Episode 358

How to Run a Massive Niche Virtual Summit with LifterLMS Fantastic Fungi Global Summit Case Study

Learn how to run a massive niche virtual summit with LifterLMS Fantastic Fungi Global Summit Case Study in this episode of the LMScast podcast hosted by Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Jonathan Denwood is our guest this week coming to us from WP-Tonic. There’s an awesome podcast called the WP-Tonic Show.

But WP-Tonic is also a place to go for managed WordPress LMS hosting and full platform builds that kind of sits in the middle between the do it yourself from scratch, with all the tools and everything and then the hosted ecosystem.

Documentaries used to be a niche category of movies. But over time, the art form has become better and better, and people get really into these niches. The Fantastic Fungi movie is incredible. I’m just looking at some of the faces of the people that in the movie and in the summit that’s following, that you’ve chosen or that they chose WP-Tonic to build their virtual summit using LifterLMS. The summit features Deepak Chopra, Dennis McKenna, who’s really big in the psychedelic research community, and Paul Stamets, who is one of the largest mycologist scientists known in the world. And tons of faces that are really known in the personal improvement, the alternative healthcare, and just this whole movement kind of coalesced around mushrooms.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, the crazy thing about mushrooms is that underneath the ground, there’s a massive network of mycelium relative to what we see above the ground. And mushrooms are just used for so many different medicinal purposes.

Jonathan shares insights into how he helped with teh website creation aspect of the Fung Summit. Adam and Kurt on their team have a lot of experience with documentary filming, promotion, and distribution, but less experience on the web side of things. That’s where Jonathan can lend his expertise to coordinating the tech of the web design. Something we often take for granted is the expertise course creators have in the education aspect of things especially LifterLMS users who know how to create custom websites with page builders and customer relationship management systems.

To learn more about Jonathan Denwood, be sure to check out wp-tonic.com. Go check that out and go check out the FungiGlobalSummit.com. It’s an excellent example of building a virtual summit that later becomes a premium product in the form of a course. One of our company values at LifterLMS is called Remove Friction, and that’s exactly what Jonathan has done at WP-Tonic by giving people an incredible solution to save so much time, energy, and money.

And 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. Thank you for joining us!

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Chris Badgett:
You’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking to create, launch and scale a high value online training program. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of LifterLMS, the most powerful learning management system for WordPress. Stay to the end, I’ve got something special for you. Enjoy the show.

Chris Badgett:
Hello and welcome back to another episode of LMS Cast. I’m joined by a special guest. His name is Jonathan Denwood. He’s coming to us from WP-Tonic. There’s a podcast called the WP-Tonic Show, which is awesome. But WP-Tonic is also a place to go for managed WordPress LMS hosting and full platform builds that kind of sits in the middle between the do it yourself from scratch, with all the tools and everything and then the hosted ecosystem. You’ve developed a fantastic offer Jonathan. Welcome to the show.

Jonathan Denwood:
Oh, it’s fantastic to come back when you show Chris and have a discussion with you Chris. It’s always a pleasure.

Chris Badgett:
I’m really excited to get into really the story of one of your clients. So if you want to see what Jonathan has on over on offer, head on over to wp-tonic.com. But you recently landed a client that created a documentary, which is one of actually my favorite films called Fantastic Fungi. I’m a big mushroom guy. I grow mushrooms in our garden, and I’ve just really been into the history of mushrooms and mycology and all the things that are happening with mushrooms. This documentary has gone huge on Netflix. What they’re doing now is they’re wanting to create, to take this basically audience attention and create a global summit. They’ve chosen WP-Tonic to help them with the tech side. Tell us about the story of what the summit is and what you’ve built for Fantastic Fungi.

Jonathan Denwood:
Well, it’s a great concept because as we’ve discussed before, one of the main, and you over the years have hammered away at this Chris. You’ve been consistent with this message. And also I’ve attempted to also emphasize that it’s not solely the technology that’s the problem. The problem is getting an audience and then having something in front of them that the audience finds useful. Are you solving a problem? Are you providing the information that a large audience or a niche audience really values? And really working on that is the real hurdle of all educational entrepreneurs. And you’ve been consistent in that message, and so have I. Sometimes it falls still on deaf ears and people get sucked in to what is the best plugin for this or that? Well, that’s what WP solves. It provides all the benefits of WordPress and removes a lot of the problems.

