Using Existing Course Platforms to Deliver More Content with Mark Shust

If your main interest is to actually get straight into producing content and start selling it, you probably don't want to jump into developing a custom platform.

Mark Shust has seen many people get into building there own platforms and have all their time sucked into getting it running, when they could've been delivering a course.

It can take much longer than you might expect. Over a year even depending on if you are working full-time or not. There's a ton of things that you'll have to deal with yourself such as payments, refunds, subscriptions, upgrades, authentication, streaming video, and more.

Mark also chats about how he designs his courses by reverse-engineering projects, tax compliance, and how to look beyond what people are saying and figure out what they're needing.

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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Joel: Hey, mark.

[00:00:00] Mark Shust: Hi, Joel.

[00:00:01] Joel: I'm really interested to talk to you because one, I think you approach teaching a little differently than I do. And you also are kind of in a different subject area than I'm usually used to cuz we, we kind of do the front end at egg head and that's like, that's where I live is kind of in that vicinity and that's been my career.

[00:00:17] So I'm really kind of, kind of stoked to, to learn more about your process and what you. Do to approach the subject matter that you teach? The first thing I wanted to kick off with though is how do you personally approach a new complex subject? When you sit down to learn something new?

Learning style

[00:00:32] Joel: What's your strategy? When you're learning.

[00:00:34] Mark Shust: I have a pretty flushed out process at this point. My first step is I really just wanna find out as much as I can about the specific topic that I want to teach. So, it's, I call it like the fun step, where I'm just learning as much as I can. I'm. Trying to find information on blogs or documentation, and I'm just getting as much info as I can.

[00:00:57] And I'm dumping it back out into my own kind of subject matter material where I can then reference when I am creating the material. So this helps kind of get familiar with the topic if you're, if I'm not familiar with it at all or I just I can kind of deep dive into the topic without worrying too much about what I'm gonna teach.

[00:01:16] Joel: Do you approach okay, so if you're not going to teach it right, like if you're learning something or is it the same for you? Like, right. Like if you're gonna sit down and just learn something for your yourself or learn some sort of technology that you. Want to use personally, or do you, when you sit down to, to learn something, do you have that I'm gonna teach this mindset in your head?

[00:01:35] Mark Shust: I pretty much know the topic I'm gonna teach before I get started. But when I'm, if I'm learning something on my, for my own skills it seems like I try to get things working quicker and like real implementations, but when I'm creating the course, I just want to deep dive and more so read about everything and get all the.

[00:01:56] Get all the info together first before creating something, which is interesting. It's

[00:02:00] Joel: Yeah. So, so when you're building free, it's like for yourself, you'll get in there and rough it out or build something and kind of get your hands dirty and approach it that way versus trying to get all the information as much background as possible because you plan on teaching this and that background's more necessary when you're teaching a topic.

[00:02:16] Mark Shust: Yeah, and it gets, I think it gives you a more general sense of everything that you're gonna learn as well, rather than just maybe siloed into a specific thing that you're just trying to get working.

[00:02:27] Joel: Yeah, trying to get it done.

[00:02:28] When you think about what makes a good course, what does that look like to you? What are the components of a good online course?

Designing Courses

[00:02:34] Mark Shust: Components of a course I try to establish what the transformation of the course is gonna be, upfront. So, Defining that who the course is for almost like a persona. So once I have that, then I can focus on I try to just make a transition for the person that's taking the course.

[00:02:52] So I think a good course just gets it. It takes a really complex topic or complex subject and just breaks it down into really simple lessons. That's why I was attracted to egg a long time ago, where. You have these small bite size lessons. Right. And they're just very easy to learn cuz you're not kind of scattered and trying to teach five things at once.

[00:03:13] You're just trying to teach one little concept at a time. It's just much easier to get across.

[00:03:18] Joel: When somebody first interacts with your courses in general what's the are they trying to achieve? Have you noticed any particular pattern in either in their professional or their personal lives? Like why are people, you know, skilling up in, in the subjects that you teach?

[00:03:30] Mark Shust: I work pretty strictly in Magento topic, which is an eCommerce framework that's currently managed by Adobe and it's an extremely hard. Platform to learn. You can think of I remember back in the day trying to learn like sugar CRM, that was another PHP pace, just extremely complex content management system.

