Transitioning From Teachable to a Custom Platform with Tyler McGinnis

When you first start your business, the biggest initial hurdle is choosing where your content is going to be hosted.

If you start building a custom platform from the beginning, it may be months before you ship a single course. And if you have a deadline and need to start making a profit this might not be the way to go.

Making the decision to use an existing platform might be tough. Chances are it doesn't do exactly what you want it to. But, you are able to entirely focus on producing your content. And, you can always build something for yourself in the future. Tyler McGinnis went this route and it has really worked out for them!

Tyler also chats about compensating employees as a small bootstrapped startup, keeping the core value that they're an education business first and not a software shop, and how they've leaned into their niche and specialized their content.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] joel: So you built something cool. And I really appreciate what you've done. And I think there's a lot of interesting crossover between what we've done at egghead and what UI dev stands for. And I feel like we have some similar goals, but we've taken radically different approaches. So that's pretty exciting to me.

Learning Style

[00:00:16] joel: I am interested also in you personally. When you approach something new and complex, maybe a subject that you haven't dealt into or a new domain, what's your learning approach, your personal learning style when you do research.

[00:00:29] Tyler: What I love to do. And I've given this advice. I don't know if it's great advice or terrible advice, but usually what I do is Google for whatever the thing is that it gives the developer. You get pretty good at Googling, click on every link in the first two pages. And this just read everything, whether it's great or terrible.

[00:00:44] And then I think at least in my perspective, what usually happens is like you start forming this like mental map of knowledge in your head.

[00:00:52] joel: Yeah.

[00:00:52] Tyler: And then from there you can kind of start seeing, you know, what's good, what's bad content. And then what's always helped me. And I think naturally is what I do. What I do for a living now is if you approach it from the perspective, whether this is true or not, that you have to teach them. Then I think that really helps you have to cause you're kind of forced to solidify those mental models of the thing you're teaching and really approach it from like a first principles perspective. So that's what I do is I don't care who wrote it. I don't care who created the thing. I'll read everything I can about it with the understanding that like, whether it's real or not, that I have to teach this thing.

[00:01:28] joel: Do you approach it from like a, you're just reading webpages. Are you capturing those webpages somehow

[00:01:34] Tyler: I'm not doing any I'm the most least fancy. In fact, when I hear people like you and

[00:01:37] like the Rome, Colt people, right. Doing all this, like crazy, you know, stuff, I can appreciate it?

[00:01:43] but yet now I'm just, I usually have a I usually have like for those watching or not watching, I have a pen and pad and I just write down notes.

[00:01:52] joel: school paper.

[00:01:53] Tyler: Exactly. Exactly. And it works for me. I think I definitely need to like modernize. But I, as you know, there's so much friction in doing that,

[00:02:00] joel: Oh, come on. My, I just click the Instapaper link highlighted Instapaper export to read wise, which brings it into Evernote, which I can then cut and paste into Rome. There's nothing complex about that at all. It's totally normal.

[00:02:10] Tyler: You could be like James Long and have a, you know, your front end is now grabbing it, using a remix from Rome.

[00:02:15] joel: You just nerds night. Me and I'm not going to get into like my conversations with James, but I'm so into what he's doing.

[00:02:21] Tyler: Yeah.

[00:02:21] joel: given me a little peek about how he's doing it. And it's like the most exciting thing that I can even think about. And I would talk for six hours and everybody listening in the future would just be like, oh my Lord,

[00:02:30] Tyler: I believe it I'm the exact opposite, a complete opposite James. Very smart. That puts me at the bell-curve Mimi. Now he's on the far, right. I'm equally as good on the far left. We'll call it a day.

[00:02:43] joel: Yeah. I mean, and you know, I love seeing an expert like that and knowing like this isn't I'm not going to get there. Right. I don't really even aspire to conjure up solutions in James Long, who does just all this really amazing work that I'm like, what is going on? I don't even understand that, but I'm so fascinated by people that.

[00:03:00] Do like the inventors, right? Like I'm not really an inventor. I've always described myself as a gluer and I can take several good ideas, glue them together and presented it in a way that other people can understand almost like translation. And that worked for me as a consultant. And it's worked for me in business, but like I love just the inventors and what they're doing.

[00:03:18] It's really, it's always inspiring and I love to just dig in and kind of Snoop around and like for me and code stuff, it's like all these. The code, like I want to get in and I love reading source, right? That's where I jump in. Do you take courses? Are you a course taker?

[00:03:31] Tyler: Ironically. I don't think so,

[00:03:34] joel: Do you like video courses?

[00:03:36] Tyler: It's so hard to really know. I think I like reading more

[00:03:40] joel: the multimodal, right? Like when I can watch a little something, if I feel like it or consume text,

[00:03:46] Tyler: And I think it's, I think it's contextual based maybe a, maybe just making this up, but it feels like it may be in my preference, like more contextual based on what?

[00:03:54] I'm learning. I can't define those lines right now. It's gotta be like per topic,

[00:03:58] joel: Yeah. Like woodworking, I really love watching videos as a, as an example, but for coding it's not my favorite though. If I have to act like I didn't put it on two X speed and just like really jammed through it then I enjoy it a lot more.

[00:04:09] Tyler: And maybe it depends on cause I really love like a, well-produced like a high level. Hey, here's kind of the problem. This thing's aim aiming to solve. Like those I love it's the okay, let's look at this like API and like it with video, it gets a little bit like Harry, as you now. Maybe those, if we're in the weeds, I love text.

[00:04:29] If we're more high level than a well, well curated videos, probably my.

What makes a good course?

[00:04:32] joel: What would you say? Just basically makes a good course, regardless of medium or domain even what, what goes into creating a good course?

[00:04:41] Tyler: So for us, what we've always tried to do is like really approach it from like first principles. Again, I'm going to say that a lot because that's 10 tends to be my buzzword, but I always try to think of it as okay. When the student is done with this course, and we could even get into what that means.

[00:04:56] So I think that definition is there it's all over the place

[00:04:59] joel: Like it's just been beaten into almost meaninglessness in

[00:05:01] Tyler: it's like declarative, right? Oh, that's declarative. It's is it really declarative? Or we just like using that to mean like good, you know?

[00:05:07] joel: no, I mean, literally.

