an identical twin brother, he got, really, into 3D modeling and using an open source piece of software called, Blender 3D. He started creating a business around that before we ended high school. He was already doing that and making pretty good money for himself before we went to high school. With our inschooling experience, we were unschooled until high school and then we chose to go to public school. He did that. My dad was a freelance software developer. We had that just naturally in our family. I started it, basically, my freshman year of college where I went to the University of Kansas. I just started taking on freelance clients from building websites or anybody that would hire me. Eventually, that turned into building plugins for WordPress.
The first plugin I built, I threw it up on a website called codecanyon.net, which is a marketplace run by Envato. I sold a couple copies of it. That just got me started on building a whole lot more. I built another plugin and then I built another and I built another. I had a lot of time on my hands. I was really interested. I was having a lot of fun. I just kept building out. Eventually, it turned into a large enough revenue stream to be able to quit doing freelance work and move solely to building plugins, at which time, I really started looking into setting up as a real company as opposed to just an individual. That would have been 2012, 2013. Once I did that, then it started really growing and turning into an actual company where we have employees and other team members and things like that over the next couple of years. Where we are today, we have a team of 13 with a few contractors.
Chris Badgett: How did you pick your niches or your niche? Again, it looks like there’s a common eCommerce thread here.
Pippin W.: All of our three main products, which are all eCommerce based memberships, digital products, and affiliate marketing all started through solving my own problems, solving my own pain points. Originally, Restrict Content Pro is the first. I wanted to run a membership site. I was writing development tutorials, teaching people how to write plugins and I wanted to have a membership site to lock down access to the tutorials to paid subscribers. I didn’t like the membership plugins that I found, so I built my own. Eventually, I wanted to move the plugins I was selling off CodeCanyon. I didn’t like the options for selling plugins on my own site, so I built my own. I was then running a successful eCommerce store through my platforms. I wanted to run an affiliate program. I didn’t like the options. I built my own.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. Scratching your own itch. Were you, at all, intimidated by, let’s say, going up against an established leader and the WordPress eCommerce space like WooCommerce? When you did Easy Digital Downloads, you just went for it and it sounds like you were going to go for it anyways because you wanted to build a better mouse trap to solve your exact problems. Did you even care for a second about the competition?
Pippin W.: No, I didn’t, really. Obviously, we know it was there. We don’t pay attention to it, but we also realize, look, competition is good. Competition breeds creativity. Competition, as long as you’re not going out trying to sabotage each other, it breeds collaboration. Well, we just solve pain points that are not on their radar or that are not their focus. They just solve pain points on our work. It comes a nice ecosystem where I don’t want every customer that’s out there because we want to build a product that is built to serve specific purposes. If a customer comes to us and our body didn’t serve their purpose, they shouldn’t be using our platform. We would rather send them to a competitor that does solve their problem, then try to make our system work for them in a way it’s not mentioning.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a great way to talk about it. Easy Digital Downloads, even in the name of the business, you’re differentiating exactly what it’s for. It’s for downloads.
Pippin W.: Right.
Chris Badgett: It’s not for everything store.
Pippin W.: Right.
Chris Badgett: I want to get into the affiliate area a little bit. I do the same thing. I scratch my own itch. Lifter started as a reaction to me trying a lot of course, membership, solutions, and just wanting something different. We ended up charting our own path. Other people have found that useful that’s why we have a business today that’s growing and doing great. One of my very first site that I built on a WordPress LMS, I’m actually in a process, finally, of moving it over to LifterLMS. One of the things I can’t wait to get it over to Lifter for besides … there’s a lot of reasons, but one of it is-
Pippin W.: Eating your own dog food is good.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, it is good. The affiliate system I have attached to it, it doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s had issues. I’m going to be, very soon, picking up my own copy of AffiliateWP, relaunching the affiliate program. Affiliate has actually been a big part of that project in terms of, I don’t know, a portion of the revenue. In my experience, and I’ve also just seen a lot of sites and been around as agency of platforms and have an affiliate program, I’m curious, in your experience, what percentage of sales do you see coming through the affiliate channel? In my experience, I’ve seen between 10 and 40 percent. It just depends but where do you-
Pippin W.: It’s actually funny that you mentioned that because that’s one of the reporting metrics that we don’t have built out very well with AffiliateWP, but it’s one of our biggest needs. It’s one of the things that we’ve been looking at trying to get built out. We don’t want store owners to have to guesstimate. We’d much rather just give them a number that says, “33% of your sales come through the affiliate site. That’s what we would like to do.” It becomes a little bit challenging because we integrate with so many different platforms. Obviously, we integrate with LifterLMS, as you just mentioned, but then, EDD, WooCommerce, those are just a couple of the top ones, but we have almost 30 different integrations. Then you start building out like you want to build and do that for everybody. Anyway, we have, I believe the last number that we looked at is somewhere around 15 to 20%.
Chris Badgett: Cool. Yeah. That sounds about what I’d expect. What advice do you have, not necessarily, for software companies but in general, for people to recruit affiliates? What do you recommend?
Pippin W.: Well, I think the biggest point of failure we see in people implementing their affiliate programs is them installing the plugin, turning it on and just like letting it sit, assuming that it’s going to magically make them money. Well, it’s not a set and forget system. Yes, the system itself is set it and forget it in terms of doesn’t function, but you actually need to be proactive in encouraging people to join your affiliate program and actually, helping educate them on your product or do you have new items coming out, educate your affiliate based on that. I think that the biggest thing, and this is something that I will be perfectly honest with you, we have not done well at X, but we recognized it. We have been working a lot this year to actually improve this. You just need to communicate with your affiliates. You need to give them tips. You need to give them resources. You need to give them heads up.
If you’re going to have promotional sale coming up, give your affiliates a heads up, so that if they want to put out material to help advertise it, they can do that. Don’t say, “Hey, today, for the next three days, we’re doing a sale. Go ahead and let people know.” Great. Those affiliates, one of them was on vacation, one of them was already busy for two days. If you don’t give them a heads up, you’ve lost any traffic that they might have been able to give you. You need to communicate with them. I think that’s the biggest failing point that we see most of the time is people just not communicating … Well, to their existing affiliates but also communicating to new affiliates and actually reaching out to people an encouraging them to join. That’s probably the number one thing that I would recommend above anything else.
You can figure out what percentage of a commission you’d give affiliates. You can figure out how often you pay them. You can figure out all of those other stuff, but if you’re not communicating or you’re not practically reaching out to them, it’s not going to work to anybody.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a super good point. Also, once you have them, that’s one thing but going after them, if you build it, they will come and tell. You’ve got to go recruit. Go find somebody that has your audience that’s not a direct competitor.
Pippin W.: Just build it and they will come can work every now and then. If you have a super stellar brand or you have a super stellar product or something like that and you have a proven track record, but you … You might get a lot of people but you may not get through ones that you want. Keep in mind that one really good affiliate would probably worth dozens or hundreds of mediocre ones.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I think, maybe, we can just give out three tips. I’ll do one while you think about it …
Pippin W.: That’s great.
Chris Badgett: … and then you can come up with two, but for one of my educations sites that I have an affiliate program for, one of the ways I get affiliates is, I’m in a very specific hyper focused niche. If you Google the niche name plus affiliate program, it’s the number one search result on Google. I wrote a blog post to introduce the affiliate programs specifically targeting, “Hey, this niche has an affiliate program. Here it is.” Basically, if you’re a publisher, a blogger, or you’re looking to monetize your site and you teach them this topic, for this one, it happens to be a sub niche of organic gardening called, permaculture, you’re going to find our affiliate program because there’s not that many out there affiliate programs for that niche per se. One tip is, just introduce it, write a bunch of content. Even just one nice blog post about it talking about your niche because there’s so many bloggers out there who write about that stuff looking to monetize their content.
Pippin W.: Yeah. I wrote a blog post and they first opened the affiliate program for Easy Digital Downloads. I wrote a blog post on my site, basically saying, “Hey, they feel the program is up. You’re welcome to come join.” We then, maybe six, nine months after that we closed it down. Now, we have since reopened it, but immediately after closing it out, I didn’t realize that that was actually getting a ton of traffic because I would get emails every single week like “Hey, I can’t join. What’s up? We’re going to join?” It’s like “Oh, I’m able to join, it works.” I think my tip would be, yes, you want to invite people to join because (1) how are people going to know about it if you don’t, but simultaneously, be careful with who you let in. Don’t just let anybody in just because I said, “Hey, I’ll help promote you.”
You wanted to make sure that you’re controlling your brand and your reputation. You don’t want to have a bunch of really subpar affiliates just dropping spammy links on a bunch of random sites that had no pride or value to you and potentially, actually, harm your brand even if it’s in a minor way. Moderate them, be thoughtful on who you do let in and why you let them in. At the same time, consider why are you turning somebody down. Is it just because you don’t like them and they didn’t give you good enough application? What is it? Just think about that. Don’t just assume that everybody that applies is going to be a good affiliate.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. You already gave another tip, which was, it’s better to have one really good affiliate than … If you’re going to just do a couple things, make sure people can easily find your affiliate program, invest and maintain the quality. There’s all kinds of shady affiliate activity out there and that’s going to hurt your brand. If you have limited time and resources, go for one really good affiliate. It’s better than 100 ones that aren’t falling.
Pippin W.: Absolutely. For each of our brands, we’ve got two or three top affiliates. They easily send three to 20 times as much traffic as anybody else. Not just traffic but actual conversions. It’s not that they converted it in actual sales.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. If you’re new to affiliate marketing, there’s a concept called a super affiliate. What you want is a super affiliate, ideally or a couple of them or several of them. Well, let’s switch gears in the conversation a little bit to just your entrepreneurial side. I know some people look at you and they’re like “I want to make sure I’m supporting my kids if they want to become entrepreneurial.” What tips do you have for somebody looking to raise entrepreneurial kids or empower them to pursue that if they want to do that? What tips do you have about that?
Pippin W.: Looking back on it, one of the things that my parents did that really encouraged us … Well, first of all, it was just encouragement of, “You can do it if you want to.” That’s pretty important.
Chris Badgett: That’s enough.
Pippin W.: Yeah. Have it. It’s an option to pursue anything you want. Whether you succeed or fail, you have the option to pursue and do anything. Just being open and acknowledging that, yes, in the digital age, especially that we can even if we fail, we can try. I think that’s really important. Having a mentality that it’s okay to fail is good because … The Silicon Valley Model tends to celebrate failure and I think, maybe, too much, but at the same time, we need to recognize where did that come from and it’s acknowledging that it’s okay to fail. It’s better to try and fail but to not try at all. It doesn’t mean that it’s a celebration of a failure if you fail, but it’s still okay to do that. I think those are some of the big ones.
Honestly, everybody is in a different position but some people have a lot more flexibility to try and fail because they’re more financially stable than others or maybe they have whatever kind of resources is it that they have. What your resources are really going to determine whether how much flexibility you have, but overall, it’s I think more than anything. The mental mindset is really important of just saying, “Yes, I am going to try.”
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s good stuff. I think this is related to this in some ways. We breezed by it earlier that you had made somewhere between 100 and 200 plugins. You don’t have one product. You have three main products plus …
Pippin W.: Three main links to the table.
Chris Badgett: … you have started a brewery. Is that right?
Pippin W.: Working on it.
Chris Badgett: If someone call that prolific, how much of it that is personality? How much of that is just you as an entrepreneur? What’s going on with your prolificness?
Pippin W.: A lot of it is my personality. I’ve always-
Chris Badgett: You’re a doer.
Pippin W.: I’m very much a doer. I’ve always had a lot of projects going simultaneously. As a kid, in high school, in college, et cetera, I’ve always had lots of names going on. I think the freedom to be bored is an amazing gift. However, if you are bored, my question is why. Because if you’re bored, then obviously, you’re not doing enough. That’s the way that I’ve always looked at my own mentality. If I find myself sitting around and bored suddenly, and to me … In the evening, I can go to bed and watch Netflix for two hours. To me, that is very different than being bored and watching Netflix as a result of being bored. In my mind, if I’m bored, it’s because I don’t have enough to do. I have not been bored in 15 years at least. If I have open time, if I’m going to do something and whatever that is. When I was originally building the WordPress, it was well. If I have the time to be bored, I’m going to build another plugin or I’m going to enhance a plugin.
Right now, if I have the luxury of being bored, it’s because I’m going to take that time and I’m going to build something else. Right now, I’m building a brewery. At home, if I start building a project at home, whether it’s something in the workshop or I’m building a little wood shop right now, that is really just a mentality, I think. I think that is something that most business owners, especially those that have a bit more entrepreneurial spirit, probably are familiar with. Just this idea that you’re always doing something. You’re always pushing on something. Yes, there is a drive to succeed, there’s a drive to do more, but it’s also, it’s curiosity. I want to go explore new things and have fun doing it. If I decide that it’s not for me after a year, that’s fine. I had a lot of fun doing it. Hopefully, I don’t bankrupt myself doing it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s really good. I share that where actually I’m never bored. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. If I find myself alone with nothing to do or walking in the woods, not work, great, now, I have time to work on these problems in my head.
Pippin W.: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: I don’t experience boredom either. That’s an interesting way to-
Pippin W.: I don’t think any successful business owner entrepreneur experiences boredom. They’ve experienced boredom. Absolutely. I can remember when I was bored last, but I remember changing that and say, “I’m not going to be bored again. I’m not trying to be bored.” I don’t know. Maybe there’s just a different wiring in brains that … I don’t know what it is but-
Chris Badgett: Well, related to this being prolific, sometimes you shut things down. Recently, I was actually on the WP Tonic Panel podcast. One of the articles discussed was your recent article about closing your membership. I know you recently put your podcast applied filters on pause. What’s going on with those two projects? What’s your approach to maintaining focus? What’s your reasoning behind all this?
Pippin W.: There’s two things that I think are the main reason behind shutting some products down, at least for the ones that we’ve shut down recently. We’ll talk about the podcast and the memberships on plugins.com. One of them is simply, are we still having five billion? It’s a little bit of a luxury to be able to say, but I think if we’re not having fun doing it, why are we doing it? Obviously, that doesn’t always apply. There’s things that I do everyday that I don’t enjoy, but I do them because they’re necessary. If we look at something and say, “Does disabling industry [inaudible 26:11] to work on this? Does it permit any way?” If the answer is “no” and we’re not adjoining it, then why are we doing it?
The podcast, I really loved doing it, but eventually, we got over the honeymoon phase of that podcast and it started to become a little bit more mature. It was not a focus for us. It wasn’t primary focus. We decided, “Let’s pause it indefinitely.” If we want to come back to what we can, and then the memberships on Pippin’s plugins. As I mentioned earlier, that was a membership that I launched back in 2012. That is what built Restrict Content Pro, which is now one of our primary products was, I want to draw in membership so I pulled the plug and do it. I’m in that since 2012. There was a couple reasons for shutting it down; (1) I was simply not able to produce content for anyone. There was a large catalog of content that was provided to members. It wasn’t getting updated anymore. I could not justify continuing to accept payments from people if I was not going to be producing new content.
I held on to the hope that I could produce new content for a long time and kept it going, trying to get back in the producing content and eventually just decided, it’s just not going to happen because it’s not a priority or X, Y, and Z. It is not going to significantly hurt us, financially, to disable it. The best thing that I can do is to discontinue it because (1) I no longer have this battle inside of whether it’s okay to take people’s money but I’ll produce you with content, get rid of that problem and (2) relive the burden of knowing that I’m failing it, taking care of these memories. At the same time, I can do a good thing by taking all of the content that was blocked behind the membership and just open it up. There’s no reason we can do that. All of it comes down to getting better at saying no and choosing where our time is going to be spent where our focus is put. I decided that the membership and the podcast were two things that I needed to say no to because they were not, in terms of the value that I was getting from them personally, they took more even just being there than I was getting out of them.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s really good stuff there. Let me ask you, also, about leadership. A lot of the course creators and membership people out there may be a one person show, a lot of them are, just like you and I were when we first started freelancing or whatever, charging or building our first products. You build a team. How big is Sam Hill’s development now?
Pippin W.: We have 13 full-time team members as well as a couple of contractors.
Chris Badgett: What were the challenges for you in transitioning to a leader? I think I’d also might be an inspiration to younger people starting businesses.
Pippin W.: Probably the biggest challenge I have is just delegation. Coming from a one man shop and coming from the doer attitude of I can do whatever I want. I can-
Chris Badgett: Get it done.
Pippin W.: Yeah. I’ll jump in. I have no problem being on the front line. It was a natural challenge for me to let go of doing certain things and delegating those out. A lot of our initial team members that came on either did complementary work to me. For example, the first people that I brought on were there to help with customer support, but I was still doing customer support. I didn’t replace myself. I just added on because I couldn’t handle all of it. I was still doing just as much as they were. Next was development. I hired a couple developers. I was doing just as much development as they were. That expanded out. More developers, more support. It took, at least, a couple of years before I had truly offloaded tasks that’s why I stopped doing it.
Today, I do very little of the development. Up until about a month ago, I still get a lot of the support. Now, I’m working on stepping out of the support site as well. My main challenge has always been delegate. I think some people might ask if it has to do with trust. I know that I can do the job well. Do I trust someone else to do the job? Well, it’s not that. I’ve never had a problem with trust, the only people that I hire or people that I trust 100% anyway. Look, if I can’t trust you with the keys to the business, why are you here? If I can’t trust you, then you shouldn’t be here. It has nothing to do with trust.
Okay. Let me give you a very specific example. I recently delegated or worked with one of my team members to take over handling fraud cases and charge disputes and things like that. We’ll have sales come through, they’ll either get disputed as fraud or somebody disputes it as, “I didn’t like it” or whatever. I have always handled those myself. I’ll go to Strife. I’m going to work on any of the disputes. I recently assigned that over to one of my team members to take over, but I’d get an email every time a dispute pops up. I inherently just dive in and start doing it. I’m like, “Whoa, wait a minute. No. Stop. I was supposed to give this over here. He is supposed to handle that. I shouldn’t do that.” I just naturally do things. I, now, have to tell myself, “No. Stop. Hold on. Somebody else is going to do it. You don’t need to do it.” That’s been an interesting transition for me.
I think this last year, the last 365 days, was when I really started to recognize the effects of that because I actually have a lot of days this last spring and summer bored in my office. Now, I say bored because it’s what I recognize is, I was sitting there trying to … I’m used to having a big long to do as if, “Here’s what I’m going to work, here’s what I’m working on today.” I started, at times, when I realized that I had nothing explicitly assigned to my to do list for that day. I’m like “I have to figure out what to do. What am I going to do? All of the stuff that I was going to work on is now taken care of.” It has been a great opportunity because then, in the same way that boredom encourage is a breeder of creativity, all of a sudden, now, I realized, “Oh, I’ve got three hours. I’m here until five o’clock before I go home. I’ve got, at least, three hours to do something. What am I going to do? Where can I just put my time?” Getting used to that has been an interesting aspect of leadership that I had not anticipated.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s super interesting. I call this …
Pippin W.: I keep telling my-
Chris Badgett: … slow down to move fast. Before you jump on that fraud dispute charge back thing, you’ve got to slow down. Once you empower your team, your company starts moving faster, which then frees your capacity.
Pippin W.: Right. Absolutely. Well, that’s precisely what has happened. It took a little while to recognize that as I keep telling my team like “I hired myself out of a job.” Now, I make it a new job for myself.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s really cool. Just as a side question on team, I come across this where I’ll create a job description or I’ll pull out an isolated thing like you’re talking about fraud and disputes and whatever and move that over to somebody else, how much do you focus on the job description versus the person? If you know a great person and maybe they don’t fit into the box of whatever the job title is perfectly but they have the skillsets, how do you do that because I’m sure you have a diversity?
Pippin W.: We just don’t do it.
Chris Badgett: No job title? Is that what you mean?
Pippin W.: We have no job titles.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Pippin W.: We don’t have titles. We don’t have job descriptions. We started to think about that a little bit more this year as we’ve grown. We’re starting to get to the point where it’s a little bit more important to actually have titles for people, not to give them a role but to explain what they do to new people. For example, we brought on a new person, brought on a couple of new people to this last six months, but one of them that came on was coming in from a very different work experience was not super involved and the WordPress world was not involved with development. When she came on, it so then became important to explain, what does Chris do, what does Andrew do. Like, sure you can ask me or you can ask them but if you want to go and read about on, let’s say, your first day, you want to know who all your co-workers are even though we’re remote and you’re talking it in in slack, also, it is important to have a description of what everybody does. That was interesting. That was not something I had considered.
As we grow, we start to recognize the importance of those kinds of things for more. An example of an idea is that all of the original crew, which is four to five people, they came on after I sent them a Twitter DM and said, “Hey, want to come to work? Awesome. See you tomorrow.” Things have to formalize a little bit more as we get bigger. That’s been a little bit of challenge. When it comes to job descriptions, we don’t really do job descriptions unless we’re doing a job posting, which has only happened once or twice. Most of the people that we have have joined us organically, but everybody that we bring on is, it’s made known that they have the flexibility to do anything they want to the company. We will bring them on for a specific role or for a specific job and sure, we could get that a job description, but they have the flexibility to move within the company.
If they come in doing customer support and recognize that they really enjoy a different aspect of this thing, they have the freedom to move over there and make themselves the most valuable as they can where their skills can be put to the most use. If that means that they move from customer support to marketing or they move from customer support development, that’s great because honestly, if you’re better in that, that you are customer support, I don’t want you to be customer support anymore. Of course, I want you to, but it would be silly to not recognize where the most value is. We don’t get people set titles or job descriptions because … just because you know how to write code doesn’t mean that is your job. Your job is where you are the most valuable to the company. One of our developers is a really good data analyst. He does a lot with Google analytics, but we don’t put Google analytics at the job description. We don’t just say you’re a developer either because it becomes limited.
Chris Badgett: I love that. That’s Twittable there. Your jobs is where you contribute the most value to the company. That’s a great word of a credit. I do need to ask you one more question before we wrap up as being a leader in the WordPress community. What is your advice for end users and WordPress companies to navigate the transition with Gutenberg that’s coming? I know that’s kind of a big question, but what is … People are just trying to figure out the future and deal with change. What’s your take on this whole thing?
Pippin W.: Well, I have a bunch of different opinions on it. For end users, I think, for anybody that is actually that’s familiar with following it as an end user, be patient. Can I say something bluntly?
Chris Badgett: Sure. Yeah.
Pippin W.: Shit’s going to break.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Pippin W.: Shit is going to break everywhere. This is not because the core team is building something unreliable. It’s not because plugin developers build things. It’s just that there is a ton of moving parts. If we look at the overall WordPress ecosystem, there is WordPress core, there’s always plugins, there’s all these themes, there’s always platforms built on top of it. The possibility of everything just working perfectly together out of the box is just not going to happen. I would love to say let’s keep the reality, but it’s not. As Gutenberg comes around, things are going to be able to rough. Be patient. I think in the end, it will work out well and it will be beneficial to everybody once the rough edges get smoothed out.
As a product creator, one of the challenges, and so we don’t know what it’s going to look like in the end. It’s a little hard for us to prepare for it at the moment. Sure, there’s rough ideas and we could participate in development discussions. We can participate in testing, et cetera, but we’re not really sure what the final picture is going to be. We can’t tell you, “This is the way that Easy Digital Download is going to be with Gutenberg” because we don’t know. We won’t know for a while. For end users, you need to be patient but let us obviously tell people feedback, tell product creators feedback. If you have things that you rely on, plugins, themes, et cetera, let them know but yeah, be patient with them. Yeah, I hope that it works out really, really well. I think we’re going to have an interesting next year.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. In all that, there’s a leadership opportunity, there’s new businesses that can be born on the back of this change and helping people adapt or it can draw a line in the sand of, “That was then, this is now.” Any software, a major release when 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 typically has major changes like this. It’s a natural process.
Pippin W.: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, I want to thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for everything that you do. If you’re …
Pippin W.: It’s been my pleasure, Chris.
Chris Badgett: … listening to this or watching the video, I’d encourage you to check out especially AffiliateWP. If you want to add an affiliate program to your courses, your memberships, and then just check out all the other stuff that Pippin is up to. You can find him at pippin.com as well. Yeah, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. I enjoyed this conversation immensely.
Pippin W.: My pleasure.

