Masterclass Product Analysis
Today, I’ll be doing a product analysis of Masterclass. A beautiful product that is completely revolutionizing the relationship between celebrities and fans.
I’ll be walking you through the following…
- Using the product
- Analyzing the entire customer funnel
- Discussing product strategy
- Identifying pain points & opportunities for growth
- And hypothesizing what the future of Masterclass looks like
A lot to cover—so let’s jump into it!
Masterclass is a luxury learning experience, where students are taught by the most recognized celebrities in each field.
Their target user is likely someone who is highly educated, is upper-middle class, and a young adult who pursues a few different hobbies in her free time; Jenny, a 30-year-old software engineer at Facebook who enjoys cooking and blogging, and dreams of writing her own book one day. She is typically pretty pooped after a long day at work, and likely watches Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen or reads Malcolm Gladwell novels religiously.
More generally, she wants to learn and improve in her hobbies, and dreams of reaching the skill and status level similar to the Steph Curry’s of the world.
Masterclass’ core hypothesis is that: People don’t want to be average. People want to feel like they’re getting closer to the “top”, associate themselves with the best, and will pay to learn from prominent role models teaching their craft.
Masterclass capitalizes on this by connecting fans intimately with celebrities and their livelihoods.
As Rogier puts it himself, “The impression that we’re trying to create is that you’re sitting on a couch with that person and they’re going to share everything they know”.
For the price of a book every month, Masterclass provides a platform where the most famous people in the world will teach the Jenny’s of the world how to do what they do best. In short, high quality ~10 minute clips.
Put in another way, Masterclass is selling me the ticket to being great.
Masterclass’ single most important goal is to acquire users.
When I wrote this the first time, I believed Masterclass had two straightforward goals: acquire users and keep them on the platform. After digging deeper, I deprioritized their retention goal.
Why? Their celebrity product model means two big things.
One, content creation isn’t occurring endlessly. Steph Curry makes 3 hours of content, and probably won’t make another 3 for a long time, if at all. I will probably run out of interesting content to watch. My dog on uploads daily on Youtube, though.
Two, any one celebrity they onboard likely leads to acquiring thousands of new users, and simultaneously has the potential to enhance the platform significantly for existing users. Signing Lebron James would introduce a good chunk of his following to Masterclass, and for many existing users, that might mean their list of must-see teachers just doubled. Onboarding celebrities is probably the highest leverage activity for their business, and the acquisition of users is the most straightforward way to measure its outcome.
These two facts, paired with their monetization model, emphasizes a strong focus on acquiring users. I’ll dive deeper in a bit, but their single yearly subscription plan implies that the Masterclass novelty quickly wears off on existing users, and most users wouldn’t bother sticking around for more than a month if a shorter plan were offered.
What is Masterclass’ most important measure of success for user acquisition rates?
I would view every celebrity’s course debut almost like a product launch.
First, I’d look at the number of users who purchase a subscription within a month and watch the new celebrity’s course first. This would tell us how effective each celebrity is at mobilizing their fanbase. I can only imagine that each celebrity takes Masterclass a TON of effort to onboard onto the platform, and I’d want to focus my efforts on the ones that would bring in the most users, and ultimately revenue.
Pairing acquisition data with the estimated total size of a celebrity’s fan base, demographics, and interests, could probably lead to some interesting insights. Maybe very few of Steph Curry’s 300M fans will actually pay to watch him talk about basketball, but all 50M of Malcolm Gladwell’s middle-aged, male readers who have a Medium account will claw their way to paying $180 to hear him speak for three hours. Then, try to extrapolate that to celebrities with similar, but unidentical, fanbases.
Secondly, there are retention metrics that are interesting. What percent of students login after a week of creating an account? What percent of students finish a class they start? What percent of students start a second teacher’s course within a month? These numbers would tell us if our content is interesting, which artists are most interesting, and if our platform as a whole is effective at cross-contaminating users to multiple celebrities.
Anyway, enough of the high-level stuff. Let’s check out the actual product.
Here’s how my Masterclass experience went.
I was watching Penn & Teller Fool Us Youtube highlights at 3 AM, like everyone else does, and I hit a Masterclass ad. I don’t use adblocker on Youtube, on the off chance I get a great ad like this.
