Learning to Manage a Growing Business with Scott Tolinski

Running a course platform that not only contains your content, but also the courses of several other third-party creators is an entirely different job than that of the independent creator.

Scott Tolinski, creator of Level Up tutorials has had to learn a lot of lessons as he grew his business and started bringing on guests instructors. The amount of coordination and planning required was a lot. But, they decided to hire a developer who did an amazing job setting up systems that made the flow of connecting with content creators much more manageable.

A small team of people also work on Level Up and Scott has had to really learn management skills. Being able to have people take on some of the workload is a huge help and has allowed Scott to be able to focus on the work that he wants to do more of.

Scott also chats more about what went into building the Level Up Tutorials platform, the essential features of a good course, and how he designs good project examples.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Joel: Hey, Scott,

[00:00:00] Scott: Hey, how's it going?

[00:00:01] Joel: I'm doing great. I'm looking forward to chatting. I really love what you built with your level up tutorial site. And I think you, you've added a really interesting. Piece to the conversation in our web development sphere with your podcast that you record with WEBO before we get started, though, I was curious when you sit down to learn something new and you're learning a new complex skill, what's your approach?

Learning style

[00:00:23] Joel: How do you go about learning something new and difficult and challenging?

[00:00:27] Scott: Yeah, I, part of my approach typically is just to get my hands dirty a lot. I'm definitely more of like a learned by doer type of person, you know, it's never really the type of person who was fully calculated before starting anything. It was more or less you know, Hey, this thing kind of looks.

[00:00:45] Let me see if I could get just anything kind of working on it, whether that isn't in code. Right. If it's in, if it's in code, I'm gonna maybe read the, read me, but do a little bit of hacking on it first, get it something up and running, get it kind of working and then just experiment with it. And it's just in general life skills though.

[00:01:02] I'm definitely a Tryer, you know, I'll try a whole lot of things and whether or not they're successful or not the first time doesn't necessarily mean that I have to stop trying, I guess.

Consuming courses

[00:01:11] Joel: Are you a consumer of courses?

[00:01:13] Scott: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:01:14] I do watch a lot. And mostly just because I'm not a skilled reader. I have dyslexia. I have a really bad, short term memory.

[00:01:21] I have a lot of challenges with reading. So it's like, I end up missing a lot of things. It's really weird for me. I'll I could look, read a line in a book and then have to come. When you go to the next line, I'll like read the same line again and not realize it just challenges with the way that my brain functions.

[00:01:38] So I end up consuming a lot of audio material, a lot of video material. Just in general I retain it a lot better.

How to capture knowledge while learning

[00:01:45] Joel: When you're doing that research, what are you doing to like capture it? Because I have the same struggle. I'll go through something and it just like, it kind of disappears off into the ether, but how do you capture it? What are your kind. I guess they call it personal knowledge management strategies these days.

[00:01:59] Scott: I U I use obsidian for a lot of things to just have the whole link to notes system, but primarily what I'm doing, like while I'm learning is I have the remarkable tablet. Have you heard of

[00:02:13] Joel: oh yeah. The, it looks like paper has a pen. Pencil it, look to it. Right.

[00:02:16] Scott: Yeah. And it's an EE tablet that like the battery lasts for like two weeks. So it's.

[00:02:22] Joel: a Kindle drawing tablet is how I think

[00:02:24] Scott: Exactly. Yeah. And because it's like always charged whenever you need it. I always just have it right by my desk. So I'm usually just kind of sketching out things on this all the time. Just writing quick little notes to myself.

[00:02:36] Especially if it's small topics, if it's large topic, I'm it. depends on like what my learning is for. I, if it's learning to reproduce it into like a course set up, I'm usually firing. Like a, like an outline that I have for putting together courses. And then I'm starting to take notes and do a little bit more of like a structured outline for the course, rather than like, for my own brain, I suppose.

[00:02:58] But usually I'm just like kind of sketching out things.

[00:03:01] Joel: Are you a visual note taker, like little doodles and stuff to go along with your notes?

[00:03:05] Scott: Yeah. But they're not like good doodles or Q doodles. They're just like, Yeah. , Yeah, definitely.

[00:03:09] Joel: that's not a requirement. Like I personally, when I'm taking notes like that and I love, like, that's why I love paper and lately good notes. Five on the iPad has been really great for me, cuz it's just super simple, but it's always like little scribbles and lines and you know, like connecting and just a way to like process it in my brain and give that visual connection really has helped me quite a bit in terms of.

[00:03:30] Scott: totally. I do like drawing emphasis on things and yeah. Def absolutely.

What makes a really good course?

[00:03:35] Joel: What are some qualities of a good course in your mind?

[00:03:37] Scott: I think for me it's more or less like what the user takes away out of it. And like sometimes, you know, there you get into this flow of like the course has to fit a project structure. And it's nice to like walk away with a project, but oftentimes, you know, that can come at like a detriment to the course where you're just like kind of shoehorning things in there to finish or complete the project.