EPISODE 170

How to Create Courses, Workshops, Memberships, and Community that Create Learner Results Fast with Erin Flynn

Welcome to this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Today we discuss how to create courses, workshops, memberships, and community that create learner results fast with Erin Flynn. Erin shares her story, and she and Chris talk about what goes into creating a solid course with high completion rates.

Erin was working as a web designer, and her clients would tell her about the bad experiences they had had with previous web developers, from a lack of communication to just plain disappearing. Erin saw these negative experiences as an opportunity to help web developers with the business part of their service, so they would not have these terrible reputations with clients.

Many web design contractors have problems with customer support, and the problems tend to stem from a lack of communication. So Erin created PDF downloads with email templates the designers could use to respond to difficult clients, so they were not stuck thinking of different ways to deal with customer support. Because, after all, customer support is not their expertise.

The agency Erin had started grew and was doing very well with bigger websites and bigger projects, but she got very sick and was out of commission for months, which hurt her bottom line badly. Erin realized that if she did more online courses with her content, she could still make money even if she has to take time off of work or goes on vacation. So now the main focus of her business is teaching other web designers and developers how to take on clients.

Most of the time the purpose of taking an online course is to learn a skill or solve a problem you are having. Chris and Erin talk about how important it is to be results driven and provide your students with ways to put their knowledge into action and to get a result out of the content they have learned in your course.

Having easily consumable content is important as well. Not having your courses take too much time is key. If your students can finish the course in one day of work or in one weekend, it will incentivize them to get it done and not procrastinate. Erin has also found that having one video rather than many modules is much more actionable and your students are much more likely to complete it.

Chris and Erin talk about the value of guest experts and how they can contribute to your content when venturing into a topic you don’t feel right teaching. Building a community around your product or service helps to add other voices to your product or service, and it offers a level of social support that is self-regulating.

To learn more about Erin Flynn head over to ErinFlynn.com and check out her the Setting Up Camp, Client First Aid, and Reaching The Summit programs she has there.

