Here are a few handpicked highlights from the podcast:
On Twitter, you’ve said instructors should not think about marketing way late in the game. What led to this observation and how can people actually practice this?
I think Silicon Valley has a very product first mentality. There's this idea that if you have a great product, then it will sell itself. That, you don't need to market it.
I always thought that this was pretty backwards, especially being a marketer where sometimes the product team would hand over a product and it's like, “Okay, we really should have thought more about this before”. Spending a year and a half building this thing that now no one wants, and now it's too late to go back and change a couple of things. If we had just talked about this as a cross-functional team from the beginning, then we would know that our customers are not so eager to do this.
One of my favorite examples of this is Pomp. Pomp was our first creator on Maven, and he spent a couple of weeks putting together his curriculum. We all felt really good about it, and then one day were like, maybe we should test to see if people want this. Just a gut check.
He put out a survey to his audience on Twitter. Going in, Pomp thought that his prospective students were crypto beginners, so this course was geared around people who were new to crypto. When the survey results came back, though, were surprised that 60% to 70% of respondents who are interested in the course actually self-diagnosed as intermediate to advanced in their knowledge of crypto. We were like, “This is great. Now let's adjust the curriculum”.
Let’s talk about the Spiky Point of View. How would you define it? Why is it important?
In startups, a spiky point of view is a belief that is rooted in your experience/your expertise on a topic that you're an expert in - that other people and other experts could disagree with.
It's not a hot take. It's not something controversial just to get a reaction. It's something based on your track record and your actual lived experiences, that you feel very strongly about.
One example of this is that one of my spiky points of view is that people spend too much effort on product launches and not enough effort on everything else that comes after the confetti settles and the launch is technically over. This is from my own experience working the last 15 years as a marketer. It's like, okay, great, so launch week is over and now it's the next week. What's the plan for continuing the momentum? We kicked off with a bang. But how do we continue that? And it's like, “Oh, don't know. No one thought about that”. So that's my spiky point of view.
Another marketing expert could disagree, and they could say, Wes, I think that launches are the most important part of a product's life cycle. That, starting off the bank is super important because it anchors the consumer's mind in what this is and then everything thereafter, there's more leeway. That's the opposite spiky point of view and that is totally legitimate too.
The thing with Spiky points of view is you can get ten different experts in a room, and they could have ten different spiky points of view. The great thing about a spiky point of view is that it helps you stand out.
You tweeted that course materials should always be super raw and include real examples of DMs and cold emails. Why do you believe in this?
Yes. I came up with this cheeky concept called the content hierarchy of BS, where at the bottom it's Twitter. As you work your way upwards, the amount of BS that you can drop is less and less. Books are kind of in the middle.
If you're up on stage keeping a keynote, you're up there - the spotlight on you, all the audience staring at you. There's so much halo effect from you being the expert and no one being able to question you, and you just spewing your inspiration.
Whereas in a cohort-based course, you're all logging in live on Zoom, right? I might be teaching. There's 200 people here. The chat is alive and well. If there is something that people are skeptical of, people are talking about it in Zoom. They will call you out.
The antidote to the content hierarchy of BS is the super-specific-how. SSH - that's what I call it for short. The super-specific-how is the idea that you want to have concrete, tactical, practical, actionable ideas in your course.
That could look like screenshots, it could look like sharing actual scripts. It can be email copy, it could be sharing the actual Google doc where things are laid out. It could be sharing your notion set up and walking people through what this actually looks like. It's really the difference between saying communication is important and showing it.
00:05 KP Hello, everybody, I'm KP, and welcome to yet another episode of a Build in Public podcast. Today, I'm joined by an amazing founder, someone whose work I've been tracking and following for a while. I wanted to introduce our guest today. It's Wes Kao. Welcome to the show, Wes.
00:23 Wes Kao Hey, everyone.
00:24 KP Sweet. Thanks for being here, Wes. The first question that I have is around Maven, right where you work and you're a cofounder. Take us back to the early days with Maven. What made you take the leap?
00:37 Wes Kao We're still in the early days with Maven, so this is kind of telling the story as we're still living it. Yes, I started Maven about a year ago. The way that the inspiration for Maven really came from the past five to six years. Building cohort-based courses, building the altMBA with Seth Goden that really kicked off this cohort-based course category - and then working with Professor Scott Galloway from Section Four to build his strategy sprints, working with the cofounders of Morning Brew, Alex and Austin, working with David Perell, Tiago Forte, a bunch of these early adopters with cohort-based courses to help them design, build and launch their schools. The one pattern that I found throughout all of this was that the process for managing your course was so convoluted, it was ridiculous. It was cobbling together a bunch of tools and using anything from basically Zoom, Slack, Circle, Teachable, Kajabi, Podia, Mighty Networks, Heartbeat, Chat, and then using email to stitch it all together.
01:43 Wes Kao I've personally spent many a night staying up trying to fix a zap, that for some reason, stopped working or trying to make a landing page look the way I wanted, because I wanted the column width to be this, but the software didn't do that, or this didn't integrate with that, which means that we needed to redo this whole other thing. So the technology side was really frustrating and I was shocked that there wasn't a single place where you could manage everything that you needed about a cohort-based course, given how fast this category was growing. Last year, Goggin Bianni and I got back in touch. We're friends from high school.
02:19 KP Wow.
