Episode 283

What Course Creators Can Learn About Building an Education Product from WooCommerce and Jilt Software Product Leader Beka Rice

We dive into what course creators can learn about building an education product from WooCommerce and Jilt software product leader Beka Rice in this LMScast hosted by Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Beka works as head of products at SkyVerge and Jilt, and she shares some great insights in this episode for course creators on identifying what course to build.

Jilt is an email marketing solution built for eCommerce stores. So if you’re working with WooCommerce for your online course or membership website, you may want to consider Jilt for sending out your emails and managing customer relationships.

What Course Creators Can Learn About Building an Education Product from WooCommerce and Jilt Software Product Leader Beka Rice

Beka shares her story of moving from teaching high school chemistry to applying her love of research to the world of market research and finding out what products audiences want to buy. She was working with WordPress in the classroom environment, and after becoming familiar with the platform, she started writing documentation about using WooCommerce plugins from a user’s perspective. And from there she became interested in the development of products for WordPress.

How you approach validation and iteration is a large part of how you can become successful with your online course platform. Beka’s experience in the software world translates directly to how course creators can validate by creating a high-touch, paid beta program that allows you to really find out if customers are willing to purchase the course you’re trying to offer. And it allows you to adjust your offer as well.

You can start out with a freemium model where you have a free tool and then some paid add-ons to go on top of that, but often if you go with that setup from the start without first validating with a paid-only product, you won’t end up being able to maintain the paid product or manage to get enough sales for your paid course program.

Beka also shares some great insights for finding the right early adopters and how a group of 10 to 30 people who really understand how to communicate what they need can be the perfect start for developing a program that can really have an impact in your space.

To learn more about the suite of plugins built for eCommerce entrepreneurs, be sure to check out SkyVerge.com. And you can find the Jilt marketing automation tool at Jilt.com.

At LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Thank you for joining us!

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Badgett:

You’ve come to the right place if you’re a course creator looking to build more impact, income, and freedom. LMScast is the number one podcast for course creators just like you. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of the most powerful tool for building, selling, and protecting engaging online courses called LifterLMS. Enjoy the show.

Chris Badgett:

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m joined by a special guest, Beka Rice. She’s Head of Product at SkyVerge and Jilt. SkyVerge is a place with a lot of WooCommerce add-ons, plugins, and such. How many?

Beka Rice:

Over 50.

Chris Badgett:

Which is awesome. And then Jilt is a software solution. It’s email marketing, built for ecommerce stores. And with all of you WooCommerce users out there that are using WooCommerce for your online course or your training based membership site, I wanted to get Beka on the show so we could look at all these amazing tools that she and the team have built over there. But first, welcome to the show, Beka.

Beka Rice:

Yeah. Thanks so much, Chris. I was really happy that we got a chance to sync up. We haven’t seen each other in a few months now. So, it’s good to see you again.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah, absolutely. I was a dog musher in Alaska before I got into software. You were a chemist, you have a background in chemistry. And it’s always interesting, a lot of people that end up in software or WordPress in general, it’s often a windy path. What connected your chemistry background to software development?

Beka Rice:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And for me, there’s a couple of things. One was that I started using that degree to teach high school chemistry. And so actually, it was kind of through teaching that really got me into software. I was teaching high school and using WordPress for my classroom website, and our softball team website. Since I was kind of really involved in using WordPress and using plugins and kind of setting up some different stuff with this site, I was really sort of aware of what that process felt like to someone who wasn’t a developer, who wasn’t really into kind of understanding how you would go about maintaining a site in a way that was forward thinking.

Beka Rice:

And so because of that, I started writing documentation about using WooCommerce plugins from this user perspective. And then got interested in development. I remember actually pretty acutely that for me, it was wanting to put tables on my website, as a teacher, and being like, why can’t I do this in WordPress? It’s like Microsoft Word for your website, like I should be able to put a table in here. And then learning HTML as a result from that and kind of snowballing from there.

Beka Rice:

So I got into it from documentation then as a result, and kind of having that user perspective and then sort of getting way deeper into the ecommerce ecosystem and understanding those problems. But coming from a chemistry background, I was sort of specializing in analytical chemistry. So I love data analysis and I love sort of being able to dig into like breaking down why something’s happening and how it’s happening and kind of evaluate that.

Beka Rice:

And so I think, when you’re in the sort of product management space, that’s a skill I lean on a fair bit, which I think is something that helps you out a lot if you kind of take that macro view of big data set and say, like, how can we slice this? Is this significant? What are we getting out of it? So a lot of that led me into the software space, since those were pretty translatable skills.

Chris Badgett:

That is awesome. I have a lot of respect for that. I’m the opposite. I’m more of an intuitive feeler kind of guy. I love seeing, or I’m trying to level up on the data analytical side because it’s definitely key. With that in mind, how did you identify with the data mine and you look at the needs of the WooCommerce store owner or would be store owner, how did you identify which plugins to develop or acquire or whatever you did? Like how do you identify the pain points and the opportunities? Was it always scratching your own itch? Or did you have another process for that?

Beka Rice:

Yeah, so one of the things coming from a science background is that I love research, right? That’s one of my favorite things to do. And so the way we approached that really early on was from a couple of perspectives. One was that we were doing client work still, for small businesses where there weren’t a ton of off the shelf products for WooCommerce at that point. So people still had a lot of needs that weren’t being served by the core platform or existing add-ons.