[00:03:50] And Magenta's kind of similar to that where they're just so much to learn. So the courses it's a hard subject to teach because of that too, because there's just so many topics. So. Mostly. I see just everyone trying to learn the fundamentals and become efficient and productive at something.

[00:04:08] It's and there's different topics. So maybe someone wants to learn specifically how to theme something. So that's, you know, that's a whole topic in itself and their end goal is to be able to create something for a. And just know what they're doing without guessing and copying pasting things from stack overflow.

[00:04:26] So, yeah just more so understanding the topic.

[00:04:29] Joel: To what extent is it important to understand those goals? What they're trying to achieve when you, you sit down to design a new course or teach something

[00:04:37] Mark Shust: Well, I, they pretty much want an entire, a course on the entire subject as much as possible. So it's, it comes down to flushing out all that material and. Just having all of those little nuances or tricks. And I have a lot of people that also wanna learn how things are done, not or why things are done, not how they're done.

[00:04:57] So, there's a lot of that explaining why you do things a certain way as opposed to some other way.

Live teaching

[00:05:02] Joel: Is there a difference, like in your approach when you teach somebody the why versus how. Like, how does that differ in terms of maybe how you design or how you approach the teaching process?

[00:05:12] Mark Shust: Yeah it's very different. So when you're trying to teach how to do something, it's more like a reference course of here's how to do this. Here's how to do that. And there's not too much. There's not too much explanation going on within the lessons of the course. It's. They tend to be shorter and straight to the point.

[00:05:31] And that's how a lot of courses are. But, when you start teaching the why it's much harder to dig into the code and cuz you have to understand it first yourself of why things are done. And that's sometimes the hardest part where you have to learn it better than, you know, you've known it before.

[00:05:47] So to teach something it's it's really different from. learning it on your own. Cause you have to explain it, be able to explain things.

Course design steps

[00:05:54] Joel: Do you have a, like a instructional design? Framework or philosophy that you use or is this something that you've kind of developed over time? Just through practice?

[00:06:02] Mark Shust: Yeah. I just created it myself. I've noticed it align with some other processes that are out there though that are really similar and You know, there's books on how to get things done or how to focus on something. And they seem to kind of correlate with the steps that I take to create a course.

[00:06:19] So that learning that learn and document and dump out is sort of the step one. And then I get in a actually coding up like a working demo. Then I move on to defining, Hey, how what's this course gonna, what's it gonna be named? What's a general outline of the course. And then I focus into kind of taking that demo code that I really didn't, that's not supposed to be an end product and I work it into actually creating more of a formalized, this is what we will be creating in the course.

[00:06:50] And then I kind of refine that, that demo material and organize. I How to build things. And in what order I think the order that you teach things is so important, especially with a complex topic. And then I get into just outlining the actual lessons and the ki kind of the final curriculum. And the easiest part is the recording and the editing, I think.

[00:07:12] So after I kind of get everything transformed into outlines and all of the content sort of established to what I'm gonna teach. The recording kind of takes care of itself.

[00:07:23] Joel: Is that be, I mean, it feels to me like that's, because you've done a lot of research and you're comfortable and understand because of the foundations that you've kind of built for

[00:07:31] Mark Shust: Yes. So these steps. Yeah. So the steps kind of overlay on each other to code up a working demo is something you have to be familiar with. The material and kind of, that's kind of what you learn in that document and dump stage, and then same thing with converting an outline in the lessons.

[00:07:49] Well, once you've code coded a, a demo and then perhaps refined it into a working version, you're already familiar with that. So, yeah, it definitely, this framework definitely makes things easier. And I noticed after a few, about three courses, I need some kind of. Process to create something. Cause I didn't have anything when I started.

[00:08:08] And I just needed a repeatable process to make sure I can deliver these on time and of high value. Yeah.

[00:08:15] Joel: one of my jokes I like is if you're not using a framework you're inventing. And if you keep inventing a framework over and over again, instead of even developing your own, like that's where the demons lie for me. Right? Like it's like there has to be some sort of process. It doesn't have to be super rigid, but some sort of process to get like consistent and just repeatable results over time.