02:19 Wes Kao We grew up in the same hometown - in the Bay Area, in California. And Gagan had reached out because he had started feeling the same problem. He was building a cohort-based course and was realizing just how confusing and frustrating the process was. And he said that he talked to other people about cohort-based courses and they all mentioned that he should talk to me. He was like, I already know Wes, I'm just going to send her a text. Don't need an intro. We reached out, we started hopping on some calls to brainstorm this topic. At the time I was consulting, I was working with these individual course graders directly and really loving the lifestyle that I had. He had just gotten back from two years of traveling abroad after he had shut down his last company. We started chatting, and after a few calls, were like, okay, there's something here, and our skill sets are such a good match.
03:07 Wes Kao Do we want to start something together? And the answer was yes. So that's how Maven started.
03:12 KP I love that. And it feels like, as someone who follows both of you on Twitter, we were kind of brought onto this journey early on. I know Maven didn't have a name initially - you even did your pilot without a name, which is pretty interesting and fascinating right now. It's also one of those things where you can't imagine Maven today without the word Maven. For a while, you ran it without the title, so it was interesting. Do you recall what was, I'm trying to remember, the placeholder title?
03:41 Wes Kao Yeah, it was called Wes and Gagan.
03:44 KP Yeah. Was that hilarious?
03:46 Wes Kao Very literal.
03:48 KP That was hilarious. The first time Maven piqued my interest was when I was feeling that EdTech was going to blow up in the next decade, especially after COVID. We saw how everybody was longing for communities online and building this learning through Cohorts, which is a pretty significant step function change for the last decade, where learning was all self-paced. Like Udemy, Teachable and all that. When did you start noticing this dramatic shift? Was it dramatic as I make it out to be, or was it a subtle, like putting the rug under your feet kind of a change?
04:21 Wes Kao When Seth Godin and I started the AltMBA in 2015, it was really the only course of its kind that was mainstream in the way that the AltMBA was. So kind of rewinding a bit, I moved from SF to New York in 2014 to work with Seth, and my initial role was a six-month special projects lead. At the time I had grown up in the Bay Area, I had turned over every stone I wanted to turn and was ready to move to New York. And so I was like, all right, I'm going toss my hat in the ring for this cooky author that posted that he's hiring someone to help him figure out what he wants to do next, what he wants to build next. It's a six-month role, and after six-months, I'll find a full-time role in New York. I packed my bags, moved to New York.
05:03 Wes Kao One of my first projects working with Seth was building a Udemy course for him. So I started researching MOOCs - evergreen self-paced courses, video driven courses, and I realized as I was building our MOOC, putting Seth's content together, that the completion rate was super low. It was anywhere between 3% to 10%. A bunch of people get really excited to take courses and get really optimistic about the chance to transform themselves, to learn a new skill to improve themselves, and a tiny percentage of people actually stay long enough to finish. I've personally signed up for a couple of Skillshare/Udemy courses. I think there's one on hand lettering, calligraphy, and classical music appreciation that I was very excited about, where I took probably two videos, watch two videos, before I thought, okay, I'm going to come back to this. And it's been, like, six years since I touched it - so it's been gathering digital dust since then.
05:58 Wes Kao As I was researching it, I was like, okay, this is a problem. We're putting so much love and work and effort into this amazing Udemy course, and the fact that a tiny percentage of people are actually going to watch all of it just felt very upsetting. Seth and I started kicking around some ideas. On the one hand, the completion rates for MOOCs are really low, but on the other hand, Seth is noticing that people don't read books as much anymore. There's some stat about how the average American reads only X number of books per year, and X is a very low number. I forget what it is now, but we were kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place, and were thinking, there's got to be a better way - that this cannot be the pinnacle of online education that was supposed to democratize access and improve learning outcomes.
06:38 Wes Kao We thought, okay, what if we did literally the opposite of everything that MOOCs are? Let's start there and see what we come up with. What if instead of asynchronous learning where you're watching a bunch of videos, it's all synchronous, it's live learning. What if instead of doing it as a solo activity, one person watching learning by themselves, you do it with a community of other learners that are curated, likeminded, and want to be there? What if instead of it being free or really affordable, between $10 to $20. For most Udemy courses, the course was expensive enough that students felt like they had skin in the game and felt like they needed to show up? If you pay for a personal training, right, it's like, oh, I already paid. I should show up. What if instead of it being passive content consumption as the dominant mode of learning, it was active?
07:29 Wes Kao Active - interactive, debating, discussing, critiquing, working in groups - actively thinking. We started with this premise that, okay, we're going to do the opposite. It started off as a giant experiment, so we said, okay, let's do this as a one-month course. We're going to aim for about 100 people. We end up getting about 75. We're going to charge $3,000 for this. The price has since increased in the last few years to $4500. We said, okay, let's do it at $3000. When we first announced that were doing this - people were like, oh my God, I cannot believe you're charging $3,000 for this online.
08:13 KP Meanwhile, Purple Cow was $10, right?
08:15 Wes Kao Exactly $10. At that time, we had Udemy, which was, I think it was like $50, but discounted. People were like, okay, I get it. If Seth is speaking somewhere, like he's speaking in New York or London, wherever, I'm paying to see him in person - fine, a higher price tag makes sense. The fact that this is online and Seth wasn't even going to be here - that it was built entirely around his content and his ideas. The main point of the course was to learn by doing, not by thinking. “Hey, I get to ask Seth Godin the question. He's going to give me a silver bullet answer to solve all my problems”. We didn't want to encourage that mentality. We wanted it to be entirely hands-on, so that people would work together in groups and learn by doing. So for all these reasons, people were flabbergasted that were doing this.