Jonathan Denwood:
A lot of other solutions, either they’re very enclosed SAS solutions, which have their benefit, but also have sustainable problems around flexibility, design and cost. Or, you have other kind of hybrid WordPress solutions that are the worst of both worlds. You don’t get the benefit of the wider WordPress ecosystem of plugins and surfaces. Nor do you get the fundamental ease of use that SAS services try and market, to some effectiveness. You get the best of [inaudible 00:04:30]… Where we provide is you still have the benefit of utilizing all the plugins and the wider WordPress community, but in a managed advisory platform, plus excellent hosting. We sought out the email sending out problem that a lot of people get very confused about, and we offer good quality video hosting. Plus our support, unlimited support in the first month, where most people really do need help and advice to get their website and their educational platform up.

Jonathan Denwood:
And then after that month, if you want, we will keep all the plugins and the core of WordPress updated for you and make sure the hosting is working effectively and the security. But, if you need more support after the month, we offer support packages. And then we have got our build-outs where we build the whole thing out. Plus we provide hosting and support with those build-outs if the client wants it. And this is one of our four build-outs where we’re also offering ongoing support and we also provide the hosting, Chris.

Chris Badgett:
Well, that’s awesome. And going back to what you said earlier about having an audience, sometimes a documentary becomes, documentary used to be kind of like this niche category of movies. But in today’s world documentary filmmakers have, the art form has become better and better, and people get really into these niches. The Fantastic Fungi movie is incredible. I’m just looking at some of the faces of the people that in the movie and in the summit that’s following, that you’ve chosen or that they chose WP-Tonic to build their virtual summit using LifterLMS. You’ve got Deepak Chopra, you’ve got Dennis McKenna, who’s really big in the psychedelic research community. You got Paul Stamets, who is one of the largest mycologist scientists known in the world. And just tons of faces that are really known in the personal improvement, the alternative healthcare, and just this whole movement kind of coalesced around mushrooms.

Chris Badgett:
And for those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, the crazy thing about mushrooms is that underneath the ground, what we see above the ground is just like the cap and the stem and stuff. But there’s this whole network of, it’s called mycelium. It’s kind of like nature’s internet. Plants use this threaded a mushroom network to communicate with each other on all kinds of wild stuff is happening, and it’s fascinating. And then mushrooms are just used for so many different medicinal purposes and all kinds of different things.

Chris Badgett:
But tell us, I want to hear more about the virtual summit use case, because you mentioned the flexibility of WordPress. So unlike a SAS solution, I mean, yeah, you can do courses. You can do a membership site, you can do a coaching program. And with WordPress and Lifter, you can do all that stuff, but you can also do virtual summits, internal training for a company. You can do like a challenge funnel. The tool is just flexible. So it doesn’t box you in. It doesn’t try to adapt you to it. It’s there to adapt to you. Tell us about the Fantastic Fungi virtual summit. We’re recording this in late September and the actual summit is happening in October. So, how is this client using your platform?

Jonathan Denwood:
October the 15th to the 17th. I think you just touch, we didn’t actually in our pre-show discussion, we didn’t touch this, but it’s really interesting that you focus on this. And it’s really important that the people, the two main individuals that we’re working with, Adam and Kurt, their experience in documentary and the promotion and distributation of documentaries, but their experience of website projects is limited. And they had a clear idea about the design of the website. I insisted on a very structured traditional structure to the design process and the sign off process, because I find otherwise you really can go off track really quickly. They had some ideas about how the subscription, the membership side, and we’ve also built out a forum for them. But, it wasn’t totally clear in their mind what they wanted the forum to be like and how advance. Plus also the marketing automization.