You can subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name’s Chris Badgett, and I’m joined with a special guest, Erin Flynn, coming to us from Colorado. How are you doing, Erin?
Erin Flynn: I’m good, thank you for having me on.
Chris Badgett: Erin is a kindred spirit, we have a lot in common. We’ve done web design, agency work, we’ve built courses. We’re really into helping other entrepreneurs and her course creation and membership site journey is really interesting as a case study and we’re going to kind of get into it, see what she’s done, see what she’s working on, why she made certain decisions, how those are working out, and I think you’re going to learn a lot from Erin. You can check her out at ErinFlynn.com. And we’re going to be talking about a lot of the stuff that you can see and get over to over there. But my first question for you Erin is you ran an agency or you built websites for clients, can you tell us a little bit about that transition point from building websites to helping web designers?
Erin Flynn: Yeah. So I really started noticing that my clients were coming to me and telling me how they fired their last web designer or developer because there is lack of communication or they fell off the face of the earth or things like that and what I was noticing was the people they were mentioning were actually better designers and developers than I felt like I was at the time, but they were dropping the ball when it came to basic business skills, and just talking to their clients.
So I realized that if I was able to help these designers and developers with the business part, then they would be getting their clients, they’d be making their money and they wouldn’t have these terrible reputations online they were getting. Because as you know, a lot of freelancers are known for falling off the face of the earth and that it creates a real problem. So I thought maybe I could start teaching them a few different things and the first thing that I did was I actually created a kind of an eBook, just a PDF with email templates for bad clients and really what bad clients are is just there’s a lack of communication most of the time. Where you just need to pull them back on track or set better boundaries and so these email templates helped with that and that was back in 2014.
And then I kept still doing my agency and my agency grew and we started doing bigger websites and bigger projects and that was all going really well but last year I got very sick. I was in the hospital, I had surgery and I was out of commission for months which really hurt my bottom line very badly. So what I realized was if I had more courses then I could still make money if something happened or if I went on vacation. So I really started this past year working more on the courses and the teaching which I found out that I actually really love.
So now that is the main focus of my business is teaching other web designers and developers and while I still do take on some client projects, I get to be super picky about who I work with because I don’t have to work with clients right now which is kind of a really great place to be.
Chris Badgett: I love that, where were you in 2009 when I was first getting started because I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache, learned a lot of some of the things you teach and would have been super helpful for me. But that’s all right, the next generation can benefit from your courses and your membership.
Erin Flynn: Yeah sorry, 2009 I was serving coffee. I was definitely not helping anybody unless they needed a latte.
Chris Badgett: I totally resonate with your story in terms of clients. When I would do web design work, we’d do a discovery session or have pre-sales calls. But as a service provider, I’d always start at a disadvantage because oftentimes the client had a bad experience with the previous web person and I’m playing catch up. But pretty quickly when they see the good communication, it really puts them at ease because that’s what was lacking in the last one. So I like that you really zeroed in on that. Tell us about the email templates that you started with, so what were those?
Erin Flynn: So I would go around like Facebook groups and I mean I had my own share of problems with clients too, and so I had already had situations where I’d say actually you can’t call me on Sunday morning because I’m not working or things like that. I had already had some emails that I had written myself and used on my client’s to set better boundaries. But then I also was like looking around Facebook groups and social media whenever I saw somebody complaining about, “I’ve got this client who like they’re just impossible to work with. Like I don’t understand what they’re saying in their emails, blah-blah-blah.” And I would say, “Well, why don’t you just harp on Skype with them and here’s how you say, hey, I’m not getting what you’re saying. Let’s please harp on Skype call where we can screen share,” and so I would just write that you email and basically like give it to people.
And then I realized, I could like put all of these together and then people can just get this huge … I think I have 84 different … it’s like 40 some situations with like 84 different responses depending on how you want to respond because sometimes you want to be nice and give them wiggle room and other times you just have to be flat like no, this is not happening. So it’s grown over the years a lot.
Chris Badgett: That is super cool. That idea of templates, like not just teaching, like, “Okay, this is how to have better communication with clients, but when this scenario arises here’s if they’re on their good behavior, here’s template A. If they’re on their bad behavior, here’s is template B.” That’s really brilliant because when people are taking a course to become a better web designer, they’re looking for good ideas but they also need like actionable stuff which you’re totally short cutting that with things that they can use and that’s one way for people to learn. It’s not just hearing good ideas and information, it’s actually executing a script if you will sometimes as just part of the learning process.
Erin Flynn: And something with like a tough email, people would … because I Know, I used to do it too. Agonize for hours, like wow how do I say this, how do I tell this person what I need to tell them without making them mad or all of these different things that go through your head. Like, “Are they going to hate me?” And we often want to justify. I noticed something that a lot of people do is they send like these emails that are like six pages long saying, “This is hurting me and it’s making me feel bad.” I’m like, “No, you don’t need to do that. Here’s the two paragraphs you need send and that’s it and you don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to stress about it. Like this is polite, it’s to the point and I’m not saying that you would never ever get a client who responds poorly to that, but for the most part you just need to be very polite, clear and not go on and on about it and don’t spend three days stressing about how to respond. Just copy paste and move on.
Chris Badgett: It’s awesome. So it’s you’re almost like not just a teacher but you’re also like a guide or even a secret weapon of some kind. I know in terms of “firing” a client, the first time I ever had to do that I probably thought about it for quite a long time, obsessive the email, write it but if I had had somebody like you with your course and I put the template out and be like all right, “Maybe I’ll tweak it a little bit, so it sounds like me,” but you would have saved me like days and lots of mental stress and anguish just by having a template and I think that’s the big takeaway for the course creator out there. Is be a guide, not just a conveyor of information.
I wanted to get in a little bit to some more of your course topics and kind of unpack a bunch of scenarios around those but before we do that, could you kind of describe your three entry points to what you offer. You have the setting up camp, you have this client first aid and then you have reaching the summit. What are these different levels of engagement?
Erin Flynn: Yeah, so setting up camp is basically my free membership, it’s a great way to see how I teach and get a feel for what I do. So it’s got like the basic stuff. So if you’re starting a web design business or you’re kind of struggling with basic things like how much money you need to make in a year, that’s what base camp has and that’s a great place to get started. If you’re just kind of confused about what you should be doing in terms of your business. And then client first aid is once I created those email templates, I became known very quickly for dealing with nightmare clients. So client first aid is kind of just a list of all of the resources that I have for nightmare clients. I have a freebie course, I have the templates that we’ve talked about and then I have a bunch of articles on my blog about dealing with bad clients and how sometimes they’re actually not that bad.
But that’s kind of where a lot of people share my stuff. They’re like, “Erin knows how to … she’s got an email template for this or she’s got information on how to deal with your situation.” So I have basically all that put together right there and most of it’s free, the only paid part of that is the email templates. And then the summit is the expedition which is my membership program. So that’s more focused, that’s more for people who have been in the web design business for a year or two and who are struggling to get to the next level. Where they’re doing okay, but they’re still struggling month to month worrying about where their next clients are going to come from and how to actually make their business grow to the point where they’re not worried every month and they’re not working with clients that they dislike. And that’s a lot more focus, it’s a much smaller group where we have more in-depth discussions and I do more like Facebook lives and stuff and stuff in that group.
Chris Badgett: Awesome so three key points I want to highlight there is you’re giving away an incredible amount for free. So like the top of the funnel isn’t just a little eBook or checklist, you’re giving away a ton of value, you’re building trust, you’re getting people results in advance of asking for money. That’s really admirable and I love the idea that the templates are paid. In marketing you might call that like a trip wire or something like that where there’s like they’re not committed to the membership yet but they’re testing the waters with a pay product from you that’s really valuable. And it’s focused at a high value problem when things are really intense or somebody’s looking for a lifeline. Those are good places to put the product.
And then the other thing, probably the most important is you’re super focused. This is the same, person, the same prospect or prospect of student or student at different stages. The summit like you mentioned maybe they’re a little more advanced, they’ve two years into it and now they’re looking to scale or grow or get over some bad habits and that kind of thing or they’re struggling in the beginning. It’s the same person you’re just super focused, you’re not getting distracted on who you’re trying to serve. You’re just helping them at different stages which is really awesome.
Erin Flynn: I will say I was not always that organized. I had to go back and make sure everything made sense and figure out where things put in and I actually killed off a couple courses and programs that I had that did not fit in.
Chris Badgett: Like what?
Erin Flynn: So I had like a WordPress course on how to create a website. We all do, we all put that up there and think that we’re going to be the best like WordPress teacher ever and no, at least I wasn’t. I had that and I didn’t really fit in because then that was focused for not the business aspect, that was focused on the tech aspect and I don’t particularly like teaching tech because it changes so rapidly. In fact as soon as I created that course, they were press dashboard change two weeks later and so it looked outdated. So I pulled that course out and I like re-figured things a little bit so that it made sense for my students to go on a complete journey with me instead of coming in for one thing and then leaving because that wasn’t a good way to retain them as students.
That wasn’t a good way to make a really good impact on their business because they would come in, learn how to use Word Press and then say, “Well, why don’t you have the next level which I didn’t want to create and why don’t you have all of this training on how to create my own plugin or this and that. All these stuff that I didn’t necessarily want to do. So when I refocused on just the business part, the path became much more clear.
Chris Badgett: That is super cool. And I just want to highlight some points in that. One is that you said something that was evergreen was nice. Like having good communication with clients it’s pretty evergreen. The templates there will stand the test of time and the other is you said you stayed, you brought it back and you stayed focused on the business problems as opposed to the industry expertise technology implementation in this case for the web designer. And I think that’s super cool and it brings a layer of focus to what you offer. When I look out into the landscape of niches and I see all kinds of niches but they usually typically fall under different buckets. The main three buckets being business, health and relationships.
So if you’re watching this and you see Erin taking business knowledge, a part of business knowledge into another niche like the technical web design industry, there’s that overlap there. Like if you were to take, you could take that same customer and teach them about health and that’s what you just Googled nerd fitness and you’ll see a guy who teaches people who work from home or web design folks or people who are on the computer a lot how to get in shape. And there’s probably somebody out there with a relationships course for tech entrepreneurs. Just be really clear on where you are because I think it’s really easy especially if you’re scratching your own itch and you’re one of those people who your target market is, you can kind of expand out but sometimes you lose the focus and you also lose the positioning of what exactly it is like where you fit in the marketplace.
I think that’s super cool what you did there and sometimes cutting things away is actually part of improving the membership, not necessarily growing the catalog to a thousand programs.
Erin Flynn: And I do have a lot of programs.
Chris Badgett: Let’s talk about those programs, when I looked at them and if you want to look at what we’re talking about here, just head on over to ErinFlynn.com and find the membership. PS. Write Soon; how to stay in touch with past clients. I’m just going to name some of these off. How to create a good buy packet, a welcome packet. So these are like tactical. How much money do you need to make; how to price your services; how to create emergency procedures; these are all issues that I’ve had to deal with as a web designer and this is just such a time saver. Like the value proposition here is very clear to me because I’m in this industry, I understand it. How to raise your web design rates. I sold my first website for $300 and it was not sustainable. It was part of my journey but I’m sure you’ve got some really valuable stuff in there.
Niching and positioning which we were just talking about. How to get testimonials; how to create a business that fits your life and plan your ideal week. So I’m sure that has to do with not burning out and being mindful of your schedule and work life balance. Email funnels; how to get web design clients; how to present and take feedback. You just got so much stuff in here. A beginner’s guide to ConvertKit. There’s just a ton in here but I think the thing I really like about this, is this isn’t one course called “How to be an awesome web designer.” Each course at its central core focuses on a problem or an opportunity. How did you get so focused in terms of dividing things up?
Erin Flynn: Well I definitely did not start that way. I had a big course that was basically when I figured everything you need to know for your web design business. It was too big, nobody, nobody completed that course. I had like 100 students and literally no one got through it.
Chris Badgett: I haven’t [inaudible 00:17:34] by the way. I call that the resource course, it is the most dangerous, deadly and lethal course for an expert to create because they can keep putting stuff in it, keep putting stuff in it.
Erin Flynn: And it just didn’t work and especially it was also really hard for me to sell because people were like, “Well I want this module but I don’t need this other one.” I was like, well this isn’t working. So I talked to my audience and I did a couple live webinars, like no-pitch webinars where I taught them how to do a specific thing and that went over really, really well. So I started with the intro packet webinar. I did it live, I got feedback from them as it was going and afterwards about what they liked and what they didn’t and then I used that as kind of the model for everything that I’ve made since then where it’s one specific problem. You can typically do it in an afternoon or a weekend at the longest. If you want to create an intro packet, you can do it like set aside Friday, you’ll have it done by the end of the day.
And it’s something very actionable that they can get done without having to be like, “Oh, I have to wait three weeks for the next thing to be dripped out or to finish this part of it.” it’s like, “No, block your time, get it done and put it into action immediately,” and that’s worked so much better for my audience because we’re all busy. A lot of us are juggling families, with freelancing and sometimes full time jobs too. So anything that really takes more than a weekend was not getting done and I just wanted to make things. I didn’t want to just sell courses and make money without seeing results from my students. I wanted to see my students get results and make improvements in their businesses. So that model worked really well and then in the membership … okay, sorry.
Chris Badgett: I jump in and say that that laser like focus on the results is so key and that’s music to my ears as well. I get the most excited about in this industry and there’s a lot of focus on things like gamification, badge and certificates and stuff but there’s also this concept of finish lines and prizes. So if you tell me that if I take this course, there’s a potential finish line that’s only a couple of days away, and by the way, there’s going to be this prize at the end, like this intro packet will be created or this piece of a marketing funnel is going to be in place, or these templates are ready for me to use, that’s huge.
I think course design or membership design, people … their finish lines and their prizes shouldn’t necessarily always just come at the very end of something massive, like get people wins very quickly along the way. So, keep going. Tell us more about the membership.
Erin Flynn: Well, one thing that I did think of while you were chatting is … so my completion rate, like I said of that big course, zero, like a big fat zero facade. But my completion rate on the individual, like the individual workshop or somebody who goes and buys just one of them, the completion rate is like 86%. I think that’s really, really good.
Chris Badgett: You should be very proud of that.
Erin Flynn: There are other people who maybe just aren’t checking off the complete section, so it could even be higher.
Chris Badgett: Because it even be higher.
Erin Flynn: Than what I think.
Chris Badgett: So, that’s just a huge improvement to go from 0% to in the 80. And then in terms of the membership, what I’ve done is basically you get all of the courses or all the workshops that I currently have out, everything except the email templates, those are separate. But you get basically everything else and then anything else that I put out while you keep your membership active. So I’ve got … I tried monthly and I wanted to have a community around it and I found that the monthly was not good for a community because people would pop in and out, but yearly and like a lifetime has worked really well because people are in it for the long haul, they’re more serious about actually making improvements in their business and they contribute to community helping others as well.
And so they get all of the workshops as well as getting a little bit of like group coaching from me as well, which really helps me see what they need in their business, because everything that I make is based on what this group tells me like that they’re struggling with and I’m able to … If something’s not clear in a workshop, they say, “Hey, what happened in this scenario or I wasn’t clear on this part, can you go back?” And that allows me to actually make sure that they’re learning what they should be learning by purchasing the membership.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome. Let me dig into some specifics there. What is a workshop? Is that a course or is that something different?
Erin Flynn: Yes, so technically I think they’re all called courses because I use teachable and they just call them courses. But everything that I put out really is a workshop at this point, which
Chris Badgett: Why do you use that word?
Erin Flynn: Because a course I feel like is learning, is something you go and you learn. A workshop, you make something; you put something into action directly. So I wanted it to be clear you’re not just going to sit there and be a passive observer, you’re going to put things into action. And so, what they are now is they’re just typically one video and you have a couple that are written instead because the format works better. But they’re typically a video between 20 to 60 minutes, so they’re short and it walks you through everything you need to know. There’s no fluff, there’s none of that, you know, “let me tell you my life story,” type thing. It’s like just straight down to business, here’s what we’re going to do, here are the steps and you can pause it and you can fill out the worksheet like as you go.
But I didn’t want to break it down into like modules because then I found that people don’t complete those because they pause after a module and then they never go back, but if it’s one video, they get it done and they actually create the thing they’re supposed to create, which was my biggest thing I wanted them to do what I was teaching.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. And can you define what you do for community? Is that a Facebook group or what is that?
Erin Flynn: It’s currently a Facebook group. I really would love to do something better, for all of my audience they just hang out on Facebook and getting them to move to forums, I tried that and it did not work, so it’s just a Facebook for now.
Chris Badgett: Facebook is saving the world, if you can’t … I mean there is a thing to use where people are. I mean if they’re there, I don’t know, it’s good. What about group coaching, is that a monthly like Zoom call or webinar? What is it?
Erin Flynn: So I use BeLive, it’s a Facebook app type thing where you go live in Facebook, so I tell them, I’m going to be live at this time, it creates a post a couple days before so they can get reminders and then they just hop on Facebook, and if they’re on Facebook already, which they normally are, they get notified that I’m alive, and so they can ask questions. And I typically keep it kind of related to the workshop that came out that month, so it’s somewhat on topic, but I also open it up to any questions at the end because people have joined at different times and they might have questions that don’t relate to that month’s workshop.
But that’s like a good way, because I can’t possibly serve 100 people one-on-one, and it’s a good way for people to hop on when they have specific questions and get my without them having to book like a mentorship program or something even more expensive and maybe they just have a quick question that needs five minutes.
Chris Badgett: That makes sense, and that was monthly you said?
Erin Flynn: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Chris Badgett: And are you rolling out a new course every month?
Erin Flynn: I’m currently rolling out a new course every month and I have content planned through 2018, and at that point I’m going to have like 40 courses and I’ll probably be like we’re in a slow our role and maybe do quarterly or something because at that point no one’s going to be able to get through that much content in a realistic time frame anyhow.
Chris Badgett: And I just want to highlight what you said about listening to your people and what they’re struggling with. So is that where you form new courses from?
Erin Flynn: Yeah, so and they can request courses and also … so if they have questions in the Facebook group, I make notes of that that I can make a course about and I also survey them every so often, like what do you want to learn next? What’s format is working best for you to learn from, which is why I actually did a couple written pieces of content with nobody here recently because people always say, “It’s busy, like I’m busy this time of year. I just want something I can read without having to watch.” So I did that. And then I also send out, after they’ve been in the expedition for a while, I send out a survey and say, “What do you want to learn next?” And I ask them like all sorts of questions about how they learn best, because I really do want to tailor it to my audience not just be like, “I feel like making this and then it doesn’t work for them.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome, taking a real data driven feedback approach, being a listener and just being open-minded. I think there’s so much value and you’re really setting a really good example with that. Let’s talk a little bit about the stack of coaching courses or workshops, membership … And you may want to get into live events. Before we talk about live events, is there anything else in the stack there?
Erin Flynn: I think that’s it, that sounds right. I’ve tried a bunch of different things, but yeah I think that’s current.
Chris Badgett: One of the things people explore adding to a stack, which I think you’re looking at through your live event is masterminding. What would your approach to starting a mastermind work look like?
Erin Flynn: Do you mean a mastermind specifically for my audience, or …?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Like a live event, or would it not be a mastermind, what would you do at your live event?
Erin Flynn: Well, at a live event, how I envision that is maybe around 10 to 20 people getting together who are all similar levels of business, who can come and probably have some sort of a specific goal in mind, where they … either they want to double their revenue or they want to spend less time working, or something like that. So everybody’s very similar with their outcome and then we can talk through what works for some people and what doesn’t and come up with things that are specific, because everybody’s business is different and you can’t just say, “You have to do X, Y and Z and it works because that doesn’t necessarily work for everybody.
But I would want everybody to have kind of specific goals and probably spend like three days, where we can really dive deep into those things and see what in their business needs restructuring, because I restructure my business pretty much every time I need to, but yearly I do a big review and say, “This is not working for me from this past year and I want to try this instead.” And that takes a long time to plan out on your own, but when you have somebody else to give you feedback or somebody who’s done something similar, it can happen much faster. And I think that would be a really great way to do a live event with some specific goal like double your revenue in 2018 or whatever. Where it’s not just, “we’re all just getting together and figuring it out,” which is fine sometimes, but as you can tell by my courses and workshops is like I want something, I want them to go home like with a plan that they can put into place immediately.
Chris Badgett: Where does that focus come from for you? Or like this obsession with results and specificity? Do you?-
Erin Flynn: I think … well, in my early years of business, I spent thousands of dollars on courses that promised the world and then didn’t deliver. Even you’d follow everything in the course and you didn’t get the results that you were expecting. And I just don’t want to be a person that creates content like that. I want people to feel like they got their money’s worth, they are able to make changes and they really accomplish something instead of, “I now know everything about pricing, but I still don’t have my prices together.” Like that doesn’t work for me.
Chris Badgett: Well, that’s super good. I want to ask you some questions just around the business model. The first one is just about bringing guest experts into the fold. Why do you do it and how does it work?
Erin Flynn: I did it because I’m not an expert in everything and I will never pretend to be. There are things that I am not very strong at and I just I don’t feel right teaching, but that I’ve had requests to learn about. So ConvertKit was one of them in terms of like how to set everything up. I’ve set on my own, but I’m not going to tell people how to set up theirs because I don’t do that. So the woman that I brought in, she’s a convert kit certified expert, that’s her job, day in and day out, is she sets up people’s convert kit accounts and tells them how to do that. So I brought her in because that was something that people wanted to know how to do.
I brought in Joe Casabona to teach about how to use a Beaver Builder because I’ve used it on my website and then now I’m starting to use it on some clients’ sites. But at the time, I was like, “I’m not qualified to teach this, but he knows it pretty well inside and out.” So, because a lot of my students were coming from something like square spaces and they wanted to do WordPress to have more power, they just didn’t know how to get started. I’m like, “He’s Beaver Builder, it’s super easy.” So that was a really great for those kinds of requests where they say, “Well, I want to get started, but I don’t know how to deal with this coding stuff.
And I have other experts, and the expert things tend to be a little bit techier overall, not all of them, but because I don’t like teaching tech and I don’t like staying on top of it, I know that I can go back to Joe. Sometime in 2018 it will be like, “Hey, do you have an updated Beaver Builder thing that you want to teach people? I he’ll … that’s what he does. He teaches stuff, so it’s no big deal for him to do an update as he’s in it all the time and he understands it. So that always works better for me in terms of keeping things updated too.
Chris Badgett: That’s cool. What about having a big course catalog here, which do you do more volume in or which performs better for you? A la carte individual course sales or the membership?
Erin Flynn: It is … I’m trying to think what the actual percentage split is, the membership I think is about 60% and the about 40% with individuals sales.
Chris Badgett: So some people are coming in with a specific problem, you’d be like, “This looks great, but I just need this one right now,” and then some people are like, “I’ll take it all.”
Erin Flynn: Exactly.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that makes sense. You have an annual and a lifetime option on your membership I believe, why did you put that in place and how does that work out? What are you finding with people in that?
Erin Flynn: Well, I mentioned earlier that I had tried monthly and it was not working for the community. So when I switched to annual, I knew that people are going to at least be committed for a year, they’re going to be in the group for a year. And so I really wanted to do that because it just … it felt better. It felt like this is something where I can actually help them as well as they can actually participate because if they’re just hopping in for a month, I get that. Like I totally get … getting those deals and taking as many courses as you can, like I think that we’ve all probably done that at some point. But in terms of the community, it wasn’t working for me.
And then I have a few people who requested lifetime. They said, “You know I really don’t want to pay yearly, I don’t like subscriptions, I know that I’m going to want everything that you put out, so do you have another option for this without me buying everything individually?” And that’s not a huge percentage, but I do have a few people who have been with me like for years, they’ve bought all of my courses so far and they just wanted that one time like, “Please give me everything.” So that’s why the lifetime is there for those people.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. If you do one thing like very, very, very well is listen to your customers. It’s amazing. What about just a small side note, a lot of people are interested in having a Facebook group add on or is it an up sale or whatever. How do you manage that? Like after the year goes by, somebody doesn’t renew or pay again, how do you manage the Facebook group in terms of people wooing people out or what’s your system there?
Erin Flynn: Unfortunately with Facebook it’s all manual, so fortunately, now that the monthly membership is not an option anymore, with yearly it’s not so big of a deal, because with the monthly, people would hop in and out, so I was constantly approving them and then removing them and approving them. It was kind of a nightmare. But with the yearly, is not that big of a deal, so if they don’t renew, I guess if I’m unteachable and so I know they haven’t renewed or they’ve cancelled their subscription and then they just get … I just go in and remove them from the group and it’s never really been that big of an issue because I don’t have a huge churn rate, especially now that monthly is gone.
So it’s really not too bad, but I do wish there was like … and I tried to set this up in Zapier, it did not work. They could just like get pulled out immediately, but it is a manual process now. So, if somebody is busy, I do not recommend the Facebook group option, because there’s no good way that I have found to automate that.
Chris Badgett: What do you think is … if someone’s thinking of adding a community component besides you being the expert and having his workshops, doing the coaching calls, adding new workshops over time, what does a community add that’s valuable to people?
Erin Flynn: I think the community adds other voices, and again I’m not an expert in every single thing, so people will ask about what’s the best plugin for this or how can I make this happen on a website? And I don’t know and my Google is as good as theirs, so I don’t have the experience. So if somebody else has done that, then they can explain it and get everything, help them set up and say, “Here’s an example of how I’ve done this, here’s how everything’s hooked together.” And I think getting those kind of tech things is really helpful, but not even just tech, but business things where they say, “Oh, what’s the best time to become an LLC.” Well it’s different for everybody, but everybody talks about when it was appropriate for them to become a real business, then that can help somebody decided when’s the right time for them as well.
So I think just having those different voices is really helpful because everybody’s different and everybody’s got a different situation that they’re dealing with, and I can’t be like that though all knowing Erin as much as that sounds amazing, I just don’t know everything.
Chris Badgett: That’s wonderful and for some education entrepreneurs out there, they’re either stuck in the mindset that they have to be the guru or they feel like they’re supposed to always be the expert. But sometimes as the education entrepreneur, I think the very act of creating the community, creating the space, that is what you’re doing and helping somebody else connect with somebody else and in some ways almost do your job for you in terms of “Okay, this person has a question about how to onboard a new client,” And somebody in the community gets to it before they take your course or gets to it in a different way than you did and it worked for the person, that’s fantastic.
That’s really cool and I think that’s part of the design of it all, is just in the stack is you’re just creating space and you’re also protecting space. I mean, I doubt you have to deal with much like moderation or stuff like that, but that’s part of the job of the organizer and the entrepreneur behind the whole thing. I have one more question for you, the last question has to do with how you … what do you do for marketing, how do you get new students or new members? And I can tell just by talking to you, looking at your website and how you approach things that word of mouth is huge for you. The results that your people get and just the value that they get, I’m sure it grows organically just through conversation of people who know other people in their industry who are struggling with the same problems, “Hey, come check out Erin’s site, she’s got it going on.” But besides word of mouth, what do you do to get new members?
Erin Flynn: I’ve tried Facebook ads with limited results. To be honest, I don’t know if I’m just bad at them, I probably should hire an expert there. But Pinterest has actually worked really well for me, because my audience is typically female web designers, they’re on Pinterest a lot. And they’re looking at different designs, and are looking at business things and that’s been really, really helpful in getting people back to my site and getting people to sign up for my free membership because they’re already on Pinterest looking. So I think I spend like twenty dollars a month to basically like whip my pins and bring in new people and that’s worked really, really well for me.
And then the other thing that has worked better for actually like consulting type things has been guest posting and podcast which has been interesting because people say, “Oh, I heard you on a podcast and I want to hire you, but I don’t want like your lower level stuff, what bigger programs do you have?” Which has been kind of crazy, because I didn’t have any before, and then I had to like quickly come up with some.
Chris Badgett: You’re always reacting to your audience and your … Which is amazing and just having that open mind, that’s awesome. Well, Erin, I want to thank you for coming on the show. For anybody listening out there, go check out Erin Flynn, that’s Erinflynn.com and check out her unstoppable options there. The Setting Up Camp, Client First Aid and Reaching The Summit and thank you for being an inspiration to the course building community and really laying out a lot of great ideas and concepts and talking about what’s working for you. I really appreciate it, I know the audience has gained a lot. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Erin Flynn: Yeah thank you so much for having me.