Beka Rice:

So some of the products we had came from client work and people saying, I want to pay for this solution to exist. And so thinking, well, if this person’s going to pay for it, assuming that we can find some other people who were interested in it, we’re going to be able to sell this too, right? So that was kind of one thing.

Beka Rice:

But then the other thing was looking a lot at what sort of existed in the market, like, let’s say if there’s competitors that maybe aren’t hitting all of the problems that they should be quite as clearly as they could be, and kind of do some research around what those competitors are offering, what we think they could be offering, and doing a lot of user interviews. And so one of the early-

Chris Badgett:

What does that look like? What does a user interview look like for you? It’s not just like installing a … I don’t know, like sometimes I think about Hotjar and Crazy Egg and these things like where we’re just kind of watching how they use a website, but then there’s actual looking over somebody’s shoulder, or there’s talking to them. What do you do?

Beka Rice:

Yeah. So we do some looking over shoulder situation now with a tool called Look Back that’s really cool for that. So folks can record their screen while they’re talking to you and completing tasks, which is really, really helpful. But we didn’t have that or even if it existed at that point, we definitely couldn’t afford to pay for it. So a lot of it was talking to people and just saying, “Hey, I saw you were using this plugin, or you let the comment on our website when you were describing this problem. Can we talk about it?”

Beka Rice:

A lot of user interview is really just asking why enough times until you feel like you get to the core problem someone has. Because a lot of time what you’ll find is that people will come in and ask you questions that are already coming from a place of they have a preconceived notion of how they solve a problem, right?

Beka Rice:

And so a good example of that is we have a plugin in WooCommerce that lets you export CSV files with borders, right? That’s really valuable in itself and which is why we have a plugin, right? But we also found that there’s a distinct number of people who were saying, I want to export this in this format or I need to be able to change it this way.

Beka Rice:

And what we found by asking why enough times was not that they specifically needed a particular format. But it was because they were using a particular fulfillment service that required that format. And so we then later just built a direct integration with that fulfillment service. And so a lot of it was finding everyone we could who was using WooCommerce, or using plugins that we’re familiar with, and just trying to talk them about their problems.

Chris Badgett:

That’s awesome. And then first you identify it, and then you shorten the steps or the friction between the problem and solution. I mean, it sounds easy, but I know it’s not. I think a lot of companies, they don’t do it. They don’t take the time, especially in the beginning to do the user research and to get out of their own mind and what they think or what they learned, and you do. I mean, I call it moving slow to move fast. You got to move slow first to build the right thing so you can move fast later.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, absolutely. Going back to your earlier point about intuition versus data, you really need both. You can’t say like, oh, I’ve done this marketplace analysis and I’ve seen this many votes, and this many support conversations, and this many forum posts, right? Because you’re still going to have the assumption that you understand the problem in the first place.

Beka Rice:

So really, it comes back to that, knowing the people you’re building for and the problems they’re trying to solve, and really understanding to get to a level, which I think is, to your point why it seems easy, but it’s not, is a lot of time people stop short of like, well, yeah, I understand the problem. It’s that we need this format for this export file as well. There’s almost always a problem behind that problem. So it gets to the next problem.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah. And that’s something that you the course creator, the membership creator can learn from is your market doesn’t always tell you exactly what they need. There’s something else behind that. And that’s really what the entrepreneur does. Speaking to education entrepreneurs is you’re using training to find the problem behind the problem and then help them solve it and reduce the steps.

Chris Badgett:

So you can learn a lot for creating online training by watching how software companies do that, which is why I want to get into that kind of line of questions for you. Switching over to using technology to support people building memberships, you have a product called WooCommerce Memberships. That’s what it’s called, right?

Beka Rice:

Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Badgett:

There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace. One of the things I spend a ton of time doing when I talked to people is, we have to get a definition of terms. Some people see memberships as like, oh, it’s a membership site, and there’s stuff behind it. Some people see it as a subscription payment model. Some people see it as like a benefit that you get access to free things or cheaper things. There’s all kinds of different ways to use memberships.

Chris Badgett:

For this community here, they’re mostly thinking about building a membership site, which has things like courses, digital downloads, access to pre-recorded webinars, maybe some templates, and a bunch of stuff. How do people use WooCommerce Memberships? If you were to dissect with your analytical mind, even if it’s outside of courses, like how do people and training like, how do people use your plugin?

Beka Rice:

Yeah, and so I think this is an area where we have a lot of overlap between what we do, and why I think LifterLMS is awesome as a result, because it dovetails so nicely with what we see out of memberships. And just as an area, I think is really cool coming from an education background, right? So with memberships we usually kind of explain the differentiation between these things as if you want a recurring billing model that’s subscription, right?

Chris Badgett:

Okay.

Beka Rice:

If you want to protect content from different kinds of users or visitors, that’s a membership. If you want to give people an ability to learn from you, that’s course, right? And you may need one of those, or you may need all three of them. And so we find that we do have a lot of membership sites that are also using an LMS plugin, because they will do exactly what you said, which is they might have a course for folks or webinars that should be protected. So only specific people could see them, right?

Beka Rice:

Well, now we’ve put two of those concepts together. You have a course that you’re giving people, and that course should be protected. So what you need is learning management, and a membership component. A lot of plugins will sometimes cover both, right? When we built WooCommerce Memberships, we were really focused on just the protection piece of it because we felt like that was a really big problem to solve. And then we work really closely with other plugins to try to make it flexible enough that you can use it with a subscription plugin or an LMS plugin.