08:57 Wes Kao We proceeded anyway with this initial group of early adopters. Within the first two days of the Alt MBA, I was shocked and blown away by how well it was working. I was skeptical, too, to be honest, that we could bring a bunch of strangers together. Also, no one knew how to use zoom or Slack. I was creating this documentation on how to use these tools and what was all this, but the minute that people got together live and introduced each other and worked in pods and met their group for the first week, it was like this light bulb happened. It was like the skies parted and people started meeting offline without us. They met in their own self-created side channels. They were DMing each other. They were meeting on zoom even outside of the scheduled projects that we were asking them to do. They were opening up.
09:46 Wes Kao They were crying because they felt so vulnerable. I remember there was a 50-year-old software engineer, and he said that he had never felt like he could truly be himself before with a group of people, and he could with the AltMBA - with his students, the fellow students, and the AltMBA. And that was just so touching. It was just so, like it's just hard to even put words to it, that these students were so transformed by this experience. So that was the first session of the AltMBA, and I ended up staying for three years to run and build up, scale the AltMBA to over 45 countries, 500 cities, 60/70-some coaches coaching our students, thousands of alumni from around the world.
10:30 Wes Kao Over that three-year period, I learned so much about how to create engaging experiences online, how to bring people together, how to scale course businesses and at the end of that three years, I thought, okay, I'm ready for a new adventure. I wonder if there was something in the water about the AltMBA that allowed it to work? Or was there something about this course format, about this learning modality, this structure that could be replicated and applied to different verticals, different creators, different industries, different topics. That became this driving question for me. And so, one of my first clients was Professor Galloway at Section Four, and I worked with him and his founding team to design their course. I worked with a bunch of those other course graders that I mentioned. And what I saw is that, yes, you can apply this cohort-based model to other topics, to other creators.
11:23 Wes Kao That this was something that even if you're not Seth Godin, you can get in on this - that this is a way for you to teach a topic that you were an expert in a way that was valued for your community and didn't force you to chase volume. I think that was a really interesting part that emerged from creating this category of cohort-based courses is a lot of things on the internet, you have to sell a lot of those units to make a living. If you're selling $10 ebooks, you have to sell a lot of $10 ebooks to make whatever your yearly salary was to be able to quit your job. If you're doing cohort-based courses and you're charging between five hundred dollars to five thousand dollars per student, though - all of a sudden that's a different calculus. You can work with a smaller group of committed students, of committed fellow practitioners, of clients, of students who want to learn from you, and you can run your course between a couple of times a year to several times a year.
12:17 Wes Kao So, David Perell & Thiago Forte, for example, run their course twice a year. Also, VA runs four times a year. Only we have some maiden creators, like Anthony Pompliano, with a crypto course, and he's run nine cohorts so far this time, so he's on higher end. Pomp with a script of course, and he's run nine cohorts so far this time, so he's on higher end. Section Four, Prof. G also runs a dozen cohorts or more. So the fact that you have this much control over when you want to teach, who you want to teach, what you want to price - that felt very creator friendly to me. I think that the world is moving in a direction where creators are now having more options than ever. I really think it's the best time in the history to be a creator.
12:57 Wes Kao I would say even five years ago, maybe ten years ago, being a creator was not that cool. It was oh, you must be in between jobs, right? Like, oh, like you couldn't get a full-time job, so you're doing this thing on the side to tide you over, or like you weren't good enough to go the corporate track or to work in a high growth startup. Like, you have to do your own thing. And it was kind of like creators were eeking by and there weren't that many tools or platforms. There wasn't as much community for creators to find each other and share. "Hey, what's working? Hey, let's hang out.". Because it can be lonely as creator, of course, now there's so many different tools, so many different communities. I think cohort-based courses are a whole other category that just blows revenue streams open for creators.
13:37 KP One thing that is super fascinating about CBCs is the fact that they are almost location agnostic, right? You can live on the Internet. You can do this experiment on the Internet, which opens up a whole new pool of talent that were not located in Silicon Valley or New York to come, now, sell for virtually anybody on the Internet, right? So I'm sometimes blown away when I have someone from Nigeria take one of my ODNC cohorts and I usually ask them, like, “Hey, what made you apply?” Where did you hear about us?”. He goes, “Oh, I watched that YouTube video you made two years ago”. I'm like what? There were 17 views on that, right? I think that's another aspect that I love about it, is that the stuff that you create on the Internet, the content you create on the Internet - first of all, lives.
14:20 KP It has a very long shelf time, which means it's selling even when you're not present. So it decouples you being present and selling every day with what you have to do in real life. I have to go drive to SF, do a live workshop, and then sell every day. Plus, it also helps you be location agnostic. You can sell to anybody. You can live anywhere. How are you thinking about this, the rise of, I guess, living on the Internet and then creating and teaching on the Internet?
14:43 Wes Kao I think the Internet is the best place to live. Maven is a remote company. I love that we're remote. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to think, “Is it possible that I can work from wherever I want to and collaborate with a bunch of smart people from all over the US. Right now?”. We're mainly us based. Yeah, so the fact that with our cohort-based course creators and instructors, everyone is everywhere, their students are everywhere. It gives you so much flexibility to be able to expand your reach and not have geography be a limiting factor. I think that's one thing that really inspires me is that before, if you wanted to learn from someone like Li Jen, she's a former VC at Andreessen Horowitz. She now writes to substack. She's a creator. She's VC. She coined her own passion economy. Or if you want to learn from Lenny Rachitsky, early Airbnb product manager who writes a newsletter, makes a living that way now. If you want to learn from Shaan Puri, from Pomp, from Greg Isenberg.