[00:05:08] Tyler: yeah. Yeah, exactly. And so for us, what we try to do is really make it, so it feels very linear and very well thought.

[00:05:16] And for example, the example I always use is if at ever any moment where we have to go okay, we'll come back to this later. Usually that I think of it a core smell too, to use the play on

[00:05:28] joel: Yeah.

[00:05:28] like a

[00:05:29] Tyler: smell. Right? Exactly. If we could have spent more time on the outlining phase, maybe we could have gotten rid of that, like weird kind of knowledge dependency, if you will.

[00:05:38] Right. So that's what we, that's what we spend a lot of time on is when we make our courses to make them feel very much like you're like walking up a staircase rather than rock climbing or use another like bad analogy. Right. So just having the flow of the course feel well to almost sort of when the student gets to the end of it, they're like, oh that almost felt like almost a little bit too easy because of the way the material was presented.

[00:06:01] And it all layered on top of itself. If that makes sense.

[00:06:04] joel: Yeah. The sequence of events was such that you never there's always a little bit of struggle. Almost and to me, and I've seen this comparison quite a bit, like game design, right? Like where you intro it and you want it to be a little hard or it's boring, but not hard enough to where you can't accomplishment accomplish it.

[00:06:18] And then you kind of ratchet up to a boss.

[00:06:20] Tyler: Exactly. And I think the best educators are the ones who understand that and they really like embrace that. And that's what we try to do. Sometimes we don't, but that's always, the goal is to make it a. I have that vibe, if you

[00:06:31] joel: Yeah, I think there's a lot of interesting things that you've done with your platform and how you present things. And I want to get into that. But first I was curious because you've kind of had a progression over the years where you've gone from. Kind of, you know, you've been an educator for a long time, right?

What has changed over the years as an educator

[00:06:44] joel: Like you've been teaching people to code for years. What has been your progression through kind of platforms and technology and delivery and the way you've approached them?

[00:06:53] Tyler: Right. So first started way back in the day, teaching in person at a mountain. This was 2014. That's when I met John

[00:07:00] joel: yeah, I remember that. And that's when we first met too, I think

[00:07:03] Tyler: Yeah.

[00:07:03] And really got my and I always got a kick out of this. Really got my online teaching chops at a kid. Right. Cause there is some similarities, obviously when you're teaching. in-person and online, but it is completely different, right? So it's not a date Tata they had for a bit pivoted to do. I start doing my own thing. This was like 2015 ish. And ironically at the time it was still reacts. And then one thing led to another, had some fun with the react router guys threat for a little bit came back to do my own stuff and I'm not doing it with you.

[00:07:31] I'd have to have. There's a lot of we get, obviously get into the weeds of a lot of that stuff specifically about the platforms and all of those things, depending on which direction you want to take it. But that's the idea is you have been doing this since 2014, I think now across a variety of different mediums, different lengths.

[00:07:45] Now we're here

[00:07:46] joel: Just based on my observation and you went, you know, like the egg head was that we're a platform and that's what we do. And we have a specific format that constrains you to, you know, what we want to do. And our thing is kind of training trainers is a little bit of what we do and we've made a marketplace, which is certainly one way to approach things and definitely not the other.

[00:08:02] And then you went to teachable. So you. They're kind of constraints. And then finally, you've got to the point where you have constructed something that's bespoke to your needs and the needs of your learners and the audience that you serve. Why not just use an existing platform? Like why do something bespoke or would you recommend that or is the progression kind of, kind of important in terms of building what you've built?

Choosing an existing platform initially to optimize for revenue

[00:08:23] Tyler: I think the PR. So ironically, whenever, like whenever someone asks you these kinds of questions, you usually just give the advice that you did, right? So I'm this is what I'm going. This is what I'm going to do, but that's the asterisk on this. But so back in the day, really what I was optimizing for, and this was 2015 and I think the, I think it's still true. With a few caveats, but like I was optimizing for making money and I don't think that's bad. I think that's, I mean, that's the point of a business, right? And so at the time it was okay. I could build my own platform thing or I could use a pre-existing platform optimized for getting the first dollar and then figure out the platform later on if I need it to.

[00:09:00] And so that's, that's what I did. And then that worked out really well. We were on teachable for, I don't know, 4, 3, 4 years. It was great. And a lot of ways it was miserable in a lot of ways, but what it allows us to do was like, not worry about that and just worry purely about creating content and teaching.

[00:09:14] And that's what we did. It got to the point though, where obviously when you're playing in someone else's playground, like they make the rules. And there was a lot of stuff we wanted to do, whether it was like M DXE kind of like animation stuff. Presentation stuff like whenever your, with a platform, especially like teachable, like they're not pretty much for the three or four years that we were using it.

[00:09:33] It was like, we were kind of hacking the platform to make it do what we wanted. Eventually he got big enough and had the resources where we could just roll our own thing and that's eventually what we did but I will say if you're just wanting to like optimize for selling something probably.

[00:09:46] The slowest approach to do it is like building your own platform. You may learn a lot. There's a lot of trade offs there, right? You're going to learn a lot, you have full control, but if you're treating it like a business, you probably want optimize for revenue. First. If you're treating it as something different, which a lot of people may be then like, Yeah.

[00:10:00] you could roll your own thing.

[00:10:01] joel: It's funny because when they had came about teachable didn't exist and I did a rails tutorial over the course of two weeks and got from it was rails on Stripe integration and that was the. That was how it came to be. Right. I didn't really have the option or didn't think of it at the time and void.

[00:10:20] It's been a lot, right? Just because we still live with those same it is evidence in our entire platform that the core of it was built over two weeks in

[00:10:27] Tyler: Right.

[00:10:28] joel: from a tutorial, kinda like JavaScript, right? Like the story of JavaScript where it's created over a couple of weeks and while it shows still it still shows.

[00:10:36] And that kind of thing is really interesting. I mean, was it a struggle for you, like as a web developer to. Work in that environment over knowing that you could have full control, if you just wanted to seize it or are you more practical than

[00:10:47] Tyler: It wasn't because we were making money. that? was the thing it's

[00:10:50] joel: you're bootstrapping, you're thinking business over

[00:10:53] Tyler: were thinking think business especially when I went full-time on it. Like I had two. But on the entrepreneur hat and not the developer, hat. And I was able to like, resist that urge for whatever four or five years eventually caught up to me.