Chris Badgett:

That’s cool. Well, let’s talk about teams for memberships because as of this recording, with LifterLMS we’ve probably rolled out our groups add-on and for WooCommerce users who are selling to teams or companies or schools or to parents or whatever that group is, how does your team’s plugin work with WooCommerce?

Beka Rice:

Yeah. The LMS community was actually one of our biggest customers in mind when we built that. So what we found was that we have a lot of folks who use memberships, like for purchasing clubs, like, I want to sell this to everybody, but members get it cheaper, or I want to hide certain things for members only, right? And sometimes even course management sites will still do the same thing.

Beka Rice:

But we found this group of users for memberships, who were saying this is great, but what I need is that I don’t have single people to buy my course. I have companies or universities or schools or organizations or families, right? And so what I need is the ability for one person to buy it, but then add other people or manage them or invite them because I want these other people to take the course.

Beka Rice:

And so a lot of our early interviews when we were kind of deciding what we want the teams add-on to be were with LMS sites and using a variety of different LMS plugins, some of whom were using LifterLMS if there are a number of them. So we kind of said, okay, let’s think about this in terms of the memberships model, which is about protection. The team’s add-on kind of extends that to say, okay, now let’s give protection to a group of people and we’ll call it a team.

Beka Rice:

What we find with LMS sites is if they use an LMS plugin with memberships and with teams, now one person could buy access to a course. And they can choose to add themselves to take that course or not, or they can invite other people. So it lets you decouple who pays for it versus who’s in the course. And then when they invite people, each person’s membership access is like based on when they were invited so that it gives them the full access to the course.

Beka Rice:

Because we also found that some folks, you would have a team group where you don’t want the start date per se to be like when the person bought the team, right? You want the start date to be when people start taking the course, when people sign up. And so we kind of really had that LMS use case and sort of job in mind when we built teams as a result.

Chris Badgett:

That is awesome. That’s super cool. I’ll be sharing that in my Facebook group right after I hang up on this call, because people are … It’s good to know more about how it works and especially, that’s super cool, at least to this audience about how it was kind of built with LMS kind of people in mind. So that’s really cool.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a lot more that we can do with it yet that we still haven’t, right?

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Beka Rice:

Even though it’s a bit of like it’s been around for a while, it’s a pretty substantial product, right? So there’s more that we want to do in terms of LMS integration, like showing an owner course status for example, like did these people … How many lessons have they completed? But at least in terms of inviting people and protecting stuff for the group of people to manage their course, we’ve gone pretty far down that route already.

Chris Badgett:

That’s cool. Well, I was going to save a question for my free consulting session at the end of the call till later, but because that you the education entrepreneur can learn from software entrepreneur since we’re here, I wanted to go ahead and surface this one. Which is, you talked about deciding which product to build. I kind of want to unpack how you from there do more like, what do you see as validation that a course creator could learn from a software entrepreneur?

Chris Badgett:

And then after validation, version one of a product is products in software just like courses and memberships can evolve and get better and better over time. So how do you approach validation and then iteration? Because everybody’s got capacity and constraints, time, money, whatever, regardless of whether you’re building software, or education products, what’s your process for validation and iterating?

Beka Rice:

There’s as many schools of thought out there as you could probably imagine about this concept. For us, there’s a few things that we’ve done in the past, right? One that we did really early on, which I think a lot of soft companies do is they think about like a freemium model, which I think is pretty common with courses, right? You’ll start like a free newsletter, or you’ll give away some content for free, and then build like a premium offering sort of behind that.

Beka Rice:

I think that if you’re a course creator listening to this in the audience, you’ve probably tried that or thought about trying that model, right? I think it’s a good model, and it can be successful. The only thing I’d caution with that model for validating an idea is that it doesn’t cover the most important barrier, which is are people willing to give me money for this, right?

Beka Rice:

Sometimes you get lucky, and they will. But sometimes you’ve solved the problem that is, vitamins and not aspirin. And so people aren’t really … Like, it’s nice for them to have and they’re interested in it if it’s free, but as soon as they have to pay something for it now, it’s really not as important to them. So if you thought about that model, it’s not a bad one, and you can stick with it.

Beka Rice:

But what I would say is important, and this is true of software and courses, is to make sure that you’ve really understood the kind of job story that you’re solving. We use a framework for our product management called jobs-to-be-done, which is just kind of a line of questioning and way of thinking about things, which is you frame all your problems as like when I do this, I want this to happen so I can achieve some outcome, right?

Beka Rice:

And so that context of when this happens is really important. And the context of the outcome I want to achieve is important. And so if you are giving something away for free, it could meet that outcome, but maybe you want to say, okay, am I meeting the whole thing here in one way? My premium offering should be something that solves that in a more robust way or a more seamless way.

Beka Rice:

And then from there, make sure people are willing to pay for it. So if you can’t necessarily upsell any of your free users immediately, even without this thing being built yet, if you say I’m pre ordering for this course now, and you can pay whatever, $50, $100 right now to reserve your spot in it and you get no sales, we need to rethink which problem you’re solving. Maybe you’re solving one that is vitamins. So if you’re just starting and you haven’t done anything yet, and you’re kind of getting into this, I would say jump to that step right away before you try and do something freemium, right?

