Entrepreneurs everywhere are beginning to realize the magic of community-powered courses, and it's taking digital learning by storm. But what are CPCs, exactly? Are they the right fit for you? And how do you create experiences that enhance student outcomes?
SPI CEO Matt Gartland joins our host Jillian to answer all of that. Today, we go all in on how community is reshaping educational content. We dive into the benefits but also steer course creators away from trendy methods that don’t make sense for most brands. Matt and Jillian compare CPCs and CBCs—cohort-based courses—in an acronym- and strategy-packed bonanza.
You’ll also get a sneak peek at SPI’s All Access Pass. This brand-new community-powered education experience is the ultimate way to take on our courses at your own pace and connect with fellow entrepreneurs.
We like to say that SPI Media is a community company, and we try to lead by example. Listen in on this episode to get a look at the inner workings of our business and how you can apply these strategies to your own.
Matt is a 5x startup founder/co-founder with 3 meaningful exits to date. Today, Matt serves as CEO of SPI Media, a venture he co-founded with good friend Pat Flynn to take the SPI business to the next level. His entrepreneurial career spans digital media, e-commerce, and the creator economy. Beyond his own ventures, Matt is an advisor to and/or angel investor in such tech companies as Circle, Karat, Maven, and Supercast.
- Connect with Matt on LinkedIn
In This Episode
- How SPI’s All Access Pass rethinks online learning for better student outcomes
- Community-powered courses versus cohort-based courses
- Does integrating community and courses make sense for your business?
- Why cohort-based courses are still powerful experiences
- The concept and story behind Heroic Online Courses
- An inside look at SPI’s MBA, our top-tier community
- What should you focus on if you’re a solopreneur building a community?
- Get a sneak peek at SPI’s All Access Pass
- Find out about our communities for entrepreneurs at any level
- Learn how to create Heroic Online Courses
- Subscribe to Unstuck—our weekly newsletter on what's working in business right now, delivered free, straight to your inbox.
- Maven.com—our platform of choice for cohort-based courses
- Grow your newsletter with SparkLoop.app
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 064: Hot Takes on the State of Community with Matt and Jillian of Team SPI
Matt Gartland: If you have an idea for an education product, but you're maybe not totally sure this is the idea, it's going to work. You can test that idea if you do a more live instruction model, a la CBC or potentially now the emergence of these hybrid versions like CPCs. You potentially can get something to market quicker, start to generate revenue, income from the thing, you can sell it or pre-sell it or whatever, and then get feedback! Was this curriculum valuable? Did it help solve problems? Did it help with the big transformation that maybe you're trying to play into, right?
Jillian Benbow: Well, hello, it's your hostess with the mostest, Jillian B, Jillian Benbow, and this is the Community Experience Podcast. And welcome, nice to talk to you again. Today I'm talking to none other than the CEO of SPI Media, AKA my boss, but also a pretty cool dude, Matthew Gartland. And we're talking about all the things we're doing in community at SPI. I just want to clarify before I just send you right into the spicy takes, the hot takes of where community is going and community powered courses and all of that, just so it makes sense, we use some SPI jargon that I would like to make sure you know for context. So we have SPI Pro, that is the first community we ever launched. That is, you have to fill out an application and if you feel like a right fit, you are accepted to join and then you pay and you join. And it's the best time ever, happily ever after obviously because that's how community works. So we have that, that's SPI Pro.
We launched something called the Academy, which is a completely separate community than SPI Pro. So it's like two different Circle communities. It's kind of like, if you are familiar with Slack, you might be in a Slack, or not channel, you could be in a Slack for say your company. Then you may have a totally separate Slack for something you volunteer with or a community or something like that. Think of it like that. You can toggle between, but they're distinctly separate. So the Academy and Pro, you with me? Meet me there.