[00:11:05] But but that's the reality, right. Is yeah, exactly. Like we needed to make money. And that was the primary objective and building our own platform would have been fun and great. We would have learned a lot, have full control, but it like, who knows if we, I don't even know if we'd be having this conversation, if I did that because who knows what would have happened if I.

[00:11:23] You know, spent six months building the platform before I like, started selling anything.

[00:11:27] joel: We're stuck on this one. in the multi-verse, but like on another timeline you might've built something it'd be worse. And like that experience that you've gone through different platforms and learning what you've learned, probably affected what you ultimately built when you did build something bespoke, I

[00:11:40] Tyler: Right. I had, yeah. When we decided to do our own platform, I had a list of, I don't know how long. Okay, thanks. So we want it to do different than teachable does, because again, Teachable's built their their platform. They have to build for the least common denominator. Right. Where when we're building our own thing, we can build it.

[00:11:55] However we want in the format that we like

[00:11:58] joel: You know, for better and worse, right?

[00:11:59] Tyler: Yeah

[00:12:00] joel: and yours is like genuinely better, but I'm just saying you know, we can do that. And sometimes when you do that, you might end up with, you know, functionally worse than what you could have just got off

[00:12:08] Tyler: Even like around the edges, right? Cause no one wants to deal. Authentication flow, password resets, all of billing, right? All

Biggest struggles with building a custom platform

[00:12:15] joel: full support, like all the accounting aspects of what you're doing. That actually I was wondering like, was there anything surprisingly challenging or were any aspects of that, like especially difficult or kind of jump up at you? And you're like, oh, I didn't even think of that.

[00:12:27] When you

[00:12:28] Tyler: Yeah.

[00:12:28] joel: build the platform.

[00:12:29] Tyler: I guess it wasn't surprising cause I kind of knew it going into it, but like authentication with. The way we authenticate you know, the fancy websites nowadays is just pretty miserable specifically. Like what next? Right? If we're like SSG and everything, how do you like you, you can't ship everything to the user.

[00:12:44] Cause then like they're smart developers and they can go like the, like you can have a client side thing there. Right? So like you have to do a server thing, but your SS Jang stuff. So that's been, our biggest struggle is like figuring out the eventual answer was to these like CloudFlare workers and you know, get the request and. Redirect from there. But that's been our biggest pain with the new platform.

[00:13:01] is as again, yeah, just all that, like authentication. He like the MDX stuff is fun. Like all of that stuff is really we're building things like animation stuff is fun. Design. Stuff's fun. But it's like the edges okay, what happens when this weird use case happens or like someone wants to resubscribe, like that's boring.

[00:13:17] No one wants to write resubscribe logic.

[00:13:19] joel: Once I like something and it really does it branches and then the users and the people subscribing are going to come up with, you know, all sorts of different ways that, and it's just meeting their needs. And when you're, you know, And then you have to build it basically. And we've always taken like maybe a little bit of a just in time approach and ignored some things that we knew were eventually gonna have to do, just because, you know, it was a

[00:13:37] Tyler: I was just gonna say, what's interesting too, is I've spoken with mark in front of masters. I don't know if it's still like this, but like a year and a half ago. And I spoke to him, they're like, Hey, we rolled everything. Are we have servers in the back? Like we roll everything ourselves. I think it's just a huge trade off.

[00:13:51] And that these cysts, like the mental model we've always had is like work. We're like educators. And if having a platform, exactly. If having a platform allows us to do that better, Then it does, but it can't come at the compromise of okay, we don't ship content for a year. And that's kind of why we started this last year.

[00:14:08] Like we started kind of getting into that space of okay, are we building a platform? Are we like educating people? And it's so hard because once you do start rolling your own platform, naturally bugs come up. Like all of those things, which takes away from like the core, you know, ethos of the business, which is like educating people.

The struggles of finding a balance between development and content production

[00:14:23] joel: you, How do you balance that this idea of, you know, like you're, it's a multi-sided marketplace in some ways, and you're building a platform and that's for you and your team. So really like your platform, your customers of your platform, and as the same way that the learners are, but how do you balance that between the creation of content and learning materials and all that?

[00:14:42] Tyler: I don't, I'm still trying to figure it out to be honest. Cause if you look at like our historically like our content output the last, like the last two years is a good example where. And you can see it too, in the numbers where we're very focused on producing high-quality content, things are going well.

[00:15:01] We shift into talking about producing high quality content as we work on the platform and then numbers start to like decline. Right. And I think

[00:15:11] joel: that also.

[00:15:12] Tyler: you and I, it's such a trap. Let's stop talking about building a business and like just build the business. Right. And that's really the trap we fill out enough.

[00:15:20] Everybody does. It sounds like you guys did as well, but that's a trap we fell into the last year and a half is like getting off of teachable. Okay. Where there's like these permanents. Now we've got to put in place with the platform and we're like pure developer mode now. Meanwhile, like we're not putting out content.

[00:15:32] We're not doing the things that like got us to where we were. And so this really, this last six months has been trying to reset that Right. And go back to like our roots of okay, it's really like the bell curve meme personified, unfortunately. But just getting stuck in the middle land, right?

[00:15:44] Oh, we should be AB testing and we should be doing like, you know,

[00:15:47] joel: about

[00:15:48] Tyler: drip sequences. Oh my gosh. It's the worst. And it's such a trap. Yeah, exactly. It's such a trap and that's why now it's okay, let's just get back to making great content. And that's really been the focus of this last six months and so far, it's gone well,

Deliberately focusing on quality over quantity

[00:16:02] joel: yeah, it really is difficult though. And it's always hard to balance and there's not a lot of, there's not a lot of examples to look at. There's a lot of people talking about best practices and there's a lot of, you know, fluff on the internet and it's what's really important.

[00:16:13] And what's the core of this business and is the core of our business, the platform, or what is it? And when one of the most interesting things I think about your. You know, like what you've built is you have a very limited set of courses. You know, you go to all these other places and we're all producing, you know, like here are 32 dozen courses, choose your choose wisely where you have this like small set of courses and, you know, it's it's not diminutive, but it's, you know, like it's just limited and focused.

[00:16:40] Which I think that's really interesting actually and probably a challenge, but also. I mean, I fundamentally feel it's probably a good thing in terms of, you know, your niche and focus and creating quality. And I was wondering, is that a conscious decision to have that kind of more limited high-quality focus catalog?