[00:08:33] Mark Shust: Yeah. And yeah, I noticed when I deviate from this process too, it, the, it seems to linger off or not things don't get done quite as efficiently, because you're kind of lost in that process of how to create a final working version of that course.

Creating real-world examples

[00:08:47] Joel: I'm curious how, when you're thinking about the example space and I think it's really important, right? Like it's important what you are teaching because it needs to be relevant. And how do you balance kind of the messy, repetitive, you know, frustrating hair pulling. world, right?

[00:09:02] Like of software development with the example space and kind of basically the lab sanitized version of that. How do you balance those free learners?

[00:09:12] Mark Shust: it's very hard. So I have pretty much foundational, fundamental courses that I've been working on. So, but I'm kind of at the point where I have a lot of the foundational and fundamental things done and now I think it would make sense to, to break off of that and create courses that are purely building a certain module.

[00:09:33] Now you're using all of the concepts that you learned in the fundamentals and foundation courses. You don't have to worry about explaining all of those topics in detail, because they're explained in that other course. So I think focusing on those real life, examples is important. Cause that's what everyone wants to know at the end of the day.

[00:09:52] But you can't learn that without the fundamentals first. So.

[00:09:55] Joel: Yeah. Do you see a lot of people coming in there wanting to solve something specific or they, you know, have got a new gig and are overwhelmed or how does that,

[00:10:03] Mark Shust: All the time

[00:10:04] Joel: yeah.

[00:10:05] Mark Shust: and a lot of times I can't even answer, cause I don't know the answer. It just, things take a lot of time and research and yeah, so

[00:10:12] Joel: People wanna skip past the fundamentals and get right to the gravy bits,

[00:10:16] Mark Shust: oh yeah.

[00:10:17] Joel: you know, like, like, oh, I wish I just wish I could inject those fundamentals and be done with it, but it doesn't work like that. Right?

[00:10:22] Mark Shust: No. Yeah. Adobe has their Adobe commerce certifications. And I don't know how many times I've heard from so many people they wanna get certified and they don't know the fundamentals or they're just, they just heard of Magento a few weeks ago. It's like, well, It'll take about six months to a year to get certified and get alert, start off with the fundamentals and work your way through it.

[00:10:44] And then, you know, I usually don't hear anything back after that. but it's definitely people wanna skip steps and

Thinking about competition

[00:10:51] Joel: You feel like you're competing, like with the official documentation or they're learning resources for the platform? Or how does that work out for you when you are going against a jug or not like Adobe are they not focused on it? The same way you are?

[00:11:01] Mark Shust: I don't really see it as competing cause I, my content's so different from theirs. They have their subscription. That's very expensive. So there's that, that huge price gap for one. And of course they're known though. So, that's one of the hardest problems of just getting known and getting your name out there, but Yeah I sort of do things my own way.

[00:11:20] So in a way I don't really feel like I'm competing. I'm I don't feel like anyone can really compete with me of how I'm exactly creating these courses. They might create their own magenta courses, but it's completely different and in their way of teaching things. So, yeah. It's I have my own niche for sure.

[00:11:38] Joel: Sounds like there's plenty of room in the space.

Deciding what to build next

[00:11:40] Mark Shust: Yeah. It's a big market, even though it's been around for a while. And there's actually not too many individual course graders on this topic, so there's definitely a huge space. Yeah. And of course the whole price component of Adobe subscription versus, your own pricing.

[00:11:54] Joel: So how do you pick an example? Like when you what is, how do you come up with what to teach in terms of the pure example space?

[00:12:01] Mark Shust: I was taking kind of, Random suggestions from people and then going and building that. But, that's a really good question because it's so hard to determine what to build next, because I want to, at this point I wanna affect as many subscribers as I can. I pretty much work off of subscriptions.

[00:12:19] So, learning all of those fundamental courses in a specific order is very important. Yeah, I've done random topics and they've just bombed. And but I've done topics that it's funny. I've surveyed people on and social media and everything, and topics that they didn't want at all on social media.