Chris Badgett:

That’s awesome. Before we keep going, I just want to give a little piece of LifterLMS history. Lifter released over five years ago on October 14th, 2015, and it started as a paid plugin. It was $149. The core plugin itself is we have a freemium model, but we did … It was important at the very beginning, I wanted to validate it on the initial launch that people were willing to pay.

Chris Badgett:

Over time, we were able to add enough value through various add-ons that we could make the decision to flip the model, but we did it. I mean, I’m glad we did it that way. I wasn’t really that smart. I just kind of got lucky. I heard on something that I was supposed to do it that way or something.

Beka Rice:

So what made y’all change the model then?

Chris Badgett:

I mean, there’s a lot of things. I’ve always heard, like there’s a saying information wants to be free. People love free. And also, it was important to me as a player in the WordPress community to kind of give back and to contribute in a way. By putting this LMS system for free, like the core for free, just like WooCommerce, I was really inspired by WooCommerce really is like, they can do it, we can do it.

Chris Badgett:

We’re not as big, we’re like this little niche. And then it also just helped tap into the WordPress innovation where other companies integrate, build add-ons or whatever. It literally only took one month, like we went paid to free and then one month our revenues were right back where they were with a free. And then it just started climbing or whatever because … So it was the right call, but maybe I just got lucky twice.

Beka Rice:

No. It can be awesome for growth, if you already know that there’s something there that people are going to pay for. I think that’s the really interesting thing from that lesson in particular, right, which is that you validated really early that people would pay for it. And so at that point, it sounds like you had a really good concept of like, what people would pay for and what would be good to give away for free.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Beka Rice:

I think that that’s something that with the freemium model can be hard for people, especially your first go around, if this is your first business, your first time doing this is understanding like where that line is. And so I think that if I were choosing, and this is just, again, opinion, not like fact or something I think everyone should do, I would choose to do it in more similar to the way that you did, which is to try to find something people are going to pay for first.

Beka Rice:

And so even if you haven’t built it yet, you could take pre orders, you could put up a landing page and do some like Google ads or Facebook ads to see if people will sign up for the pre order and give you some payment information, right? Because then you’re validating the idea that yes, people will give me a credit card number or PayPal account, because if they’re not willing to cross that hurdle, then maybe you need to think about your positioning or the customer you’re targeting or the product itself and the problem you’re solving.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah, that’s awesome. Just on our story, we validated with our first launch, it was a launch. So we opened the cart, we closed the card week later, 42 customers. And then for us the way we did our initial iteration was, we were very close with it, these early adopters to see what they want, where’s the friction, then we opened it up forever. But we took a pause, this is that move slow to move fast later, and just worked with our early adopters to make sure we were hitting the mark, how do you iterate after you’ve [inaudible 00:20:40]?

Beka Rice:

We do something pretty similar. When you find early adopters that are able to clearly articulate the problem that they want solved.

Chris Badgett:

That’s harder said than done, because not everybody knows how to communicate.

Beka Rice:

Exactly.

Chris Badgett:

Well, I don’t know. Tell me more about that. What do you mean by that?

Beka Rice:

So what we find is that sometimes people know they have a problem, but they don’t know why they have a problem or where they have a problem. I think that even if it’s hard to articulate, we could probably think of someone in mind when I say that, right, that you’ve talked to in terms of one of your potential customers who knows, like, yeah, I could probably use this. But they’re not really sure why.

Beka Rice:

A lot of that is because that they haven’t necessarily delved into the problem that they’re trying to solve deep enough themselves, right? So what I look for in a good early adopter to work with when you’re trying to iterate is I try to find someone who says, no, this is exactly why I have this problem. And this is what I want to achieve from it. And like, here’s why I can’t achieve it right now, or why it’s such a pain to achieve it right now.

Beka Rice:

And so those people are gold. They’re the ones that you really want to focus on early, not the ones who are maybe a little bit unclear about the problem. But try to find those people who really deeply understand their problem, the pain points they have, and they can communicate those to you in a way that you understand. Because if they can tell you, then that usually means that they deeply understand the problem, right?

Beka Rice:

Just like any complex concept, a good teacher is someone who can take that complex concept and make it understandable for other people. And so those are the kind of people that you want as your early adopters. And so we’ll focus on that group of people, and then we work really closely with them.

Beka Rice:

I was like, okay, well, what’s this workflow that you have, and we’ll build for a small group. We’ll build for a group of 10 people or 30 people, and not necessarily market large, because we know that if those 30 people, those 15 people, whoever it is, can tell us about this problem that other people are going to have this problem, we’re going to build from there.

Beka Rice:

A lot of the time, we’ll give those people like a six months free or something or a year free to keep them motivated and working with us and saying, like, hey, we’re building this for you, and we’re going to sell it but this is why we want your input because we’re building, like we’re doing this together. And then when you involve them in the process, they often also become great promoters for you when you first launch, which is also a really important thing too. That they tell other people who are in similar positions, they tell their entrepreneur groups, they tell their Facebook groups.

Chris Badgett:

Other people like them, which is who your target market is.

Beka Rice:

Exactly, and so we focus on from idea to launch I guess is what I would probably call that phase, right? We’ll focus on just a really small group of people and try to get as granular with a specific problem as we can. And so a lot of the plugins we launched, sometimes we launched too late. And a lot of that I think I put squarely on my plate as my fault, because you try to build-

Chris Badgett:

What do you mean too late?

