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How Ryan Kulp made $20,000 in online course sales in 2 weeks

Ryan Kulp presold $10,000 in online courses within 24 hours of launching. He made $10,000 more within two weeks. Here’s how he did it on Podia.

November 1, 2019 by Cyn Meyer

Most successful careers aren’t a straight path from A to B.

For entrepreneurs, career paths tend to look a lot more like a Pac Man survival route than a simple jaunt down the road.

This was, and is, the case for Ryan Kulp

And all of those twists and turns were worth it. His first online course banked $20,739 in sales within two weeks of launch.

So, how did he get here, if not on the beaten path?

With a few shortcuts and detours, naturally:

  • He’s a self-taught developer
  • He’s marketed for YC and Techstars and is now the lead marketing instructor at GrowthX Academy 
  • He’s been employed at Red Bull, Teach for America, and Microsoft
  • He’s the founder of Fomo.com and partner at Fork Equity

The jump into entrepreneurship was, for Ryan, a matter of two choices.

“There are two ways to get into entrepreneurship: you can start something or buy something.” 

He explains, “Everyone just assumes they have to make something from scratch, but you don't. There's another 50% swath of opportunities . . . [you can take] the reins of something that someone else started from scratch.” 

Ryan’s approach to starting online businesses has been wildly successful -- so much so that he’s a sought-after pillar of advice for people who want to buy and sell other companies.

It’s thanks to that foundation of a small but devoted following that he was able to pack his knowledge into a tidy online course, and between July 17th and July 30th, pull in over $20,000.

Here’s how he did it and how you can follow his example all the way to the bank.

How he validated his lightbulb idea with organic market research 

As both Ryan’s success and following grew throughout the years as an entrepreneur buying and selling other businesses, people reached out for advice and continued to ask him detailed questions about his process.

More specifically, they DMed Ryan on Twitter asking him for feedback. His curious colleagues and fans asked questions like, “What do you think about this startup?” and “How can I buy and grow small apps?” 

They would exchange emails and, before he knew it, Ryan found himself 15-emails deep into a specific venture someone was interested in pursuing. 

Not only did they ask him online, but they also approached him up in person.

It was during one of these in-person meetings that Ryan’s lightbulb moment happened. 

On July 4th, as he was traveling, his free tutelage was sought out yet again. It occurred to him at that moment that folks may be willing to pay him for his advice.

Plus, Ryan enjoys helping people, and he knew that individual interactions “wasn’t a scalable way to help more people.” 

So, an online course was the perfect way to deliver his advice at scale and get paid to do so.

But first, he needed to validate his idea. It wasn’t enough to have the lightbulb go off: he needed to make sure the grid, his potential customers, would support it.

So he tweeted to his network announcing his consideration of launching a new course and included a brief bulleted list of curriculum details. He wanted to know if it was something people would pay for. 

With the help of a few followers retweeting his message, nearly 40 people replied to his tweet with a rendition of “Definitely, I’d buy it,” which solidified his decision to outline a course on the topic.

In addition to the affirmation, Ryan also received feedback on what topics to include in his course.

Thus, Ryan’s online course, How to Buy, Grow, and Sell Small Companies, was born, almost overnight. 

And even though it wasn’t more than a skeleton yet, it was ready to sell. 

Pre-selling his online course by not selling

Ryan started his course with a 30-point bullet list of potential lecture titles, then announced to his 3,000-large Twitter audience the official launch with a short message and included a discount code.

Ryan offered 25 coupons for 50% off of his course. All of them sold out within the first hour, bringing in $1,875.

Over the next 23 hours which followed, he sold over $10,000 in enrollments.

The selling took care of itself since the online course ideas came directly from his audience. He didn’t have to generate demand -- he just needed to answer it. 

“And it turns out, we kind of tapped into a desire a lot of people had already -- and just didn't know how to articulate -- or there wasn't a place to put that desire,” Ryan shares. 

In other words, Ryan uncovered and filled a niche need in the market. 

Niche markets, which shrink in size for both audience members and competition, are a lot like natural gold mines. If they’re huge, everyone and their brother is trying to excavate in the same deposit -- but if they’re small, you rub far fewer elbows with the competition.

You can see an example of this below where the market and competition graduate according to how niche the keyword is:

However -- contrary to many business owners’ mentality -- not only did Ryan find a niche, but his practice of “oversharing secrets” allowed him to grow his niche market.

“When you open yourself up to all of the types of ways people want to consume your knowledge, you actually triple the size of people who want to consume knowledge,” he explains. 

Ryan doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as cannibalization when it comes to oversharing your knowledge and “secret sauce.”   

Abandon the notion that you have to guard your secrets, Ryan says, and you can do great things.

Even with lists under 1,000 people.

How he made it possible with an email list of 700

As cliche as “quality over quantity” sounds, Ryan’s success with selling his online course directly correlates with this concept. 

“A quality list is one where . . . you acquire subscribers with the least amount of hype as possible,” he clarifies.

Ryan focused solely on serving his audience for seven long years, providing value on his blog without selling anything. If someone had a question for him, he’d either create a blog post to answer it or directly correspond with the person.

The result of this approach was a small but mighty list of subscribers over the years. By most standards, Ryan’s list was bite-sized at only 700-strong when he began his online course journey.

