3 Lessons From My Failed Course Launch

3 Lessons From My Failed Course Launch
Photo by Nick Morrison / Unsplash

Last week I launched my course The Art Of Linked Reading.

And as hard as it is for me to say this, it was a failure... At the end of launch week I made a total of $1847.10 and 20 enrollments. My original goal was to aim for around $4000-$6000 in revenue.

BUT! I don't regret doing it. I learned SO much from the 2 months I was in monk mode working on the project. I fostered great relationships with my beta testing group. And I know what I should do for the future. Most importantly, I had a ton of fun.

In this article, I'm going to share how I built the course, my 3 lessons from the failed launch, and my plans for the future.

I hope by sharing my learnings I will first have a memory to go back to when I'm feeling nostalgic, but I'll also help other entrepreneurs avoid the mistakes I made. Maybe you're just here for my personality in which case, Howdy!

How I Built The Course

Let's start with how I built the course.

This isn't my first course. The first course I built is called Obsidian University which I made with my friend John Mavrick. It's a course that helps students level up their notetaking and studying with Obsidian.

So to build this course I used my learnings from that, as well as two main sources of information:

  1. Pat Flynn's Ultimate Course Creation Blog Post
  2. Ship 30 For 30s Essential Podcast To Building A Digital Product

I actually think the building of the course couldn't have gone better. That's not where I made the mistakes. So if you want a phenomenal course building checklist, use the one below, it's great! Using these three things the steps for building the course looked like this.

  1. I sent an email to my list briefly telling them about three different course ideas I had. Each course idea had a few bullet points describing it. I asked them to click the ONE they were most interested in. The link they clicked had a survey form for the respective course asking for their demographics, their number one problem they wanted solved in the course, and to indicate which of the names for the course was their favorite from a list I made. For every mention of my course in this and future emails, the link would tag them with the waitlist for the course.
  2. From this initial stage my course, The Art Of Linked Reading, was born.
  3. I brainstormed my course outline using Pat Flynns Dump, Lump, Jump framework.
  4. I created an initial landing page for the course.
  5. I presold the course through Email Marketing: I used the header and footer of my next email newsletters to announce the development of my product. I said I was looking for 4 beta testers to take the course early and help me build it. IMPORTANTLY, I told people beta testers would only have to pay a reduced $50 for the course upfront, if they gave a 15 minute customer interview, and if they gave another reflection interview after the course was over, they would get a full refund. I also emailed everyone on my waitlist from announcing the course ideas a email as well with the same information. From this point onward all of my newsletter content every week was related to the course. I had headers and footers to join the waitlist every week. I had announcements in my podcast. I had Twitter posts about material from the course with links to the landing page to sign up for the wailist. Before my course launch I had an impressive 76 people on the waitlist.
  6. I communicated with my beta testers doing Customer Interviews:
    • I scheduled 15-20 minute interviews with interested individuals from my email list using calendly. In these interviews I asked four things:
    1. What is the number one problem you want solved from this product?
    2. How have you tried solving this problem in the past?
    3. What other problems would you want solved if you had this problem solved?
    4. If you could wave a magic wand and fix this issue what would life look like?
  7. Product Development:
    • I started building the course on Teachable with my beta testing group who I invited to a What'sApp group discord. I built the course material a week before it would go up. So the first weeks course material I finished and uploaded the week beforehand so it would be ready for the beta testers.
    • First, I would write the lessons out. Then I would proofread them a couple days later. Then I would create action items for the lessons and a corresponding Notion action item workbook. Then I would batch record all of my lessons for a week of the course in a single day.
    • I would announce the weeks worth of material was launching each Friday for the beta testers to work through over the next week.
    • For three weeks the beta testers and I got on a call every Saturday and reflected on the last week of materials. It was super open office hour type of thing. No lecturing, just discussion.
  8. After the course was over, I got feedback from the beta testers on individual interview calls again promising them I would refund the full course cost if they came on the call. I asked them four questions including asking for a testimonial at the end of the call:
    1. What was helpful?
    2. What wasn't helpful?
    3. What other problems can I solve?
    4. What would I have to do to make this product worth 10x more?
  9. I revised the course with the feedback from the beta testers. Nothing too extreme. I felt it was more important to get the course out then to heavily revise the course.
  10. I picked a price for the course using this main resource. I chose on $249 for the base edition and $499 for the peanut edition.
  11. I re-created the sales page after the course was over.
  12. I created a launch email sequence following Pat Flyn's launch email video.
  13. I sent out an email announcing I would be doing a free webinar training. This was the day before launch week to build hype. The webinar training had material directly from the course in it. I followed Pat Flyn's advice on how to do a great webinar.
  14. Over the next five days the launch emails starting going out to my list. Here are some principles for how I did the launch emails:
    1. First day, I sent the "cart open" email to my full list. Regardless of if they are on the wait list or not.
    2. I had an "opt-out" trigger at the end of all launch emails for hearing about the course.
      Give people an out that isn't unsubscribing.
      Wait list → all emails
      Full list → about 50-60% of all emails
      People who click → remaining emails after click
    3. I gave people incentive to buy during launch week by saying there was a $50 coupon until the end of the week for both modules.