Now, I’d seen Masterclass ads around before, but this one was different. You see, this ad displayed my very own Penn & Teller teaching a course on how to do a magic trick! Where else could I learn from these two? Quite literally, nowhere. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them teach a magic trick. So, I clicked the ad.
Side Note: This is exactly what I’d look out for when measuring acquisition. Celebrities like Penn & Teller don’t teach very much, and by nature of their work keep many secrets. I imagine an average fan of theirs would be more willing to subscribe to Masterclass than a fan of Gordon Ramsay, who has hundreds of public educational videos.
Then, I landed on the home page.
Oh, jeeze. That’s kind of expensive. But this looks awesome. And I want to learn magic. Right now. At 3 AM. I click purchase.
WOW. You can gift a membership to a friend? Instantaneously, I spread the word on social media.
Anyone want to split a $180 year long Masterclass membership with me?
Within minutes, 3 people were interested. Talk about a CTA. I quickly figured out the details (I would buy the membership, my friend would Venmo me $90) and we went for it. I let my other interested friends know the bad news.
After purchasing my account, the lesson watching began.
This first lesson by Penn and Teller—insane. You should stop right now and just go watch the trailer.
I was IMMERSED in listening to these incredibly knowledgeable, rich people speak about their craft. Every single lesson has been incredible. As I watch, I can’t help but be overfilled with a combination of awe and what feels like pure knowledge absorption, sitting on the edge of my seat, entranced.
I breezed through a few Penn & Teller episodes. To confirm that the content was truly phenomenal across the board, I hopped on over to other celebrities’ classes. Malcolm Gladwell. Steph Curry. They were all good.
You even autoplay episodes, just like Netflix, so the entertainment doesn’t stop.
I took it one step further and started watching random celebrities.
My first random click: David Sedaris. I’d never even heard of him before this whole ordeal. Still, I watched one video and was hooked. I learned that this guy once had a tumor cut out from his side and fed it to a snapping turtle. He’s a sick man, and now, I love listening to his philosophies on writing and life.
I would never have heard of David outside of Masterclass.
Next, I briefly checked out some other extra content.
There was a community forum for fans of each celebrity. Not super interesting to me. I’m not here to talk about the celebrities, I’m here to learn from them. Plus, classes are pretty clear so I didn’t have any questions.
Malcolm Gladwell also has a workbook you can practice alongside his courses. It was long and looked like way too much effort. I quickly exited. Masterclass should not be about work.
It should be about passive absorption of intellect, the ultimate form of learning.
Now, a few complaints.
There are… 6 different ways you can start watching content; search, categories, my classes, quick lists, explore, and continue watching. I couldn’t really differentiate between any, and honestly don’t care too much. A bit annoying, because I feel like I’m missing out on something if I don’t check all of the different sections.
It feels like they thought about all the different ways someone could logically group videos together, couldn’t prioritize which experience to build, and built all of them, instead.
There are also 4? 5? different interfaces that you can watch videos from. I’m not sure why. They are very confusing. It isn’t clear to me why you trigger each different viewing experience, and it confuses the hell out of me.
I loved watching Masterclass. And yet, I have not found a reason to return.
It is two days later. I haven’t visited Masterclass once. When I am bored and want to watch a video, I still go straight to YouTube. This sucks. I paid $180. Why am I still watching free videos.
Finally, navigation is weird as hell. Pressing the “back” button on my chrome browser directs me to pages I never visited, sometimes. Page loading is abnormally slow, and a bit painful to navigate around to when you need to screenshot a bunch of things for a 15 minute article. Some weird and clunky behavior.
Overall? Still, a beautiful and enjoyable experience. I’m going to need to watch a lot more videos to feel like I spent $180 well, though.
Customer Funnel Analysis
These are my biggest takeaways from my experience using Masterclass—framed through the lens of Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue (AARRR).
Well-targeted ads leads to highly qualified leads visiting the landing page. With a beautifully designed home page and clear value prop—celebrities teaching things—Masterclass seems to handle acquisition well.
I am surprised they do not make it clear which celebrities were most recently onboarded. Again, their typical visitor probably already knows who they’re coming for, but I still would argue a big concern many users must have in the back of their minds is that there won’t be enough new content being created.
Super straightforward. I assume 99% of people will purchase a subscription with a specific celebrity instructor in mind. I can go from purchasing a subscription (acquisition) to watching a Penn & Teller video (activation) in a few clicks.