[00:03:57] So for me, it's. Is the user going to have enough of the core experiences that they would have when they're working day to day and like be able to potentially understand when bumps come up, what they can do to solve those bumps. It's like, it's kind of tough because you're often you don't wanna overexpose someone to the, like the amount of things that could go wrong.

[00:04:20] You don't want to try to cover all of the base. You're like preparing for something that's not going to happen there, right? Oh, if you do this, it could break this way. If you do this, it could break this way. The user largely doesn't care about that when they're learning something. But like being cognizant of maybe what the most important things are to either call them out or even show them is in my mind, like, you know, a big problem with courses because they do, they talk about.

[00:04:42] Course fatigue, where people that buy a ton of courses and don't take them or they take them and they can't get out of that flow of, okay. I did the course Now what

[00:04:52] Joel: Now what

[00:04:53] Scott: Yeah. And so that's always been like the thought process in my mind is like, will the user be able to actually. Do the common things that you would need to like make an HDP request, display some data, put this up on the internet somewhere like the common patterns that you're just always going to need to have in just about every single project.

[00:05:11] Make sure that stuff's covered in a way that they're going to be comfortable doing that on their own without you

What change are devs trying to make by joining your course?

[00:05:16] Joel: I don't think anybody wakes up on the weekend is like, I'm gonna take some courses this weekend. Generally speaking, they're wanting to make some sort of difference in their lives and what, like in your experience with level up and otherwise, what is the difference that like a developer is trying to achieve in their lives when they're seeking out a course?

[00:05:32] Scott: Yeah. You know, I deal a lot in like, kind of like newer technology stuff or maybe like even just released kind of things. And oftentimes they're looking for, how do I do this thing? I already know how to do in something else again, cuz it's, I do a lot. Yeah, I do a lot of beginner tutorials too, but like the, most of what I'm doing is for that intermediate person who has like, at least an idea of how things generally work, or at least they have a, you know, just a prior experience there.

[00:06:02] So it's more or less like, what can we do to like, reassociate these topics with things that already exist in your brain, most likely. Yeah,

How do you decide what a new course will be about

[00:06:09] Joel: How do you like keep abreast? Like what do you know in terms of what to teach? Right. Like you, you're trying to keep current and there's always this change and particularly in technology, right. There's always something new and interesting. How do you sift through all that and decide what it is you are gonna like spend your time as a teacher producing to help people get what they want out of tech.

[00:06:27] Scott: largely it's largely what I'm interested in and You know, I do listen to what our subscribers are trying to work on or what they're interested in or what technologies they feel are under representative underrepresented in content. But for the most part, like if I'm not excited about something it's really hard for me to teach it, like I'm excited about it.

[00:06:49] And if I'm not excited about it, it's really hard for me to like, find those nuanced things that you

[00:06:53] would find, cuz I'm gonna be like just putting together code examples for. You know, for the purpose of doing a course and not for fun and to learn this thing. So, yeah I have a little bit of a struggle with that because like I do often struggle between like, is this the course I want to do for me?

[00:07:09] Or the course that's going to be most useful. My wife always says, I'm like, Three or four months too early on a course, she'll be like you released this course four months too early. Like nobody knows what this thing is. And then like four months later someone else will release a course at just the right time or who knows what, you know, it's like, for me it's definitely a little bit of a struggle, but definitely something that like I pick stuff that I'm interested in, like recording a course right now on spelt cubed and like doing 3d in spelt.

[00:07:34] And it's largely just because, well, besides the fact that, you know, we're gonna. We're all going to have to learn 3d at some point, if we're doing UIs for augmented reality and who knows what in the future, but it's nice to have a little bit of an exploration there. And when I was just diving into SEL cube, I had done react three fiber before, and I was just thinking this stuff's so cool.

[00:07:54] I mean, this is so exciting and it's really easy for me to crank out too many demos for a course, because I'm really just like a kid at a playground. Right. I'm just making stuff for fun, making stuff for myself.

What's the process for coming up with good examples?

[00:08:05] Joel: How do you figure out like what the examples or what the demo is gonna be when you're, when you are playing around, when you're in exploration mode and you're trying to figure it out and narrow the field down to what's gonna actually make the course. How do you what's the process for coming up with good examples?

[00:08:17] Scott: Yeah,

[00:08:18] I oftentimes I'll have a bit of an outline of like the core concepts that need to be taught in something. Right. Where it's like, all right, you obviously need to know updating state, you need to know this. You need to know that routing whatever you have these core ideas. And I'll outline those.

[00:08:33] But when I'm coming up with like the project examples, they're usually they're usually I'll come up with an example and say, Hey, I need something to show a spring. Like a spring animation using 3d. Okay. Well, I have the ability to create something kind of fun here, or we made something kind of fun in this last video.

[00:08:51] Why not just make this thing bounce around for a little bit and then I'll fork. It I'll change. It I'll tweak it. And sometimes that turns into something like totally new. Sometimes it, it stays the same as just like an augmented version upon the last one you can think about like remixing a song or something like that.

