Kevin Lee of Product Manager HQ is an online entrepreneur and course creator who's first course brought in 20k+. In his course, One Week PM, Kevin teaches other product managers how they can get started or improve with product management and land a job.
In the past, he has taught at UC Berkeley, mentored visiting entrepreneurs at the Haas School of Business, and taught at Product School. Saying that Kevin knows what he's talking about would be an understatement.
Here's what he has to say...
Can you talk a bit about how your online course launch went?
Yeah, I did an initial course launch and I offered a special launch discount for 3 days for my mailing list. It was more than I expected to be honest. A little bit over 20,000 dollars in course sales in the first three days and it’s been a fascinating journey from there.
How did you hear about online courses in general?
Personally I really enjoy teaching - I used to teach guitar in high school. I taught through undergrad, I was teaching in a credited class for college students. For online classes - I love learning so I try to stay active in learning through taking online courses. So I’ve always been taking a lot of courses on MOOC’s.
At what point did you go from taking online courses to creating your own?
About a year and a half ago I started Product Manager HQ and I was hearing a lot of feedback from our subscribers that people new to the industry wanted this crash course in learning the fundamentals of product management skills.
A lot of these people were either really busy professionals or they were students so they didn’t have a lot of time either. Personally when I had broken into product management initially I had also tried to do a few different online courses, scattered interviews, blog. It wasn’t very cohesive of an experience so I just remember how difficult that transition was.
All this kind of led me into wanting to create this course for all of my subscribers. I wanted to make sure I could cover all of the essential fundamentals of product management skills and then also make sure it was branded in a way where people could do this themeselves.
It’s called One Week PM and it’s called that because I know how busy people are, everyone is busy these days, so I wanted a course where people could do one module every single day for seven days and also apply each module to their own project at the end of each day so at the end of seven days they could have this tangible side project they could talk about during their interviews.
How did you hear about Teachable?
I heard really great things about Teachable for a while, and I think the very first class I took using Teachable was called Bit Fountain - it was this guy who did an introduction to sketch. I was really interested in design at the time - it was such a great course - the layout, the platform, it’s ease of use - and every time the instructor added new content he’d blast an email out to his students.
I thought to myself, “Wow, this is such a great platform, I wonder if this guy created itself?” and then I found out it was hosted on Teachable - then Fedora.
Since then a lot of my friends who teach full time say, “Go use Teachable, don’t use Udemy because they won’t let you have control of your students or pricing.”
You had a list, knew what people wanted, and knew what you wanted to teach. Did you do anything to validate that idea or did you just run with the information you had?
A lot of the website Product Manager HQ came from personal pain points - people would email me like, “Hey can we grab coffee, I want to talk about this transition…” - so I had heard a lot of these pain points initially and we started the community because people wanted to find mentors.
Every time a new subscriber subscribes to my website I have an auto drip sequence and the first email asks them what their biggest pain points when it comes to learning product management and what their biggest barrier to getting a job is. And those two questions have gotten me consistent feedback over the years of what people want.
You knew what you wanted to teach - what came next? Content creation or something else?
In terms of first steps I put together this outline, it was kind of like a table of contents for what each module of the course would look like. I wanted to get that on paper because I really wanted quick feedback from other product managers and make sure I was being comprehensive enough in covering all of the content.
After that I was able to be much more detailed and say here are the specific lectures I want to go more in depth into and get feedback there.
In terms of the actual filming process I went super low budget and used my logitech webcam and my blue yeti microphone. I had a blue blanket draped across two lamps - that was kind of the mvp.
I would film during the day when there was natural light and at night I’d do the editing, create the slides, and write the script for the next days.
I really wanted to timebox myself and say I only want to work on this for two weeks so I was very structured.
It took about 1 and a half weeks and then I did a soft launch with beta students to get feedback.
I do this full time as of two months ago so I was able to dedicate full time efforts towards this.
Any advice for how you met your deadlines?
The biggest fear for most people is this imposter’s syndrome. They are afraid that they don’t know enough or that they’re not an expert. That was my biggest fear in starting this course.
If you can really set aside a schedule where you dedicate an hour after work everyday just to writing out your outline, getting feedback, and writing out scripts or doing the research and then you can do your full Saturday and Sunday doing the filming. The filming is really what takes a lot of time, and then there is the editing that you can do during the week.
Set aside those Saturdays and Sundays, be very diligent, don’t go out.
So did you edit everything on your own?
I did, and for future courses I’d love to find a professional to do the editing. I just bought final cut pro but I’m so overwhelmed by it and have no idea what I’m doing yet so I stuck with Camtasia in the meantime.
Another thing I noticed is that it’d be great if you find someone who is great with presentation slide making to make your slides for you.