EPISODE 169

Affiliate Marketing, Building Teams, Sales Funnels, and Pop Ups for Course Creators with Syed Balkhi

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about affiliate marketing, building teams, sales funnels, and pop ups for course creators with Syed Balkhi. Chris and Syed discuss the different aspects that go into a successful online business, and where your attention should be directed when you are building your team and sales funnel.

Syed is an entrepreneur and the founder of many SaaS (Software as a Service) products, including OptinMonster, WPBeginner, WPForms, List25, Envira Gallery, and many more. If you have done any work in the WordPress space, you have most likely heard of at least one of Syed’s products. Even if you are new to the space, you’ve probably typed your email into one of the OptinMonster forms on the LifterLMS website.

When you first start in business you usually don’t have the money to hire someone to do the things that you aren’t good at or don’t know how to do, so you have to figure a lot of that out on your own.

When hiring people and creating business partnerships, you want to find someone who has qualities and skills that compliment your skillset. Syed also emphasizes how important it is to write down processes and make sure the person you’re hiring has everything they need to succeed. You want to avoid overloading the people you hire with too many tasks, because then they get confused and frustrated, and then you get frustrated because they are not able to execute on all of the tasks to your expectations.

Chris and Syed talk about how to create sales funnels that maximize the value of your customers and best help them accomplish what they are trying to do. A lot of course creators are missing out on a large opportunity to upsell some of their customers to a personal training or mastermind group that offers more exclusivity and personalization to the learning experience.

The easiest people to sell to are the people who already buy your products or services, so the best way to maximize your profit is to create multiple products or services that target the same audience and help them further solve their problem or solve another problem they may have. Having specific targeted sales funnels that embody why someone came to your site is a great way to maximize the value of leads and get more customers.

Chris and Syed discuss the different ways you can use affiliate marketing to improve your lead generation machine and how you should go about getting your affiliates. Syed and Chris talk about how companies like ShareASale or Impact Radius give you great advantages when it comes to fraud detection. They also allow you to focus on growing your business rather than spending your time handling the payments and tax information.

Figuring out what percentages you should pay your affiliates can also be tricky, and it depends on what your profit margins are for the most part. If you are selling a software product, you will likely be able to pay more commission than on physical products. But Syed believes that it can be dangerous to give your affiliates above 50% of the sale, because this can disincentivize you to deliver on the product because you won’t be making that much on the sale.

To learn more about Syed Balkhi check out OptinMonster and Syed’s other products, WPBeginner, Envira Gallery, MonsterInsights, WPForms, Soliloquy, and List25.