15:35 Wes Kao All of these people you might not have had access to, you probably didn't have access to. They have all this amazing practical knowledge. They're such sharp people locked in their own minds. If you were in their inner circle, if you were their friends, if you were in the right WhatsApp groups and the right communities, you would get to talk to them and share ideas. For 99% of people, you were not in those groups, you were not in those rooms. Now, because courses are a new channel for creators, each one of these people has a course. All of this knowledge is now, way more widespread, more accessible for students in all corners of the world. And so there are even students in Singapore, in Brazil, in Kenya, in the UK - just everywhere.
16:28 Wes Kao And I love hearing our instructors say that they had people staying up at 03:00 AM. Taking their course, and they were just so excited to be there. That was in some random hour of the night, and they wanted to be there. And we a lot of times will make maps of where students are calling in from. "I'm in Toronto. That's why I'm in Toronto. But you're in wherever.". It's really inspiring for people to meet people from all over the world, the students, too, right? Not just the instructors meeting their community members in a more intimate way, but the community getting to meet each other is something that is really magical about cohort-based courses that you don't get in other media. That's one direction. You're a subscriber. If I'm a newsletter subscriber of the KP newsletter, I don't necessarily meet other KP subscribers. If I do in your course, then I can meet all these other people who have this shared knowledge, right?
17:18 Wes Kao We have these shared values, this baseline shorthand that we can talk in, and that's really fun.
17:23 KP I sincerely hope that if there are KP's students that they meet on theme of building in public, because that's the shared belief that they would all have. That's a great segue for me to ask you a question that I've been dying to ask for a long time. I love when you said this. I don't know when you said it, but on Twitter you said something on the lines of instructors should not think about marketing way late in the game, which is often the thing that I notice among so many friends. That I have and people who are creators but especially relevant in courses whether within, on deck or outside or on deck, maybe whatever, is that they're always thinking about marketing as an afterthought. Of course, you know that I'm a firm believer that on day one, you should talk about marketing even if you don't have a course.
18:03 KP Of course, when you don't have enough materials to talk about the course, talk about the problem. Talk about the transformation, talk about the aspirations, et cetera. I want you to ask like, this is a great building, public topic. What made you say so? What made you believe that? What were some things you noticed that made you observe, make this observation and how can people actually practice this?
18:22 Wes Kao I think Silicon Valley has a very product first mentality. There's this idea that the zeitgeist is that if you have a great product, then it will sell itself. You don't need to market it. Marketing is not that important. It's something we can kind of do because every company kind of needs marketing departments and we'll kind of tack it off the end. The main bet and the investment and the effort goes into making the product great, thinking that's all that it takes. I always thought that this was pretty a** backwards, especially being a marketer where sometimes the product team would hand over a product and it's like, okay, we really should have thought more about this before. Spending a year and a half building this thing that now no one wants, and now it's too late to go back and change a couple of things that hey, if we had just talked about this as a cross-functional team from the beginning, that we would know that our customers are actually not so eager to do this.
19:12 Wes Kao You're building this whole suite of features around this thing, but people are actually wanting this over here. I think with courses, it's very salient because a lot of experts and creators are so excited about the topic that they want to teach that topic. They want to build a course. They want to build the content. They want to build a curriculum. That's the natural place that they go. That's the place that they feel comfortable. The marketing sometimes is less comfortable for them. It's newer and they're not as sure what to do, and so they avoid it until the very end. The problem with that is that you could end up building a course that your audience doesn't actually want. It's not that your audience doesn't want to learn from you or that they don't want to buy a course from you. They do. They probably do, right?
19:54 Wes Kao It's that this specific course on this specific topic, for this specific subsegment of your audience, there was something there that's off. So, in the Maven Course Accelerator, which is a three-week free course that I teach for all.
20:06 KP Brilliant idea, by the way, I loved it when you announced it. I was like, that's so dope. Because I think the creators who want to launch their courses first need to understand the mechanics, the dynamics, and then they can go to their launch. Sorry, go on.
20:18 Wes Kao Yes. No, no worries. It's three-week course where we teach you everything you need to know end-To-end about how to build a corporate course. The first topic that we start with is Course Market Fit. That's what we cover on day one. It's positioning. Course market fit - defining your target student. Understanding, here's the pie chart of my community - what slice is interested in a premium course that's hands-on and interactive? It might not be the same slice that's interested in your evergreen self-paced courses. It might not be the same group that's interested in your 101 coaching. It might not be the people who are reading your book. It might be and there might be an overlap. You want to really build your course for the actual audience. One of my favorite examples of this is Pomp. Pomp was our first creator on Maven, and he spent a couple of weeks putting together his curriculum.
21:08 Wes Kao We all felt really good about it, and then one day were like, okay, maybe we should test to see if people want this. Just a gut check. Like, we're pretty sure people want this, and he's a pretty big audience, and we're like, okay, the chance of it working is probably decent. But he put out a survey to his audience on Twitter. Going in, Pomp thought that his prospective students were crypto beginners, so this course was geared around people who were new to crypto. Pomp thought that his prospective students were crypto beginners, so this course was geared around people who were new to crypto. When the survey results came back, though, were surprised that 60% to 70% of respondents who are interested in the course actually self-diagnosed as intermediate to advanced in their knowledge of crypto. Were whoa, okay, like, pause. This is great. Now let's adjust the curriculum.