[00:12:36] I wound up doing very well as sold courses, cuz that's just what real people that are subscribing and learning want. So

[00:12:43] Joel: I think there's some danger in surveying and kinda getting the voice like that voice, right? Like, versus like, people will often say one thing, but actually. Want or need something totally different, right? Like, oh, that sounds really fun. I wanna do that. But fun isn't necessarily what you need.

[00:12:58] Right? Like what you need is to like, get in there and shoulder in and plow the field.

[00:13:02] Mark Shust: Yeah, I've done. I've asked those same questions in my paid subscribers. It's funny. And the answers are completely different of what you, what they want next. So it. It's kind of funny

[00:13:12] Joel: Yeah. And I think that's interesting too, like the, just. Free, you know, like people in the free wild versus paying customers and kind of what their opinions will be how they'll treat the product. You know, like when you give away some, like, if you do a workshop and it's free, then you're doing a webinar versus if you charge and then people actually show up and they're engaged, right?

[00:13:28] Like that kind of balance between like who you're listening to and who you're catering to. And generally speaking, the paying customers the winner there in my. I thought you, you mentioned that you are running on subscriptions, but then you also offer Hala carte pricing. So you can go in and purchase courts individually, or you can purchase a subscription or you can purchase a lifetime pass.

Pricing models

[00:13:48] Joel: And I'm wondering what, like, what went into your thought process for coming? Like, how am I gonna sell this and how am I gonna price it and how am I going to divvy this up and offer people? And what is the, it sounded like the subscriptions of the revenue driver, but what ended up being.

[00:14:00] Mark Shust: Yeah. Yeah, they both do well. Even the individual subscriptions have been even picking up lately. It's funny. But so I, I started off just with one course. It was a magenta fundamentals course. And it's I have one course, so there's no reason for a subscription. Things went pretty well sold really well.

[00:14:18] And started getting asked about the front end. Of Magento JavaScript layer. So I created a course on that and it's funny as soon as I released that second course, I already had users asking me for a subscription that they can subscribe. Cuz if I planned on creating more courses and after that third course, I actually launched a subscription already.

[00:14:39] And I was, I didn't think anyone would subscribe cause I only have three courses, but it actually kind of picked off and it's it hasn't stopped since. So kind of just listen to the customer as far as what to charge for the individual courses, I sort of picked it out thin air. I just had start with something and I definitely focus on premium courses at the moment and I wanted something different from you to me, that's attend a, you know, 80 hour course and just wanted something that

[00:15:09] Joel: It's 9 99 this week, mark,

[00:15:11] Mark Shust: What was that

[00:15:12] Joel: that TMY course is 9 99 this week.

[00:15:14] Mark Shust: Yeah, exactly. And I can't control that. Yeah, they're gonna randomly mark it down 90%. So, definitely focus on the premium side and after a ton of research from, I use teachable and they have a lot of great blog articles of how to price your course and value pricing. And I definitely value price all my courses and my offering.

[00:15:33] Probably not enough even, but yeah, it's pricing's always been difficult but

[00:15:38] Joel: I think the market, like the programming course market is grossly undercharging. Just for the, like the value, right? Like what you can get if you learn these skills and you know, where the developer salaries and where it can take you in a very short amount of time, if you should, and do the work and people are, you know, it's like they're charging two, $300 for, you know, a very full featured course.

[00:15:57] And I'm like, I don't know. Like, I feel like that's an order of magnitude too low. And then I'm wondering what. What does like an $8,000 programming course look like, right? Like if you take it in order of magnitude above that or, you know, like a multiplier up and what do you have to do to produce something like that is, is an interesting question.

[00:16:15] What do you think? What would it take to to have something to at even a higher level, right? Like another multiplier

[00:16:20] Mark Shust: yeah, I'd love to sell an $8,000 course.

[00:16:23] Joel: Yeah. What does that look like though? What does that look like for a programming

[00:16:26] Mark Shust: I've actually talked to a course kind of a course coach. I had a session and. That was one of their suggestions was you don't have a high ticket item. I do sell my, my subscription as a lifetime one time payment. That's a multiple subscription, but it's still, apparently I'm still missing high ticket item.