[00:16:56] Or how did

[00:16:56] Tyler: Yeah, it's definitely conscious what we've always tried to do. Cause again, like it's kind of core of the business, right? We're small, we're bootstrapped. And to win in that with those constraints, you just have to be hyper-focused and it's kind of related to what we just talked about?

[00:17:13] Right. And I think that's one thing we didn't mess up on it. We don't really care if we have an angular course or like a view course. That's not who we are. We're not going to pretend we're angular developers because we're not, we know nothing about angular, but we know a lot about react. We know a lot about TypeScript and we don't know a lot about JavaScripts.

[00:17:28] We're just going to triple down. And luckily for us because we're bootstrapped, there's plenty of market. And just that right there. I always look at you look at A U Udacity and I know some of the numbers cause I like, I worked with them. And they're making a lot of money just from their react content.

[00:17:44] And that market share enough, just react, right. Just react as plenty of pie for us by the nature of like how we've structured the business. And so I think that's one thing we have done well on is just being very focused with okay, if we make a course, let's make it the best we can.

[00:18:00] And we don't need to have a course about everything. there are. certain things that we need to have earliest try to have the best course on, right. TypeScript react, JavaScript, nothing, really nothing else. Really.

[00:18:10] joel: one of the interesting things that, that you've talked about. In the past, is this idea that, you know, like you, you aren't building a marketplace, right? Like you to me or Pluralsight or front-end masters or even AK, it is absolutely a marketplace where you are going out and recruiting instructors to, you know, in place content that then the question is, and I think it's an interesting one that you solved nicely is like, how do you maintain that later?

[00:18:35] Because you know, like our problem is people make stuff and then they getting them two years later to update it is very much a cat herding exercise. And it's just I'll often, it just doesn't even work. And I think that. Decision is interesting too. And it was that, you know, like where you have full-time employees versus, you know, bringing in contractors, create content.

[00:18:51] I assume that was a conscious decision as well.


[00:18:54] Tyler: is very cautious. The idea there It's so tricky because it very much limits like how quickly you can do things. But basically like I sat down. It was like, I don't know, based on what I know about creating content and creating courses. I don't know. I don't have the skillset to have someone not be full-time. To do it right. You guys have pulled it off. Well,

[00:19:14] joel: so

[00:19:15] Tyler: always get it's so hard, right? Like your full-time job essentially for a while, there was essentially that. Right. And I didn't want I really think startups are like, just choosing the problems you want. I didn't want those problems.

[00:19:28] The hard part there is cause like philosophically that's fine. Right? Bring people on. If they make content, they work full-time they get salary ellos things. The problem is. Someone like Kent, for example, the incentives are pretty aligned with you and Kent because Kent can make a lot of money doing it well, and then you could help him do that.

[00:19:44] Right. But it's very hard. And Kent, as both of us know, as grinded for a very long time and getting to where he's at, He puts in the work. Exactly. And you can't hire a developer one because the developer has a very unique skillset where they can go and make a lot of money somewhere else. And so it's tricky because if you just hired them on paying them, whatever, an average salary they're going to work. here for two months, realize it's very hard to make high quality content and then just go back to being a developer and enjoying their life.

[00:20:12] Right. So you have to do this thing where like you have to align incentives with them and all of these things and what that eventually ended up looking like for us. Cause I'm not a big fan of like bonuses and all that crap. What did I end up looking like for us was like, okay, Instead of raising money and giving our equity away to like VCs or angel investors. I just want to make it. So if you come work here and you're like in that grind with me essentially building the business, like if there is ever like an exit or anything you have equity that's essentially meaningful for you. And it feels less like. Okay. You're like working at you at a time and this is also your thing, and it's a really easy to get to the point where, like you're saying that, and it's just words.

[00:20:55] Right. But developers are smart and they know that they're these, they need to be on the cap table and have like significant equity. Right. And so that's the only way it's worked for us is pay them a lot of money. Give them significant equity and then just get them like on board.

[00:21:07] And it's so far it's worked out fairly well. So we'll see. It's still too early to tell if that's the right. But it's worked out fairly well.

[00:21:12] joel: Yeah. And I mean, you kind of, I don't know there's the personality side of it. And when you get somebody in there, out there and they're doing their own personal content marketing, and they're building a Twitter following and there is this there's a lift, right? Like the audience lift that you get from that, but there's also a trade-offs and then now you are kind of working around their schedule and you're absolutely right.

[00:21:30] Especially if you're talking about, you know, bringing in developers where the current salary. Table for developers is ranges from, you know, a hundred thousand dollars at the entry-level to sky's the limit. It feels like sometimes. And, you know, it's okay, can you pause and do this thing? And you'll make a little bit of cash and you can you can get up.

[00:21:48] And I had people before we did this idea of west boss as a service because west has done really well and people see that and are like, I wanna, you know, I want some of that west boss action in my life and. The reality of west is, does is an incredibly hard, and not everybody can do that.

[00:22:02] I don't, you know, it's like you don't it's a balance thing and you have to be very focused over many years like Kent has done and you know, it's other people too, but you know, it's not just oh, I can do this. I can take two months out of my life. And bam, I'm going to be, you know, dropping an eight figure course on the internet.

Structuring a course

[00:22:17] joel: It just doesn't work like that. Kind of just to switch gears. How do you approach instructional design? I know this is something that you think about a lot and it's one of my favorite topics to kind of nerd down on, but you know, when you think about instructional design, what does that mean to you and how do y'all approach it at

[00:22:31] Tyler: So the way we do it, and again, this goes back to what we talked about earlier. Like this very linear approach to me, it's all. And I get into this is like buzzword territory and I am known to do this. So call me out if I do it. But basically like it's, it comes down to what I think about as context, right?

[00:22:45] So whenever you get an introduction to anything like this is your first time learning about, say, like whatever props and react, whatever the subject is. We'll give you a video introduction to that thing. We'll give you a text introduction to that thing. And at

[00:22:59] that point, the assumption is you don't need to know any other context around

[00:23:04] that subject other than what was in the course previously.