Beka Rice:

I think because you try to build something that’s like feature rich, or that is addressing multiple problems or maybe addressing a problem more robustly than it needs to get it out there. And so I think that focusing on a small group of people, and just picking one of their problems has helped us decide when to launch something and when to start charging money for it easier.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah, that’s super cool. That’s super cool. There’s a lot I want to go to from there. Well, let me just say, like I see some course creators, typically they go to … If they’re good, sometimes they do both. But usually they choose. They get a product, they validate it or they get lucky and then they kind of improve it a little bit. And then there’s a fork in the road and they either keep improving it, or they switch to the portfolio approach and they launch a new course. And then they start getting into the membership site thing.

Chris Badgett:

What’s your advice? Let’s say we’re going to be one course. Like, there’s course creators out there. I’m just thinking, the first thing that comes to mind is the internet marketer, Jeff Walker, he has something called Product Launch Formula. It launches every year or twice a year, I think like clockwork, and I think he continually works on it and improves it. He just iterates on it. What advice if somebody is going to be like really committed and go like one product, one course, what are some ways to think about iteration to continuously improve beyond their early stages of a product?

Beka Rice:

Yeah. I think this is really applicable to software too, right? Like how do you sort of love one product and kind of keep building it, right?

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Beka Rice:

What we’ve found is that when you focus on specific jobs and problems, the improvement you can have is infinite, essentially. And so a good example-

Chris Badgett:

Or you can always do better.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, well that and kind of what I mean is usually by solving one problem, what you end up doing is you unlock markets that you didn’t realize existed, and then you have more problems to solve. So I can give you a pretty good example of this, which is that we built a plugin that lets you export orders and customers from WooCommerce, right. This export suite tool, when we first started that was really simple. It would generate an export file and didn’t even do it in the background.

Beka Rice:

So it would like timeout if your site had tens of thousands of things, right, but it solved the need that most people had. And then we built it and we improved the performance. We did a lot of things. But what we found was that we had one problem tied to something I mentioned earlier about like fulfillment services, which was that people wanted to automatically export a file and we couldn’t build integrations with every fulfillment service out there.

Beka Rice:

So we realized like, well, we have a couple of big fulfillment integrations, what we should do here is let you automatically export a file and send it somewhere. So that you don’t have to do that transfer, right? So you can email it, you could send a web hook, you can transfer it via FTP, right? Like you should be able to do this.

Beka Rice:

So when we built that feature, which we said, cool. Now, besides just automatically exporting on a schedule, now you can send that file somewhere, we found that there was people who never even considered our plugin before that now it was an option for them. So now, we found out that there were other jobs for us to solve, which was this is great. But now I need to be able to do that with multiple sources. Because I have two distribution centers or really I’m actually using this to send files to vendors so that they have CSV files of their orders, right? So now I need to be able to set up multiple automated exports or send these to multiple destinations.

Beka Rice:

And so even if you solve one problem really well, if you continue to focus on the people that are using that problem, like there’s going to be other problems for you to solve. The trick is really just kind of staying true to understanding your customers and who you’re building for so that you avoid kind of like bloat and you stay really problem focused.

Chris Badgett:

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and it’d be cool to have a conversation around, which is I think I’m kind of coming to the conclusion that the … I think it was Seth Godin was talking about your minimum viable audience, like get super tight, like you’re talking about people, your early adopters, good communicators, that can help you really figure out the problem.

Chris Badgett:

But then as you get more advanced or your company survives, you start having these conversations around segmentation and you have these different like, you were just saying vendors, the people who weren’t even a market, you start noticing these people using your product that aren’t who you’re directly marketing to. So what are your thoughts on segmentation? Now, I know that’s a giant question, but if you go to a-

Beka Rice:

Especially for someone who works for an email marketing app.

Chris Badgett:

If you go to a software company site, I mean this is something you can learn as a course creator is there’s going to be this section on the homepage or somewhere where it’s for this type of person, this type of person, and this type of person, like three segments. I mean maybe that’s a getting started thing. Just educate the good people on segmentation and some things you’ve learned about it.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, so when we look at segmentation, I don’t know if I feel like it’s necessarily like an early stage problem. I think it’s a later stage problem because ideally, you want to get it as tight as you can with the initial product on what we call one segment, right? Or what Seth Godin calls like minimum viable audience or whatnot, right?

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Beka Rice:

You want to focus on like a single person or use case or problem, but I think that naturally every product can be expanded. It’s your choices as the person who’s building it, whether you want to do that or not, right? If you want to grow it, though, you’re probably going to have to serve more than one problem and more than one market as you grow. I think that’s when segmentation becomes interesting.

Beka Rice:

So I look at it as like you develop segments, you don’t start with segmentation. There’s a lot written about this from a marketing perspective, with land and expand being a strategy you can follow, right? Serve one segment in one demographic, and then expand your demographic or expand your segments, right?

Beka Rice:

So when we do this, once you expand to see to your point, oh, maybe there are some people using this product that weren’t in my initial target or that initial audience, right? Then I think you have to talk to those people. And so what we found when we were building that particular product that I mentioned, was these people who would say, like, “Hey, this is pretty cool that you added this feature, but like, I need to actually do this more than one time.”

