A course is a product just like any other.
Stellar marketing isn't enough to reach breakout success. You also need what experts in the industry call "Course-Market" fit.
Simply put, "Course-Market' fit is when a course so perfectly captures a need in the market, and it experiences explosive growth.
The vast majority of courses will never reach "Course-Market" fit; however, there is a framework to make finding it more likely.
In this post, we'll discuss:
You can think of Course-Market fit as three independent variables:
It's a variant of "Product-Market" fit specifically for online education businesses.
Why are you uniquely equipped to teach this topic? Are you a leading world expert? Are you a great teacher?
Online courses only work if the instructor is someone remarkable. Many may think that just their course is the product they're selling- but no.
You are as much of the product as the curriculum.
Be an Expert
What makes online courses genuinely unique is the ability to learn incredibly niche topics from the best in the world.
Fortunately, you don't have to spend decades as a researcher to be an expert anymore.
Anyone who's spent the last 5-years as a full-time YouTube is an "expert" because YouTube as a career didn't even exist ten years ago.
Or, if you happened to be one of the top users of Zapier, you could start a course called "Workflow Automations."
There are two ways to be considered an expert:
Be a Great Teacher
Another way to become talked about is to be a terrific teacher.
If you're not a world expert on any topic, how do you give students the most incredible experience?
Most teachers in traditional settings aren't as in tune with the needs of their students. Their income doesn't rely on students enjoying their classroom experience.
You can be different.
You can give students a life-changing experience. You can listen to what they're saying and adapt accordingly.
Generally, online teachers are better because they have to be. Their livelihood depends on being 10x better than the status quo.
Every course is a promise for a transformation. Whether that includes:
An excellent curriculum helps gets the student over the finish line and delivers on its promise.
Does the market need what you're selling? Does it solve a problem or provide a transformation for a specific demographic?
The skills you're looking to teach also need to be something that's in demand. To find true "Course-Market" fit, you need to choose a niche topic- while small, is growing fast.
For example, teaching how to use "Windows 95" wouldn't make for a particularly profitable course today; however, if you launched it when "Windows 95" emerged, you'd be able to generate a substantial amount of revenue.
Today, the equivalent might be helping someone get started with using Airtable to manage their finances.
It isn't challenging to determine if you have "Course-Market" fit or not.
A simple rule of thumb: "if you need to ask, you don't have it."
As described by individuals who run the top courses put it, it's impossible to mistake it.
Growth is so immediate that everything starts to break. You have students showing up, and you have no idea from where they arrived. Students are loving the program and recommending it to their friends and family.
If the organic growth of your program significantly outpaces your paid growth, then you're well on your way.
Unfortunately, most creators will never find "Course-Market" fit. It's not because they aren't great teachers- instead, they don't know how to listen to the market's needs and iterate on that feedback.
In this final segment of this blog post, we'll go through a 3-part framework that will help you find the elusive "Course-Market" fit.
Rarely when individuals talk about building a prototype are they referring to in the education use case; however, this is critical to the process.
Don't spend 100+ hours building a course without first validating it. Instead, create lightweight prototypes via:
If no one will pay attention to your free content, no one will pay attention to your paid content.
Only once you have validation that individuals are resonating with your message does it make sense to build your course.
Whether it's qualitative or quantitative data, you need to pulse on how students receive your curriculum.
You should do this through regular surveys and tracking attendance. You can even use a tool like Virtually to help automate the process.
Note: You must evaluate the curriculum and your performance as an instructor separately.
Now that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your program, you can iterate.
A simple rule of thumb:
A mistake so many course creators make is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Until you've found "Course-Market" fit, you need to run through this cycle over and over again.
Even then, you should run through it to find your next breakthrough opportunity. The best entrepreneurs I've met never stop innovating.
One of the best ways to iterate quickly on your course is to leverage the cohort model.
Cohort-based courses allow you to iterate in real-time rather than building out the course and getting feedback after the fact.
You can get feedback in one session and have a fix and ready by the next live session.
Finding a "Course-Market" fit is not necessary for building a business. It is, however, essential to building a high-growth, profitable internet business.
Fortunately, not many people can methodically iterate on their ideas to find it. If you follow the techniques highlighted in this post, you've now significantly increased your likelihood of finding it.
Ish is the Founder & CEO of Virtually (YC S20).