[00:16:45] And that right now at the moment that plays into more cohort based courses

[00:16:50] Joel: It's hands on, right? Like you it's you and your time or you or your who, whomever that is right. Like it's you. And then some sort of person

[00:16:58] Mark Shust: And it's yeah. And it's an interesting, I've been constantly thinking about it and I'm very protective of my time though. So that's, what's why I haven't done it yet. I'm still trying to work out how that would look and work. If that would be viable right now, I'm completely autonomous with my time.

[00:17:15] I can take weeks off. Everything still runs itself. So, once you have that cohort based course, even if it's just, you know, two to four weeks, it's still

[00:17:25] Joel: a commitment like you. Show up like you can't, you know, they've paid you and basically have a contract at that point. So you, well, and then you, I mean, you're teaching them and you just have to show up, right? That's part of the deal and that's the hard part.

Using an existing platform

[00:17:36] Joel: I think it's interesting. You know, you're a developer and one of the inclinations for developers is to start from

[00:17:43] scratch and well develop, right? Like when people say, Hey, what does it take to be a developer? And it's like, well, you develop. Software. That's pretty much what it takes. And I think it's interesting that it, you know, like you stopped short of the delivery platform, right?

[00:17:57] Like you said, you're using teachable and I'm wondering, you know, what was that a debate in your head? Did you think about building your own thing or was it like straight to like, what's the best decision for me right now to deliver.

[00:18:07] Mark Shust: it's funny, cuz I, I do have that developer mindset. I wanna build everything, but I think over the years I sort solely trained myself in the like fit gap analysis cuz we did it for clients with Geno sites where, Hey, what's the build versus buy and there's a module out there that does this.

[00:18:24] And if it does it 90%, we should absolutely just buy it. Cause it's not worth the time. So when I, it. Time to selling my first course, I actually didn't even think about creating my own platform. I've seen people that have built their own platforms and then, at least initially all their, all of their work is on supporting that course platform rather than delivering the material and the content that is really why they're doing it.

[00:18:49] So it's, Yeah, I figured at one, at some point I'll eventually probably build my own. If something else just doesn't come up and present itself but yeah it's more of like, do I wanna deliver content course content to my subscribers or am I focused on building this cor course platform? And that build versus bad mentality is very, was very important to me.

[00:19:11] And is it worth it? And it has to be really worth it. For me to conduct something like that. It's a

[00:19:17] Joel: What do you think you might be missing out on by using teachable?

[00:19:20] Mark Shust: right now. Teachable's great. And provide me for a, as a living. So can't complain much about that, but the, almost a lot of my. A lot big portion of my business is subscriptions and their subscriptions definitely lack where a user can't go and downgrade their account to another platform. They can't for my teams.

[00:19:41] They can't automatically go ahead and subscribe multiple members and then assign it themself and manage all those users. Yeah, there's upgrading downgrading accounts. Prorating the account. So when someone let's say. Only want to go another three months. They can't like automatically cancel for three months or something like that.

[00:20:00] And credits, do subscriptions with

[00:20:04] Joel: You're triggering me a little bit because like, I do build a platform and all of this stuff is stuff that I've like consciously actually built and like, think about. And then and it's funny because I look at other platforms and what they lack, and then. Like the things that I've like, like bit my men nails over the years and made sure that they were just right and implemented.

[00:20:21] And then it, I don't know, like it's always a balance, right? Like when you're developing, but I don't know. It's interesting to me.

[00:20:27] Mark Shust: It's a big balance and something I forgot about just remote now is like that. And taxes for is becoming very important. I'm coming from an e-commerce space and I've seen tons of businesses get completely fined and attacked from the tax purpose that they weren't taxing and submitting and remitting properly.

[00:20:46] So that's a. That's a very important part of me and teachable does take care of all of that for me. PHS all based in the us and selling the us customers. It wouldn't be that big of a deal, but big international following it's if submit to multiple countries it's

[00:21:01] Joel: Have you seen somebody us citizen in a us based business actually receive fines from a European entity and then have that enforced and actually have to pay

[00:21:08] Mark Shust: I haven't and that's the current counter argument. Yeah. It's yeah. And it's.