[00:09:06] Occasionally I'll come up with something and then I'll fork it. And by the time I'm done with the, for. It will be something completely different or it'll be a slightly different version of the thing that we had. And I'll usually do all of those code examples and everything while I'm working on the outline.

[00:09:20] So everything has its, it's kind of a perfect flow, you know, like right now we did the 3d course, so, or I'm working on it and it's like the first 10 video show you. What you need to know to understand like, just the basic syntax of working in 3d with something like SEL cube, then we do a project. Then we get into some more interesting stuff.

[00:09:38] Then we do like a project that is using some more of that interesting stuff. And then we're kind of like drip feeding the skills. And we're not showing you all of the API at once. So that way you can actually make interesting things or things that will like at least give you those bits of excitement from working on something.

[00:09:54] I don't know me personally, like when I'm really excited about a topic, which I'm, sure's pretty common when I'm really excited about a topic. I want to consume a lot of material. I wanna work really hard. I wanna like experiment with it and just try all sorts of new things. But , when I'm just doing it for, you know, business or whatever, it's a slog and it's a grind and I'd rather not be doing.

[00:10:13] Joel: when you're just trying to get work done versus like exploring and playing. Do

[00:10:17] Scott: Totally. Yeah. I'm very much a motivation. I mean like that type of motivation for me is really big, cuz I've always been the type of person who does like to experiment a lot with things. you know, my background before web was in motion graphics and after effects stuff and you can just tinker with that stuff all day long.

[00:10:34] And so like I, I've always been a bit of,

[00:10:35] a, just a tinkerer in that.

Learning instructional design

[00:10:37] Joel: Formal approaches to instructional design or other ways to think about the instructional design aspect of creating courses.

[00:10:44] Scott: Not necessarily. You know, I think there's a lot of learning that I've had to have done,

[00:10:49] Joel: Yeah. Well, we all end up having to learn a lot, I think, in our lives. Yeah.

[00:10:53] Scott: Yeah. You know what a lot of it kind of has either been like nothing formal, so no formal anything, but maybe through the school of YouTube comments and people being rude to you online. So like I've had enough of this sucks for these reasons, or you did like.

[00:11:08] For instance, you told me at the title of this video is gonna be installing WordPress plugin. Then you didn't do that for two whole minutes. And I was just thinking like, oh Yeah.

[00:11:16] you're right. Okay. So there's no general like actual validated learning structure for me, but I have been recording for so long that I've, I feel like I've gotten enough comments from people that they've either told me what they liked or disliked or whatever it's been honed down over the years.

Learner feedback

[00:11:30] Joel: I was wondering if learner feedback affected the design of your courses. And besides the comment section, are you using the, I mean, you said this already that you're mostly exploring your personal interests, but like how does that feedback loop come into play? And do you do any sort of like testing with users before you release a course?

[00:11:47] Scott: We don't do a lot of testing with users specifically, but we do have a discord channel that's like always active and I'm in there 24 7, because it's how my team communicates. But also like yeah. How everyone in our community talks about things and I get it kind of a good idea for our community in general and our users there based on what they're talking about.

[00:12:06] But we also do have. The ability to vote on course topics that at least gives me some feedback in terms of like what they're interested in. And we have the user submission things which people do use. We, I mean, we get a lot of people asking for various topics.

Maintaining courses

[00:12:20] Joel: I think one of the challenges with, especially with video driven courses is maintaining the course over time. And like you said, this stuff is always changing. What sort of effort do you put into maintaining courses or is that, you know, something, is it always sort by new is the best approach.

[00:12:35] Scott: Yeah, we've kind of had a, I don't know. I have a bit of like, just anxiety around that, that

[00:12:40] topic in general. I released like a massive . Yeah. I released a massive react native courses, like one of my first premium courses when I was trying to migrate off of YouTube. And.

[00:12:51] Joel: Scott

[00:12:51] Scott: It was like, I put so much time and so much effort into it.

[00:12:54] And not only like, was it out of date, like the next week? Cuz it was react native, but like it didn't do great in sales because of, you know, now I have to rerecord this whole module like a month after I released it. And there's just so much, like I can't believe I wasted so much time doing that. And then I've put out other courses on CSS and CSS variables and you know, browser APIs that are never going to change.

[00:13:17] And they're like evergreen. It's been a bit of a learning experience for me. I've, I try to. I try to like really minimize usage of extraneous libraries wherever possible, because one small API change can just goof up your whole course for, you know, forever. So I, I try to stick pretty close to the Dom APIs, but a lot of the stuff we're dealing with nowadays are frameworks and they're this or that they're getting changed.

[00:13:43] Versions completely. Dismantling your entire course. And what I end up doing more often than not is like doing a completely new version of the course a year later, or two years later, or three years later, instead of trying to patch it or keep it up to date, it's just like, all right, this one is now out of date.