Jonathan Denwood:
I want to point out we’re using [Singrid 00:10:22] as our, well, actually we’re not. We’re using Amazon Web Services for the email functionality, but we using Fluence CRM as the marketing automization engine behind this, which is working with Lifter to some extent. I consider your platform to be one of the leaders in learning management system, in the WordPress space. So we’re using a group of plugins that we trust. But yeah, they, weren’t totally clear about some of the features, but that isn’t a problem with WordPress, is it? Because where with a SAS platform, unless you’re totally concrete about the features that you want, that particular SAS platform are going to meet, if you’re not, you’re going to have problems, aren’t you, Chris?

Chris Badgett:
Yeah. And that’s the beauty of WordPress is so customizable, both from a functionality standpoint and a look and feel, and you can build a unique brand. I’m looking at a fungiglobalsummit.com and it’s gorgeous. Can you tell us a little bit about sort of the business model here in sense that, okay, somebody has a Netflix subscription, they discover this documentary, they watch it. They just fall in love with this niche of mycology and mushrooms. And then what is the summit? And then what is the kind of premium course or whatever it is that kind of tags onto the back of the summit? What’s the customer journey here?

Jonathan Denwood:
It’s very similar to the journey that you’ve been preaching for your own business, Chris, being generous with what you offer. Offer a lot of value, which is the documentary, and then the summit, which you can sign up for free, provides more and more value on the hopefully subscriber or buyer journey. And then after you build relationship and proven value to them, offer them extra value, which they have to pay for. Well, these people must have read your own prayer book Chris, because that’s what they do. You’ve got the documentary and then they’re offering this summit, but then they’re offering a subscription model after it, where you sign up. It’s not hugely expensive. The actual price escapes me. But where you have access to more videos, more educational materials, more access to some of the experts, be able to have in groups discussions with some of the experts. Is offering a lot of extra value to those that want to continue the journey.

Chris Badgett:
And if somebody is listening and they’re just kind of newer to the space, or don’t know all the terminology, what is a summit? This is like a virtual conference with lots of speakers kind of thing, is that, what is…

Jonathan Denwood:
Yes. Well, yes with speakers. You can watch some additional video. Then there would be a live sessions where the person in the video, or in the main video, you would then be able to ask that expert questions. And you’ll be able to watch additional live video where there might be a panel. My project manager has been dealing with that at much more closer level than me, but it’s all worked out. It will be, like I said to you, it’s public. At the present moment, over 50,000 people have signed up for this free summit. We anticipate that it will be over or slightly under a hundred thousand plus. And a substantial amount of those will sign up for the actual paid part of this.

Chris Badgett:
So Where does LifterLMS sit in the tech stack? Tell us a little bit about what LifterLMS is doing here.

Jonathan Denwood:
Well, we like to set up the most flexible, we don’t always. There’s some clients that… One of the beauties of Lifter is it’s got its own shopping cart, its own subscription engine in built with it. So if you really just, but we normally like if they come in onboard with us, we like to use WooCommerce. and I know people are going to shout, “I’ve heard that WooCommerce is a nightmare, so much.” Well we’re dealing with it for our clients. And we use it as a engine. We’re not using the product pages, we’re just using it as a engine. And as a engine, Lifter comes with a great add on that you supply that works with. And then we use WooCommerce’s subscription add on to do the subscription. The reason why we do this is the client wasn’t sure if they wanted also to sell physical products or upsell.

Jonathan Denwood:
And then we combine it with either cart, on this we’re using CartFlows, but we can overuse CartFlows or LaunchFlows. Then both to suburb products. Obviously LaunchFlows comes from Spencer, who’s a sponsor of my show. But CartFlows, I know the people behind that and they’re great people. So we’re using CartFlows, So we get a one page checkout experience with, if the client wants, they can do upsells, down sells. It just provides enormous flexibility and a modern shopping cart, subscription experience, Chris.

Chris Badgett:
That’s awesome. And for those of you listening, LifterLMS has its native cart system, but it also integrates with WooCommerce and about 30% of our customers use LifterLMS with WooCommerce. So it’s not an uncommon thing. There’s lots of reasons, like you mentioned, potentially having physical products and whatnot where you might want to use WooCommerce.