[00:21:13] Joel: I know a lot of business people, and I hear people talk about that a lot and worried about European regulations. And if I was, if I lived in the UK or Germany that's exactly what I would do. I wouldn.

[00:21:25] Mark Shust: yeah.

[00:21:26] Joel: If I was there, I would be like, well, the us doesn't exist. And here I'm like, well,

Sales tax and global regulations

[00:21:29] Mark Shust: Yeah. I think at the very least I'm in the us, so I need to charge sales tax to us customers for sure. But there's even loopholes around that with. Live elements. And it gets really interesting, especially with, even with VA tax

[00:21:44] Joel: One thing I've noticed about in my experience is it's strictly in the us and with dealing with us states is they're very quick to send you a letter when you owe them money. They are very quick the federal government and state governments, and even local governments, if you owe them money and you are required to pay them, they let you know, like, like across the board, they let you know, Hey, you live here and they'll overestimate what you owe them too.

[00:22:10] So it's like, oh, hold on. I don't know you that much. Let's actually do the math here figure that out. It's a real chore. Like it's one of my least favorite things. And I think about sometimes this idea if I had to globally. Handle paperwork. I would literally just get a job

[00:22:22] Mark Shust: Yeah. Fair. yeah.

[00:22:24] Joel: No, thanks. Like I'm out. I can't do it. No,

[00:22:26] Mark Shust: that's what I was always worried. You know, I depend on this for my livelihood too. And if they ever, if I ever got attacked from European E a, you owe me, you know, $20,000 and it happened multiple times or just something random. It would, it could take me out. So,

[00:22:42] Joel: Well, and I mean, I just don't think it's realistic, right? Like, like this idea of. Like if the us was going into different countries and saying you owe us money, like, it just doesn't, it would, you know, I'm globalism exists, but it would, you know, like if all the hundreds of countries on the planet were all trying to like get at each other's citizens to pay and follow their regulations, it would just be like this utter chaos.

[00:23:02] And nobody would be able to do business whatsoever. I get it. Like if, you know, like Amazon and Google, like, but they have entities, they have literal offices and divisions in these countries and they have to comply. I don't know. It's a whole.

[00:23:14] Mark Shust: and E even with that, there is actually footnotes in there that I don't think anyone reads that if they don't pay that on something or someone isn't charging 'em, they're supposed to self pave the VA

[00:23:24] Yeah, it's just yeah, it's nice. I have never gotten a sales bill or anything's teachable just does that for me. So

[00:23:31] Joel: Yeah, that, that is a nice thing with the platform. And I don't know, like Stripe is doing that and there's other services that I don't particularly care for. So I won't mention them. That'll just completely take care of that across the board too. So like there, there's a lot of help out there for doing these things.

[00:23:43] Mark Shust: Is advancing that as well. I have a feeling they're going to build that in re tax remittance very soon.

[00:23:50] Joel: Yeah, it's a competitive feature. I think people want to do it. So, so they're gonna build it in. What's your, do you have like, as a course producer and a teacher and a developer, do you have any sort of audacious goals or big plans that you're working on?

[00:24:02] Mark Shust: Not yet at this point, it's just making as much content as I can. That's been a number one. I have six premium courses. So on a subscription, it's tough to get people to resubscribe or it could be at points. So, definitely creating as much content as I can is my number one priority right now.

[00:24:21] Joel: do you fold any sort of community aspect into it?

[00:24:23] Mark Shust: I have I use actually circle has a pretty good integration with teachable with off integration. So I use it's pretty new, but it's been working out great. I have WebBook full API, so I can, when someone purchases a course, I can tag 'em and do all sorts of cool things in circle. But yeah, it's been working out really well.

[00:24:43] Joel: Nice. Love it. Well, mark, it's great talking to you. I appreciate you taking the time to, to chat with me look forward to seeing your continued success and setting kind of a good example for course producers, both in quality, but then also charging based on the value of your work and what you're delivering to people.

[00:24:58] I really respect that you've upped that a little bit, I feel and I like to see that and I wanna see more of that, so I appreciate it.

[00:25:04] Mark Shust: Joel. Yeah. Thanks. Great to be here. It was nice chatting with you.

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