21:49 Wes Kao He scrapped half of the curriculum that he already had and reoriented his course around this really specific student of intermediate to advanced that persona. What we learned from that was, even if you are an experienced creator like Pomp, because he has a podcast, he has this newsletter, he tweets all the time, he's a very experienced content creator. He knows his audience. Even if your audience, you should still gut check who wants your course. What juicy problems do they want to solve? What are painful, hairy problems that if they were able to solve - this course, would be a no brainer to be totally worth it and get a sense of who are these prospective students that you're imagining? You might have an idea of them, but you really want to go check that. That's actually step zero in the Maven course accelerator. It's part of the application.
22:32 Wes Kao So, it's actually so important now that we have everyone who even is interested in joining the Maven course accelerator, do the survey and make sure that you're validating that.
22:43 KP Which is amazing because you do that with such low effort and investment, too, which is another kind, of, like a no-code MVP. It's just a Google form. If I'm not wrong, again, you're losing nothing by doing that as a creator or instructor, you're just testing demand. I think sometimes, if I'm not wrong, there's even, like, a pricing range to check for, like, how much people are willing to pay. It gives you a lot of data points before you go out and build out your full curriculum and the full landing page for Maven. I think it's a really scrappy way of doing it. It's very smart.
23:14 Wes Kao Yeah. And you can even accept waitlist. So as people fill out the survey, they can check off a box that says, if you're interested in joining the waitlist to be notified when this course comes out. Right. And then now you're building your waitlist of interested students as you're building your content in lockstep.
23:30 KP I love that. Another aspect here, this is still part of that thread that you wrote, which is one of my favorite threads on this space. The one that I'm referring to for the audience is this thread that I include, the show notes called Spiky Point of View, and we'll unpack that in a minute. But another aspect that you touched on in the thread, which I fully agree, and I love it, and it's one of those underrated aspects, is around the job of an instructor being 50% teaching and the other 50% being entertaining. In the face value, it sounds like a silly thing. It sounds like a silly thing. Why would I need to entertain? Can you imagine Professor G being an entertainer? If you think about it, actually, that is uniquely what differentiates them from a traditional marketer, because in the first meeting, they're not talking about funnels, they're not talking about s*** that would bore you to death.
24:16 KP They have a bit of an unconventional approach to teaching the traditional aspects of marketing, and this can be applied to all kinds of verticals and topics. So, I fully agree. And oftentimes I have to remind myself when I do my own thing at OnDeck or with an ODNC, that my job is not to just, like, drill down the curriculum to make sure that they're learning step by step, but it's more about teaching them to have fun with the aspect of being a no-coder. So, yeah, I want to ask you, where did you get that thought from? What drove that observation, and why do you believe so?
24:49 Wes Kao I think we've all had teachers who were pretty boring. I remember a professor in college who I was in an electoral hall with 800 people freshman year, calc one, and the professor never even turned around from staring at chalkboard. I got a C in the class. Not proud of it, but it was really hard to pay attention. Especially on Zoom, it's even harder for people to pay attention. I mean, even being in a meeting, like a 1 hour Zoom meeting where you it's like part of work and you have to. Be there and like, it's a topic that you are chiming in on. It's still hard to even pay attention for something like that, right. Especially if you are learning something as a student and your instructor is talking at you, it's just game over. I think the thing to really think about is learning is not just about knowledge transfer and facts.
25:37 Wes Kao If it were just facts, then we would all read textbooks and better people, right? And that's no one. Learning is a social experience. It's an emotional experience. Right? It's the social, the emotional plus the facts coming together that help students remember and implement changes and lead to actual behavior change that lasts, mindset shifts that last once the course ends. So, when you mentioned Professor Galloway, Seth Godin, they wouldn't start off talking about funnels or something boring. I think part of that's true. So, they might not start off with the most technical jargony stuff, but even if they do start off talking about something deep, right - Funnels, river - they're doing it in a way that's keeping you awake. I say entertainer, I don't mean you're a clown, like doing wonky stuff.
26:27 Wes Kao I mean that you are keeping your audience awake. You're talking in a way that cuts through the noise that connects with them, that is entertaining, that's fun, that's relevant to their lives. Right? And I think that's why Prof.G is Prof.G. Why do we not know of some other random business professor? There's a lot of them, there's thousands of them. But we talk about Prof.G because he entertains us. If you follow him on LinkedIn, if you follow him on Twitter, you will see that he talks about relevant news and happenings and frameworks and business concepts in ways that make you perk up. So, he's a pretty polarizing character. Some people love him, some people hate him. It doesn't matter. People pay attention, right? Because people pay attention, he's able to get his message across. If you're teaching a course, you want to think about, how can I cut through the noise and make my audience care, make my students care?
27:18 Wes Kao You can do that in a way that's unique to you and your personality and this kind of segues into the spikey point of view. You don't have to stir the pot or be intentionally controversial or be provocative just to get a reaction. It's really about thinking about what's relevant for my audience. How do I communicate this in a way that isn't just me talking at them the entire time?
27:38 KP I love that. I think it's the authenticity there that's really key. Staying true to your personality, your beliefs, and yet using them, the gifts that you have to entertain others and engage with them. So, I love that. I want us to kind of go to the topic you mentioned earlier around Spiky point of view. We touched a couple of aspects of it, but I want to expand that for the listeners who may have never heard about spiky point of view that you wrote a thread on. How would you define it? Why is it important?