Jonathan Denwood:
Sorry to interrupt Chris, but before CartFlows or LaunchFlows, there was a problem in using WooCommerce with it, because you’ve got a very clunky… And the team behind it, they concentrate on, their great coders. And this has been said on the WP Round Table Show, but they’re not marketers. So the shopping cart was not ideal if you were selling a subscription, a membership subscription model, because you had to go through like four pages to get the final purchase button, right? But, with CartFlows, with LaunchFlows, you get a one page layout, one page, and then you can have upsells or downs. It’s the equivalent of the Shopify experience or the Amazon experience. You get a modern shopping cart experience, Chris.

Chris Badgett:
That’s awesome. I’m looking at a fungiglobalsummit.com. One of the cool things that is happening with the project, when you sign up for the virtual summit, which is actually two to three weeks from this recording, immediately you get access to some bonus content. And you get an email so you can easily get inside of the LMS and everything. What’s your plan for structuring the course content using LifterLMS? There’s going to be a typical model with a virtual summit, just like they’re doing here, is it’s free while it’s live. But then there’s kind of this upsell to kind of get access to everything and bonus stuff. Is it going to be like a one big course that kind of houses everything?

Jonathan Denwood:
That’s been ongoing. That another part, which they weren’t, because they just didn’t have the experience. The beauty is that we’re still Elementor based. And, obviously your focus has been recently more Gutenberg, which is totally understandable. But as our agency, we still feel, we hope at some stage that we become a totally Gutenberg agency. But, we’re not totally happy with Gutenberg at the present moment. So we’re still a Elementor based agency and less… We have clients that use Divi. We have clients that want Gutenberg natives. But when we were doing the build-outs for client, where Elementor is the tool that we use, and that with a third party ad, is it Tangerine?

Chris Badgett:
Tangible.

Jonathan Denwood:
Tangible. I always get that one wrong.

Chris Badgett:
LifterLMS is the name of their product.

Jonathan Denwood:
Great add on. And we provide that. So, we can customize the course, the lessons. That’s what we’ve done for the client. And being that we’re not hand-coding everything, we can be reasonably generous with the amount of back and forth with the client because we can use that set up. I’ve not been personally involved with that. My project manager, Susan, has been working with the client with that particular area, Chris.

Chris Badgett:
That’s awesome. Yeah. And Elementor is super popular. And you know, that’s another, again, beauty of the flexibility of WordPress is we have lots of Elementor users who are using that for page building and drag and drop and…

Jonathan Denwood:
Well, I don’t see it going away, even if Gutenberg matures. None of us can predict the future. But I think because of the funding, the user base, Elementor is going to be a major player. So I don’t think you have any claims. I don’t expect you to say what they are in this podcast, but I’ll be surprised that any time in the foreseeable future, you plan not to drop support for Elementor, even though your focus to some extent is Gutenberg. Because they’re still going to be two of the major platforms in the WordPress space, maybe with Divi as well. I’ve never been part of the Divi community, but I don’t see those three particular Gutenberg, Elementor or Divi going away anytime soon. So I think they’re going to be around for the least two to four year periods, which is all that you can say in technology, isn’t it?

Chris Badgett:
It is. And like you said earlier, this is the beauty of WordPress is it’s an ecosystem. So, we’re open to whatever tools people want to use. I mean, yes, we support the Gutenberg editor because that’s default WordPress, but we’re also huge fans of Elementor, Beaver Builder, Divi. These are tools that people use that have their own ecosystems to create the kind of layouts and ease of use building the site, the user experience.

Jonathan Denwood:
I can’t stress the other key part of this is having quality hosting.

Chris Badgett:
Yeah. So, tell us more about the WP-Tonic hosting and how it sits. Because there’s kind of like, there’s these different categories, like the cheap shared hosting. There’s what’s called managed WordPress hosting. If you go full SAS, you’re not even really thinking about the hosting. You just notice the more successful your project gets, your expenses go way up. But where does the WP-Tonic hosting, how does it sit in the mix there?

