How I Started a Business from Scratch (+ working full time and being a good dad)
MY NAME IS GREGG
I’m 48. I have a cushy home life, a view of the forest out back, and plenty of food in the fridge. I’ve been working since I was 15 and picked up a couple of degrees along the way. I’ve worked in some great jobs and great cities, and now work for one of the best brands in world. I won’t say there were a lot of hard times throughout my career, mostly some bumps and minor bruises.
Two years ago I sat down for a review with my boss. It didn’t go well. I decided at that point I was done letting other people arbitrarily judge my work. People my entire life have told me when to get up and go to school. They told me which classes to take, how I compared to other people, and if I was worthy of the best colleges. Later they judged me in interviews without knowing a damn thing about me or my work. I showed up with a big smile, neat clothes and a lot of charm. I worked hard at saying the right things — and there were a lot of right things to say. Now people tell me what to work on and what they think of it. I’m done. My work is awesome. I know it’s awesome because I’m experienced and incredibly passionate about what I do.
I came home and told my wife I was done. She got that inquisitive look on her face, the one that says, “I’ll support you, babe. But don’t forget we’ve got a pretty good thing here.” Don’t worry, babe, that’s not the plan. I’m just done giving my best work to someone else. I’m tired of people screwing with my work because it strokes their ego and short-term agenda. Fine if you don’t like or need my work. Just don’t tell me it’s not great work. I do great work when it’s the right work. We all do.
So, here I go. I’m taking my 30 years of experience and giving it away. I’m going to do the best work I’ve ever done in my life and share it with you and anyone who will listen. I’m sitting my ass down and putting everything I’ve got into this project. I’m going to teach others how to build kickass courses that work. It’s what I do great and I know there’s a huge appetite for it. And, I’m starting my own business aimed at giving people what they want. I know how to build great courses, but I don’t know how to build a business. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to build a business teaching others how to build the best online courses on the planet.
Fact: not everyone is great at what they do. Most of us are mediocre, and that’s okay. We’re the workers and the doers. We get shit done. But there are some that have honed their craft so beautifully that it’s fun to just sit back and watch them do their thing. Occasionally their young, but usually not. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the young ones are just using newer tools to solve the same problems. They don’t interest me. Call me when they’ve choked on a bit of humble pie. They’re not ready for prime time.
I’m talking about an experienced crew. People who are a bit rough around the edges from climbing and falling down the ladder a couple of times. I’m talking about people who realize there aren’t any new ideas, only new ways of approaching the same old problems. How do we build a better thing? How do we get people to want it? How do we get people to buy it? What do we do next?
I met a woman last week who has run big and small companies. She’s presented to huge groups and written loads of articles on how to solve problems. She can tell you about things that are going to happen before you even start. She’s seen it all and has created solutions for every piece of it. She’s got something worth teaching. The gold is in her experiences, not her ability to market herself or master her social networks. Yes. Those things are important. But slick marketers always give way to real talent and people with real experiences.
Most online courses are produced by people who know very little about how people learn. Don’t believe me? Go to Udemy and pick any course on Mastering Photography. Take it and let us know how much better your pictures look when you’re done. Or try this one… go take a course on how to build a Wordpress site and send me the link to your beautiful, glitch-free site. I’ve taken those courses and many like them, and I still don’t have a website. Now imagine you’re spending your entire month’s earnings on that course. Sucks, right? We’ll that’s exactly what people are doing.
Online courses are little more than a new way of distributing the same information you’ll find in a book, podcast or video. Learning is not a passive experience. It’s not okay to slap a course together, put it online, and start marketing the hell out of it (at a discounted price). Learning is in the doing. Online courses can be great at helping people build new skills or learn new techniques. But they must be built correctly if they’re to work at all.
I’ve built courses on everything from programming to storytelling. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Most of what I see doesn’t work. I’m going to help change that. I’m going to show people how to scale their expertise and make money sharing their skills with others. I’m going to tell people what online learning can and cannot do. People are bailing out on more than 98% of the courses they take online. I think we can do better.
Because it’s the right thing to do. There are more than 7 Billion people on the planet. Half of them have a digital device in their hands and are using them to entertain and educate themselves 24/7. Think about that for a moment. Someone in Bangladesh can now connect with a top-notch graphic designer to learn how to build a graphic design business. That same person never had access to any form of higher education before now. And if they did, they couldn’t pay for it or were forced to quit for reasons we can’t imagine.
People’s appetite for learning is insatiable. We’re hardwired to learn. Don’t believe me? Try not to learn anything for a couple of days. You can’t do it. You’re learning all of the time and taking it for granted. People with access to new ways of learning don’t take it for granted. They’ve been using online courses to improve their lives, pay their bills, start their careers and feed their families. It’s the reason why sites like Udemy, Coursera, Lynda.com and Skillshare are blowing up. People need to learn. That’s no joke and I want in.
I stumbled upon the need for better online courses when I started looking into starting my own business. But the idea came from somewhere else. Once again, I work at a great company and I’m surrounded by incredibly talented people. I pause at least a couple of times a week just to watch certain people work. I’m not talking about great internet or pop-culture personalities. I’m talking about people who are solving complex problems in the most creative ways. They’re the ones who got me thinking, “If only I could show others how good they are at what they do.” That would be pretty slick, right?
I’m starting small and going big. My first step is to find great talent and convince those people they have something worth teaching. I’ve already discovered people who are looking for ways to scale their expertise. They too know they’ve got something to teach, and aren’t quite sure where to start. I can help.
I’m going to work hand-in-hand with them until we get the formula right. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that none of us are great at knowing exactly how and when people need help. Sometimes you’ve got to put something out there and let people tell you how to make it better. I’m giving away everything I’ve created so I can learn what works, and what doesn’t. The beautiful (and unexpected) thing I’ve learned is people want me to succeed. They are telling me exactly what I need to hear with the most genuine and caring feedback. They want help.
Soon I’m going to launch a course I designed with the help of my students. Every lesson is better because of their feedback. I’m also sharing this experience with you. I realize you might not be interested in my course, but you might be interested in everything I’m learning along the way. Many of us corporate yahoos have heard the voices in our heads telling us to go rogue. People have helped me listen to those voices. People like Tara Gentile, Lena West, Lacy Boggs, Gary Hirsch and Paul Jarvis. Each has shared their experiences and stories with me. Stories to help me avoid some mistakes and point my compass in the right direction. None of them have pussyfooted around the fact that there’s a lot of work I need to do. I’m not afraid of work. I’m afraid of doing the wrong work.
So here it begins. Watch me jump.
Gregg Eiler is a Master Course Builder and small-business wannabe helping creatives take over the world one course at a time.