[00:23:08] Right? So at that point you're like, okay, I'm feeling pretty good. I got a video, I got some tax. I at a high level understand what's going on. I feel like I know the thing. Maybe I don't really know what yet, cause I haven't done anything with it, but I feel like, I at least know what this thing solves, like the problem it solves its use case, things Like that.

[00:23:24] From there we dumped them into the quiz, which is just a generic, nothing really too

[00:23:28] joel: Like a multiple choice kind of

[00:23:29] Tyler: multiple choice kind of quiz. Yeah, exactly. From there. What we'll do is we call it like a non contextual. I call this because I haven't figured out a better way to. Phrase this, but like a non contextual like practice, right.

[00:23:40] To where okay let's stick with the props example. Here's a few like code sandboxes. The here's us like creating the element with react. We're passing some props. What you need to do is you need to grab those props essentially display them in a certain manner. Right. So it's it's a very hyper-focused.

[00:23:54] Way to practice the thing that you were just introduced to. Right? So there's an, there's no state. There's not, there's no routing. There's nothing else. It's the thing that we just talked about and there's no other context you need other than to practice it from there.

[00:24:07] joel: isolated to what it is. We just learned from the introduction right

[00:24:11] Tyler: Exactly. Yep.

[00:24:12] From there there's like a solution, which is basically just me walking through the solution, You get the code cut sandbox and everything. And then from there, what's interesting what we try to do. And this goes back to what we talked about earlier with, which is we spend so much time trying to think of like how the course flows is, what we try to do after that.

[00:24:25] Cause at that point you've seen, you've got like the non contextual introduction, that architectural practice that's good, but there's another step there, which is. Seeing that thing in a bigger project. Right? Cause you can't just play around with these non contextual things. So eventually, like that's not how it works.

[00:24:42] That's not how the world works. Right. You got to work on exactly. You got to work on Monday and guess what? It's very contextual. And so from there we throw them into a project that we've been working on the whole time and then try to implement that thing in that project. So it gets a little bit tricky because.

[00:25:00] Not only do you have to design a course that flows a certain way. We also have to design like a central, like literally get like commits structured in a certain way so that as they're learning it, they could then take that and apply it to the bigger project. And essentially it's like a rinse and repeat that for the entire course.

[00:25:18] And then at the end we have just like a project that they essentially recreate, which has everything they've learned up until that point.

[00:25:23] joel: When you're making the projects, is that are you putting on. Web application architect hat at the same time as a learning designer,

[00:25:29] Tyler: exactly.

[00:25:30] joel: how do you, cause it needs to be authentic to you, right? Like this, it can't be totally contrived. It needs to be something that they might encounter is the shape of a professional problem.

[00:25:39] Tyler: usually, the way it works is like I'll put on the developer. Yeah. The architecture hat I'll build the project and then I'll put on the education hat and okay, how can we essentially rip apart this product? To where like what would a normal get commit flow look like for this project?

[00:25:54] And can we then align that and map that to our like course material?

[00:25:59] joel: Kind of a reverse engineering, but with learning design, thrown into the mix, do you, is that something that like, is that typically you doing that or do you compartmentalize that process to where, you know, somebody is building the example of somebody breaking the example down or is that a collaborative or a single person?

[00:26:15] How does that

[00:26:15] Tyler: It's usually a single person which is then goes back to the equity thing, the incentives thing, because that whole process is a very that's a whole thing and

[00:26:23] joel: process, right? Like it is not, it does not just conjure itself out of thin air. It is something that requires expertise, experience, and lots of, one, lots of contexts.

Designing the platform to support your own process

[00:26:33] Tyler: Right. Right, right. And yeah. It's hard to do that and you have to have a lot of patients and all of those things. Right. So then it goes back to okay, how do you find those people? That's also tricky. Right. And then, so anyway that's how we structure it. It's had pretty good results and that's again, going back to building the course platform, we were able to kind of design the course platform around that idea.

[00:26:52] And so now all of our courses kind of follow that

[00:26:55] joel: You put in wraps and then like you were putting in reps on the content side of it before you built the chorus platform. So you kind of had, this is how our content is structured. This is effective for people that are using it. Therefore we can put this together in terms of, in the context of our course platform.

[00:27:10] And now we have the presentation that we were hoping. We've always wanted as well. So you're kind of layering on that. Iterating on an idea where at all times it feels like to me learner outcomes and learner success is the key to literally everything.

[00:27:25] Tyler: Right. Exactly. And I think we were able to do that because we suffered on teachable for so long, to be honest.

[00:27:31] joel: yeah. And that's pretty good. Like you're over there, you know, it's this is what we don't want. We know everything we don't want and the little handful of things that we do want. And then, you know, like you're also able to observe. Across other platforms too. And these are the patterns that we think would be great for us.

[00:27:44] And then I feel you know, when I did egghead and it was like, rails was my choice. And these days, you know, like between, I dunno if you use any no-code visual programming tools, but, and we're programmers, so we can take. Perspective on a news, like next JS and all that fun stuff, but I'm like amazed at what is available now in terms of putting together, you know, the modular pieces that, that assemble into your Vultron platform, right?

[00:28:08] Like it's it is a really cool landscape right now for doing that sort of thing. I think.

[00:28:13] Tyler: Yeah. Even like I'm a big, I think this idea of like developers who leverage no-code or low-code, I feel like that's so underrated

[00:28:21] joel: like actually moving that direction and a lot of ways just

[00:28:23] Tyler: it's the best. Yeah. We're throwing everything at Zapier that we can. ' cause you just get so many benefits from it. and the downsides are fairly limited.

[00:28:30] And Yeah.

[00:28:31] that's where we're huge fans of, especially, again, going back to the ethos of okay, we're here to make money. We're not here to like nerd out about platform stuff. I don't care. I don't want to write a node server. That's like scale and I don't want to do you know, I don't want to have a distributed server using all these, like whatever.

[00:28:44] I just want like a store to Zapier. And obviously it has to be performing all of those things, but That's essentially the ethos is like we're here to build a business first and that's kind of been core for what we've done

[00:28:56] joel: I mean, let's face it. Like a learning platform is not a bank, right? So we have different needs and different, you know, like transactional. Capabilities and just even scale issues that are way smaller than something like that. And, you know, it's like learners and it needs to work.

[00:29:08] Right. And it needs to be performing and people have expectations just based on their use of the internet. And we have developer audiences. So they're even a little more persnickety than maybe some folks would be, but it's like, That problem space really lets you think about it. And I love that idea of like developer second educator first.