You can subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m joined today by a special guest, Syed Balkhi from Awesome Motive. You may not know Syed from the name Awesome Motive, but I guarantee you’ve heard of some or all of his products. He has a SaaS, or Software as a Service, called OptinMonster, which a lot of WordPress users and other users use as well. We use it at LifterLMS.com. I guarantee you probably at some point have entered your email address into OptinMonster pop up on the LifterLMS website.
He is also the creator of WPForms, Envira Gallery, Soliloquy Slider. There’s an OptinMonster plugin to make OptinMonster awesome on WordPress. That’s in his WordPress ecosystem. If that wasn’t enough, Syed is also the founder of WPBeginner and List25, which are some media sites that have all kinds of information around WordPress, or List 25 gets into all kinds of interesting articles for entertainment and all that. You’ve probably come across those at some point on Facebook or somewhere.
First, Syed, thanks for coming on the show.
Syed Balkhi: Thanks for having me.
Chris: It’s really a honor to have you here. I’ve learned so much from you over the years. Even just watching what you do and reading stuff on your sites. I refer people at lifterlms. Sometimes when they have a support question that has nothing to do with lifterlms, do a google search, there’s the WPBeginner article at the top. Send ’em right over to that article. You’ve really just built a lot of great WordPress products, the media site there and OptinMonster has been a big part of how we grow our e-mail list and just do segmentation and get people what they need and when they are looking for it at the right time, and also capture traffic that we may not capture otherwise.
I’m just honored to have you on the show. I’m really honored to introduce you to the course building community here at LMScasts, people building memberships sites and courses that are looking for growth. You are kind of like the growth guy. When you touch something it just gets bigger. Things just tend to improve. You have a lot of strengths and I was gonna just kind of pick your brain about a bunch of topics.
Syed Balkhi: That’s the only thing I’m good at.
Chris: I’m sure you are good at a lot of other things too. Well, one of the things I just want to talk to you about first in watching you over the years and meeting you and some of your team, you are very good at building a team around a project or multiple projects and knowing what you are strong at. Knowing where somebody else is a better fit to do that part of the job. Can you talk a little bit about your transition from beginner solo entrepreneur to team builder and just give us some examples.
A lot of people building courses, I see it where they just burn out. They try to wear all these different hats. Maybe they are good at teaching, but they are not good at marketing. Maybe they are good at marketing, but they don’t really have the expertise, or they are not good at the technology to put on the internet. How do you build teams?
Syed Balkhi: It’s an interesting transition. When you are first starting out you usually don’t have the money to hire somebody to do the stuff. You start learning how to do all these things. You might not be good at everything, but you are okay at just about most things that you need to do. A lot of times entrepreneurs have a hard time making the transition or even knowing when is the time that you have to hire someone.
Over the years, I’ve hired, fired and failed at hiring. I think this is still something I’m growing and learning and getting better at. You probably heard the saying, “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.” That’s pretty common in the online marketing space. One of the first times that I ventured into outsourcing, I looked at the Philippines. One of the first tasks I outsourced was writing. Writing research, not just all of writing, but writing research.
I figured that I can write up articles really, really fast if I have all the right facts. I basically looked over at Philippines and start hiring virtual assistants, VAs. You pay them 300, 400, to 500 bucks tops, max at that time. They were working for me full time.
Chris: That’s per month right?
Syed Balkhi: That’s per month. If you have a membership site maybe that’s probably the cost of one membership sold in most cases. It’s totally a good investment. Are they going to be as good as you? Likely not. If you find one, you should let me know about it so I can hire them off of you, but likely they are not going to be as good as you are, but they will help you do one task. Take it off of your playlist. If you don’t do that, you are going to be burned out. You are going to start hating the [inaudible 00:05:22].
Basically, my philosophy is what you are good at, what you enjoy doing, do that. Everything else kind of go on. With OptinMonster, I can write code, but I’m not the best at it. I don’t do it very fast. I’m very slow. I have to look up a lot of things. I have to learn a lot of things so I partner with my co-founder in TTO Thomas Griffin on OptinMonster. He’s really, really phenomenal developer, but he’s not so good at the marketing piece. We were complimenting each other. We joined forces, created OptinMonster and then we started hiring.
Now, we have a pretty good hiring process in place. It’s a pretty automated process to a good extent. We post out to all the different job boards. People apply. We give them different test projects that are fairly automated. Once they’ve done all tests, [inaudible 00:06:17] interviews them and sees based on the responses who do we want to interview.
One of the things that in the early days I sucked at was writing down processes. I think I still am not very good at it, but slowly getting better. Writing everything down to make sure the person that you are hiring is going to succeed at the role that you are hiring them for. Also very clearly defining that role. When you are first starting out, you are like, “Well, you hire a virtual assistant and you are going to have them do 1,800 different things.” It’s going to frustrate you and frustrate them. They feel like they are not going to be doing the job right and obviously you are going to know they are not doing the job right, so both of you are frustrated.
Really clearly defining what are the three or five things that you want your virtual assistant to do. Have them do that. Maybe even make videos of you showing them how you would do a certain task so when you are bringing them on they can see, “Oh, okay this is how Syed does it. I need to do it this way” or they are like, “Syed, I know you do it this way, but I think this might be a better way,” which has happened to me a lot. Just because I’m doing it a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way of doing that.
Now we are 44 people team and grown over the years. I’m so glad that I’ve made that leap. A lot of times people are like, “Well, am I going to be able to pay that person full time?” Well, if you can’t then hire them part time. That’s also a thing. But $300 in Philippines or $500 in Philippines that’s super cheap. You should be able to afford that with your business. Make that transition. It’s going to save you time. The more time it saves you the better you are going to get at what you are doing and planning out where you are going. Not where you are at, but where do you want to go? How do you grow even further? It will give you that time.
Chris: Those are really good points. I like to say, “You got to move slow to move fast.” Sometimes you need to slow down for a second to create a job description or document a process and then you need to hire the right person who is not just going to execute the process, but also has the capability to improve it over time. Hopefully do it better than you on day one. That’s good stuff there.
Let me ask you some questions around current day. I’ve always been fascinated with this question and I see it in course creators too where some people really stick to one project, one course, they make it better, or one membership platform. Other people become serial entrepreneurs who want to just keep doing it. You appear to be a serial entrepreneur. What do you think it is inside of you that makes that serial thing happen?
Syed Balkhi: I don’t know if you’ve ever read … most good business books will have this similar concept of [inaudible 00:09:21] sales. Is the easiest person you can sell to is your existing customers. I give complimentary products so I can sell to my customers. Despite every single one of them came out from user suggestions. They are like, “We would love for you guys to build this” or I usually do a census once a year with the entire WPBeginner community and ask them, “Hey, what are some of the problems you are having? If you could have us build one product, what would it be and why?”
They will say, “We would love to use the form builder that’s actually easy for clients to use. Current ones, these are good, but the interface sucks. The process is to long and blah, blah, blah.” We are like, “Okay, that’s something we can build.” Or, “We would love for something that integrates google analytics really, really well,” and we are like, “Do we want to build or can we go about and buy one?” We bought Yost Analytics and rebranded to Monster Insights.
I would say the serial part, I don’t necessarily see as serial entrepreneurship. I see it as building complementary products for cross selling and up selling to increase the average lifetime value of a user that’s on your website or is in your community or is in your tribe. I would say I was a serial entrepreneur if I had an online business and then membership site and I was also running my doughnut shop and a bicycle repair place. I don’t know.
Chris: That makes sense. For the course creator, a lot of the talk these days has to do with high end program creation where online courses are a part of a bigger stack. You’ve got events, you have masterminds, you have productized services and you have this whole stack of other things. Maybe that’s a way to look at it, just serve your same customer with more offerings to solve their problems and get them more success.
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely. How can you add more value? How can you help them accomplish whatever they are trying to accomplish? Obviously if you are in a business, then you are solving a pain point. How can you do it better?
A lot of times I feel that course creators are missing out on an opportunity. They are giving it away by not doing some of the higher end stuff. Let’s say if you have a course, why not give exclusivity to certain people? If they want to pay to be in a mastermind with you and be able to talk with you and if that is something you enjoy doing, then that’s a great upsell. Otherwise, your funnel stops. Let’s say you brought ’em on off of Facebook ads, they join your lead magnet and then they went on to buy your course. Now what? That’s the interview funnel. You don’t have any profit maximizer. You don’t have any upsells. You don’t have any cross sells. You would never be able to make more money from that one user afterwards except for what they are paying.
You can say, “Well, I don’t really care about all that. I just want to make sure this user never leaves.” Well, that is a reality check. Most people in the membership site will leave. Nobody stays forever. That’s why attrition is a thing. Natural attrition is a thing.
Chris: That’s a really excellent point. Speaking of funnels, course creators out there, they have their course, their paid course, and the generic funnel that we describe that a lot of people start with is they’ll do an opt in to get what we call an e-mail mini course, something three to five e-mails to teach ’em something. Then at the end it pitches a free course on the website. The end of the free course teaches a paid course on the website. Then at the end of the paid course you can start building a membership with course bundles and all these different things. That’s a basic funnel.
Even that can be overwhelming for some people. If we just go back to the very top of the funnel of we’ve got somebody on our website. Let’s say we’ve created some free blog content around our expertise, how do we best optimize getting people on the top of the funnel and then converting, moving them further along from the end of the that opt in?
Syed Balkhi: Top of the funnel, it’s very interesting dynamics. Most people approach it differently and I feel they do it wrong in my opinion. They have one opt in and they run it across their entire site. They assume that everybody that comes to their website has a single problem. If that was the case, then you would only have one blog post on your website and not 30 and each are talking about usually 30 different things. You are not going to write 30 different blog posts talking about the same thing. That would be stupid.
I think you want to create lead magnets that are relevant to the specific blog post. You can call ’em content upgrades. That’s the word that we use within the OptinMonster community, content upgrades. Content upgrades don’t just have to be integrated inside your blog posts with a download downlink. You can also use exit intent to have a pop up. Have a very, very targeted lead magnet. You will see your conversion go significantly higher.
When the user is signing up for a specific and very targeted lead magnet, you can funnel them down to a mini course if that’s what your lead magnet is. If your lead magnet is just a checklist or a workbook or a e-book, then you can lead them down to a course. Maybe there’s a middle step in there for a webinar. You lead them to a webinar and the webinar sells the course.
Those are some of the things you can do. Start somewhere. A lot of times when you start teaching a funnel with all these crazy different steps to somebody that’s new, they are like, “Whoa. I don’t know.” Start at step one. If you don’t have a course, start at the top. Start building that lead magnet. Start building the list. Then do a pre-launch with a course. Then add a profit maximizer at the bottom. Maybe add a tripwire, like a mini course that they can buy for like $9 or something so you can justify spending more money on paid acquisition by going to Facebook. Say, “These people are paying me nine bucks so I can pay Facebook nine bucks to just break even on the tripwire level so that I know that x percentage of the people that buy this $9 course are going to buy my $400 course.” You can do the [inaudible 00:16:05] there.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Syed Balkhi: A very simple funnel and then would go about adding whatever else that you want to add back and make more, increase your group.
Chris: Are e-books dead?
Syed Balkhi: Pardon me?
Chris: Are e-books dead?
Syed Balkhi: I feel that way to a good extent. Making very, very large e-books are dead. If you are making more easy to consume content in a checklist, even a workbook which is no more than a few pages long, not few pages, but 10 point font, few pages with 15-16 point font, that’s easy to consume content with some imagery, that’s working. We find that checklists work really, really well. We find that toolkits work really, really well. Cheat sheets work really, really well.
Those things work really well, but making an 80 page e-book or even a 30 page e-book is an overkill. Nobody is going to read your content. You might as well save yourself that hassle.
Chris: That can be a sigh of relief for some people if they think they need to write a 40 page book to get started. I know this stuff can be overwhelming if you are just getting started in marketing or building your funnel, but the first thing I tell people to do if they are stuck is well, just write one blog post. Then you can do one content upgrade. One step at a time.
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely.
Chris: You talked about webinars as a conversion mechanism. We would all that potentially a sales conversion event on the backend of the content upgrade or the lead magnet. What do people do in a webinar? How else can you convert off the backend besides a webinar?
Syed Balkhi: What do people do in a webinar? You can substitute another mini course with a webinar.
Chris: Like teach live for an hour?
Syed Balkhi: Teach live, right. It could be recorded. It could be a recorded webinar, but you substitute out a mini course, because a mini course is done on people independent time. A webinar is when they are committed to you and you only. It will usually net out better results for you. In terms of other things, freemium usually works well. We find that with our workers, freemium work really well, but that’s more or less software.
It doesn’t have to be just software. If you look at audible, they give you one free book. You get one free book if you pay for the monthly membership. You can add some kind of value add to your own membership to increase immersion there. I’m sure Amazon has tried this with all sorts of things to make sure that, “Oh we can say, you can buy this book for 18 books or 17 bucks or you can get it for free with a monthly audible membership at this price point.” I think doing that, the e-book that you were going to give away for free which nobody was going to read, now put a price tag on it and say, “You get this e-book for free if you sign up for my membership site.” That value add, the bonuses are going to improve your conversion on the back end.
Chris: Awesome. Just to clarify terms, you mentioned the word profit maximizer. What is that?
Syed Balkhi: Profit maximizers are things that once you have hit the bottom of your funnel, once somebody has bought your core product, whatever your membership side is, how do you make more money from this user? You already have the user right there. It could be done through jv deals. It could be done through your own products. It could be done like an affiliates thing.
If I have OptinMonster for example, somebody who buys OptinMonster basic, I can upsell them. Do, “Hey, maybe you want to buy OptinMonster pro.” If I can segment the user that this pro user is actually an agency, I can say, “Hey maybe you should buy OptinMonster Agency.” Then I’m kind of done at the bottom of people that have bought my core product. Instead, now I can say, “Well, if you really want to grow your traffic, you might need to consider using a tool like [SEM Rush or Airefs 00:20:26]. I can either just give that as a value add or I can say, “Hey, buy Airefs.” I can do a deal with Airefs and they would pay me a commission for SEM Rush.
That’s an example of a profit maximizer, or I have WBForms. Starts with the free version. You upgrade, you buy the paid version. If you are basic then I want you to come to pro. Once you buy pro, then I can say, “Well, actually how do you know if your forms are converting well? You need an analytics solution.” Then I cross sell. After the core product, a cross sell, or a up sell or a jv deal is basically maximizing your profit from this one user, increasing your [inaudible 00:21:11] value. Increasing your value from that customer.
Chris: That’s really good. Well, let’s transition over to talking about affiliate. You mentioned the word jv, joint venture. What is the difference between joint venture and affiliate marketing?
Syed Balkhi: Affiliate is one sided. Joint venture is two sided. That’s the easiest way to put it. Affiliate is like, I can say, “Hey. Promote my stuff and I will pay you this commission.” Joint venture deal is usually two ways. I’m promoting your stuff and you are paying me and you are promoting my stuff and I’m paying you a commission. That’s joint venture. It’s two ways.
Chris: That makes sense. If a course creator wants to get into affiliate marketing, let’s talk about that a little bit. At lifterlms we have compatibility with the popular affiliate WP plug in. Another one called Idev affiliate, another system. Even selling the lifterlms software itself, we use something called Sharesale which integrates with [inaudible 00:22:12] commerce, which is more of a complete affiliate platform, as opposed to more of just the affiliate management on the website.
Can you describe the difference between a Sharesale and an affiliate WP?
Syed Balkhi: Yeah. One is way better. I would say the hosted platform like a Sharesale or Impact Radius is way, way, way like leaps and bounds better than any hosted solution that you have, whether it be affiliate WP, whether it’s affiliate Royale, whether it’s Idev affiliate for a wide variety of reasons.
Number one, the tracking that’s in place within Sharesale or Impact Radius is far superior that any tracking that you can get on your hosted server. Because when you are self hosting an affiliate program your server isn’t really meant for tracking. It’s easy to manipulate. You don’t have the same level of fraud detection and things like this. All you need is one bad affiliate who will completely destroy your monthly revenue for that month until you can catch that, once you start doing your month end financial books. Then you’re like, “What happened here.” Then you start looking in and digging deeper and you are like, “So and so affiliate conned me.”
