Online Courses: Storytelling, Value Ladders, Fragmented Micro-Monopolies

A cartoon apple being bitten

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”

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❓ What You’ll Learn

  • Who made $1 million from a beta course?
  • What should you teach?
  • How to stop trading time for money?
  • What’s a value ladder?
  • What are the types of courses?
  • What are the pros and cons of cohort-based courses?

💎 Why It Matters

Creators can stop trading time for money by helping students land their first software development jobs, get raises, launch businesses and more. 

🔍 Problem

There’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. 

💡 Solution

Online courses are bridges that help you fill these gaps.
You can find your way via trial and error.

Or learn from someone who’s done it before. 

🏁 Players

Course Platforms

  • Khan Academy • Free online classes for high-school students. 
  • Coursera • Courses, certificates and degrees from universities and companies. 
  • Egghead • Tutorials for intermediate and advanced developers. 
  • Masterclass • Edutainment from influential instructors.
  • Maven • Platform for cohort-based courses. 
  • Udemy • Marketplace for self-paced courses.
  • Lynda • Self-paced courses on software development, design, photography and more.
  • General Assembly • Coding, data and design training programs.


  • Podia • Sell courses, webinars, memberships and other digital products.
  • Teachable • Offer online courses and coaching services. 
  • Kajabi • Host courses, communities, coaching services and more. 
  • Thinkific • Create online courses and membership sites. 
  • Gumroad • Sell digital products. 


🔮 Predictions

  • More platforms will sponsor influential educators. Pat Flynn did a webinar for Notion pays Ali Abdaal. Influencers give platforms documentation and distribution
  • We’ll see more “edutainers.” Famous teachers have always understood the power of storytelling. See Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Barriers are falling. The best are rising to the top. There are new form factors like TikTok tutorials.
  • There will be more interactive, adaptive platforms like Duolingo. They scale personalized, gamified, self-paced education with low marginal costs. 

☁️ Opportunities

  • Do it live the first time. Build fast feedback loops by consulting before making courses. Build the curriculum from questions, real-world struggles and feedback. Tyler Gillespie built a few productized services, mentored founders and now he’s building a course
  • Presell to reduce market risk. Marie Poulin used presales to get early feedback on the beta version of her course. Trust wallets over words.
  • Base your course on an outcomeUse capstone projects. This is a forcing function to make sure your content is actionable. Launch MBA is based on the 12 startups in 12 months concept. Each project serves as social proof. 
  • Combine courses and communities. Get benefits of cohorts (accountability, peer-to-peer learning) at scale without high marginal costs. See all-in-one platforms like Kajabi.
  • Build a value ladder. Help people at different stages and diversify revenue. Flavio does this with his blog (free), books ($), courses ($$) and bootcamps ($$$).
  • Version your course. Paula Pant earned over $1 million from a “beta” course. She’s done multiple versions. Use new versions as launch events. 

🔑 Key Lessons

  • These are fragmented, micro-monopolies. There are many options and many winners. Course creators have pricing power. Feature parity applies to SaaS not pros.
  • Markets are taking overColleges can’t keep up with talent needs. Companies like Salesfofce and Google take it upon themselves to train employees.
  • Consider tradeoffs:
    • Cohort-based courses are high-fidelity, boost accountability and have higher completion rates than self-paced courses. But students are kept at the same pace. Like classrooms. 
    • Self-paced courses let you move fast or slow. They are more financially accessible than cohort-based courses. But completion rates are lower. Communities can ebb some of these downsides.
    • Interactive platforms adapt to you. They have high engagement and low marginal costs. You may need one-on-one support to fill in gaps. 

😠 Haters

“I don’t know enough to teach a course.”
What do you wish you knew 3 years ago?
 Teach that. You may be better than an expert because you don’t suffer from the expert’s curse. Or teach as you learn. This is what Tim Ferriss, Shane Parrish and I am doing.

“Most people don’t finish courses.”
The same goes for books and other form factors. Cohorts and interactive, adaptive platforms can help with this.

“Education should be free.”
It is. Get after it. Quality and cost aren’t always correlated. You’ll still have to pay attention.
“Course revenue is spiky.”
This applies to most digital products. There are ways around it: memberships, value ladders and evergreen funnels. Or embrace the spikiness with open and closed enrollment.

“Courses are just money grabs.”
You can find bad intentions in any market. How to avoid it? Time is smarter than we are. Be a late adopter and let the chicken come home to roost. How does this person’s reputation perform over time? Or look for reviews in unmoderated environments. 

📁 Related Reports

🔗 Links

  1. Who has a course? • The tweet behind this report. 
  2. Create Your Online Course Template • A step-by-step process for creating courses. 
  3. Interactive Course Platforms • A tweetstorm on new platforms. 

🙏 Thanks

Thanks to Miles Beckler (, Tyler Gillespie (Productized.Services), Monika Birkner (Freedom Business), Farhaj Mayan (OKO), Jimmy Daly (Superpath), Max Haining (100DaysOfNoCode), Emmanuel Vivier (HUB Institute), Marie Poulin (Notion Mastery), Rob Hardy (Ungated), Sam Julien (, Kimsia Sim (, Jeremy Abraham (Spiffy), Vishal Srivastava (Trainedge), Ben Barbersmith (SQL for Humans), Rick Segal (CRAAG Angel Group), Guillaume Tessier (Ghost Posters), Craig Watson (Product Buffs), Emmanuel Simon (Idea Garden), Utkarsh Bhimte (Noggin). We had a great time jamming on this report. 

📈 What else?

Trends PRO #0061 — Online Courses has more insights.

What you’ll get:

  • 24 Course Platforms (200% More)
  • 16 Course Tools (220% More)
  • 28 Courses (154% More)
  • 7 Predictions (133% More)
  • 11 Opportunities (83% More)
  • 6 Key Lessons (100% More)
  • 10 Links (233% More)
  • 24 Related Reports (📈 Trends Pro Exclusive)
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With Trends Pro you’ll learn:

  • (📈 Pro) How to generate recurring revenue with online courses? Who is already doing it?
  • (📈 Pro) What’s accountability-as-a-service?
  • (📈 Pro) How to build profitable partnerships?
  • (📈 Pro) What are starterspotlight and signature courses?
  • (📈 Pro) How are courses being indirectly monetized?
  • (📈 Pro) Why do niches matter?
  • (📈 Pro) How to think about competition?
  • (📈 Pro) What’s the future of free education?
  • (📈 Pro) What’s a low-lift way to add massive value to a course?
  • (📈 Pro) How to avoid platform risk?
  • (📈 Pro) An inside look into Ali Abdaal’s value ladder and income streams.
  • And a lot more…

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