[00:29:24] I think that's a it's a kind of a force multiplier in the business and maybe a great way to think about it.

[00:29:30] Tyler: I think it's good for hiring too. Because it's very clear okay, are you like if they don't align with that, then it's a. Not a culture fit for lack of a better word on both sides. Right. But if they do, then it's oh great. There's probably not many other places in the world. It's going to be a better fit for you than what we do.

[00:29:44] So that's people have resonated with that. So

Contextual and non-contextual practice

[00:29:46] joel: I was interested in this idea of contextual and non contextual practice. And is that something that you've kind of, synthesized or does that come from previous experience or education, or was there a book that got into this that

[00:29:57] Tyler: I honestly think I made it up. I'm sure I'm not the first one to think of it. Cause it's not super novel. But I literally on we were trying to write copy for like our landing page one day. And I was like, I don't, there's not a name for this. Like we just I think it

[00:30:07] joel: Contrived example is not very good. Copy.

[00:30:10] Tyler: Yeah, exactly. That's it. that's a great way to put it. It turns out developers don't like that. So Yeah.

[00:30:15] I don't know if I'm sure I had inspiration somewhere. I don't even know. I honestly think the first time I did or one of the first times it probably happened.

[00:30:22] Cause it probably happened by accident where I was like, oh, we just did this practice. And now like in the project, this is what we're doing next. And I was like, oh my gosh, that's great. You know, that's honestly, that's probably what happened. It was probably all by accident. And then I just put a name to it for marketing purposes.

[00:30:37] joel: I actually Googled contextual practice and it has something to do with the art world and around the depression

[00:30:42] Tyler: we go. Yeah, I know.

[00:30:43] joel: I don't think that's it. Like it was, this is not the thing.

[00:30:46] Tyler: That's how, you know, that's how, you know, I just pulled it out of my butt because I didn't, I did not come up with that.

Maintaining your content

[00:30:50] joel: One of the interesting things is that you've longed on this. And ever since you were, you've been producing your own learning content, you've had a guarantee associated with it, a guarantee that this is going to be up to date. And I think that's fantastic. And I was wondering, you know, is there a process to maintaining them or what triggers an update how do you look at that and maintain these courses over time?

[00:31:07] Tyler: Right. So it is, and it really goes down to, again, like the very methodical approach we've taken to the business. Because if you have, if you're outsourcing content, it's much harder to do that, right. Because then you have to essentially convince someone to do that. Or you have to swap that out with something new, which is then you just commencing as you know, you just going to get someone else to do that.

[00:31:28] We were, because we took the approach of okay, only full-time people make content. We were kind of uniquely positioned to be like, okay, well, if it's our full-time job to do this, then it is we don't have an excuse to not keep it up to date. This is what we do. And then from there. Okay, well, how are we going to know if something goes out of date?

[00:31:43] And then the only answer there is be very involved in the ecosystems of the things we teach, which is why we really only teach a few different,

[00:31:51] joel: That's where the constrained course catalog really becomes an asset to you because now you're not having to track literally the entire scope of web development. You are like, this is our section. This is the good stuff.

[00:32:00] Tyler: just react, just TypeScript, just Java. And it's all, those are all the things we care about and they're like passionate about anyway. So it's not really like hard to figure out once something goes out of date, because we're going to naturally see it anyways. Cause that's kind of what we do.

[00:32:12] joel: Yeah. We tracked angular through the

[00:32:14] Tyler: yeah.

[00:32:14] joel: I'll move in there and just to, you know, and then we ended up with this sprawling catalog where, you know, like you go through and it's just there is no keeping up. And then we ended up having to rely kind of on, on. Learner's re raising flags is at one point we were able to pretty much monitor it.

[00:32:27] And then at some point it hit the tipping point where it was just too much. And now it's we rely on that and we go back through and review when somebody raises a flag, but it's a whole, now we have a whole process around, you know, like tending that sort of garden which wasn't intended.

[00:32:41] Right? Like I think

[00:32:42] Tyler: And again, there's a lot of benefits to that, but there's some you just chose different problems than I chose,

[00:32:47] joel: trade-off so all the way down, like it's trade-offs and I have said this, I would never like knowing what I know now would not build. And egghead, like in the way that we have become. And I still think it's good. And we do a lot of interesting things. It's just if I was choosing down mostly with my business hat and kind of instructional designer hat, I'd be like this, I would do this way different.

[00:33:06] You know, it's not Netflix for nerds, it's some sort of other,

[00:33:09] Tyler: right, right, right.

[00:33:10] joel: you know, like whatever it might be. So I want to kind of flip into, you know, a a little bit about the development of. Content and how you think about maybe even a little bit of the marketing side of it.

What are learners trying to achieve with your platform?

[00:33:20] joel: And when somebody comes, when a learner comes to ui.dev what is the difference they're trying to achieve in their lives? What's the primary driver that you've seen over the years for people trying to get through this stuff.

[00:33:32] Tyler: we haven't again, going back, what we talked about earlier. Understanding a user is very important and it's good, but there are only like a few of us and we're like really heads down with content. So it's really hard for us to like we do one-on-one onboarding calls with everybody who signs up. So that's been super helpful, but we haven't. not a strong pattern there, right? Like sometimes we get back in developers who get thrown into a react project and they got to learn to react. Sometimes it's a bootcamp grad who they skimmed over react, but they want to get deeper into it. Those are usually the patterns, a react developer who all of a sudden they are using TypeScript at work and now they got to learn TypeScript.

[00:34:09] Right. It's usually the biggest pattern is that someone usually has a pretty strong need. Right. Usually it's

[00:34:16] joel: trying to solve something right now.

[00:34:18] Tyler: they're trying to solve a problem, which is a great, that's a great place to be as a business, if you can essentially answer that. Right. Cause we're not having to we're not proved, we're not having to educate around the problem.

[00:34:27] The problem is already clearly there and it's in everybody's best interest to solve that problem. So that's been really nice, which is why we don't spend a ton of time thinking about that side of things. Just making the best courses we can. Because by the nature of that, usually people will find us.

[00:34:40] For a variety of different ways if they have a specific problem.