The reason why I recommend Sharesale, I use Sharesale for our own products or Impact Radius is because these companies have mastered fraud detection. They are really, really, really good at it. The other thing from an entrepreneur point of view, if you are a course creator, you don’t have the time to send out monthly payments to the people. You don’t have the time to collect their tax information and then making sure that everybody that made more than $600, sending them a 1099. That’s not what you are good at. You don’t need to be doing that.
I would much rather pay Sharesale a very, very small fee and let them completely handle that. Another benefit of these networks like Sharesale or Impact Radius is that they have a network of tens of thousands of affiliates, if not hundreds of thousands of affiliates. Somebody else will likely go in there. If I’m looking for a specific product and I was like [inaudible 00:24:13] go and say security and look at which products are out there that have an affiliate program and then I would go out and try those products and see which one I like and then I can recommend that particular product to my audience, because I’m like, “Hey. Here are the three that I tried. I actually liked this one since you guys asked for it. This is the one that’s the better one.”
I almost never recommend, actually not almost, I never period recommend anybody to use a self hosted affiliate program. I would recommend that you use a hosted version like a Sharesale, like a platform. If you are serious about your business. If you are not serious about your business then don’t do it. If you’re not serious don’t do it.
Chris: I got to say we really like the hands off approach that we have with Sharesale. We set it up. We make sure there’s enough money in there. Auto deposits when it gets low and it handles everything. I love that.
Syed Balkhi: Yeah. One of the other crazy parts is if you are in Europe, if you are in the EU, you have crazy requirements with [BAT 00:25:14] and all this things. What I’m noticing now is some of the companies, the EU ones they are using their own internal systems. They are now requiring their affiliates to send them a manual invoice. They send out an e-mail to all affiliates, “Hey.” This is an automated e-mail. It says, “This was your commission. You need to send us an invoice with this payment information so that we can reimburse you.” That’s the legal requirements over there.
As a business owner you don’t want that. If you are in the EU, dude, get rid of that stuff and go move over to Sharesale and Impact Radius and let them do all that stuff. You don’t have to worry about this. Completely hassle free.
Chris: That’s awesome. I need to geek out with you for a second as an affiliate guy and ask you a question that may not make sense if you are just a beginner out there listening, but bear with us. It’s really not that crazy of a question, but I just want to make sure I understood it correctly. With Sharesale if I send an e-mail on Monday and somebody else with my Sharesale affiliate link and somebody else sends an e-mail to the same person on Tuesday with their Sharesale affiliate link, and that person ends up buying the thing, is it the first person who gets the commission, or the later person that gets the commission?
Syed Balkhi: You have the ability to actually configure that in your program. You can choose first click and you can choose last click.
Chris: Interesting. Why would you choose one or the other?
Syed Balkhi: Industry standard is last click and not first click, because first click has a lot of room for abuse. Let’s say that I run a very high trafficked website, all I have to do is draw up a cookie with my affiliate link into every user that comes to my website.
Chris: With a fake coupon or something like that?
Syed Balkhi: Not necessarily a coupon. One example would be, I take your affiliate link, let’s say lifterlms just hypothetically speaking, I take the affiliate link and put it in my style sheet, it’s [stylious SS 00:27:16] and make it look like it was an image asset. Everybody who comes on my website obviously has to load a stylious SS file. It will never load right. It will say that part is four four, but nobody sees that. It’s in the console there. That page is being loaded for you and you are getting that cookie.
Now it looks like I just dropped a cookie on everybody that could potentially by lifterlms technically speaking. Then somebody more genuine went an send out an e-mail newsletter and talked all about the benefits of lifterlms and convinced the guy, then the user went out and bought it but this guy who actually worked for lifterlms didn’t really get the commission because some blackhead guy did shenanigans like this. Actually, this happened in the earlier days of the internet. Some of the people who did it, they were doing it with E-bay affiliates. They were making millions of dollars a year and then E-bay caught on and they went to jail for this. It’s actually illegal to do, but that doesn’t mean shady people are not going to do it.
That’s why the industry switched away from a first click to a last click, because it’s hard to duke these kind of things. You can put something on like this, but it won’t work. That’s why the last click is the more standard thing.
Chris: Wow. I appreciate that.
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely.
Chris: I’ve got some homework and something to check after this call. Let me ask you some more rapid fire affiliate questions. If I have a course or my membership course bundles, how do I set affiliate commission? Should I do 50%? Should I do 30%? Should I do 20%? Should I do 60%? What am I supposed to do? I feel like people pull it out of the air or they just hearing something like you have to split it with the affiliate or whatever. What do you recommend?
Syed Balkhi: It really depends on the margins in your business and what you are comfortable with. Typically on a e-course where your cost of production is not a whole lot, you see the affiliate commissions to be in the higher, like 50%. I consider 50% to be high. You have 50% commission happening on e-products. That doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Let’s say you offer way more value on the back end. You have a Facebook group and this and that that you have to continue to produce and you have employee costs, you have people costs, you have all this, you don’t have to offer 50%. You can say, “Well, I’m going to offer 35%.” You can also do tiered things. You can say, “Well, we start off at 30%, but if you can send this kind of volume, then well give you 40%. If you get this volume, then you get 50%. If you get this volume, you get 60%.” That happens all the time too.
There’s so many different ways to go about it. There’s no right or wrong way. It just depends on your particular business model. Are you looking at a long term or are you looking at just right now, how can I get the most amount of money this week or this month? You have to really think through these things. You don’t want to give somebody a 80% commission on your course and then on the back end be the one fulfilling it for 20% of the money. It doesn’t make sense at least from my point of view. Again, everybody has a different angle on their business.
I would not go above 50% as a starters. Usually keep it at 30%. I can bet you a lot of people would promote your course at 30%. The same people who will promote it at 50%, will promote at 30%. Those who wouldn’t will ask you for higher.
Chris: I think the next question too is 30% of what? Is it a $100 course or is it a $2,000 program with coaching.
Syed Balkhi: Right.
Chris: There’s all these variables that have to be-
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely. There are times if the higher the ticket, the lower the conversion is because it’s a higher barrier of entry. Instead of paying 10 bucks which nobody cares about and then paying two grand, it’s a tougher sale. A lot of times the higher end programs, I’ve seen would … first of all, they don’t have open affiliate programs. A lot of the higher ticket programs, they don’t have an open affiliate program.
Chris: To be an application only or invite only or what does that mean?
Syed Balkhi: Yeah, application only or invite only. A lot of times invite only because they realize that any affiliate program, let’s say you have a thousand affiliates, only ten of them are actually performing significantly. The rest of 990 are maybe making the 5% of sales or 10% of total sales. The top ten are making, the ten are making 90% of the sales out of thousand. Usually that’s what happens. So then why do you want to bother with all these? You want to just talk with these ten. A lot of times, the higher end courses only have invite only affiliates. Likely their friend, etc. or their jv partners and they do 50%. There’s a course for two grand, the partners are going to get a grand on that sale.
Some of the folks on the entry level would even give 90%. I’ve seen 90%, 100% of the course being given away. Let’s say if you make a sale of my $9 tripwire, I’ll give you $9 for the sale.
Chris: But I have the prospect in my funnel now so [crosstalk 00:32:48].
Syed Balkhi: Exactly. You have to do the math. You’re like, “Okay, I can sell them after $9, I can sell them a $200 course and I know x percentage will go through it. I don’t have to pay them a 50% commission on 200.” Now $9 looks very cheap ’cause you just paid them 5%. Does that make sense?
Chris: It does. If you want to be really scientific about it, you need to know your numbers and know your conversation rates, which is where something like Monster Insights comes in.
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely.
Chris: Let’s imagine a sample user. Let’s say I published a book and it’s some small niche. It’s not like a New York Times best seller, but I’ve got my book. I decide I want to get into online courses. I create video lessons around the concepts in my book and I create a $300 course and then I have the up sale to $1,000 with a 30 day coaching program plus the course. I do my best to hustle and scratch and find my initial customers. If I think I want to explore affiliate marketing as a channel, what should I do? How do I recruit my first affiliates? Where do I go find them?
Syed Balkhi: Look at the people who are writing about the same concept. Who are the same audience that you have? You want to approach those people. A lot of times if they are any big, they are not going to listen to anything that you are saying because it’s a one way relationship so you have to add value first before you can expect something in return. If you go to somebody who has millions and millions of users, likely you are not the only person reaching out to them. That’s the challenging part, but if you have really good message and you have an audience and you can add value to a influencer, then absolutely go about doing that.
The strategy is fairly simple. You look at who has your audience and that’s going to be your affiliate. You can look at key words. That’s another strategy that different industries use. Who ranks for these particular key words then you go about seeing hey, is this guy promoting anything? If they are not, then you are like, “Hey, I noticed you have this blog post on how to lose weight or something like this and I noticed you are not promoting anything. I wrote this e-book and I think it would be immensely valuable to your users. Would you be open to a partnership deal where you can check it out. If you like it then you can recommend it and I’ll give you 80% of the sale or something like this.” Again, considering that this is your entry level offer, can you have a $1,000 course on the back end, 80% of a $20 thing is nothing ’cause you are selling $1,000 [inaudible 00:35:39] on the back end.
Chris: That’s awesome. The big takeaway there I think is if you build it they will not come. You need to do some work to go get some affiliates. You need to do some cold e-mails. You need to add value. Work for it a little bit. They are not going to just show up. Your initial customers might be interested in promoting your product, but if they are not really content creators or trained in what affiliate is all about, it’s not really the best play.
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely. I don’t know if you’ve … people should use a tool called [busimo 00:36:09]. You go on busimo, you type a keyword. Let’s say you are writing all about social media, you go on busimo, you write social media and it will show you the most shared articles about social media. You open those articles, see who wrote them. Start following them on Twitter. Start following them on Facebook. Engaging with their community. Building that rapport.
It’s hard work. That’s why not everybody can do it. I think everybody can do it. Not everybody does it because it is work. If you are looking for a quick win, well, this ain’t it, but if you are gonna do the work, then this is going to give you a lot of benefits over time.
Chris: Excellent. Well, let’s shift gears before we part today. I wanted to just talk to you a little bit about pop ups and opt ins. OptinMonster your product has been a big part of our business at Lifterlms for various things. If people are leaving it’s capturing a last minute chance for them to ask a question. It’s allowing us to identify some of the people that are using our free product. We have lead magnets and content upgrades that funnel through it. We do different things with it. I think it was maybe about a year ago I heard that pop ups … you were going to get penalized from an [SEO 00:37:24] perspective or something.
I pretty much just ignored it and kept doing what I’m doing. I’ve had no impact of that statement. First, I’d like you to speak to that news for people who are concerned about using pop ups for SEO and then I’ll ask some more questions.
Syed Balkhi: At OptinMonster our goal is to help business owners convert abandoning website visitors and to subscribers and then shortly after customers. The problem is real for not just you and me or any small business, but it’s real for even the larger business owners, because 70 to 80% of the users that come to your website, never come back. Once they leave, they never come back. You go and you google analytics you will see this chart that says 80% new users and 20% returning or 70% new users and 30% returning. Stats speak for themselves. That’s what OptinMonster tries to solve.
In terms of the google penalty, I actually wrote a several thousand word piece, like a blog post on OptinMonster blog. The answer is, having a pop up does not get you a penalty. Number one, that penalty is for mobile only. It’s not for desktop. What they are trying to prevent … you have to really understand what Google is trying to do. What Google is trying to prevent is things that Pinterest was doing. Things that LinkedIn was doing. Things that Forbes for doing. What they were doing, if you clicked on a Forbes article, you don’t actually get to the article. You get to a interstitial page with some motivational quote and an ad this big and you have to click on a button continue and accidentally you are going to click on that ad and Forbes will make money. That’s a terrible user experience. That’s what Google is trying to avoid.
If you wanted to look at somebody’s LinkedIn profile, you clicked on a LinkedIn link, but instead you got “Hey, download my app.” There’s no way for you to skip it except for that very tiny little link and you try to click on that but instead you go to the Google play store or the I app store in your IOS where you are forced to download an app. That’s what Google was trying to avoid. The wording, the very, very wording on that was they were going after interstitials. Interstitials are things that show up that prevents you from getting to where you were going.
Really, zero second pop ups are the ones they were going after. If you have a zero second pop up, I think you shouldn’t have it. We never recommend that. We have an option that you can put a zero second, but we never, ever recommend that. That’s number one.
Number two, Google had several different things that they were talking about. “Well, we would prefer that you don’t have a pop up, but you can have a floating bar or a scroll box.” One of the beautiful part about OptinMonster is from the very first day that we launched it in 2013, we kept our pop ups, desktop and mobile, completely separate. I understood that experience on mobile is completely different than experience on desktop. In 2013 the mobile users wasn’t as high as it is today in 2017, but even back then we were like, “Okay, we care about user experience.” If you wanted to put a pop up on mobile you had to create a separate one.
Now in OptinMonster you can select where your pop shows. If you are more cautious you can say, “Well, don’t show any pop ups on mobile.” A lot of people are doing that. A lot of our users are doing that. Some of the ones are saying, “Well, actually, I don’t want to show the pop up on the page they land, but if the user goes to the next page, then show the pop up.” Completely fair game. Other folks are saying, “Well, you know what? I don’t care. I’m going to show pop up anyways.” We haven’t seen any complaints there either. Again, because you are not showing intersticials. Some folks are saying, “Well, I’m going to use a scroll trigger. I’m only going to show a pop up once the user have scrolled on the mobile 70% of the screen size.” Then at that point the user has spent enough time on your website that you can prompt them for an action.
On desktop, you have nothing to worry about, but again, I always recommend against using zero second pop up. It will increase your bounce rate. You are going to lose that user. I recommend using multiple triggers, primarily exit intent. If you are not doing anything use exit intent. That thing just works. If you want to get more sophisticated you can combine scroll trigger and exit intent. Monster links work really, really well, which is a pop up that only shows up if the user clicks on a link or an image.
Things like that. Those are always going to work for you and there’s no penalty for that.
Chris: That’s awesome. Exit intent, that’s a really great … I’m not sure where or how you came up with the idea, but the goal with us, with our website, when we use exit intent, we are not trying to annoy people. We are just giving them one last opportunity, “Hey, before you go, do you have any questions? Can I help you with anything? Perhaps you didn’t find what you were looking for. Can I help?” That’s the purpose of the pop up.
Syed Balkhi: Right. The idea came … when somebody comes to your house for dinner and you have a great time. Then when they are leaving you are like, “Hey come back and see us again. Would love to see you guys again soon.” The [inaudible 00:43:01] person says, “Absolutely.” That’s the where the idea came from. What if I could do that? I believe that people that come to our website, I hope that they are having that kind of experience. They are enjoying it. They are finding it useful. When they are leaving, I can say, “Hey, can I stay in touch with you?”
I think that was the motivation behind the exit intent concept. In the past, pop ups were very time driven. You showed at 5 seconds, or 10 seconds or 30 seconds. I was using those old pop up scripts and people on my websites were getting annoyed. Then like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I can just not interrupt the user behavior of what they were doing and only show it when they were leaving?” Boom.
Chris: That’s it.
Syed Balkhi: And that was it.
Chris: That’s awesome. Well, that was a goldmine of information. I really want to thank you Syed for coming on the show. You’ve shared so much amazing stuff with us. I’d encourage any of you listening to go check out OptinMonster and Syed’s other properties and products, WPBeginner, Enviro Gallery, Monster Insights, WP Forms, Soliloquy and List 25. If you want to get into a little bit more of Syed’s story, I’d encourage you to check out podcast he was on with Johnny Naster called Hack the Entrepreneur. It was a great interview of Syed as well.
Syed’s also fun to follow on Twitter. Check him out there @SyedBalkhi and anywhere else you want to send the listeners Syed?
Syed Balkhi: I don’t know man. That’s a lot of places you [crosstalk 00:44:30] send people.
Chris: Right on. Well thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your insights with us. If those of you listening out there kind of have your mind blown, I just encourage you to just hit rewind or listen to this again. Grab a pen and paper and grab some notes. I guarantee there’s some action items in there for you to take action on.
Anytime I see Syed give a talk, I have a notebook. It doesn’t necessarily take long, but to implement some of the things I’ve learned. They consistently deliver results. Thanks Syed. We’ll catch you on the next one.
Syed Balkhi: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Chris.