28:05 Wes Kao In startups, a spiky point of view is a belief that is rooted in your experience, your expertise on a topic that you're an expert in, that other people could disagree with, other experts could disagree with. It's not a hot take. It's not something controversial just to get a reaction. It's something where, based on your track record and your actual lived experiences, that you feel very strongly about. One example of this is that one of my finding points of view that people spend too much effort on product launches and not enough effort on everything that comes after the confetti settles and the launch is technically over. This is from my own experience working the last 15 years as a marketer, being on a bunch of teams, launching new products where there was so much emphasis on launch day or launch week and making sure everything was perfect, everything went well, that everything was coordinated by different groups and parties.
28:59 Wes Kao It's like, okay, great, so launch week is over and now it's the next week. And it's like, okay, cool. What's the plan for continuing the momentum? And we kicked off with a bang. But how do we continue that? And it's like, oh, don't know. No one thought about that. Let's put something together now, right? Just seeing how that doesn't set a team or product up for success and someone else. So that's my spiky point of view. Another marketing expert could disagree, and they could say, actually, Wes, I think that launches are the most important part of a product's life cycle. That, starting off the bank is super important because it anchors the consumer's mind in what this is and then everything thereafter there's more leeway, right? Like you can kind of punt around a little bit and have more leeway to get your act together, but the launch is when all eyes are on you.
29:43 Wes Kao And so that should be disproportionately important. That's the opposite spiky point of view and that is totally legitimate too. The thing with Spiky points of view is that different experts, you can get ten different experts in a room and they could have ten different spiky points of view. The great thing about a spiky point of view is that it helps you stand out. Whatever you do, whoever you are. There are thousands of people who very likely have a similar background to you. They might have a similar skill set, similar years in the workforce, similar background. Every one of us has a different spiky point of view about the world around us that is a culmination of our lived experiences, our track record, our personality instincts, right? It's not just about the work that you've done. It's also your personality, like, some people naturally gravitate towards, I'm going to shift really quickly.
30:31 Wes Kao Right. They gravitate towards speed and other people naturally gravitate towards quality and they want to be more thoughtful, they want to make sure that things are done right. And so, it's a mix of all these factors coming together so that you have a spiky point of view about your field, about your function, about your craft. It's one of the best ways to stand out and show that you have thought deeply about your work and that you're not just regurgitating top ten lists and the first search results that come up in Google, I find they're usually SEO stuffed keyword stuffed articles that spew some generic advice. Top ten lists and the first search results that come up in Google, I find they're usually SEO stuffed keyword stuffed articles that spew some generic advice. Right. And your audience is not looking for that from they want an actual spiky point of view that's rooted in experience and that's defensible not necessarily a universal truth, but something that's defensible rooted in rationale so that they can learn from you.
31:23 KP So combining this spiky point of view and the lesson about engaging and entertaining your audience springs up a specific thing you shared a few months ago, which something that I embraced and I tried to do more. I think there was a tweet which went something like make sure that your course materials are super as much as possible as super raw and includes real examples of DMs and Cold emails or things that early prototypes and basically the s*** that's locked up in your mind.
31:54 KP Make sure that you expose that to students. I thought it was very interesting because by the time you take something, that the way you let's say you reached out to an investor, and you raised the first round. The early attempts that you made, I think, have the most valuable lessons, as opposed to when you reflect on it three years later and you just write a nice medium post. It may contain a well packaged pearl of a lesson, which is very polished, but I think you learn more people learn more from watching the earlier attempts. Right. So, again, I want to ask what prompted that tweet? Was it part of the accelerator discussion? What happened? I want to know why you believe in it.
32:29 Wes Kao Yeah, what prompted that was thinking about how most content on the internet is BS. If you look at Twitter podcasts, blog posts, let's just use Twitter as an example. So, I love Twitter, but also, it's 280 characters. Anyone can do a mic drop saying something that sounds bold and wise and not have to back it up with anything.
32:54 KP Receipts, right, exactly.
32:57 Wes Kao Yes. I came up with this cheeky concept called the content hierarchy of BS, where at the bottom it's Twitter. As you work your way upwards, the amount of BS that you can get by that you can drop is less and less. Books are kind of in the middle. Because to write a book, you need a lot of research content to back up your thesis and then courses. Prepaid courses, and at the very top is cohort-based courses. And the reason why cohort-based courses have so little room for BS is because it's a bidirectional format. If you're up on stage keeping a keynote, that's full of BS also, right, you're up there, the spotlight on you, all the audience staring at you. There's so much halo effect from you being the expert and no one being able to question you, and you just spewing your inspiration.
33:44 Wes Kao Whereas in a cohort-based course, you're all logging in live on Zoom, right? I might be teaching. There's 200 people here. The chat is alive and well. If there is something that people are skeptical of, people are talking about it in Zoom.
33:56 KP They will call you out. Yeah.
33:57 Wes Kao Oh, yeah. They will pause and raise their hand and ask, like, this doesn't really make sense. Or like, I just thought of a great counterexample to the thing that you just said. How does this fit in? Right? That bidirectional format is part of what makes corporate courses fantastic for learning, because you are actually actively thinking, and you are talking about the material with other people and you're actively participating in the course. What it also means, though, is that for the creator and the instructor, that you want to make sure that your content is defensible, that your ideas are defensible. The antidote to the content hierarchy of BS is the superspecific how. SSH - that's what I call it for short. The superspecific how is the idea that you want to have concrete, tactical, practical, actionable ideas in your course.
34:45 Wes Kao That could look like screenshots, it could look like sharing actual scripts. It can be email copy, it could be sharing the actual Google doc where things are laid out. It could be sharing your notion set up and walking people through what this actually looks like. It's really the difference between saying communication is important. You teach something like that's very generic, that's full of BS. Everyone already knows communication is important. Like duh. Captain Obvious, right? You want to know how do I communicate well; how do I persuade people? How do I get by in how do I share hard news or whatever, right? You want to know the how, not just the what. So, in cohort-based courses, usually a decent course will do 80% what and why, and 20% how. An excellent course, a fantastic course, will flip the script. 80% is the how, only 20% is the what and the why.