Beka Rice:

We tried to find out as much as we could about them. And so our support team, for example, when they log that information for us, they’ll say, “Hey, will you talk to someone on our team? Or would you be willing to chat with us so that we can understand this problem a little bit better?” We try to say, “Okay, well, who are you? What do you do?” Let’s like reclassify you. So we kind of build those segments as we go.

Beka Rice:

And we found that like, okay, oh, you’re a drop shipper, we haven’t talked to a lot of drop shippers. Explain to me the drop shipping problems. And then you almost sort of repeat the process that you went through from the very beginning, which is now treat this as a new problem, and a new customer you’re serving and see if it fits your product or not.

Chris Badgett:

This was really awesome. I just want to take a moment to pause and talk about the six key areas of any business, but it’s especially true in software. But what I encourage you who’s listening right now is to think about this for your online course business because we talked a lot about how you have to wear multiple hats.

Beka Rice:

Yeah.

Chris Badgett:

So the five hats for course creators, which is different than the six, but real quick is you have to be an expert, a teacher, a community builder, a technologist and entrepreneur. Now inside that entrepreneur hat, you have to build a company that has six functions. At first you’re going to be doing all of this if you’re a one person operation, which is for a software company, it is sales, marketing, product, engineering, customer success and operations and admin. So there are six key functions there.

Chris Badgett:

What we’re having a conversation around today mostly is around product. So for you, that’s a course or your membership site. Beka has a brilliant product mine. And so I really encourage you to like learn. We’re talking about product. She’s good at these other hats too, I know. But I heard once that this is from one of my business coaches, his name’s Dan Martell that I heard that product managers in Silicon Valley, the really good ones sometimes make a lot more than the CEO.

Chris Badgett:

The reason is, is this is a highly specialized skill set that some people just naturally evolve into. I mean, I know there’s product manager training stuff out there, and books and whatnot. But it’s a really interesting skill. And if you’re a course creator and a membership site person, you’re creating a product. There’s just a lot we can learn from software. So I just wanted to talk about that and kind of couch that into this conversation.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, well, I think that one thing that part of the reason that that’s true, that product management is sort of vital is because to your previous set of requirements, it’s that to do good product management, you have to be aware of community building and teaching and being a technologist and all these other components.

Beka Rice:

And so what I find is that, if you understand good customer development, which is a big part of product management, and how a product fits into a larger ecosystem and marketplace, which is also kind of an advanced part of good product management, right? Then you’re going to understand how do I build a community, how do I sell this product, right?

Beka Rice:

And so, I think that part of the reason that product management doesn’t necessarily have a discipline in universities or stuff, but why it is so vital to a lot of companies is because it sort of encompasses a lot of that entrepreneurship of like, how do I build something that people want? And the sort of nuts and bolts of there’s these concepts of, a lot of companies have like a visionary and an implementer, and that kind of concept. And I think that good product management is being able to do both, is saying like, here’s what I think people want to solve. Let me go figure out the path now to get to that.

Beka Rice:

I think that’s why it’s valuable for course creators because it’s saying, hey, what do people want to learn from you? Are they going to pay to learn that, and what are the specifics of what they want to learn? And how can we build a community around that that not only teaches that to them, but keeps them coming back and maybe generates recurring revenue for you as a course creator, so people aren’t paying you once and then going away? How do you keep them engaged in the course that they tell other people how valuable the course was, right? It’s all tied up, and it’s really similar to the way we do things in software.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah, that’s awesome. Do you have any maybe top two or three if somebody wants to kind of get a little better at product management thinking or whatever? Is there any kind of person or book that you recommend?

Beka Rice:

Oh, man, there’s so many.

Chris Badgett:

Well, you can rattle them off. You can do [inaudible 00:34:28] you want.

Beka Rice:

I would say that actually, if you’re not a product manager, I think software is a great place to learn because product management is so much a discipline in software in comparison to other industries. So software product management is a good place to learn from. I would say that if I were going to start somewhere, I would look at Ken Norton’s list of books for product managers is probably a really good place to start.

Beka Rice:

So things like I think it’s Creativity, Inc. is one of his top recommendations, and there’s a lot about basic product management that he recommends there. Then there’s other online communities and stuff as well. I just like books so I think that’s one that I kind of do as a go to.

Chris Badgett:

Awesome. Well, let’s make the turn over to Jilt. I guess before we go there, when you look at WooCommerce, ecommerce, where is there a big gap in the market? Sometimes we think that … Just maybe throw out an example. Sometimes it seems like oh, it’s already been done before, but there’s always room for improvement. If you’re looking at the WooCommerce or ecommerce area today, what’s an example like pain point that’s out there?

Beka Rice:

Right, I think Jilt was our example of that. For us, when you go back to talking about course creators, and one of the things that you mentioned was community building, right? That’s all about communication. And so that was kind of one of the seeds of Jilt for us was we had built a lot of these products, like memberships is kind of one that was a big contributor to this.

Beka Rice:

When we found that people had difficulty communicating with their customers and building a community and they were trying to solve it a lot of ways like things like the bbPress and BuddyPress and other like email platforms. And what we found was that people assume that emails are done because MailChimp existed, right? MailChimp is a fantastic company, and they’re enormous and they’re one of the most successful bootstrapped companies that we can use as a shining example of that.