EPISODE 168

An Entrepreneur’s Journey and Transformational Learning Design with Sucuri’s Dre Armeda

In this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS we discuss an entrepreneur’s journey and transformational learning design with Sucuri’s Dre Armeda. Dre shares his story of getting into the WordPress space, and he shares his experiences with Jiu-Jitsu and how that has changed the way he has approached his career and life in general.

Dre has been around the WordPress ecosystem for a long time, and he has had quite an evolution in the space. Dre was in the Navy for about 12 years, and he was the ‘resident geek,’ which meant that he managed about 250 computers using Windows NT, and his job was to make sure they were all running, the network was working, etc.

Before deployment in 2000, the chief warrant officer in charge of the IT department told Dre to make an intranet site for this deployment. Dre was given Microsoft FrontPage, Adobe Photoshop 4.5, and two weeks to complete the project. Dre realized that he loved to build websites so he started buying some domains and creating some sites, and in 2004 he created his first WordPress theme.

Working with IT in the military, Dre learned a lot about information security and dealing with security across all of the sites’ subdomains. When Dre got out of the military in 2007 he went to work for an information security company in Chicago. There he met Daniel Cid, who eventually co-founded Sucuri with Dre.

The job market, and especially the entrepreneur job market, is changing to favor those who are self learners and are batteries-included. Dre is a great example of this. He didn’t really have any formal training with building websites or website security. He just went out into the world attending conferences, asking a whole lot of questions, and networking with people who shared a passion for learning WordPress.

Dre and Daniel Cid started an information security awareness and training team for a public energy company. They also started a company that was a host intrusion detection system that could detect when weird virus pop-ups and more would filter into your website, and it would stop that from happening. Then they expanded to remotely monitoring these things in other people’s websites. People who purchased the product also wanted the system to not only detect these issues, but solve to them, and then they turned their minds towards proactive solutions such as firewalls. And that is where the modern Sucuri was created.

Building your online course or membership site with a solution-minded approach makes your product more clearly offer results, and it is what makes your solution ‘hockey stick’ in customers. Sucuri was open to a buy out by GoDaddy, because their principals and culture were in line with Sucuri’s. So now Sucuri is serving 65,000,000 active domains, versus half a million to one million.

Having other hobbies and passions in your life other than your business is important, because it helps you grow as an entrepreneur and thinker if you challenge your mind in other areas of your life. Dre is really into Jiu-Jitsu. It is something that he does with his family, and it helps to sharpen his mind and create these exceptional learning experiences and strategizing techniques that he can carry over into his business.