That’s what I came for, that’s what I got.
Outside of watching lessons, the course “workbooks” you can use aren’t interesting, and the community section feels like a second thought. There are also special live stream sessions with certain celebrities, but I haven’t felt the need to join one, yet.
That’s a bit scary to me.
I’m so worried about retention because I had a blast during my first 3-hour binge watch. All I did was watch videos, and it was thrilling to finally not feel like a plebian in class.
And even after what I can only imagine was a great first user experience, I haven’t returned to Masterclass once. I’m busy, just like everyone else in their target demographic. There just aren’t any triggers for me to need to return. When I’m bored and want to watch a video, my default continues to be YouTube.
If the product was on a monthly subscription, this would be a death sentence.
Funny note: I got a lot more emails when I had a non-subscribed account, as opposed to now with my paid account 🤔
The gifted year-long subscription included in every purchase is good, but I don’t think I’ve really seen any other built-in social functions when it comes to users getting their friends on the platform. And even then, I had to go out of my way to find someone to gift my subscription to.
Surprising to me, considering my first-hand experience of asking friends to sign up with me could have brought in 4 new customers in one swift blow.
Even with the gifting feature, without knowing the LTV of an average user, I’d guess this model does not boost revenue significantly. You get two customers (some of which admittedly would not have signed up otherwise), they pay $180 in total, and both likely cancel within the year, leading to no additional revenue.
I could be totally wrong about the numbers, but either way—I think they could boost their referral rates further and increase revenue significantly.
I’m guessing it might be hard to convince some people at this price point. You either buy an all-access subscription for $180, or a single class for half the price. At that point, you may as well just double up!
More evidence that indicates the low utility of most other classes on the platform, and the likely low retention. One class is half the price of getting all classes.
Honestly, though. Have you ever paid $90 to watch a documentary? Or $180 for 5 documentaries? Masterclass has created something special.
What exactly is in the Masterclass Kool-aid that makes them so special?
To me, it’s not education.
It’s the intimacy they sell you with each celebrity lesson.
If I were leading product, I would be dropping everything that doesn’t make people feel closer to their celebrities, and the dreams they represent. That means dropping workbooks (in its current iteration) and doubling down on making users feel an intimate connection to their heroes.
There are enough workbooks, and tactical online courses, and Youtube “Tips 101” videos out there, I don’t need another generic resource from Masterclass. I have a feeling that this realm of the product is included for an attempt at moving towards B2B sales. I don’t think the workbook route is the correct one to go down for this play, and I will elaborate in the next section.
I believe that Masterclass’ core hypothesis still rings true. By building a product that connects fans intimately with celebrities and their lives, they will make users very happy and make a lot of money.
Opportunities (and features) for Growth
Let’s ideate some pain points & features that will get us aligned up to our product strategy. I’m mostly thinking about this through the lens of a 22-year-old working in tech, because that’s me.
Pain Point 1: I want to feel like Malcolm Gladwell’s superfan.
I love classes as much as the next guy. They make me feel like Malcolm’s friend. But, how do I show Malcolm how much I love him? How do I show my friends how tight Malcolm and I are?
Each course should have a celebrity challenge, something public anyone can do and post to social media. Maybe Steph Curry challenges everyone to make five 3 pointers in a row, or Malcolm challenges everyone to blog for a week, etc. Give me a day in the life challenge that let’s me say “I’m more Malcolm than the next guy”.
Current workbook just isn’t shareable or fun, and doesn’t make me feel closer to Malcolm as I do the exercises. Let me show off the product of my work. Word of mouth acquisition!
I’m inspired during a Masterclass lesson. Perhaps I make some drastic changes in my own life, or start a business, or write more effectively for my awful blog, etc.
Why not repurpose the Community tab into something that honors success stories? Let people show off and reward people who go the extra mile to engage with the content.
One step further, this could be an off-brand form of advertisement. Could potentially shoot some official ads with “success stories”. Retention! Acquisition!
When I finish a course, I get… nothing. It feels good to me, but that’s about it. Again, let me share my joy and love for Malcolm.
I should be able to upload a photo of myself and Masterclass will photoshop my face onto the body of a human being shaking hands with the celebrity whose course I just completed. “I DID IT” plastered on the picture as a caption.