[00:34:43] joel: Have you learned anything surprising or interesting from those conversations that you have with onboarding? And I would assume so, but I feel like you are doing that with those calls and I'm wondering if that, if you've had anything that's been like, wow, we didn't even think of that. Or just, you know, what's the benefit of doing these calls in the first place outside of, you know, like you're helping them, but what's the business benefit that comes out

[00:35:02] Tyler: The business benefit is it's so surprising to people because no one really does that.

[00:35:09] at this level. If you're like a whatever B2B, SAS, like probably makes

[00:35:14] joel: white glove onboarding right

[00:35:15] Tyler: Exactly. Exactly. But if you're paying someone 40 bucks, which is what they're paying us or a yearly subscription no, it doesn't really do that because that doesn't really scale.

[00:35:22] But again, like not to throw out Paul ramble, like the, do things that don't scale, like it has worked out fairly well for us. And this is another one of those examples where, because we're so small bootstrap, like we can't afford to personally onboard people and it does work out well. And we do get to learn about the user.

[00:35:39] So to answer your question specifically, It's been interesting to see, because we have courses, we also do like events, which are essentially like, if your verbiage earlier, like Netflix for developers in like a different sense than what you guys do. And. It's been interesting to watch some people, the majority of people sign up for courses, but some people do are just there for the events, because they're not necessarily it's usually the more experienced developers.

[00:36:01] Like they don't necessarily want to take a course, but if you know, Sunil or John from CloudFlare is coming in to talk about CloudFlare, like that's really interesting to them and they want to be there. Right. So that's been fun to watch. Other than that, it's mostly just good to understand the problems people are having. Essentially, they personalize their flow through the product about how they can solve those

[00:36:20] joel: Yeah, here. Here's where you can start and here's, you know, like vaguely get to where you're going.

[00:36:24] Tyler: Right, exactly. And that kind of avoids having to have this, like this learning path algorithm thing that you do, if you can just do it manually,

[00:36:33] joel: That's another advantage to the constrained catalog too, right? Like the catalog is the path. It's not like you have to carve a path through here. Here's, you know, you know, start here and then here. And you're pretty much going to get the full four map

[00:36:44] Tyler: fair. It's fairly clear. It's fairly obvious what you need to do.

Standout learner outcomes

[00:36:47] joel: Have you had any like major success stories, like anybody, like just kind of blown your mind over the years or got like feedback from users where they've gone through this and it's changed their lives in some significant way.

[00:36:57] Tyler: Yeah.

[00:36:57] it's always like the, either I got a job, I got a job or I got a raise and I think, and you probably submit as well where. funny because it feels so small. Cause you're like, oh Yeah,

[00:37:09] thanks. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. Right. But it's no, that fundamentally pivoted their entire life is like this thing you did for them.

[00:37:16] And so it's just fun to be in a space where that is almost kind of like a, the normal results. Not maybe not normal, but that's a fairly common. Result of the input, right. Which is just, oh, I feel like we're very spoiled by because again, if you're selling like, you know, B2B, SAS stuff, like you're not really doing that at all.

[00:37:37] joel: No I agree with that. You just, you kinda a drop in there, their B2B ocean, and you're not seeing those individuals and you can help businesses. It's not that you can't, it's just, you don't see that kind of personal individual success story where you, when you're teaching people like that you really get a taste of.

[00:37:50] Tyler: And he, and even like years later, too I'll get messages. Now that's Hey, or I'll do a YouTube video. And the one in the comments will be like, oh, like I took Tyler's course in 2017. And now I'm a whatever, whatever at whatever company. Right? Like even just those small things are still just super rewarding because yeah.

[00:38:06] You're just able to just a little bit move people in the direction they want to go. And. It compounds and yet it's super rewarding. So

Producing the newsletter

[00:38:15] joel: So your newsletter bites is great and people love it. And I see it, you know, like it's constantly like every time it's released, there's like a wave of people that just absolutely adore it. And I'm like, is this something that you're setting aside specific time? Are you like, timeboxing this? Or what's the like development process and I'm kind of making assumptions.

[00:38:32] Do you write it or is it a collaborative effort or how does it, how does the newsletter work?

[00:38:36] Tyler: It's definitely collaborative. So Alex Brown, who works with us he owns it and that's kind of the vibe of the whole company too, is we're so small that you really just have to take a certain thing and like own that thing. It's like bite bites is his react contents. Mine, Alex Anderson has the types of content, stuff like that.

[00:38:53] And so the way it works is he'll spend, I dunno, three or four days a week, maybe sometimes even more. He spends usually a little bit of time, like figuring out what topics are happening that week. For example, this last week was the fun one if like next verse remix. So just getting the, kind of all the context of what's happening there.

[00:39:08] Writing a fun little story from there and Alexanderson helps with that as well. But basically from there, he gets at the point where he's okay, to me, this feels like it's ready to ship. At that point. He gets it to me. I'll spend a few hours on it. What's nice about that point is I can come in just with like jokes.

[00:39:23] Like he can get the meat of it and then I can cook. Exactly. I can just go. I could come and just, Yeah.

[00:39:28] just be funny, which is fantastic. Cause like I could just drink caffeine and be funny and luckily it works out really well. And then that's usually the process, right.

[00:39:34] Which we try not to overthink it. Again, going back to the just great content people love. And if we can be funny along the way, that's great too. And so that's the process he spends. He spends a lot of time on it, gives it to.

[00:39:43] joel: My takeaway from that is that it is a very real and. Priority in the literal sense of priority, is it receives attention and it is a product that you apply a lot of effort to and think about as a company-wide

[00:39:58] Tyler: yeah. It's up there. It's. Up there with a top three priority. students courses is one like distributions one, and it really bites is like the lead with like distribution. So it's it's really, if not the priority, it's number two,

[00:40:10] joel: Well, I mean, email is a great platform and if you can use it in a way that respects users and respects their inbox and gives them something to actually valuable in the sea of just nonsense that we get in our inbox, if you can be a highlight, like you really stand out and there's no other platform that, that converts people into customers at the end of the day,

[00:40:28] Tyler: Right, right. Or even just like, brand advocates. Right. Which is really if you can do that, which like humorous a fantastic way to do that, it turns out people love it. And even even if someone never even buys a course, what's nice about biases. Like they could still at least. Relies on a weekly basis that we exist and that's, I mean, that's marketing, right?