[00:14:02] Let's scrap it. Let's put out a new one

[00:14:04] Joel: Kind of deprecation, right? Where you put a version number on the old one and put the new one out and tell people that the new one exists and it sort of, yeah.

[00:14:11] Scott: Yeah. And we're often trying to keep things a little bit more scope to version numbers. Like people often ask about release dates, which we have added. I was resistant to adding release dates for a. Because I didn't want people to think like, all right, this course that came out two years ago, which is still super relevant.

[00:14:24] I don't want people to feel like that content is too old, just because we're on the web and everything is a hyper speed. I would rather like that release date, be the versions that the application's tied to. And I, I suppose that's something we should probably Do which is haven't done. But yeah it's a constant challenge for me.

[00:14:40] And one that like I do occasionally. Lose total sight of that. And I'm like, I'm just gonna pick this thing cause I'm really super interested in it. And then half a year later, I'm like, man, I should have picked something a little bit more grounded in the APIs rather than something that's brand new.

Flagship courses

[00:14:56] Joel: Do you think, is it, do you have any flagship courses or ones that are like a particular draw that, that get people in to your kind of ecosystem or how do you look at that?

[00:15:04] Scott: Yeah. And again, I think they're some of my favorite courses that I've like done. We have a design systems course with CSS, and it's all about how to use CSS variables and, you know, like classless CSS to build out your foundational CSS before like really going ham or using frameworks or this or that?

[00:15:21] And then we have like a modern CSS layouts course, which is. How do use CSS grid and flex box to build several different layouts. Like we build tweet deck and we build the like more interesting layouts, like tweet deck, but also like very generic layouts that you typically see. Those courses have been really rock solid for me for a long time.

[00:15:40] And I think a part of it too, is that like, that's some of my favorite stuff. I always feel. Like, man, I should just do another course on interesting CSS stuff, because it's the stuff that I'm most interested in personally. And it's the stuff that doesn't go out of date the fastest. So like maybe I should just nail that down a little bit more, but then, you know, then there's things like spelt cubed calling my name and now I have to do a 3d course on spelt.

[00:16:01] Joel: Do you ever consider breaking off? I know, you know, you have level up, but breaking off and doing like a standalone CSS GM, for instance, to where you, you take that and kind of take that love and develop it into its own thing. Is that something you ever consider or are you pretty focused on, on kind of keeping it under one roof?

[00:16:17] Scott: I'm pretty focused, but mostly just because of time, you know, we have a two year old and a four year old and , I would just like, I don't get like a full eight hour Workday based on when they come home from daycare, my wife works full time and like, it's it just a struggle to get and all of my stuff done.

[00:16:33] And even before this year, really I was doing 1224 video courses a year. So.

[00:16:41] Joel: cause you were trying to hit one a month. I think was, if I remember right, was your goal.

[00:16:44] Scott: So I've been doing one a month since like 2017 on level up and now we have a guest author, every other author. So it, my, my 12 has gone down to six courses and that has been like a tremendous life improvement for me in general.

[00:16:59] Yeah. I mean, when the pandemic first hit you know, we had two kids at home, two young kids at home. and my office and my wife, and I'm trying to record, she's trying to get work done. We got two kids running

[00:17:12] Joel: like a newborn.

[00:17:13] Scott: Yeah. I had to do 12 courses that year and it was impossible. So like ever since then, I've just been like totally burnt out on it.

[00:17:20] I'm been doing my six courses a year and feeling really happy about that.

How guest instructors have affected the platform

[00:17:25] Joel: Yeah, I noticed it. And I noticed the recent addition to the platform is that you are now including guest instructors. How has that changed? Like at the business level or kind of process level adding folks in to, to create courses with you.

[00:17:39] Scott: it was always really scary for me. I'm Not a great communicator in terms of like organizing things or planner. I maybe I'm

[00:17:46] Joel: Not a manager.

[00:17:47] Scott: Yeah, I'm not a good manager. I've never really had that role. And so for me

[00:17:51] it was always really tough to coordinate at things. I would have interest to people wanting to do courses wanting to be involved in the platform and I would just be like, okay, cool. Yeah.

[00:17:59] we'll get you in. And then just. Not have the bandwidth to take care of it. So part of the biggest thing was we hired on we hired on a guy who was a note developer for us. He did like amazing work, but he also just happened to be an exquisite planner. And so he started, he basically set up the whole flow for how we connect with content creators and how we get involved.

[00:18:19] And ever since then, it's been way easier. I'm coordinating with people and I'm lining things up and I'm feeling really good about it, but even just to get. Process in place to get started. Wasn't super easy for me, but I, you know, what I, people are out there making really amazing courses and like there's so many people who are exquisite teaching.

[00:18:36] So, it's really nice to be able to have people on the platform and, you know, part of like our whole goal with doing this is. Is trying to like enrich everyone's lives, you know, who's involved in it. Right. And I used to work at a record label, ghostly international, and they had this like absurd royalty rate for their, like their sales.