But what it lacked in size it made up for in extraordinary engagement and loyalty.

By solely serving his audience, Ryan was able to create personal relationships with each subscriber and circumvent the typical free-lead-magnet-to-subscriber gambit altogether. 

His relationships were deeper, stronger, and bigger for it.

“And the bigger the relationship . . . the bigger the ROI, if you did want to sell something later.” 

Not that selling to them was, or is, his main priority. Providing value is.

“I don't think you can overshare. I do think you can undercharge and undervalue, but that's on the market side. . . On the creative side, I don't think you can do too much,” coaches Ryan.

In other words, Ryan’s secret for succeeding with online courses was to give away his secrets long before the idea of selling an online course was ever on the horizon.

And it worked.

“My 700-person list is potentially as valuable as someone with 10,000 subscribers who are driving Facebook page traffic and doing lots of lead magnets because those people don't feel they have a relationship with you, the writer,” he contends.

But when you earn your email subscribers through elbow grease -- putting out consistently valuable content without any catch -- you get to nurture those relationships individually. 

With this slow-going approach, people don’t join your list because they want a checklist or ebook: they join it because they want to hear from and trust you.

And there are a lot of people who resonate well with this tactic. After all, 95% of buyers consider content as trustworthy when evaluating a company’s offerings. 

Plus, since Ryan had built his relationships by providing the very thing he would later sell -- information -- the transition into an online course wasn’t a difficult one.

He just needed to keep doing what he was already doing.

Literally, as it were.

How he outlined his course by doing vs. teaching

To put together the curriculum for How to Buy, Grow, and Sell Small Companies, Ryan gleaned practical lessons from his real-life experience buying and selling companies.

“I am not a teacher, I'm a doer . . . So, it's super important to me that, even though I'm teaching people what I know about how to buy companies, I'm not going to now stop buying companies,” Ryan proclaims.

As for how he specifically translates his expertise into a course, he starts by taking himself through the process, looking for the hidden nuggets of information that separate a novice from a journeyman to include in his lessons.

“What you're actually trying to capture in your course are those split-second decisions that you make as an experienced practitioner, and learning why you make them.” 

When he spots a vital component of his process, he “codifies the real-life process to make absorbable by the people,” Ryan divulges.

“That in there, that in the middle space, is the magic. That is the skill the person is trying to learn. That is the thing you need to articulate in your course materials.”

Finding the “magic” in a practical walkthrough of his process is how Ryan produced his online course curriculum.

As you can see, his course curriculum includes content like contract templates and business agreements for various deal structures.

Choosing the individual formats for his online course came down to reflecting his own learning style into his course. 

Since he learns through a multitude of formats, he presents a variety of lesson formats in his course from slides and audio to video and screen-shares. And although his online course is a projection of his personal learning style, each medium has a purpose. 

For instance, in the videos with screen shares and clicking around, he’s “expressing how creativity and spontaneity can help you make decisions on the fly.”

Conversely, slides are beneficial for showing off the frameworks he discusses in his videos and conveying the algorithms that work. Talking head presentations help him convey mindset.

Basically, Ryan lives up to the “waste not, want not” philosophy. Every format and lesson in his course has a quantifiable purpose.

Similarly, his membership has a defined value, as well: it keeps customers engaged long after they make their first purchase.

How his membership allows him to continue to add value

Memberships can do a lot of things for creators, but for Ryan, his membership is the key to continuing to provide value for his students and nurture them into lifetime customers.

“The membership was a great way to basically turn the student at the top of the funnel, who are already really great customers . . . because the course is a premium-price course,” he justifies.

“It's a way to add more value to them up into forever, and also extend, or increase, our own deal pipeline.”

Which is the reasoning behind the creation of his alumni-only membership, Rainmakers Club.

Not only does the membership benefit his students, but it also gives Ryan a way to maintain his enthusiasm for his online course over the long-term. 

“I want there to be justification for me to make the course better, over time. I want there to be excitement in the air for me to add a new lecture next week, or three months from now, or two years from now,” he touts. 

Of course, keeping up that excitement means having a tool he can rely on to work reliably and quickly.

That’s where Podia comes into play.

How Podia made the whole process a cinch

According to Ryan, the intuitive nature of Podia’s platform is appreciated even by a coder. “I can code, but it would take me hours to get something that looks a tenth this good,” he notes. 

In addition to streamlining the storefront setup process, the drag-and-drop features in Podia’s editor allowed him to “move images around, set buttons, [and et cetera] . . . and it looked so good without any customizations,” Ryan explains.

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Plus, Podia let Ryan embrace his unique non-lead-magnet approach. He didn’t have to rework his business model to fit the platform.

It was, in his words, like coming up for fresh air.

“Being able to disable double opt-ins, spin up a page, and then with just one click, type in a custom domain and go live, was a really, really nice breath of fresh air.”

And if you want to taste that fresh air for yourself, you’re in luck. Signup for Podia today for a free, two-week trial, set aside a lunch break, and buckle in.

Because Ryan proves two things:

  1. You don’t need a gargantuan subscriber list to make big profits, and
  2. You don’t need months of prep work to make an online course succeed.

In fact, with Podia, you need about half an hour. As Ryan puts it,

"0 to 25 minutes on Podia and you're good to go."