Beka Rice:

But we found that they didn’t really actually serve this ecommerce problem really specifically. And so it felt a little bit crazy and I remember thinking that people who were launching small ecommerce apps at that time probably were a little bit crazy, right? But we found that yeah, something exists for this, but it doesn’t do it as well as people want because it doesn’t have the ecommerce data like their orders and their contact information and details about their memberships for example, and things they purchased.

Beka Rice:

MailChimp has gotten a little bit better as time has gone on with that, but that was why we started Jilt was because like these people need to build community, and they need to keep these people engaged with their site and coming back to their site. And they have difficulty doing that with tools that exist now, so can we maybe have email marketing that is tailored to small ecommerce businesses but gives you tools that large and enterprise level businesses use? But can we bring them to these people in a way that makes sense?

Beka Rice:

That kind of really aligned with our core mission as a company, and so Jilt sort of came out of that as a result of that similar concept. Yeah, there’s something that exists, but this problem isn’t really being solved in a really robust way can we do.

Chris Badgett:

What’s your core mission as a company?

Beka Rice:

To level the playing field for ecommerce growth, so to take enterprise level tools and make them available for small businesses.

Chris Badgett:

Wow, that’s awesome. So I mean, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And this kind of goes back to the minimum viable audience. MailChimp is for small business, I guess, or not necessarily. It’s just for business. It’s just a general CRM, email marketing or whatever. But what about the ecommerce or specifically WooCommerce niche? I mean, that’s a segment and that segment is going to have unique problems that the current solution is a little too generalized.

Chris Badgett:

So that’s a huge takeaway. It just goes back to the minimum viable audience point, and the reality is, ecommerce is not a bad segment because typically they’re businesses, they have money, and they’re willing to pay to solve problems i.e., aspirin, not vitamin. So, that’s awesome.

Chris Badgett:

Well, so inside Jilt, you’ve got … And this is over at jilt.com, go check it out. If you’re using WooCommerce, you need to be aware of this automation, newsletter, segmentation, analytics, email editing. Let me go, where was I? I was on the features page. One of the things I think when you innovate is like, I’m an early adopter in WordPress. I started using WordPress in 2007 or something like that. But I’m not an early adopter at other things.

Chris Badgett:

But because I’m an early adopter in WordPress, I’m willing to string together a lot of different tools to do stuff. But then what happens with good innovation is a company like Jilt comes along, and there’s all these tools and different SaaS apps and everything. And you’re just like, you know what, why don’t I just consolidate the feature set here and get into it?

Chris Badgett:

For example, the dynamic coupons thing that you do. Expansion revenue, if I just buy a product, if I just buy one course from you, what about like, a follow up email that creates a coupon that like, hey, for the next three days, you can get this one for half off, this other one. So you’re trying to expand your average order value or something like that. That’s a very ecommerce specific problem or opportunity. I don’t know. I’m not setting you up with a question, but how do you … Just in general, what problems you solve like what are you doing for the WooCommerce store owner with Jilt?

Beka Rice:

Yeah. And so what you see now with Jilt, I think it’s easy to look at it and say like, well, it’s not necessarily as much of that early adopter problem, right? That it’s not focusing on a particular thing, and we’re consolidating, right? But that’s not where Jilt started. Where Jilt started was a very specific problem which was solely cart abandonment recovery.

Beka Rice:

When we looked at okay, folks are having trouble with email that works well for them. They’re having trouble with building community, and they want emails that are on brand. Their platform is solving some of this, right? WooCommerce has some emails built in, a lot of plugins have some emails built in. But this wasn’t a problem that was solved really well.

Beka Rice:

The reason we started with cart abandonment was that when we looked at of all the emails the store sends, which one generates the most money, basically, which one can we deliver the highest value with? And that was cart recovery, which is when someone adds something to your cart, but they don’t check out, and then you send them reminder emails.

Beka Rice:

Maybe they’re customer service focused, right? Like, hey, something go wrong, did you have any questions? Here’s our return policy, here’s our shipping policy. Please buy this, or let us know why you don’t want to, and we’re happy to help. And then so the dynamic discounts actually came as a result of that, which was, a lot of times folks want to offer like a 5% off coupon or free shipping or something in like their third email. And so let’s build that so they can do it.

Beka Rice:

And then we found that as Jilt grew, and we knew that we wanted to cover other use cases with Jilt, we found other ways that that feature was going to be helpful for people and post purchase follow ups like that to increase customer lifetime value are one of the other great examples of like, hey, you’ve purchased something, but you haven’t purchased again in like six months. Let me send you this limited time coupon like, hey, if you want to pick up your second course, do it for 50% off right now.

Beka Rice:

And so, while something like Jilt appears to consolidate a lot of features, and it kind of does now, we still started really niche and we built it in those phases. It did cart abandonment first, and then it did post purchase automations, and then it did other automations like a win back over time, or like asking for product reviews, right? And then we built newsletters. And so we kind of iterated on it over time in like the same way that we’re kind of describing.

Chris Badgett:

That is awesome. I think course creators can learn from that way. In this industry, we call it the experts curse. So the big problem is, I’m really experienced in chemistry as an example, which I’m not, you’re here so I’m using that one. If I’m going to teach chemistry courses online, I could try to teach everything under the sun. But there’s probably like a really specific one that I should start with.

