If you want your content to make a lasting impact, get shared and even make money, you’ll want to move as much of it as you can from a “nice to know” to a “need to know”.

Even if your content is important, if it doesn’t solve something urgent it’ll be hard to sell.

Quick story from a really profitable course

When bitfountain’s iPhone programming courses, which reached $2M in revenue in 2014, came out in late 2013, there was a ton of online resources and tutorials about how to learn to do iPhone programming online.

While there was a lot of information available, to anyone wanting to learn programming, there was a significant amount of pain to make sense of it all. It was difficult to find the right information that would take you from start to finish.

When word got out bitfountain’s pain-killing iOS7 course that promised to take you from start to 14 different iPhone apps was made free, it naturally spread across the web on sites like Reddit, Hacker News and ProductHunt to bring in over 50,000 people needing to improve their professional skills or become a software entrepreneur.




This course solved for the exact pain that Eliot Arntz, who co-founded bitfountain experienced when he taught himself iPhone programming not long before.

Creating an online course that’s profitable, is about solving a “painful” problem for someone specific.

What would have happened if the content in Bitfountain’s course taught you above understanding the 10101011 building blocks of software, or how the internet fits together which are both certainly useful information as a professional, but they aren’t practical.

One way to think of content out there in the world is to put it into 4 general groups:




1. Sugar content

You’re probably not creating this, but it’s easy to recognize. Sugar or candy content is available, catches our attention, but if we have to much of it, it might make us feel bad.

Some examples are 2:00 AM infomercials, Reality TV and yes even US Weekly:




This content is what finds its way to us because it’s pushed out or shared.

Although we might get addicted to a personality behind the content, it quickly fades, and certainly isn’t worth paying for.

2. Rice content

Rice content is “filler” information you could find in say, a Wikipedia article. It’s good to know it’s there, but it’s content that’s “nice to have.”

Knowing what’s really rice, depends on who your audience is, but let’s say the course you were making was for folks just getting into photography and wanted to start a photography freelance business.

Sure, it might help for you to teach the history of famous photography, but your audience is more likely to be concerned about finding clients and creating work they can get paid for right now.

A history lesson on photography in this case is rice content, it’s nice to know, but not going to be the reason someone pays for your course.

3. Vitamin content

This type of content that can improve your life, but you might not right now. It’s important, but not urgent.

Let’s say for example you desperately need to get out of debt. Vitamin content would teach you good money management, but it wouldn’t be the type of information that would show you how to immediately consolidate your debt.

4. Painkiller content

Painkiller content solves something important, that’s causing urgent pain.

Let’s say you’re aspiring to get an MBA from a top program. To do that, you know a large part of the application process involves achieving a high score on your GMAT.

With your GMAT test date coming up soon, this problem is going to the one of the top priorities in your mind.

If you research the space, you’ll notice this is true. There’s an industry on it’s own for training and tutoring for folks study GMAT and other professional certifications.

The other great thing about painkiller content? It gets shared.

Knowing how to solve something painful, or being the first to find a powerful idea makes us look good, so we like to tell others we know struggling with the same problems about it.

Make your content solve something painful

Now you might think to yourself, “Conrad what if the content I’m creating isn’t programming, what if it’s fitness related? What’s painful about that?”

Maybe your audience here is a college athlete, who wants to be at the top of their game. Or maybe, they’re single and think they need to be in great shape to attract someone of the opposite sex. Both of these audiences will think your content is both important and urgent.

Even courses that teach personal hobbies like guitar or watercolor painting solve a painful problem for a certain audience. While that pain isn’t say earning more money, or imporoving someone’s important health or relationships–it’s aspirational.

Recently talking to Shane from NYC Guitar School, many of the folks who attend his online program, aren’t aspiring rockers trying to make it big.

Most of Guitar School’s students are middle-age professionals who aspired to play guitar when they were young. They see themselves as musicians, and want, no need to express that now that they have the time and resources.

While it’s important to learn about the market to assess your own profitable teaching idea (that link will take you to a free course on how to help make sure you’re content is built to solve a pain.

In a future post we’ll go into how to do that, but for now, does your online course come out of all the many things you know about a topic, or is your content a painkiller?

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Conrad Wadowski

Written by Conrad Wadowski

Conrad Wadowski is the Co-Founder at Teachable (Create & Sell Online Courses) focused on growth, product and conducting mad science experiments in online education. Previously, I ran a growth hacking school with over 10,000 students.