For the memes, and for the clout. Word of mouth acquisition!
Spotify Super Fan
I’ve seen open Q&A’s by celebrities on the Masterclass platform—those are cool. But what about opportunities to snag front row seats at the next concert? Opportunities to pre-order showings, or books, or tickets?
Just rip Spotify here—tell me I’m one of the only people who have finished Malcolm’s entire lesson plan, and because of that I get early access to something he’s done.
Ship me a signed copy of his novel, as well. I will make sure my family, school, and workplace hear about this for the next year. Word of mouth acquisition!
How do I get more? How do I prove that I love Malcolm?
Well, you have access to 100 top celebrities. Why not just throw a bonanza and have a conference? Could even be online. I’ll pay $100 to show up, and hear 30 celebrities speak for 30 min each on their topic of choice. Get exposed to some additional insights and celebrities whom I would have never checked out otherwise. Retention!
If I finish your course, please… give me a little more than just a checkmark. Let me join an exclusive community on the forum. Let me brag. Give me a place to live a high society life with my intelligent peers who also finished the course. Anything but a checkmark.
Pain Point 2: I want to feel like I’m on the path to becoming Steph Curry.
These courses are great, but I want to see myself wearing Steph Curry’s shoes in 5 years. How?
Give me his daily gym schedule when he was 15. Then 20. Then 25. Tell me how he trained. It could be as simple as 3 hours a day, footwork one day shooting the other. Show me his progression as a human. Retention!
In a similar vein, I want to be a better baller, and more importantly, be Steph. Show me a to-do list of daily or weekly things Steph will make sure he does every day. Does And give me a place in the platform to keep track of myself doing those things.
This is probably very similar to challenges, but more focused on growing better at the craft. I will crush the weekly to-dos that come out of Steph Curry’s mouth. Retention!
Eventually, I envision Masterclass being the platform where fans go to connect with Masterclass, on all fronts. I want to be Steph on the court, but also more like Steph in life.
If any celebrity wishes to do a documentary, Masterclass should strive to own the rights to the documentary. Retention, acquisition.
Pain Point 3: The day to day of life is hard. I’m often stressed, tired, unmotivated.
Day to Day
Life is rough. Some days, I need a pick me up. Some days, I need a hype man. Some days, I need to focus. Give me insight on how celebrities deal with the inevitable hardships of their lives.
- Get Gordon to do his relaxing technique
- Get Malcolm Gladwell to go through his morning routine
- Get Steph Curry’s workout playlist on the platform
- Get Serena Williams to show us her routine to focus up before a game
- Or, you have 16,000 minutes of content. Repurpose it, with some Hans Zimmer background music, into motivational videos for every situation in life. Basically, an ad.
Give me a reason to come back to the platform, on a daily basis. Work with the triggers I have in my day-to-day life. Retention!
Here is also where I see potential for a B2B offering—co’s pay for employees to learn how to perform at the top of their game in the day to day.
I don’t have time to click on every single episode and try out every single celebrity. Cut together quick Netflix-like previews, and let me hover over each course to get a quick preview.
Let me actually browse. Retention? More exposure to new celebrities?
Pain Point 4: $180 sounds expensive.
Gifting is a start, but the price point is a bit too steep, still.
When I personally posted a story about splitting the Masterclass subscription, people were immediately interested. Why not productize that even more intentionally?
Create a family plan, and make people feel like they’re getting a deal by asking friends to join in. Or, at least make sharing easier. Make an instagram story I can easily repost… or something like that.
The Future of Masterclass
With all these potential features in mind, what’s the end game for Masterclass? Would I invest? Will Masterclass be alive and kicking in 5, 10 years?
In an age where education is mostly a commodity, Masterclass sells a dream. And makes a lot of money. And there aren’t many competitors.
Again, I think the future of Masterclass involves doubling down on connecting fans intimately with celebrities and their lives. People will always aspire to be like their great role models, so if Masterclass continues to sow that seed, I’m all in.
This was a bit of a long piece. I’ll probably think 90% of this makes no sense in a month or so. Maybe check back then.
For now, I leave you with a quote from my new favorite famous person, David Sedaris.
“If you’re a busboy who speaks 5 words of English and someone’s screaming at you. You’re just gonna go home and probably feel bad about yourself. But for me, there’s nothing better.”
— Fin —