Jonathan Denwood:
We’re full, and I know this term is banded around and because it’s been banded around and used inappropriately, in my opinion, it’s become I won’t say discredited, but it’s meaning has been degraded. And what mean Chris, is that we provide full WordPress managed hosting. And we really mean that. Because a lot of people use that term and it isn’t. I’m sorry, it isn’t. What I classify as full is that we don’t provide it, either is that we don’t expect our clients to login to a C panel or a custom panel, and then start to understand the ins and outs of hosting. That’s what they’re paying us for. And we have a partner. I won’t make it public, but we have a part there who supplies the hosting to us. And it’s Google cloud based. It’s super fast. They provide the technical security. We work with them. We have a member of our staff that’s a Linux administrator and he works with them, but they provide the security and maintenance.

Jonathan Denwood:
I hate WordPress developers, I’ve got to be honest. I despise, and I know that’s a strong word, but despise WordPress developers that then try and become hosting providers on their own. I just think it’s a terrible scenario. It entraps the client worse than some of other notorious hosting providers. We don’t do that. And we offer a cast iron guarantee that if the client is fed up with us, we’ll migrate their website to wherever they want us to migrate it, free of charge. But it’s Google cloud hosting where we administrate it, we update all the plugins. We update the core of WordPress. If there’s a conflict with a plugin, we sort it out for the client.

Chris Badgett:
I think this is beautiful. I just want to say, like this is the, again, the beauty of WordPress is you’ve chosen for the WP-Tonic offer for hosted LMS sites, you’ve got this tight group of tools that you like to use that are there. So you’ve kind of like handpicked and hand curated. And essentially what people are paying for a lot of time too, is to not have to talk to you. So to not have to worry about hosting is huge. I personally pay a lot of money for hosting and I never have to talk to my hosting company. [crosstalk 00:26:35]…

Jonathan Denwood:
You don’t want to talk to them. You’ve got better things in your life than talk to a hosting provider.

Chris Badgett:
I’m too busy. And this is what’s cool. I mean, I’m looking at the Fantastic Fungi Twitter account, and there’s like 22,000 followers on there. You said you have 50,000 people registered for the virtual summit. And then anticipating a hundred thousand or more. I can’t wait. I signed up, I’m going to be there. And then I’m also going to purchase the premium offer that goes with it. I see some things. This is a client who has traction. They have budget. They have an audience that wants more. And they wanted a technology solution, a learning platform that was flexible, that could do virtual summit, coursework, subscriptions, memberships, just kind of add value and build that virtual stage. Tell us more about this client or in general terms, what the perfect client is like for your managed LMS solution at WP-Tonic.

Jonathan Denwood:
I think it’s easier to tell you who wouldn’t be the perfect client in a way. Who isn’t the perfect client is somebody that wants to mess around with hosting and wants to try every plugin in the WordPress ecosystem…

Chris Badgett:
Of which there’s thousands.

Jonathan Denwood:
There’s half a dozen learning management system plugins. We support your great solution, Chris. We support LearnDash, and we support BuddyBoss, right? They’re the free solutions. And then we use WooCommerce with CartFlows or LaunchFlows. We have some duplication where we offer options, depending. The other thing is Susan and myself, we have extensive onboarding call. I can’t stress the value of this. People have a sales call or initial consultation call with me, and when they sign up, they have extensive onboarding call with Susan. And we go through what they want to achieve and we advise. And then the first month, our promise is unlimited Zooms, unlimited support for the first month to get them over the hurdle. As you know, the first month is crucial to get them up and running. And we don’t do that as a charity. We do that because it benefits us as well. Because we’ve found if we can get them over that hurdle, get them actually somewhere where they’re making progress, they will stay with us for as a hosting support. So it’s beneficial for the client and it’s beneficial for us. And it’s beneficial for you because they keep using.