[00:18:58] Like basically every other record label's giving you like a one, one, or like one to 10% on sales or something. And they were giving like 60%. And like, I just remember the artist. Being like, wow this is so cool. This is like how they should do it. And I've always like really wanted to if I was going to bring other people in to have it be in that sort of capacity, where we could pay people based on streams.

[00:19:20] So they get paid like a percentage of. The total revenue for that month based on their stream numbers, as well as like for sales. So like, if they're bringing people to watch their course and people are watching the course, then they're gonna get paid directly. And again, this was like all stuff that this developer, his name's Tom Allen, he's really talented.

[00:19:37] He he really helped us with and helped us get going with, and Yeah, just a big upgrade for all of our lives over.

[00:19:44] Joel: I'd love to, if you're willing to kind of describe the flow and the process that time Tom had, has brought into level up. I'd love to hear more about that.

[00:19:52] Scott: Yeah, I think it's just more of an organization. You know, we, we had GitHub issues and things like that.

[00:19:57] where people could leave issues and connect and whatever. But no he basically just won ham on Google forms, made a bunch of Google forms and that was really it. Let's have a submission form.

[00:20:07] Let's have a content creator's form. You can vet them these ways. We have all this information and I think he had worked at Pluralsight before, so he had a little bit of ex he had a little bit of experience in this world of online education and how working with content creators. So he had definitely like a, just that, that right.

[00:20:25] Amount of experience in knowing, you know, how a lot of these flows can work. So that's really it was more or less. Instead of just emailing people here and there, we're gonna have a process. The process is they submit the form. We vet the form. Next. We do a one hour long interview. Then we connect with them.

[00:20:43] We depends on their experience how much we have to monitor what they're doing or not doing. And mostly we're working with content creators who have been, you know, fairly active either on YouTube or anything like that. Or we often have to see quite a bit of work from them. Signing them up for good giving people going, but since we're not trying to do it too much, right.

[00:21:00] We're doing one every other month. It's been pretty nice to coordinate everything to the point where now I don't have to worry about what the heck I'm doing for next month's course. I can worry about the month after and put more time into that and, you know, feel less, less burdened by the stress of having to come up with a new topic every single month.

[00:21:17] Joel: of burdens and stresses you've created your own.

[00:21:20] Scott: Yeah.

Why create your own course platform

[00:21:20] Joel: and I'm wondering why I'm not, why not just use something off the shelf, you know, go rent real estate from teachable or podium or whatever. Why not? Why not just go that route instead of building your own playground.

[00:21:30] Scott: Yeah.

[00:21:31] A lot of it is because, you know, I get to get really deep into stuff with my own platform. Right. Like building, building the whole UI in spelt kit recently was a way for me to say, oh, like, I, I actually have found the pitfalls here. I've understood, like, what are the common things you're gonna hit when building a major app?

[00:21:51] And I think that's like really helped me. And I'm the type of person who does churn the code base too much. Right. But in the same regard, like rewriting my components from react functions to react hooks was a big way for me to really, truly understand them. And so it does act as like a sandbox, but then again, it's, you know, it's.

[00:22:10] Full on platform that we've been building for since 2014. I think we started it initially on media and it's been shifted here and there. Now we're on spelt kid in a node API with more curious, but I didn't actually pick anything off the shelf because really at the time there wasn't a ton of options.

[00:22:28] We had a DRAL site that did a lot of the stuff for us, but I, wasn't a skilled PHP developer and I probably could have hacked it together, but I was Just feeling. It'd be really nice if I had full control over this thing. And even at the time when I first built it I had a two separate sites. I had the streaming service, which was just the streaming service.

[00:22:48] And then I had an e-commerce store that was for t-shirts and mugs and what, which I also wrote just. For who knows, because I wanted to torture myself. I wrote an e-commerce platform. Right. And then I ended up merging those two sites into one, and then it got to use an e-commerce code to then sell the digital goods and the tutorials.

[00:23:06] And yeah, at the end of the day, I, there was not a ton of great options at the time. I, think if I, was doing it again today, I might even use something like ghost in cuz that's up my alley using something like ghost. Actually the initial version of the site was written in reactive commerce or reaction commerce, reactive

[00:23:26] Joel: never touched that. I don't know what that is.

[00:23:28] Scott: So it was initially also a media based platform that they moved and then it was since been sold to MailChimp. And it was a really good platform. But again, To get it, to do exactly what I wanted it to do. I would've had to do so much work to it. And at that point I was like, well, I might as look like I'm having to design these systems or work within someone else's design.

[00:23:46] I might as well design them, myself from scratch. And sometimes that, like that mentality for me is something that other people need to say. Don't do it.

[00:23:55] Joel: Yeah, I wish in my life that more people would have said don't do that because I still suffer today from like my week two decisions in 2013, when I sat down to write this platform, my friend, Jared Palmer says, you should just do this in WordPress. And that always like, I was like, that left me shook.

[00:24:10] And I was like, what do you mean? He's like, look, they got the plug-ins. They have all this stuff you could, you're literally just producing a blog. You could just use WordPress. And I'm like, man, that doesn't sound like any fun.