I didn’t have the most beautiful slides and I just had my floating head in the corner and it wasn’t as interesting as if I’d have had my slides designed.
Going back to what you said about your fear of not being an expert - how did you move past that?
It’s funny because no one wants to call themselves an expert because at that point you stop learning. For a lot of people - especially if you’ve only been in an industry for a few years - you always compare yourself.
You see experts in your industry that are killing it and you think, “If I’m not them then why do I deserve to be teaching other people.”
What you generally forget is that if you know something someone else might not know that thing. And you don’t have to be the expert in the field to provide a lot of value.
And I think that’s why it was so important to release my course to beta testers so you can get really quick feedback. Some of the beta users were like, “Hey this was a great course and here is some constructive feedback…”
And hearing that it was a great course is great for personal confidence. You’re providing value for someone. It’s not like you’re going to release it and people will think it’s terrible.
How did your beta and presell list work?
The initial soft launch was just a link to my course on the navigation bar on my website. Organically I had a few sales go through at the discounted price. It was 50% off. Full price it’s $197.
So I had a small group of inital users for the last half of that two week period.
That was a good chance where I could send them emails and ask what their overall feel of the course was and if they’d recommend it to anyone else. I also asked what was the most or least helpful content was and if they felt like there were any modules that I should have elaborated more on.
That was really good in terms of upping the course quality before releasing to a mass audience..
I was able to do some quick improvements there.
For the full launch I send out a weekly newsletter to my mailing list on Tuesdays. I put a short blurb on a newsletter saying that I heard my audience’s pain points and that I had an exciting announcement for later in the week. No links, just a quick teaser. I also said “If you’d like to hear more details about this feel free to email me back.”
On Thursday after my officail launch I said, “Hey, here’s the struggle and why you should take this course.” I talked about pain points I’d heard and my personal struggle.
It was an exploding offer - it opened but then in two days the discount was going to close.
I did another email 24 hours before the close date. I added some context saying that hundreds of students have already enrolled from all over the world and here are some of their backgrounds.
I had that information because whenever a student enrolled I had an autoresponder set up on ConvertKit that asked them “What is your background and why did you decide to take this course.”
This helped me provide validation for other students who were still on the fence and it helped me talk about everyone’s diverse backgrounds so people knew that it didn’t matter where they were coming from - this course could still be right for them. It also helped provide social proof and testimonials.
The last email I sent was three hours before close it said, “Hey, this is the final countdown, there’s about 3 hours left.”
It was a four email sequence. When I started out I was only going to do one email to my whole subscriber list and I think that’s a common mistake a lot of new people to the industry would make - myself included.
I have friends who teach full-time online who told me I needed to build up interest in this course and tell my audience why I want to build interest. Following their advice my course launch went a lot better than it could have.
How big was your list when you launched and where did they come from?
It was around 10,400 people. Since starting the website, most of my traffic comes from Quora. Quora is actually how I learned about product management intially so I tried to give back to the community by answering questions there and linking to my website.
I’m also good about converting readers to subscribers. I offer a 60 page handbook about product management and send a weekly newsletter with the week’s best reads. So I have a 15-20% conversion rate for subscribers. I’ve had my website for about one and a half years.
How much did you end up making on your course?
So far it’s about $21,500. Sales have significantly tapered off now that I’m not promoting - it’s all organic traffic.
What I plan on doing is adding more content and then doing a course relaunch, a 2.0 version.
I think a lot of other people close out their course to collect interest and then reopen it later. My main reason for keeping my course open is because product management is a field that people are trying to get into over time and I didn’t want to have to limit my subscribers so I wanted to keep it available to them.
What kind of feedback are you getting?
It’s been really good. I like looking at the course progress dashboard and when someone hits 50% completion I send them an email checking in. I ask what the overall feel for them has been and what has been the most helpful.
I’ve had people tell me that they’re going to apply what they’ve learned, or that a specific section has been helpful.
I love getting those emails, it’s great validations. Those little wins keep me going.
What did your videos look like?
Most of them were slides with talking heads in the corner. As I got better lighting and I got more comfortable I did more talking to the camera with certain text and animations popping up.
Do you have any data on your conversion rate?
It was around 1.5 to 1.7%. I think if I had been more aggressive with my email sequence - even just including two more - I could have converted more.
Is there anything else you would have done differently?
One issue was I filmed an entire module and the lighting wasn’t great and the sound quality was terrible because I wasn’t close to my microphone. I should have filmed one video and sat down and watched to check for the quality.
Also, ask your list. Make sure that there is demand for your course. That’s the biggest error - if you spend a ton of time creating a course and then no one buys it.
I had 15 or 20 people email me back which was a great way to get a group of really passionate people. I was able to ask them questions to gauge interest.