And here's where things started to get tough...

Despite having 76 people on the waitlist I entered the fourth day of the course launch with two buyers... I was freaking out. What was going wrong? I had worked for 2 hard months on this course. I had been following best practices with a beta cohort, revisions, a waitlist, a webinar and more.

So why weren't people buying?

I called my good content creator friend Demetri who is much larger in the space to get some advice.

His advice was crucial. I honestly could have entered a black whole of anxiety and depression if we hadn't called. Because despite my love of Stoicism, seeing my baby not do well, hurt. A lot.

Here were three lessons I learned from my call with Demetri.

Lesson 1: I Should Have Done A Service Business First

The first major mistake I made was trying to make The Art Of Linked Reading a product rather than a service business.

The reason this was a mistake is service businesses require significantly less leads then products. They give you time to get real direct feedback from people. And they require less luck then building a successful product.

By making The Art Of Linked Reading a course, I was skipping a ladder of wealth creation.

The layers of wealth creation are described by Nathan Barry in his article, the ladders of wealth creation. In brief, the ladders of wealth go time for money, your own service business, productized services, and finally selling products. Here's the image from Nathan Barry's article:

Each ladder takes significantly more skill and luck then the previous ladder to succeed.

But the higher up you go, the more leverage you have. If you're successful, you can put in significantly less effort and get significantly more money. The mistake I made was going skipping the service business ladder straight to the productized service.

The problem is I don't have enough leads to have a product yet.

Around the launch I got around 20,000 views per month on my YT channel, about 1000 downloads per month on my podcast, and had around 1500 subscribers on my email list as of the launch. That might sound like a lot. But keep in mind a very very small fraction of those people are actually likely to buy. And I only sold the course through my email list. I had 76 people on the waitlist. And Demetri told me it's normal to only have around 5-10% of those people convert (depending on the product of course).

By his estimates, I actually had a fantastic launch for the amount of leads I had.

But if I had done a service business, this would have solved the lead issue.

Sure, the course would be more expensive. But I would need less leads to actually buy.

So that's mistake numero uno, not doing a service business first.

Lesson 2: Know Your Audience

The second lesson I learned is how important it is to know your audience.

At the fourth day of the launch I was thinking, why aren't more people buying?! So Demetri asked a few questions to figure out who my audience was. Through some questioning we realized half of the waitlist was probably students (my last course was Obsidian University so that's no surprise) and the other half was probably in their 20s and 30s.

Here's the funny thing about students: they don't have money.

Asking $249 for a course to a student is like asking them to give you their arm and leg.

So immediately, half my waitlist was alienated by the price. That left around 38 other people who might buy. Once again by Demetri's estimates I actually did quiet well getting 20 to do so.

So, know your audience.

After I realized this, I lowered the price by $100 before the last day of the launch, and what do you know, that's when the most people bought (I'll never know if more people bought because of the price lowering or because it was the last day. Ahhhhh, the perils of statistics.)

Lesson 3: You Don't Know What Your Audience Wants

The last lesson I learned was you don't know what your audience wants.

This became abundantly clear through my customer interviews and reflections. One beta tester, Jason, believed all the material from weeks 1 and 2 of the course weren't helpful specifically for him. Another beta tester, Martin loved the second week of the course the most. The two other beta testers loved all three weeks of the course.

This was a recurring theme through every reflection.

I would think people wanted one thing.

Then they would say, "no add this, or take away this." This is why I'm super glad I did a beta testing cohort before releasing the course. The reality is you don't know what your audience wants. You have to ask them.

What I'm Going To Do In The Future

So, that was my course launch experience.

While it didn't go as well as I wanted, I learned a ton, built valuable relationships, had a lot of fun, and know what I'm going to do in the future. I'm going to try turning The Art Of Linked Reading into a service business. I'm going to try a workshop model where I work with five students per "cohort" every month and charge more then the-self paced version. This will teach me some valuable skills regarding how to run a service business. And I won't run into the lead problem.

I'll continue to iterate the course and get testimonials from doing this for a few months.

Hopefully then I'll have enough social proof and an audience to move onto something else, perhaps another product.

Adventure awaits no matter where I go!