Jonathan Denwood:
And I’ve chosen to be totally fair with close partners like you. I keep buying my licenses through you. And I want to maintain my relationship with you and be fair, because if you don’t make any money, you can’t keep your business. And I’ve done that with a group. I’ve always bought lifetime, but to be fair to myself, I’ve always looked for lifetime licenses. And you’ve been very generous with the deal that you’ve done with me, which I’m very, very thankful, Chris. But, I want to be a good player in the WordPress ecosystem. But what they get is they get support in that first month. And it’s so crucial, isn’t it, Chris? And there was an enormous gap there as well, where yeah, you could hire developers on various platforms. But, I’ve had those clients and they’ve had half a dozen different people work on their website and it’s a Frankenstein. They have no records what was done, who did it, when they did it. And it gives WordPress a bad rap. Where if you have consistency and good hosting, a lot of the things that are unfairly put on WordPress don’t happen.

Chris Badgett:
That’s awesome. That makes a lot of sense. And what would you say to someone out there who’s watching this and they’re looking at LifterLMS and considering it for a project? What do you value most about…

Jonathan Denwood:
Oh sorry, I interrupted. I went on a rant there. Look, I didn’t say who really [inaudible 00:31:45]. Look, if you really wanted to become a implementer, if you’re looking to build, we do have implementers that use our hosting because they don’t want the ongoing commitment of support. And we have a great affiliate, so that is covered. But if you’re one of those that really want to see yourself as a kind of quasi WordPress implementor, and not only do you want all the burden of producing all the courses and running the business, plus deal with all the tech as well. If that’s really your bag, we’re not the right solution for you.

Chris Badgett:
I appreciate that. For somebody out there, who’s looking at LifterLMS and kind of exploring some of the stories around what people have built with it, and they’ve landed on this video, what would you say to somebody that is considering LifterLMS? What do you value most about it?

Jonathan Denwood:
Well, you get great support from your team. You’ve proven that you’re a serious business, that you do care. That you understand the WordPress ecosystem and you try and work with it the best way. That you’re serious players. People are building their livelihoods on your platform, so you want somebody that’s serious about their business. And you clearly, and your technical founder are serious people. You also want it to be one of the best products out there. And you get all the benefit of being able to choose the best of breed, of real competition in the WordPress ecosystem. So Lifter works with the best of breed of other plugins, like marketing automization. and a host of other plugins, like affiliate marketing. We offer extensive library of add-ons, plugins that people can use freely with our platform. If they decide to move from us, all those plugins keep on working. The only thing is the client has to go and then buy their own licenses. But it doesn’t stop working after we moved it, if they decide to leave us, and very few do, touch wood. But you get all the benefit of the ecosystem, plus the…

Jonathan Denwood:
And it can’t be stressed. The flexibility of design and not designed just for the sake of design, having a unique brand and a unique look for your online business is crucial, isn’t it, Chris?

Chris Badgett:
It is. So that’s Jonathan Denwood, he’s from wp-tonic.com. Go check that out and go check out the fungiglobalsummit.com. It’s an excellent example of building a virtual summit that later becomes a premium product in the form of a course or however they’re going to end up laying that out. I strongly encourage you to go check out the summit at fungiglobalsummit.com. Jonathan, I want to thank you for coming on the show on LMS Cast. Thank you for being a valuable member of the LifterLMS community. I love seeing the innovations you make. And we kind of share a company value. One of our company values is called remove friction, and I think that’s exactly what you’ve done at WP-Tonic is you’re giving people an incredible solution and you’re so much time, energy and money by removing all this friction. And not just assembling a great technology package for the education entrepreneurs out there, but also providing incredible service all along the way. So thank you for coming on the show and we’ll have to do this again sometime. I wish you all the best success on the summit and that whole project. Can’t wait to see it evolve over time.

Jonathan Denwood:
Ah, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to come in on your podcasts and chatting with you Chris.

Chris Badgett:
Cheers. And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMS Cast. Did you enjoy that episode? Tell your friends and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode. And I’ve got a gift for you over at lifterlms.com/gift. Go to lifterlms.com/gift. Keep learning, keep taking action, and I’ll see you in the next episode.

Exclusive Download: 2021 WordPress LMS Buyer’s Guide – Stop wasting time and money researching online course and membership site tech.

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