[00:24:19] Scott: Right. I know. Yeah. I know. It's it was a huge problem. And I was like, Yeah, but I wanna be able to do this and that I wanna be able to have it do this. And like I had too much of it. It has to be exactly the way that I, I envision it or see it or whatever. And yeah,

Essential features of a course platform

[00:24:33] Joel: What are the essential features of your course platform for you? Like what are, you know, not just a general course platform, but for you, what are the essential features?

[00:24:42] Scott: For me, I really wanted people to be able to. Like purchase things as well as do a subscription. And actually for, I think before we had the subscription at all, it was, you had purchased them

[00:24:55] Joel: Like one off, one off

[00:24:56] Scott: And it was mostly because we didn't have the library to support it. So it was like, well, who's gonna subscribe if there's like two courses here. So we built up the library and then did the subscriptions. But for me I really wanted to have that connection where somebody could subscribe, get access to everything, or buy the same thing on an individual basis and have the same experience with that course.

[00:25:17] And just have those features be like nice and easy baked in all linked in together. And another thing is I really like writing admin tools and dashboards and things like that. So like having my own platform, it was really easy for me to get the data I need, get the tools I need build in a way that is like our video uploader.

[00:25:36] Right. We use MX for our video. My video uploader is like really great because I got to work with YouTube's video uploader for so long. I know which things I like and don't like about it. And now I can have my own video uploader drag and drop the file in automatically does this and that and pumps this thing up to TomX.

[00:25:54] But like, for me, I just I've really just straight up enjoy writing that stuff. And then maybe that's part of the problem is that I'm just. At first and foremost, I'm a you know, developer by all of the by all of the markers. I just really want to make things. I just find that joy in it.

[00:26:09] Joel: It's a part of your job that brings you joy. And I think that's a really good feature for a course platform versus something off the shelf where you just use it, like you're just consuming and which is enough for a lot of people. And I think that's fine too, but you know, like as a, as somebody that can make it, you do, I

[00:26:23] Scott: Yeah. yeah.

[00:26:24] Right.

Single purchases or subscriptions

[00:26:25] Joel: So that's interesting to me that you talk about the subscription versus the single purchases. And I'm wondering if you don't mind sharing, like, what is like in terms of revenue drivers at this point for the platform, what, which do you see, like pushing it? The single purchases or subscriptions.

[00:26:39] Scott: Definitely the subscriptions.

[00:26:41] And the single purchase is like a very small part of our revenue, but we do offer it because I know I've had people express to me that like their companies won't allow them to get a subscription or reoccurring bill or whatever. So that's largely why we did it was so that anyone who wants to learn like one particular topic out of this bunch could just say, all right, I've been given, you know, this amount of money from work, so I can just buy this one.

[00:27:04] Singular. And so it's largely available for those people. And at this point, like it makes up a small percentage, but like the features there. So it's not like we, you know, , it's not like we, we're not gonna use it. So, I would say it's maybe about like 10% of our revenue a month, which is Yeah. Not bad.

[00:27:20] Joel: Not trivial, but it's not the main revenue driver.

[00:27:22] Scott: Yeah.

[00:27:23] And largely we haven't focused on it too much in terms of like, we're not like the most metric, like we're not like devouring analytics to get people to buy things all at cart either. So it's, you know, it exists as it is.

[00:27:36] Joel: So one of the things that I learned pretty early in, in selling products online in this space over the last few years was that people want you to have purchase power parody like west Bo does. And I was wondering, is that something you've been able to implement or do like, it was like, I couldn't every, we just got a lot ton of emails and it was always referencing west and I think it's amazing and it kind of forced us to do it and have, is that something you've explored as well?

[00:27:58] Scott: Yeah. It's like been perpetually on our list forever and the, on like, honestly, the only reason it hasn't been done is because. Like for sales, it wouldn't be too difficult for individual sales, but I don't know. What do you use for subscriptions for your merchant, but we use Braintree and like Braintree's API is such a nightmare.

[00:28:16] Sometimes that I just, I would honestly like stay awake thinking about how am I gonna implement P in Braintree and have it work in a way that I'm like, happy with it's. It's just like, it's always a kind, one of those things that. It's very frustrating for me to work in that API.

[00:28:30] Joel: We implemented it in Ruby is how we ended up doing it and did a custom implementation. And we used Stripe. And thank you for like, affirming my decision to use Stripe cuz there APIs actually wonderful. It was it's challenging though, and we've done it. We've done a couple I implementations and I think there's services now that'll do some of it, but they're, you know, they don't fit into everyth.

[00:28:49] Yeah it's a hard problem, but it's like one that's interesting and kind of good to solve. I think at the end of the day,

[00:28:54] Scott: I agree. And it's something that like I really want to do, but man. Yeah. Like I said, those Braintree APIs, I said something, I said something about Braintree on syntax a couple weeks ago. And I had some people from PayPal reach out to me and like asking me about my experience. I was just like, Oh, no, I don't.