To learn more about Dre Armeda, check out his Twitter at @DreMeda, and you can also head on over to Sucuri.net to learn more about their domain security solutions.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined today by a special guest, Dre Armeda. He’s been around the WordPress ecosystem for a long time. He’s had quite the evolution. This episode is really going to be about, the whole meat of this episode is going to be about learning and teaching, and we’re going to get into Dre’s experience with that around Jiu-Jitsu and learning Jiu-Jitsu, and there’s definitely some big take aways for you education entrepreneurs out there looking to create learning environments. There’s some things we can learn from martial arts. This is going to be really interesting, and a little different from the normal topic of this show.
So, we’re going to get into that. But first, Dre, thanks for coming on the show.
Dre Armeda: Right, Chris, thanks for having me. Super appreciative to be here.
Chris Badgett: So you’re one of the original podcasts I started to listen to, maybe, and I saw you on YouTube. I can even still hear your jingles, like what are you sipping on, and I think you guys had a … I remember earlier in my entrepreneurial journey, you and Brad from the DradCast, had an interview with Jason Cohen of WP Engine. It was just so amazingly helpful for me and, just super helpful. And that was a while ago, and I just kept going and later built a WordPress product business LifterLMS. But you guys, I learned a lot just listening. I also built up an agency, WordPress agency. Got it up to about 17 people. And I learned listening to you guys and some other, and a lot of other things too. But, the DradCast was cool and here we are, many years later together on the show.
So thanks for being here, and, we’ve been around WordPress a long time. Can you give us the chronological history of where you started and where you ended up today. Starting with 2004.
Dre Armeda: Yes. Most certainly. Do you want to start off with WordPress or, because, yes. I think that, it’s an interesting place to be, right.
Chris Badgett: Yes. And before WordPress, like, you were a military guy.
Dre Armeda: I think, it kind of crossed roads at one point. I started … I was in the Navy for about 12 years. I joined in 1995 and by the end of 1995, or the 90’s, I had moved into a Squadron, VFA-147. F-18 Squadron station out of Lemoore, California. We were deployed on the John C. Stennis. But when I got over there, I was the resident geek. So I went over there as their IT. We had about 250 computers using Windows NT, Windows 2000 Mix Mode, and my job was to make sure that those machines were running, the network was working and all that fun stuff.
Before deployment in 2000, we went actually on a WESTPAC and then enforced a no fly zone, all that fun stuff, back in the day. At the end of 99, the chief warrant officer in charge of the IT department, came up to me and said, hey Dre, you are our resident geek. We need an intranet site for this deployment. I’m going to give you two weeks. There’s a front page. Microsoft FrontPage, and Adobe Photoshop 4.5. I’ll see you in two weeks. And then I went, hey warrant officer, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. He said, well you’re going to figure it out. You’re our resident geek. That’s why you’re here.
So two weeks later, I did all these role over, you know, animated buttons in Photoshop and it had all these inline styles and tables and Iframes, and all these ugly terrible code, but we had a website. And, as sure as hell fell in love with it, you know. I really wanted to continue, involved there. So I started buying my first domains and creating some graphics. And that turned into something that was super fun for me, and I was very passionate about. So, kind of a side thing, as I was moving through my technical career in the military, learning information security and dealing with, you know, security across all ten security domains. My side passion was really front-end design and creating these websites.
Well around 2003, end of 2003, middle 2004, in that time frame some time, kind of, it’s a sliding scale. I think it moves for me in my head. It’s hard to, as you get older, to figure out exactly and pin-point times, but I was going, geez, this is my skill. In terms of managing all these graphics and projects I’ve been working. And I got these static HTML files and Iframes to show on my portfolio and [inaudible 00:04:33] all this stuff, I need to find some type of, you know, way to manage this more intuitively and I started looking for a content management system. I went through the gamut … List your name of, uh, CMSs that were around back in 2003 to 2004. You’ll laugh in your head just like I do. But I ended up finding WordPress and dorking around with it. Registered on the forms there. Used what was the early days of the codex to kind of figure out what was going on. And I created my first theme by like middle to end of 2004.
So, I’ve been around since the early days in terms of toying around with it. I got involved in the channel that we had there live. So, I started meeting a bunch of folks there. Asking questions, the whole night. And a little tit bit there, which is super funny for me. Folks in [inaudible 00:05:28] who’s done pretty much the heavy lifting across the .org and codex over the years. My user ID, predates years in the forum. So I’m always, I always throw that at his face. Then I buy him a beer. But that was the early days, and I was still in navy. I was stations in … By the time I found that I was doing the portfolio stuff I was stationed in Naples, Italy. And I was doing side work with WordPress and design stuff. That’s all really, how it kicked off.
When I got out in 07, and I went to work for this information security company in Chicago. And we were working with some other open source platforms. Idea behind the work there was to create a user experience in front of information security tools, that are often cumbersome to use command line for IT staff and [inaudible 00:06:21] that doesn’t have the ability to bring in [inaudible 00:06:23] resources, but wanted to give them a usable tool to manage their network logs and all that fun stuff, just using their IT resources. And that’s where I met Daniel Cid who eventually became my co-founder at Sucuri, which we launched in 2010. But through that whole experience, it was really doubling down with my free time and my passion for the web to learn, and to leverage my online resources to do so. I didn’t have formal, you know, geeky, you know, schooling or design schooling, marketing or any of that stuff. It was really just focusing on the resources that were online. Asking a lot of questions, and getting involved with the community from an early day, which certainly helped us position our services later on, because not only were we learning, but at the same time we were establishing really strong relationships from others that were just as passionate about WordPress and learning it.
And that became a really strong influence in community that we worked with and then in turn ended up securing with our products down the road.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Let’s put a pen in security right there, and I think one of the ways I describe what you’re talking about, you’re kind of, at the tip of the spear of, you know, a life long learner, self learner, kind of batteries included. That’s how, like where the world is transitioning. It seems we’re, you know, if you want to learn something with the internet, I mean you can go out there. You can go out there in person. Go to conferences. All these niches are emerging that can survive now having a small niche because you can global audience. These are really interesting times, and it’s not that new. Like you were already kind of, pursuing your interests in that way, and solving business problems around, you know, putting an interface in front of security for people who didn’t have as much resources and skill, which is amazing.
And, I first heard you on a, your podcast, DradCast. And then later when my website got hacked, one of my websites, oh, I just, I’m going to call Sucuri. So now, because you were content marketing before that word was a thing, I was like, who is [inaudible 00:08:37] mine when my website got hacked. Oh, it’s that guy with the big beard on that podcast. So, and I signed up for Sucuri, this is a while ago, many, many years ago, still have the account, have five websites on it. Cloud, proxy, firewall, the whole deal, and never had a problem since, or if I did, it got cleaned up.
So, that’s interesting. Let’s complete the stroy of Sucuri, what it is, what it became, and then you transitioned to GoDaddy. Can you finish the final chapters of your evolution there in the WordPress eco system.
Dre Armeda: I would say there, we’re just in the middles of the book my friend. [crosstalk 00:09:16] chapters. But it’s an exciting time. It has been an exciting time quite frankly through this entire process and, no it wasn’t a business to start. Well, you know, since we’re back to [inaudible 00:09:29] degree in business management, and, but that was really [inaudible 00:09:33] because I wanted to get it done. But the early days, we had no damn clue what we were doing. We knew that we wanted to solve a problem. We knew that people were having challenges getting attacked and infected online. Their websites were getting screwed up. They were being redirected to porn sites, having ads pop-up. Taking down all together to face all sorts of issues they were dealing with, right.
Chris Badgett: And let me just share a funny story, there. That’s what happened when I first got hacked, and it was called the Badoink redirect virus.
Dre Armeda: Use your own imagination on that one.
Chris Badgett: And it was tricky. It was sneaky. It would actually only redirect to the porn site if the viewer was on a mobile device.
Dre Armeda: [crosstalk 00:10:17] not a mobile. Yes.
Chris Badgett: Or if you’re a WordPress admin, it didn’t show.
Dre Armeda: Yes.
Chris Badgett: So it was kind of sneaky like that. And then I, you know, my people figured it out and then later, you know, because I had an agency too, I was starting to track clients with content marketing. I wrote a blog post about the Badoink redirect virus and I just noticed how much traffic I was getting to that blog post because, I guess lots of people were having problems with it. But I just want to bringing it back, all back to what you’re saying is, you find a problem and if somebody has an urgent need, like when a site goes down, or gets hacked, somebody’s like hot and ready for a solution, right then and right there. So it’s a great business situation to work on.
Dre Armeda: Yes. And it’s a real problem.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:11:00]
Dre Armeda: And it’s still a recurring issue right. And in those days, this is like 2008, I met Daniel at this other company. The company was acquired, and I moved on, and moved back to California to start work, with some really meaningful work starting an information security awareness and training team. For a large energy company. A public energy company. That was fun work. But in that time, we’re collaborating because what Daniel was doing, and the product that got me involved with at that last company with the UI and all that fun stuff, was he invented a host intrusion detection system that looked at points and networks, and look at data, look at logs, and if there was weird stuff it would filter it, and stop all that stuff from happening, right.
Well, that was kind of in the same theory that he took on about the web. Say, we know that all these problems happening on these websites, how can we remotely monitor for changes or different things when they [inaudible 00:11:54] it can lead to a potential point of compromise, right. How can we look to see if a site’s been blacklisted by Google. How can we look to see if it’s down, or if it’s redirecting, or it’s doing all these bad things. What about outdated software in that environment. They may [inaudible 00:12:09] those things. So, we set out to create this engine, and him and his technical mind, which is a brilliant mind. And I’m figuring out ways that I can kind of look to position this for people. Like how will this value be something that I can talk to people about and have then understand, have them feel comfortable and that it works.
And we sent it out to market, and we were beta in 2009. 2010, we created the LLC, and said, look, let’s see what happens. Well, it hockey sticked man. Everybody’s like yes. We need this service. But this service isn’t very actionable, Dre, Daniel, Sucuri. How can you fix the problem for me? We want not only for you to notify that there’s a potential point of compromise or an infection blacklist status. We want you to come and fix that for us. Remediate it.
Chris Badgett: I just want to put down a point here. For the educational entrepreneurs out there listening, building your course, you’re teaching something, you’re creating and entrepreneurial offer, a promise. A solution is what hokey sticks. A suggestion, you may get a little growth and they go flat and they fail. But what you’re talking about is a transition point from suggestion and information, to solution.
Dre Armeda: [crosstalk 00:13:23] point number one for us from a business perspective. Like, from being a lifestyle thing, a hobby, if you will. Something that can be manageable and sustainable with the opportunity for large growth, right. There’s a problem, and now we can solve, not just identifying it but actually remediating it. So, we said look, this can’t be that difficult. We’ll clean it up for you. We know the strings that we’re looking for. We know what the code looks like and stuff. Well lets’ start building a process around that. And at the time, I don’t think we knew what were building or process, we were like shit. Send us your FTP information and we’ll go in and take a look and we’ll find it and clear it.
But we got better at that, and we started to catalog all of that stuff and then we found a means to say, alright if we saw it on one, and we see it on another, now that’s a repeatable process. We can automate, right. So let’s go an automate. And that’s exactly what we did. So over time, the problem didn’t go away, in fact it grew. We had various organizations and hosting environments that at the time, were seeing cross contamination across different user accounts and then [inaudible 00:14:26] formed, and the exploit of being able to execute PHP arbitrarily in directories and stuff across servers that should be across servers that shouldn’t be happening, was happening. Well, they needed a means to clean this up and there just wasn’t a viable solution out there except for the processes that we started to build.
Awesome, so we went through that and we saw a sustained growth. We started hiring. By 2012, I went full-time in 2011. Daniel and Tony at that time, so … A cool story about that, so Tony and I were actually starting an agency back in 2009, 2010. I started Sucuri at the same time with Daniel. We saw that this was hokey sticking. We were doing some really cools things in the WordPress agency, it just wasn’t hokey sticking as great. So, we saw at Sucuri that, Dan we need some help operationally. So we brought Tony on to help us, you know, with operations and kind of, think through the finances and make sure that all our processes there were correct. And that turned into a full-time thing. Him, me and Daniel were really the original three co-founders at that point driving this thing.
So by 2011, Tony and I are spearheading the first tour camp in San Diego and the week before that we said, we’re [inaudible 00:15:33] this is more than just a hobby. We can help a lot of people here. I went full-time and by the end of the year, the three of us were full-time and we started to hire employees. So, yes. It was a crazy experience, but we found that by 2012, the problem was going to shift fundamentally. We knew that at some point, you know, hosting providers and different services providers will get wise to these security things and the issues that we [inaudible 00:16:02]. One, passwords and credential management sucks. So, we’re going to get better at that at some point. And there’s still challenges there, but it has improved. Two, access control. Let’s make sure that we are protecting the access to our assets and only giving access to those that really need access for the time they need. Least privilege and all those theories. They really are meaningful.
But three and probably just important is, making sure that all your environmental things are up to date, right. Like, vulnerabilities are bugs, and bugs happen. That’s why we fix bugs. So when you see a patch come out for a bug, and that’s why you should patch it, right. So, it’s just a functionality problem, but it’s certainly a maintenance and security issue too. But people are never really good at that. It’s on the patch, they don’t patch for various reasons. So, that is something that’s improved over time. You look at [inaudible 00:16:51] releases now have automatic updates. Not just in WordPress but you see it in Chrome, and in the browsers, and all over the place.
We said, well wait a second. This is actionable now, we’re cleaning websites up and it’s very reactive. How do we become more proactive. We started to think about how we can create a protective layer, and that’s the augment of cloud proxy, which is the original code name, which is now the security firewall, right. And we built a kind of a web application firewall to build their needs. That was business pivot number two, and it proved to be a very important decision because as we did see a decrease, a certain decrease in the amount of remediation needed, we saw a huge uptake in the amount of folks that started to think about being more proactive versus reactive with their websites. And that really irons out, I think our set of services foundationally today. We want to monitor things to make sure that we’re keeping the tabs on stuff. If something goes [inaudible 00:17:51], we need to remediate, so we’re going to build process to clean that up.
But, foremost, importantly, you need to make sure you’re protecting that. So let’s put the firewall around this to reduce total overall risk and increase the security password, to each individual website, right. We’ve built services ina features into that, like, a CDS. We know that performance is just as important, it might be more important to some folks than security. But they go hand in hand with protection, right. So you have these performance companies that say that’s all they care about they don’t offer security services so, when the site goes down because of a DDoS attack, their site’s completely down, so how much performance do you have with it? Zero. For me, it goes kind of hand in hand, right. So, we’ve started to build things like over the years, which now we wound out our full website security platform and we could see, I think is heavier and tighter integration with SSL. So now, not just the monitoring and the remediation but also the discussion. So, all the communications from point A to point B, we’re going to encrypt with SSL, right.
The firewall piece with performance, and then lastly disaster recovery, because stuff does go down and explode and all tat fun stuff. We need to be able to pull from backups, right. That for me is kind of where we’re heading. And it’s been a learning curve right. Like learning what people really need.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. So why was the piece where you went from security to security at GoDaddy?
Dre Armeda: Well, in my journey, I wanted to … so I was a founding CEO, and at one point in 2014, I stepped down. Tony, who was one of my other co-founders, as mentioned earlier, took over the helm and continued to scale. I went out into the agency space for a while to kind of get some good [inaudible 00:19:36] there and some experience around working with enterprise customers and clients, which at the time, I didn’t realize was going to be so impactful in returning the security summer of last year, because we started to position into a place where we knew our consumer business was very consistent and there was a continued growth pattern there. Certainly not the hokey stick of early days, but, you know, as you reach critical mass, things change a little bit right.
Now it’s understanding how to channelize your business. How to reach new audiences, and we found that the agency space was a super interesting place for us to be, right. Because they have a lot of customers that have these same problems, right. And we can come in and talk to them and help them figure out a solution for their customers. So, we started to channelize in the sense of building partners in the agency space. And I knew how to have that discussion now, right. Like it was different because now I had direct experience in a large scale with a large audience, so enterprise only down to mom-and-pop shops. So we started to formalize that and then at the end of the last year, we started to think about what are some higher volumes opportunities. So some higher volume opportunities are hosting providers, right.
There’d been hundreds of thousands, if not millions of customers with websites that have the same problem. That, they know have the same problem because those customers are coming directly to them and telling them that they have that problem today, right. So, we started to build formal channels around approaching hosting providers and partnering with them. And then, that really, at the end of last year, it’s around the time we started to started talking to GoDaddy. And at the beginning of April this year, we closed on the acquisition. So, it became very clear that GoDaddy although has had some, maybe hiccups and bumps on the road from brand perspective, service perspective and the perception of those things, over the last five or six years.
It became very apparent that a lot of the things are just perception today. We had the same GoDaddy at five years ago. In fact, a brilliant organization when we start to really understand the drive and the passion to help our customers and to help those customers businesses be successful, long-term. It’s something that it’s important to them as an organization. I guess it’s important to us being part of that today, and then they value. And now as part of the decision making right. So when we started to see, wow, they really value this, these are the things that we value. And these are the things that we’ve built our business on. Organic growth in education, right. So helping people through our blogging and outreach, and making sure that the service always comes first. People are at their most vulnerable position when they’re talking to Sucuri, right.
They’re about to lose their business, or their client base, or their visitors, the revenue, whatever the case, right-
Chris Badgett: A lot of stress
Dre Armeda: A lot of stress
Chris Badgett: Yes.
Dre Armeda: And we’re helping them through that, right. We’ve had the worst discussions because they’re so pissed off. Sometimes they don’t channel energy in the right way, for, you know, trying to put that as nicely as possible. We’ve dealt with that and at the forefront of that, is always in making sure we get them across the finish line in a way that restores their potential to grow online, right. That business or whatever it is on the website.
That culture that we’ve built is very much in line with GoDaddy’s. And when we saw that opportunity to go out, we really measured it from that perspective and now this gives us the ability to scale from let’s say, a half million, to million, you know, websites in our firewall environment to being able to reach directly 65,000,000 active domains. That’s a very meaningful discussion. When I got out of the military, one of the things that I said was, my wife and I made the conscious decision because we had all the tools in place. We had maybe, the benefits and stuff, where we wanted to be in the military, but our main goal was to make an impact on this society at a larger scale. A positive impact. And when we started to kind of carry that through that whole journey and into the point now where we’re having these discussions, you know I think Tony were certainly the big drivers in making this whole happen, but I think they carry that same vision that impacts, positive impacts that we can make to the internet at large with this type of transition is beyond speakable. It’s brilliant.
So, in April, we closed, right. We became part of the GoDaddy family and part of the GoDaddy security business unit.
Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic. That’s quite the story and I appreciate what you’re saying, like we’re in the middle of that book, and I can’t wait to where that story continues and where you guys evolve and that vision is amazing. Well, let’s take step back from your journey to here, and look a little bit at something else, which I really relate to you with, which is, I’m a technology guy, but I also go out in the woods and I do stuff with my body and it’s one of the ways I stay in balance, because it’s really easy with technology and business to just burn out and get all consumed. It’s really important in my opinion to have other hobbies, passions, outlets for stress relief, or you know, to put your mind out, not just always grinding on business and growth, just do other things, and I know for you a big part of that is Jiu-Jitsu. And one of our [inaudible 00:25:05] one our, you know, ninja hacks about product development and road mapping is simply that, we like to look at learning and how exceptional learning experiences happen in the offline world, and then try to translate that into technology and provide tools for teachers to deliver the same kinds of results.
So, I like looking at, you know, elite training environments or key learning experiences or learning journeys that happen that are like fun. It’s not, there’s no need to add chymification or other things. It just works on its own, and it creates its own momentum. And from talking to you and hearing about your story with Jiu-Jitsu, it seems like that is true for Jiu-Jitsu, with you. How did you get into Jiu-Jitsu and for those of you listening as we get into Dre’s experience as a learner of Jiu-Jitsu and as a student, think about your students. Think about what, you know, you want to have them experience in possibly a similar way. So how did you get into it?
Dre Armeda: That’s an interesting story. So, Tony and Daniel are both Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. But there was a little more influence, outside influence from them the than that. Certainly they both, pestered me. So Tony started like 20, I want to say 2010. Actually they both started about the same time there. Just before we really, really kicked off for us with Sucuri. Tony got injured. So, like the first year and half year after he started, he was, he even competed and stuff. But he got hurt. Daniel was, we were geographically separated so it a lot of maybe Skype and chatted about me getting on the mat Dre, and I said look, this is a spectator sport. Now it’s kind of being a theme for a couple few years.
And around 2013, it was, yes. Beginning of 2013, Tony had to hit me up, and he was like, hey, they actually opened a Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school here in [inaudible 00:27:12] where we live. And he said you should go to check it out. I’m like, dude, it’s still a spectator sport for me, and at this point, [inaudible 00:27:21] for the sake of transparency, I was a heavy smoker through 2012, I quit smoking. I was very complacent. And, the show would just have hammered away on keys there right. And I reached close to 270 pounds. Two hundred and sixty-something pounds, or something like that. I was big and large. I was big Dre for sure.
Well, around that time, he’s telling about this school opening, and I said look, it’s a spectator sport for me, and I don’t know if there was some back channel discussion but my oldest daughter [inaudible 00:27:51], come to me at one point during that same time frame and said look dad, I want to try some MMA. And we’re fans of MMA, we watch MMA. She seemed, kind of, sort of the, female martial artist, it was starting to come up in the game, and she was fond of it. So kind of started thinking about what the best reaction here is. I said look, if that’s what you want to do, I totally get it. We’ll respect it. We’ll follow it, and we’ll back you up on it. But I think the intelligent way to maybe approach this, is to learn your ground game first.
And, knowing that Jiu-Jitsu just opened a school and her uncle was there, because Tony and I are related, I said, geez, this will probably be the best way. Let’s go check out the school and see what you think and then from there on, we’ll make some decisions. She said that’s reasonable, let’s go check it out. So we went over there, Tony’s on the mat. School’s going, very small [inaudible 00:28:47] at a times. Probably six, seven students. I don’t know, something like that. And by the end of the class, I’m going, alright. This is pretty interesting but, I don’t think that she’s going to do it. And she goes, dad, and gave me the look. And she goes, this is awesome. And it needs to happen but the only way it’s happening dad is if you join me on the mat.
I go, oh, shit. Alright. So, she goes … the school gives like a week free. So, we committed, we do the week free. And by the end of it, I told the professor, professor Orlando, we need to sign up. Like this is just awesome. Although I felt like I was dying while I was out there, couldn’t move, I could just, you know, like a turtle on its back, it’s so big, and it’s still super intriguing and I think that the thing that caught me most by surprise was the mind body connection that you have. Because certainly physically, I was so broken down. I mean, I just couldn’t perform the things but I could see the action and reaction and the sequences to position yourself in a superior way so that you can one, attack or two, defend against attacks.
And it just grabbed me. So we went on to start training. This is start, beginning 2013. Well, my daughter ended up doing it for a year, and unfortunately she broke her [inaudible 00:30:10]. She was very active, and that kind of pushed her off, of not being able to do it. But in the time frame she did, I have a large family. Five daughters, and they’re amazing. And they’re watching their oldest sister, it was like, you know, as a sequence of like from oldest to youngest, except for the baby at the time. So they wanted to do it, so they all ended up doing it for a year. I said look, if you’re going to sign up, you’re not just going to sign up and just, you know, do this for a week and then be done. You’re going to commit to a year, and then you’re going to make a decision whether you want to continue or not, but they all did it for a year, and they all competed well.
So now, they’ve gotten kind of both sides, the game side of it, and the self defense side of it, which I think is super important. And they can [inaudible 00:30:54] and defend themselves if they get themselves into a bad situation but ultimately, it’s progressing through that, I think mind and body connection. It’s a way to manifest your thoughts and strategy in physical manifestation. It’s a wild, it’s just a wild thing man.
Chris Badgett: What else keeps you coming back? Like it sounds like if you miss it, you’ll miss it. If you like go somewhere and can’t go, right.
Dre Armeda: I think my wife will tell you, that there comes a point where throughout the week if I’m missing training, she’s kind of urging me you need to go get on the mat. When I’m traveling, it’s painful when I’m off the mat for an extended period of time, it’s depressing. And I think it’s infinite way to solve problems that I think is impactful to me. My goal on the mat is to do one of two things. Is to manipulate the joints to an extent that you will tap out or give up, or to choke you out. To put you to sleep in some way, right. And that’s using the tools that are in front of me. So that’s my hands and my feet. My legs, my arms. My uniform in the [inaudible 00:31:59]. So it’s very restricted in the tool set. You use what you have. And you need to get to that end goal. And there’s infinite ways to do that.
And the challenge that’s presenting itself with let’s say someone that’s new on the mat versus someone that’s been there forever, is very different. So those challenges change. It is infinite in the scenarios towards that outcome. And it’s continual learning. They say that when you reach black belt, which on average, because it’s so subjective, is about ten years to reach black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. And they say that’s when you’re actual journey begins, right. So, I could be 70 years old and still not get it completely man. Like that is just awesome. But there’s a lot of reward through that in the way that you’re able to sequence these moves with the tools you have in place in to reaching your successes. So, to me that is such an addictive thing, you know, and in trying to reach success in something that is infinite.
Chris Badgett: What is the reward? Like how do you experience a reward? Is it a feeling, is it pride in like the new belt level, or whatever. Like how would you describe it? Is it like stress relief, I mean, what is it?
Dre Armeda: There is no win, there is no loss. There’s winning and, but there is no loss in Jiu-Jitsu. There’s always learning, right. Like in that’s I think the ultimate reward, is that, there’s always a means to get better. Sow hen you try things, you go and lets say, I’m successful I won a tournament the whole [inaudible 00:33:31]. I was able to employ my technique that I’d been working so hard at. That I’ve trained. My partners have worked so hard to help me, you know. I’ve been ale to employ that in a way that got me to my ultimate success in that competition. But again, it’s limitless and infinite. I think it’s worth still rewarding. It is a mental state. It is a feeling for sure. I don’t chase medals, and belts are irrelevant. They only cover two inches of your ass man. That’s it, right.
The rest is the amount of energy and time, and effort that you put into curving these skills that, to continually chase what success means for you on the mat. I think that in and of itself is so rewarding is so rewarding just I just, it’s to put words on it. And what’s needed, is it kind of curves a way that you think about things and strategize about stuff, right. And it is, absolutely bleed over the way that I solve business problems. Or the way that I act or react with my wife and kids. And scenarios that come up there come up there. It bleeds over in that, the way that you eat and think about your health. I mean, it’s so overwhelmingly powerful that I think it’s hard to answer about, answer what is it that kind of tickles me about it, man. There’s so much.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Refer the online course creator or designer, because there’s a lot of great things. So let me just kind of say back to you what I heard as some really key insights. And we can wrap on that a little bit. The first thing when you got into it, like from the student perspective is there was a free week. The second thing that was in there was learning in groups. In your case, a particularly powerful group being the family unit.
Dre Armeda: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Chris Badgett: There was prizes involved including the mind-body connection is a prize. Basically unlocking this new power or, you know, super power if you will to. There’s nothing more fun than like discovering a capability that you may not have realized you had before. The other that you said that was interesting was like if you’re going to do it, you had to commit to a year. This isn’t a book you’re going to pull off the shelf, read one chapter. It was a commitment for at least year. The other thing that was involved was competing, which means you’re not just getting idea, you’re taking training and translating that to reality and testing your skills not just ideas.
The other thing that you got out of it was something that literary could help you in the most critical human need, which is survival. If you were to encounter a threat, it can, you know, something that can help you literary stay alive. The other thing is, it helps you with your mental clarity and just sense of well being, which because it gets depressing, the people you love and care about say hey, maybe you should go back there. So it literary turned you into a better person. There’s a puzzle that you get infinite joy out of. That you’re constantly trying to solve, which is fun and addicting. There’s different levels that you can move through. And, even after ten years, you’re still just a beginner, which means it’s a life long learning journey that is crazy long and just has so many layers, literary if you want to commit.
And then the reward is addictive. You’re chasing a feeling, and it’s transferable to other benefits in your life, not just actually on the mat and chocking people out in self defense. You can transfer, I’m sure, those skills from the mind body connections, some of those things transfer into business context, relationships, other things. So there was just so much in what you said, that created a, just a powerful learning opportunity and also really a lifestyle.
Dre Armeda: Good. If I had a microphone in my hand I would drop it for you. That brilliantly articulated. Thank you. [inaudible 00:37:51] for, I appreciate that.
Chris Badgett: Alright. Well, thank you. I appreciate it. You did the hard work, I just kind of, I did some, I just listened and picked out a few [inaudible 00:38:00] there, so. For those of you listening out there, that is the goal. The goal is not to create an information product, which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with just creating product. But the best things out there, if you want to look at Jiu-Jitsu and look at the Gracie family and how all that happened, I encourage you to do some research.
Create a movement. Create a lifestyle. Transform people’s lives like Dre and his family. That’s where the best, you know, viral hokey Stick, we’ve been talking about hokey stick growth. That’s where it comes from. Is creating transformation, not just information.
Dre, I want to thank you for coming on the show, and sharing your WordPress journey with us. I can’t wait to see the next chapters. And where you go from here. Appreciate all the wisdom. I got so much out of listening to you talk about your journey with Sucuri and then WordPress in general. And yes, I just really want to thank you for everything that you’ve shared about your experiences with Jiu-Jitsu and, I think there’s so much we can learn from your story, and I’m going to encourage you, if you’re listening to this podcast or watching on YouTube, to re-watch it. Listen to Dre tell his story of what his experience was like as a student. Listen to what I was saying about the key take aways there, and as you become an instructional designer or a creator of some kind of transformation, there’s just a lot gems in here, so.
Dre thanks for coming on the show. People can connect with you on Twitter, @dremeda right?
Dre Armeda: Dremeda. D-R-E-M-E-D-A.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Cool. Well, is there anywhere else on the internet, if people want to find you or things they should check out, that you’ll like to point them towards?
Dre Armeda: Yes. I would say sucuri.net, it’s a wonderful service. I don’t want to get into the shameless [inaudible 00:40:04] but certainly check it out and if you’re online, it might be of interest to you. Well, it’s [inaudible 00:40:10] on Twitter, is the right place to go.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well thank you Dre for coming on the show and we’ll have to do it again some time as you’re in another crazy chapter and we’ll see what the next evolution looks like and hope you have a great rest of your day.
Dre Armeda: The book only gets better. I appreciate your time. I’m honored to be here. Thank you.