Chris Badgett:

Because a lot of people get stuck, they’re like, I got to do it all. But what you said is, I’m going to go to the high value problem where I can add the most value quickly and earn the customer trust, and then you grow with them over time. That’s a beautiful approach.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, absolutely. So if you took chemistry as an example, right, if I were building course sites for chemistry, like what would I do, right? Well, I’d start with what do people probably struggle most with and what are most people doing? I could think okay, well might be people who are looking for a crash course for a job, or it might be high school students looking to pass general chemistry, or it might be college freshmen who are taking Chem 101. So which one of these do I want to solve?

Beka Rice:

College students are probably a good place because they’re already buying textbooks, right? So maybe if you’re replacing a textbook, and a tutor, maybe you can do that. So let’s start with general chemistry, because that’s where everybody starts, right? And so that means solve general chemistry really kind of similar to what Khan Academy did, right? Which was like, we’re going to make this really understandable and easy for you.

Beka Rice:

And then once I’ve done that, now, maybe I can think about I might have more expensive courses then for organic chemistry, because I know one person in my life that liked organic chemistry, right? And it’s an absolute bear of a class, right? So maybe I’m going to charge more for this course. And then maybe I’m going to look at physical chemistry or inorganic chemistry or analytical chemistry and I can add other courses in here that are all in the same vein and targeted to that same customer, which is a college student.

Beka Rice:

But now I’m targeting a Chem major instead of maybe any student. So maybe these courses are focused more in depth instead of just helping you pass the course. And so if you’re going to approach something like that, I think that that kind of niche down really far with your first customer gets to that minimum viable audience of I’m going to target college freshmen who are just trying to pass chemistry, right?

Beka Rice:

But then as you grow, and that’s kind of what I was getting at earlier with, like, you’re going to solve different problems, you probably end up getting a lot of Chem majors taking that course, who now want more advanced information. So now maybe I should make organic chemistry understandable for them. That could be part of the same course, or it could be another course. But at least that’s kind of like my land and expand strategy.

Chris Badgett:

Wow. I love that. I appreciate that example. We’re just about up on time and to just give one more, just quick value to the people. You’ve done something really well, which I think people can learn from. You have a portfolio approach. You’ve got a lot of products.

Chris Badgett:

Just real quick, what are the three biggest things that contributed to your ability to scale in that way? Because if we’re a course creator and we’re wearing five hats, we got this big dream, and we want to build this portfolio, what are some of the key things that allowed you to survive and thrive as a portfolio, a company with a suite of products?

Beka Rice:

Yeah. So it’s an approach I caution people to think about carefully, because it’s hard to do a portfolio of things versus one product, and one brand and one thing that you’re doing, right? Focus is one of your most valuable commodities as you start out with something, right? So if you want to do that, then make sure that there’s some similarity between your products that helps sort of become a force multiplier across those products, or you need to start different companies with different teams and different resources devoted to them.

Beka Rice:

So in our case, we started as a portfolio company. When our co-founders kind of made the company, there were already like seven products between them. It was really small products, and it was successful for us because we did a few things. One was that a lot of our products target similar customer personas, which helps us a lot. Actually, that’s where we get that network effect to benefit ourselves from, where when we solve one problem with one product, sometimes it gives us insights into other products and pulls double duty for us.

Beka Rice:

So make sure that your customers are similar, so you’re not trying to target multiple different groups. And in our case, we also have 50 different plugins, but they use the same engineering backbone. And we kind of abstracted a lot of what we build into like a framework pretty early on, so that it makes our maintenance burden way easier. So if you were going to start courses, the analog might be my chemistry courses, right? That the backbone is going to be that I’m going to probably have similar structure between those courses, similar concepts.

Beka Rice:

Some of the concepts can be repurposed between courses, and maybe even reused. But if I was going to then start a course on mathematics, I’m going to have to be careful about the way I do that, right? Because now it’s going to be something entirely different and it’s going to be harder for me to maintain, and for me to keep updated. So I’m going to need to put some dedicated resources behind that.

Beka Rice:

And so we’ve done that, right? We did that with Jilt. It is a different product in comparison and different technology stack than our WooCommerce plugins. But we then made sure that we stacked that appropriately. So, it’s still similar personas, in this case still maybe college students, right. But it is a little different. Maybe it’s math majors instead.

Beka Rice:

And so you have to be aware of that when you build a portfolio business. So it can be great, and it can give you insights that single product companies maybe don’t have. So I’m not saying do one or the other, but just kind of go into it with both eyes open that you need to make sure that there’s similarities and that you try to if you build a portfolio to make sure that the portfolio itself is an advantage and not just more products, more revenue.

Chris Badgett:

Beka Rice, I could have talked to you for two more hours, but she’s at skyverge.com, go check that out and also jilt.com. If you’re using WooCommerce and you haven’t checked out these two sites, go do that now. There’ll be a link to those down below. Beka, thanks so much for coming on the show and having this chat today. I really appreciate it, and you’ve added a ton of value to the community here. Thank you so much.

Beka Rice:

Yeah, absolutely. And thanks so much, Chris. It was great to see you again.

Chris Badgett:

And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I hope you enjoyed the show. This show was brought to you by LifterLMS, the number one tool for creating, selling, and protecting engaging online courses to help you get more revenue, freedom, and impact in your life. Head on over to lifterlms.com and get the best gear for your course creator journey. Let’s build the most engaging, results getting courses on the internet.

Exclusive Download: 2020 WordPress LMS Buyer’s Guide – Stop wasting time and money researching online course and membership site tech.

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