[00:29:09] Yeah I honestly, I do. I do probably wish I would've used Stripe overall just cuz of I had more experience with their APIs even back then when I started it and it wouldn't. All the time, but I just got so many requests for PayPal.

[00:29:21] Joel: Oh

[00:29:21] yeah,

[00:29:21] Scott: didn't wanna maintain two separate subscriptions and went Braintree and yeah. it, yeah.

[00:29:26] Joel: yeah. That makes sense. And I took the opposite cause I just don't support PayPal and you know, like, you know, like it's kind of six and one, half a dozen, the other it's trade offs, right. At the end of the day, when you're designing a system like this, you're having to make trade offs.

Surprises while building a course platform

[00:29:37] Joel: Was there anything that has surprised you either technically or otherwise while you've been building a course platform over these years?

[00:29:43] Yeah.

[00:29:44] Scott: Yeah. You know what it's, it surprises me just how, like how little some users will look for things. Before, like sending an email, right? Like that gets me all the time. Like, I'll get an email, that'll just be like, can you cancel my subscription? And it's like, not even with the same email address that they signed up for with the site, but even like, would you email Netflix and just say, please cancel my Netflix subscription.

[00:30:07] Joel: People do constantly all day long as my my, my guess. I don't know. I don't

[00:30:12] Scott: I would imagine they do as well, but I like it's so wild. How many emails I get from people that either just. If they didn't try or whatever or people say, I, I can't believe that you charged me a second time. And it's like, well, we,

Dealing with email support issues

[00:30:25] Joel: So like the, just the people, the se questions and support is maybe. What you're saying is the, like I agree with that has, it's been mind boggling to me. Do you get any, have you have you hired help for that? Or do you handling all the support yourself these days? How does that work for you?

[00:30:38] Scott: 50 50. Yeah. It depends on the problem. Some things we do require a little bit more hands on for me, but yeah it that's actually been what part of like what we've been working on with making, I guess the platform better by like H hiring people, right? Whether that is marketing people or developers or anyone trying to expand just a little bit.

[00:30:59] I don't want a huge company here, but I do need help to the point where I'm not answering all of the customer spar, doing all of the video editing, doing cool. It's like, it's, it was too much for me to do all

Not a manager and at the same time, you need to have those skills

[00:31:10] Joel: Yeah. And I, you said earlier that you kinda weigh, you know, you're not a manager and at the same time, you need to have that. You know, like you need help to kind of do what you wanna do and live your life. So how have you been dealing with that? Cuz that's trade offs too. I would think

[00:31:24] Scott: Yeah, it's been challenging for me, but I've gotten a lot better at it. You know? A couple years ago I probably would've been a lot worse about it, but we have a handful of people who work on the site here and there for us. We have full-time marketing person who started in November.

[00:31:38] We like, we wanna keep it small. We wanna keep it tight knit here. But the same regard, like. Just trying to develop the systems and prepare for people to be able to access things without me. Right? Like every single customer support request should be able to be accomplished finished via the UI of the site that like somebody could do if they had the knowledge of using Facebook, right.

[00:32:00] We wanna make all these things like really easy for anyone that brings on. And then that brings us more development. So then I'm heads down trying to develop these things or hire someone to do the development on these things. To have the features just to support a customer service person to take things off my plate.

[00:32:15] So it's like to get things off my plate. I have to first add 10 or 12 more things onto my plate first. And we did a whole big list of all of the things that I'm doing in the business and how we can. Reduce them or fix them or make them a little bit more processized a little bit more streamlined or have the right people take it, take control of them.

[00:32:33] And it's been endlessly amazing for me because now again, I'm getting to focus more time on doing courses. I'm getting to do like focus more time on even doing YouTube content. I, which is something that I stopped doing

[00:32:45] Joel: Kind of going back to

[00:32:45] Scott: Yeah.

[00:32:46] I mean, I have a YouTube channel that has 340,000 subscribers on it.

[00:32:51] It's like, I'm not using a lot utilizing that at all for anything. So now it's like, okay, well I have some free time because we have third party content creators. I'm not doing the marketing. I'm not doing all of the customer support. I'm not doing the editing anymore. So I can use that time to crank out three YouTube videos a week.

[00:33:08] And that's actually really easy for me, you know,

Recording technical videos

[00:33:10] Joel: Yeah. You, the video part, like sitting down and recording technical videos is something you got absolutely down. I would suspect at this point.

[00:33:17] Scott: Yeah. I would have to imagine I've done like 3000 plus video tutorials,

[00:33:20] Joel: Pro

[00:33:21] Scott: yeah, just a wild amount of time. I have no idea how that happened.

[00:33:25] Joel: so you've recorded this long term podcast with west Boston. And I mentioned it earlier, but like syntax, FM, and you know, it is extremely popular. People love it. How does that. Relate to your business that you're running, you know, like, does it affect that, does doing that work? Does that effort over time?

