How to Build a High-Growth Online Bootcamp

Blog
May 18, 2021

As mentioned in a previous blog, we believe that online bootcamps represent the future of online education. For the vast majority of people, online bootcamps are more accessible, more affordable, and provide relevant industry knowledge to students in a fraction of the time. 


In this post, we'll go through the steps it takes to build an online bootcamp. We'll cover the following topics:

  1. Who should build a bootcamp?
  2. Why build a bootcamp?
  3. Starting an online bootcamp
  4. Scaling a bootcamp
  5. Additional resources


Who Should Start an Online Bootcamp?

If you're thinking of starting your own online bootcamp, you should consider the following questions:

  • Why do you want to create a bootcamp?
  • How much time can you dedicate each week?
  • How much capital can you invest? 
  • Why are you the right person to be building this program?
  • What makes your bootcamp unique? 

Starting a bootcamp like starting any business requires careful planning and ruthless execution. 

To build a successful bootcamp, you'll need to master a dozen different skills, including marketing, recruitment, curriculum design, operations, alumni management, and more. 

If you have deep domain expertise, a passion for teaching, and an intrinsic motivation to start your business, building a bootcamp might be right for you. 

Why Should You Start an Online Bootcamp?

We're living in an era unlike any other. There was a time where you could go to college and learn the relevant skills needed to land a job in the industry of your choice; however, since the dawn of the internet, colleges have been failing to land students in positions successfully. 

As a society, we need a better way to upskill and reskill. 


Societal Impact

Bootcamps give flexibility to working professions to grow within their career and transition to a path that is more suited to them. 


Personal Impact

Starting an online bootcamp will also change your life. You'll have the ability to work from anywhere, choose your hours, and build a profitable business in the process. 

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Let's now discuss how to build and scale an online bootcamp. 

Starting an Online Bootcamp

If you've decided to build a bootcamp, the chances are that you already have a good idea of what the area of focus will be. To teach a topic, you first become an expert on the subject. If you can't say you're an expert, consider bringing on someone that is. 

Next, you'll want to define a business model. Most bootcamps have three main business models:

  1. Upfront Payment
  2. Monthly Payments
  3. Income Share Agreements


Upfront

This is the most straightforward solution: Charge students upon admission the total cost of the program. 


Pros: You'll receive the capital you need to run your program right off the bat. 

Cons: You'll weed out many qualified candidates due to financial constraints. 


Monthly Payments

More likely than not, most people won't be able to pay upfront. The average bootcamp will charge between $5,000 - $30,000. If you're in this price range, you'll need a way for students to pay monthly or use an ISA. 


Income Share Agreements

If your bootcamp helps individuals land high-paying jobs and you have high certainty that you can place students in those jobs, you may want to consider using an ISA. An ISA means that students promise to pay a percentage of their future salary in exchange for training. The primary downside of this approach is that, as an institution, you take on quite a bit of risk if you fail to place a candidate. 

On the other hand, ISAs are a great way to derisk the fact that a student chooses to train under you rather than a traditional degree program. ISAs can often be a cheat code for programs that are getting off the ground and need to give students an incentive to take a bet on them. 


Marketing

The next thing you need to do is recruit students. In the early days,  there are only two approaches you should take:

  1. Content Marketing
  2. Cold Outreach

Content Marketing

Write. Blog. Tweet. Make YouTube videos. Start a podcast. Do whatever it takes to prove to the world that you're a subject matter expert. Prove that you know your stuff. 

Over time, you'll build an audience, and many of these individuals will become your first customers. Examples of a few individuals who do this exceptionally well include Austen Allred, Julia Shapiro, and David Perell.

Each runs a thriving online education company in three very distinct industries. 


Cold Outreach

This might seem like the lamest approach ever, but it works. When we first spoke to Mehak Vohra on the Reshaping Education podcast, she said this is how she got started SkillBank (Formerly OnDelta). She scoured LinkedIn and sent cold messages to individuals who seemed like a good fit for the program. 


Eventually, she found a few that decided to pay the hefty price tag. When it comes down to it, converting someone from a cold email is the best indication that there's a need for what you're building. Every business has to leverage some form of sales to land its first customer. Better get used to it early. 


Student Experience

Now that you've assembled your first class, it's time for the fun part: curriculum design. While the exact implementation depends on your specific niche or industry, there are a few principles that we recommend:

  1. Live Group Classes
  2. Community
  3. Hands-on Projects


Live Group Classes

Unless you give them a reason to engage with the material,  many students will fall off the wagon. Most bootcamps aim to efficiently train individuals with relevant industry skills and help them land a job. 

Live classes turn curriculum into a two-way conversation. Instead of passively consuming video lectures, they can ask questions, discuss, and engage with the material. 


Community

There's a reason why universities boast about their alumni network. Any program's institution's alumni represent the caliber of their graduates. It directly defines your brand. If you're able to foster a thriving community, everything becomes more straightforward.

As much as everyone would love to get 1-on-1 support from an instructor, this isn't feasible for the vast majority of programs.  


Hands-on Projects

Studies have shown over and over that we retain knowledge by practicing what we've learned. Homework assignments are acceptable, but they shouldn't be theoretical. Bootcamps, more than any University program, can prepare candidates for the workforce. 

Do this by creating work that emulates work in the industry. The closer the experience, the higher likelihood that the student will land a job after graduation. 


Scaling

If you've found something that works, the natural next step is to take it to the next level. Scaling is just as hard as the previous step- just with a completely different set of challenges. 

Here are the techniques that we've found that work to help programs scale:

  1. Leveraging Your Alumni Community
  2. Implementing an Admissions Process
  3. Facilitating Peer Learning
  4. Using Powerful Tools

Leveraging Your Alumni Community

If you deliver a tremendous curriculum, the best students will naturally wish to come back and help out in some capacity. Use them to lead mentor groups, office hours, or lectures. No one understands the culture of your bootcamps and how best to deliver the curriculum that students that went through it themselves and excelled! 


Implementing an Admissions Process

If you decide to leverage an ISA, you're on the hook for students who don't find placement after the program ends. The only way to build a sustainable business is to invest in students willing to put in the work. 

A solid admissions process will help you find these individuals. Many bootcamps will usually leverage an async assignment or project to test students' determination to join the program. 

The "pre-work" needs to be simple enough for anyone to get started but difficult enough to weed out the bad apples. 


Facilitating Peer Learning

Peer learning is powerful. While as an instructor, you're only able to provide personalized education to just a handful of students each week, with peer learning, you'll be able to reach nearly everyone. 

Peer learning lets the students that are ahead gain mastery by mentoring students who are struggling. Students teaching other students is the most critical ingredient to attaining scale. 


Using Powerful Tools

While spreadsheets and no-code tools can get you most of the way there- the only way to scale is powerful leverage tools to manage the relationships between you and your students. 

To do this, you'll need a great Student Relationship Manager. You could use a tool like Salesforce, but we recommend taking a look at Virtually. It was explicitly designed with bootcamps in mind and comes built-in with support for payments, live classes, and student management. 


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Further Resources


To hear about the journey of four incredible founders and how they build their online bootcamps, listen to these episodes of the Reshaping Education Podcast.


The Shopify for Online Bootcamps

In order to make education more accessible and affordable for all, Virtually is building a suite a tools to power online bootcamps. The platform comes built-in with support for payments, live classes, and student management.

Our customers include the very vest programs around the world, including:

Building your own online bootcamp? Learn how Virtually can help.

Ish Baid

Ish is the Founder & CEO of Virtually (YC S20).