35:39 Wes Kao The one why, you get it out there, right? The majority of time is spent on the how is how do you do this; how do you do that? Bringing these concrete examples so that your students can replicate the results that you have. If you only say the one the why. It's pretty hard for people to be able to replicate. It's saying we successfully fundraised, right? And like, staying very high level. It's like someone who reads that can't replicate. If you say, here's the timeline of here's what we started, here's where we ended, here are all the different milestones that happened along the way. Here are unexpected things that happened. Here's the initial pitch that we used. Here's what the initial deal memo looked like. Here's what the initial slide deck looks like. Here's how we built that and why we put the things we put into it.
36:25 Wes Kao A month later, here's why we scrapped all of it and then created something entirely new. And here are the major changes. Here are the different reactions that we got screenshots of people passing, or screenshots of people saying, like, "hey, question on this" - that's so much more concrete, because then your audience can take that and say, okay, great. I can picture myself actually here. Now I've actually done the initial maybe I've done a couple of revamps of my deck, and now I'm actually here. Seeing what came next for you, the instructor helps me orient myself and figure out, okay, here are actually some big lessons that I can apply, given where I am. Your student can actually take action out in the real world. I think that's really what makes students of cohort-based courses feel like their courses was worth the money compared to, why didn't I just take a ten-dollar course on fundraising?
37:17 Wes Kao Right? The fact that I get to see behind the scenes and also get your feedback, either the instructor's feedback or the coach's feedback, fellow peer feedback. That I have a group that helps me stay accountable, that I get to see behind the scenes, that the instructor is doing a live critique of someone's pitch deck. That the students are pitching each other and then giving each other feedback, incorporating the feedback, and then pitching again. They're doing demo days, right? It's all of that really active, very specific how piece that makes a learning experience feel really juicy.
37:48 KP I love it. If I have to point out one thing that I intentionally did in the last maybe two years that I would attribute a lot of my Twitter growth to. I went from someone who was trying to look like I was an impressive creator or I was an impressive builder to, hey, here's the journey. I have no f****** clue where this will go. Here's the receipts, right? The number of times those kinds of tweets went viral was insanely high. Even if the actual takeaway was so minimal, there's no grand lesson like some threads that go viral that I write. I look back and I just wrote, no real grand lesson here. But it's a moment in time. It shows you that, here's how my MVP looks like in day one or day seven, day nine, and it's not pretty. The concrete examples here, if you want to take away from it and the number of DMs I get from people when they see something like that, they're like, oh my God, I can't believe you use a dollar.
38:41 KP You should have used bubble or red flow. It becomes an engagement, it becomes a conversation, because when people see things, they have something to comment about, right? Especially the more concrete and the raw it is, the more human you appear and the less Godlike course creator you appear. They feel like, oh, wow, it's KP just three steps ahead of me. Otherwise, you can think of people like, I mean, anybody. You can think of anybody in any course, you're like, oh my God, they're far removed from my reality. You don't have to have my problems. So, I love that and I'm so glad that you're intentionally incorporating it in the index later and just being intentional about reminding course creators to include raw actionable, concrete examples, both failures and successes, right? And that's very key. I think they should see the failure side of it too, because not every cold DM will result in a yes.
39:34 Wes Kao Absolutely, in our Maven course accelerator, I will save failure examples to share with the rest of the instructors. It will be something like a project prompt that we wrote. It's kind of meta because it's a course where we teach creators how to build courses and how to create project prompts that are interactive for their students and stuff. We'll have prompts for our instructors and sometimes it'll bomb. People will go into breakout, groups will be confused, they won't really have enough to go on to have a good discussion, or it's mistimed, and the scope is too big and they barely finished one piece of the prompt in the breakout before we call everyone back. We share these with everyone to say, like, hey, we gave you this prompt and it didn't work for these reasons. We're revising it based on your feedback, based on the learnings.
40:21 Wes Kao So, we changed the timing to this. We gave more direction on how long each person should speak, we are changing this or that. We've gotten such great feedback from instructors who say that, oh, it's great seeing that first, that you all made these mistakes too. It makes everyone feel much more motivated that like, oh yeah, even this amazing course that they're experiencing used to be a lot more raw, right, than the polish that they're seeing at today. Also, a lot of times you learn more from seeing what not to do than just hearing what to do. Seeing those mistakes of what not to do. We'll share examples of project prompts gone wrong. We'll share examples of email copy that didn't really work, or ways of organizing the content that was very confusing for everyone. So, we'll save all these. I love finding when something doesn't work, I'm like, oh, yeah, let's save it and share it with everyone.
41:14 Wes Kao Because we're constantly improving, too, between every session. We've run four cohorts so far, between every session and during every session, we are improving the course. So, we don't want people to think that, oh, it's just magically everything just works beautifully. We want them to see here's what this looked like before. And I love the befores and afters. I think befores and afters are fantastic. I love track changes in Google Docs. Oh, my God. Amazing. Suggested edits. So good, right? Because you can see the original copy and then you can see the changes that were made to it, and then you can see the final version. If you just saw the final version and not the track changes and not the suggested edits, you look at it and it looks you're just like, oh, yeah, it was just great. It just flowed.