[00:33:41] Do you see like kind of return on investment in your time invested there?

[00:33:45] Scott: Yeah, totally. And you know what I, one of the best parts about doing the podcast with Wes is that we have like such shared interests, right? That like, there's really nothing better than like popping on a zoom call and just chatting with him about something that, Yeah.

[00:33:57] it's, it is, it's like seriously Just catching up, And most of the time, like sometimes. Like one of us will have the lead on an episode or an idea like Wes is more experienced than this. So he'll take the lead or I'm more experienced in this. And it's almost like, you know, you're doing a teaching each other back and forth kind of thing. And honestly it's been awesome for me to get the level of tutorials name out there a little bit more.

[00:34:19] What's funny is that just. I'd never put my name out there that much for like the first two years of the podcast, people were like, oh, it's the level of tutorials guy. I had no idea. Like, people didn't know my name. Cause I, you know, I have a Polish last name and whatever, but. People didn't know me by my name.

[00:34:32] So, they only knew me as the YouTube guy. And so that, that was like a really nice thing to be able to maybe attach some of the work I had already done to the work I was doing, like presently. And honestly it does, it opens me up to like learning a lot of. Really like newer things. It opens me up to like being maybe a little bit more on some of the later stuff that I could then take in to Do courses, but it also gives me, you know, we hear from our audience a lot.

[00:34:58] So it gives me years into what people are interested in or what people are wanting to do.

Any future course platform goals

[00:35:02] Joel: Do you have any sort of audacious goals for your course platform? Are you thinking, is there anything where you're thinking really big and what you might do over the next years or what have you.

[00:35:11] Scott: I don't know. I don't know nothing like huge. No, my, my goals are, I would say they're pretty measured. I have like maybe large goals in terms of like, I would like to get more people helping here and there. Right. But like those aren't crazy goals. And I wouldn't necessarily say any of my goals are audacious to the point.

[00:35:30] I don't know. They're that big? It's mostly, they're mostly smart. Like what, where's this gonna be in two years? Where's this gonna be in five years? Would I like to be doing 12 videos, 12 courses a year and two years? No. Okay.

[00:35:40] Let's let's take a look at that one and maybe let's work towards it.

[00:35:43] So I've always been definitely like a smart goals kind of person in, in terms of like, I used to do monthly re. You know, like everyone does yearly resolutions. So I do monthly resolutions these big life goals that I, these are the things I would like to make some progress towards this month. And I'm fairly good. Chipping away at something for a long period of time until you're good at it. You know, you had mentioned before the dance stuff that I do, like I started dancing when I was 18. Like long after, like you're supposed to, like, you're supposed to start when you're like 10 so that you can get really good by the time you're 18.

[00:36:16] So I started when I was 18 and people thought it was really weird that I was like learning at that age and whatever. You know, now I've been all over the us entering competitions and doing all that stuff for so long. I just showed up to practice three days a week. I just showed up and then, you know, 10, 10, 12 years later, I can do just about anything I wanted to do in the dance space.

[00:36:38] And that was the same way with YouTube. I just showed up three days a week to record. And same with the podcast. I mean, we've been doing the podcast and we haven't missed a single episode. The first one we've done two episodes a week. We've we show up every single Monday unless there's something really bad.

[00:36:54] Actually. I've missed one episode. Wes has made every episode. I missed one episode because of the birth of my second

[00:37:00] Joel: Yeah, that's

[00:37:01] Scott: is he has a decent excuse. Yeah. But even then, like, you know, all of that stuff, just if I can get it on my schedule and on my calendar, then I'm like really good at showing up and doing it.

[00:37:12] And then making that little chunk of progress each day.

Showing up and sticking to it

[00:37:15] Joel: showing up and sticking to. And doing the work is such a it's such a good skill and habit to be in. And you reap the rewards, right? If you don't do that it never happens. You won't make progress, you won't get good, but like practice and, you know, keep doing it and kind of get through the, get through those initial kind of suffering points.

[00:37:33] And you'll, you can really do a lot of stuff in this life. I think.

[00:37:36] Scott: Yeah. It's pretty amazing. Cuz like when I started recording video tutorials in 2012, I like had no. No intention of making a career out of it, or even eventually, you know, starting a business, doing video streaming or tutorials. I was just a developer and I was doing those videos essentially for fun or to like maybe make some rent money for U from YouTube, but, you know, just several years go by of doing it.

[00:38:02] And all of a sudden it's like, oh yeah, turns out you've gained a skill from doing that.

[00:38:06] Joel: That's awesome, Scott. I really appreciate it. And I appreciate the work that you do, and thanks for taking the time

[00:38:10] Scott: Well, thanks. Thanks. Hey, I appreciate, especially when we our group in the past, you guys like just to tore me apart on some of the things I was doing on my site. So I definitely appreciate all of the the help you've given to me over the years, too.

[00:38:23] Joel: to chat with me. Yeah. Yeah. My pleasure. Cheers.

[00:38:25] Scott: Cheers.

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