[00:40:46] joel: want to in a very authentic way to cause you're, it's you're, it's like a journalism approach and kind of doing a little lampooning in there as well, but you're, you know, it's like a it's journalism and you're out there coming up with stuff and sharing the important stories, putting a light twist on it so that it's fun to consume.

[00:41:02] And I think that's, you know, it's really a service that you're offering people and it's at no charge, but you know, it's like it is valuable and. Receive that value and then reciprocate at some percentage over time. But it's, I don't think you can do that if you're just trying to like market to people through your newsletter.

[00:41:17] Tyler: Definitely not. It's been fun. It's fun too, because so much as, I mean, as you've seen this conversation, like so much of the education, the business side of things is so serious and it's so dense and so boring and to be able to be fun for a few hours a week, it's fantastic.

[00:41:30] And even even I feel like even developers, right? We're so serious. So much of the time that I think that's why people

[00:41:35] joel: and everything

[00:41:36] Tyler: exactly. And I

[00:41:37] joel: right.

[00:41:38] Tyler: yeah. And I feel like that's why people love it because it's just not that we don't take ourselves too seriously. Like we make fun of technologies and it's fine because we kind of just make fun of everything.

[00:41:48] And there's like clear limits that we don't cross. But like for the most part, it's okay to make fun of remix and next. And like it's because

[00:41:55] joel: the people that are making it because people are really working hard on all this and everybody,

[00:41:58] Tyler: hundred percent. And I think there's ways to do that. And even just like making fun of developer culture in general, I feel is a people love it because for the most part, we take ourselves way too seriously.

[00:42:08] joel: Well, Twitter is a fire hose of potential content for that newsletter. I

[00:42:11] Tyler: It's the best. It's the best.

[00:42:13] joel: Has anybody been mad? If you had to have any tough conversations over, over an issue of bytes?

[00:42:17] Tyler: The biggest thing in the early days is just because It's a bunch of dudes making it and it wasn't bad. Like for example, this is a good learning point for people. Our headline was so basically what we'll do for the title very unscientifically is we'll take a random text from the newsletter and just have to be the title.

[00:42:32] And so there's a line in there about like pretty hurts from it, which is a Beyonce quote. And so that was the title. So then a woman messaged us like, Hey, this isn't necessarily bad, but just the perception could be bad, right? Like this idea of like pretty hurts, whatever we don't need to go into.

[00:42:46] joel: a direction you don't

[00:42:47] Tyler: Exactly. And I was like, oh that's fantastic. And that's not one, it's not even a good joke. And two she's totally right. And we didn't see it because we're, you know, a few dudes making this thing. So stuff like that's been the biggest, but yeah, we've surprisingly been able to maybe not surprisingly, cause we, we do have very clear lines of what we make fun of.

[00:43:05] We haven't had any really issues that I'm aware of. At least that had been brought to my attention other than like those little small ones. It's Hey, just so you know,

[00:43:11] joel: Yeah, well, that's just good feedback too. And I mean, like that's like thanks for looking out. And at that point,

[00:43:15] Tyler: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And since then, we haven't had, we haven't had any other ones like that

[00:43:19] joel: What's the most audacious goal that you and the team have for you? I a.

[00:43:23] Tyler: We would like, so again, going back to life, Which is a.

[00:43:25] very ironically maybe ironically like philosophically different than naked, unless you've changed your opinion, which I don't think you have, cause you wouldn't be sitting where you are. In order for us to give away equity, there needs to be an assumption that this equity is going to be worth something one day.

[00:43:38] Right. He had at least historically has been very much not that,

[00:43:42] joel: well, our contracts are weird to where selling the businesses.

[00:43:46] Tyler: You don't want to sell and you, and I don't know if you're right. I don't know if you're as passionate as that today by the back of the day, you're like, no we're not going to sell we're building a business that, you know, we want to run the rest of our lives, which is very commendable.

[00:43:56] When you're giving equity to people, there's, you can't really have that stance or else it's okay, I don't equity is essentially worth this. Right. And so that's probably the biggest goal is like, just create a bootstrap, a company that will, one day we sell And everybody is happy with SL because they have equity.

[00:44:12] What that looks like, obviously like it's that's a whole nother conversation to have, but that's eventually the goal is to make it so like the people who took the chance coming here to get equity will eventually reap that will work.

[00:44:24] joel: So in retrospect, I think that is a better way to design a company from a business and like contractual and legal structure set up with this idea that we might, at one point, have the option to have a liquidity event versus I am going to. Scuttle this entire operation from the very beginning to where it would be impossible to ever sell it,

[00:44:46] Tyler: Right,

[00:44:47] joel: feel when I'm

[00:44:48] Tyler: In this moment. Yes,

[00:44:50] joel: versus when I'm 47.

[00:44:52] And I don't know I'm just saying hypothetically,

[00:44:54] Tyler: Right,

[00:44:55] joel: different ways to look at that. And, you know, hindsight is always 2020, and I'm still pretty firmly in that. And like a head will exist, but it's like it is definitely there's trade-offs to both ways

[00:45:04] Tyler: right, right. And I think if that never happened and I've always had to, I've always liked to just pay people a ton of money because hopefully we're making a lot of revenue and. If your equity is not worth anything, then like maybe one day it will just pay you a ton of money to make content and learn things and you'll enjoy that as well.

[00:45:17] joel: Yeah. I mean, sure. You know, dividends is a thing too, right?

[00:45:20] Tyler: That is very much a thing, ironically. Yeah.

[00:45:22] joel: that's not bonuses. That's okay, we have liquidity and we're going to spread it across our shareholders. Whom, you know, if you're giving equity would be the people that are actively developing, which is not the same as some sort of major transition where Pluralsight.

[00:45:35] But as UI dev and absorbs it into their catalog, which

[00:45:39] Tyler: Not gonna happen. Not gonna happen.

[00:45:40] joel: You know no, no shade, they're Pluralsight, but don't come looking at my door either. Tyler, it was really great to chat with you. I really appreciate the intention at which you've designed this entire operation and the business and the quality and learner outcomes I think is incredible and inspiring.

[00:45:57] And Frank, frankly, like I, I think it's you're just adding to the whole mix and I think it's just great. So thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

[00:46:05] Tyler: Of course, it means a lot. Thank you.

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