41:58 Wes Kao It just made sense, right? You see the changes that people made and you're like, okay, I can see why the initial draft looked like this, and I can see why after a round or two of edits, these things got moved around and shipped around, and the final version is so much better. You can see yourself in the editing process and be able to point it out in your own work and prove your own work.
42:18 KP I know we're probably going over time. I so want to be cautious, but I just want to share this watching an expert move is so mind blowing, but also makes it so relatable and so humbling. I'm sure you've had a version of this where I'll give you an example. So, we invented a session type at ODNC called 'Just ship it' Session. And the intention was we bring an expert and we asked them to take an idea and then turn that into a no-code app, right? No code using glide or bubble or Flow, whatever. When you see them, when you watch them in 60 minutes span, this is something they've done thousands of times, so they know how to do it right. The number of iterations it takes for them to adjust the header, the CSS, and then make that small logic of a button click, go to an email or something, is insane.
43:06 KP After the end of the session, it looks like when you fast forward this thing to the end, the last seven minutes, it's like, whoa. Flawless. How did they end up here? Right? If you watch the last 43 minutes, they went through so much pain. To me, that is the essence that I think we're on the same alignment here. That's the essence we're trying to communicate to the students is that the instructors are not some god people. They're not like Godlike. They're just advanced beginners. There really no experts. There are only two kinds of people. There's a beginner who's just a true beginner, and then there's a beginner who's given 10,000 iterations and they become an advanced beginner. So, yeah, the behind the scenes watching how someone execute certain things is so gratifying, in my view, to know that, okay, I'm not the only one who doesn't know how to do it so well in the first attempt.
43:53 Wes Kao Yeah, and I think a lot of times beginners might think that when they watch an expert or an advanced beginner, that eventually, if I get good enough, I'll just skip through all the iterations and the first three clicks will lead me to what my final product is. What I love about the story that you just shared is that even no matter how much of an expert you are still going through those emotions that is part of the process of your craft. That's not something that you just grow out of. I thought that I would just grow out of needing to edit my work and just end up with the exact right decision or the exact right copy within a few clicks or within a few keystrokes. But there's always the iteration. That's part of the building process. I think once I accepted that's part of the building process and stopped trying to remove it or think that it should be faster, that's actually when things did start speeding up because I removed the emotional expectation that I shouldn't have to iterate so much.
44:52 Wes Kao I wish I could just get to where I want to, faster. When I remove that, then I could just be in flow, right, and really.
44:59 KP Lean into yeah, I mean, I love the concept of flow, and I think I wish more people in tech really embraced it and fully understood it. Because you see that in sports. You see that in basketball. This is Steph Curry. My favorite example is world class talent, right? Probably the best shooter alive. Steph Curry dribbles takes a three-point shot and then he turns around. He has no freaking clue. Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn't. Right? If you notice his adjustment to the next moment. The next moment, that's what iteration is about, right? It's not, I think, especially in course creation and skill building and learning something new, even like something like a podcast. I love the process and the flow and the fact that whatever you do, if you remove your expectation and stick to your point and your attachment towards looking flawless, it naturally you become flawless over time.
45:49 KP Even if you don't care, because you're like, I'm enjoying this. I'm having fun. And people want to see that. I think that's the thing. I think people want to see how the sausage is made. People want to see how my other favorite thing about when you share content Wes, is there are millions of people who want to see how you run Maven, how you think about decision making, how you think about managing up, managing down, how you think about raising rounds. Right? Most people waste ten years until they can write an autobiography or until they can give a Ted Talk. My thesis is like, your Twitter is your autography. One tweet at a time. You have to listen to the fact that it will not be perfect. But the upside is huge. All right, I know we're overtime, so I'm going to ask you one last question, which is what kind of course creators are a great fit for Maven where it is today?
46:42 Wes Kao I would say the course creators that are a great fit are experts with credibility, who have an idea of what you want to teach. That's one. The second is the people that want to be part of Maven are experts and creators who have something to teach, who have a community that they want to engage with, and who want to build a course business. I think that last one is huge. We definitely have people who are doing courses as side hustles, who are doing it on top of full-time jobs or other work. The ones that we see who are really successful, want to invest in their course. They want to turn it into a revenue stream for themselves. They want to engage with their prospective students and with their alumni. They're very holistic and thoughtful about the process. I think creating a course is like creating any other business.
47:34 Wes Kao It's not like once you launch, your business is done, right? You would never say that about any other product or business. Sometimes people will have that assumption with courses because their mental model is of an evergreen, self-paced course where once you hit publish, it's out there. I would say even for those, though, even for Udemy, LinkedIn Learning ,Skillshare course, you're still having to market it, though, right? It's not truly passive income you are having to market. You are having to get your course in front of people who'd be glad to know that it exists. With cohort-based courses, it's the same if you want to invest in growing and building your course. We've seen people with really small audiences, no audiences, double their cohorts every couple of months because they wanted to, because they invested in it, they put effort in it. So, yeah, I would say that whether you have an audience or you don't, if you are an expert and you're credible and you want to grow a course business, I think that motivation piece is super important, and that makes you a really good candidate for being a cohort-based course creator.
48:34 KP Awesome. Sweet. Thank you. Where can people find you on the Internet?
48:38 Wes Kao Maven.com is our website. We're also @Mavenhq, and then I'm @Wes_Kao.
48:44 KP Awesome. Thank you so much, Wes. This was a pleasure. As you can see, I had a ton of fun. I was in flow. I appreciate you joining me, and thanks for being here.
48:53 Wes Kao Yes, thank you so much. KP.