Okay. So just to note, in the Academy we have all of our course community spaces that used to be on Facebook and we moved over, which I know I've talked about before. That's a whole thing that I was very adamant about. So basically now if you pay for one of our courses, and by the DIY I own this course and have lifetime access, if you do that, you get access to a space within the Academy that is all about that course where you can talk to other students who are going through things, yada, yada. It's also where you can access our weekly office hours replays because Pat does weekly office hours. If you purchase one of our courses, you get access to that. So you can join, it's a Zoom call webinar sort of situation where you ask questions and he answers and he does it for an hour every week, most weeks.
Then we decided, hold my beer, and we launched something called the Learner Community, which is also in the Academy, but separate from these course spaces. So the Learner Community is a down sell of Pro. If you're not quite ready for Pro or you can't invest the hundred bucks a month, that Pro costs, you can join the Learner Community. It's 30 bucks a month, it's a lot less programming. It is not designed for people who already have a business that is running, it's more for beginners. Ta-da.
Now when you listen to this, this will be launched, we are launching something called the All Access Pass in the Academy. So again, Learner, courses and now All Access Pass are all in the Academy. SPI Pro is separate. So in All Access Pass, that is access to our entire course catalog as a subscription. So you do not own the material, you just have access to all of it for as long as you are subscribing to that membership. And then what Matt and I talk about a bunch is the programming, the community powered part of community powered courses that is All Access. That's the bulk of this call.
But man, let me tell you, just had to make sure because I don't want you super confused. And then I believe we talk about MBA a little bit. That is back over in the Pro community. That is an upsell in Pro for very advanced business owners who want to talk about just more strategic, bigger things. Yeah. Okay. Enough from me. Here is the spicy takes, the hot takes with none other than Matthew Gartland, CEO of SPI Media.
Jillian Benbow: All right, I am excited for this episode. I am with SPI Media CEO, Matthew Gartland.
Matt Gartland: I'm back. I'm so excited to be back.
Jillian Benbow: You're back.
Matt Gartland: Thanks Jill.
Jillian Benbow: Yay. Yeah, and we are about to have a whole bunch of fun because this is hot takes.
Matt Gartland: Spicy.
Jillian Benbow: Spicy hot takes. Yeah, we, unsurprisingly, have lots of opinions and there's just a lot going on in the community sphere right now. And there's this term that kind of just popped up. Matt knows I've been investigating who's the first person who said this? And the term is community powered courses. And we have a lot to say about this. This is something without that name we've been working on for a long time and are about to launch something very aligned with this. So when this all of a sudden became the hot new goss, we're like, oh, we got to talk about this.
Matt Gartland: Let's get on the mic, let's stake some territory here. No. It's exciting though. And yeah, I guess from my vantage point, when you're kind of in your little secret lair and you're working on things, you don't necessarily think about how to position this in the market at that point in time, but all of a sudden, yeah, there's some colliding force or forces just in the community space that's like, okay, cool, now this thing has arisen. So it's like, oh yeah, that kind of maps. And it's validating even to the work we've been doing, I want to say since Q1, on this product that's launching. And it's like, okay cool, we're not crazy. This notion of essentially hybridizing an experience that incorporates really thoughtful and intentional education with community elements and experiences and in best practices and finding the intersection of those two things. That's what we've been endeavoring to do since, again, Q1. It's like, okay cool, community powered courses, cool, flag. That's great.
Jillian Benbow: I was like, whoever came up with that term, I will purchase you a beer or beverage of your choice. Because I mean, it's a great term. And I think there's a distinction between that idea and cohort based courses, which has been like, that was the darling last year, this whole CBCs. And not to say, I still think there's a very important place in the market for a cohort based course, but I also think there is a definite distinction in strategy and just everything between the two.
Matt Gartland: Absolutely. So if we kind of zoom out and take a slightly wider view with some historical view of that included, we had DIY courses, we've done a lot with that obviously at SPI, I think we're up to close to 20 DIY courses in our total catalog if you also include our mini-course workshops in that count as well. And we've been doing those, Pat and I, since late 2016 I think, or early 2017. So we have tons of reps and experience and that's where a lot of the crystallization in this market, that we now call the creator economy, to manifest something that could be sold, you can monetize your expertise that way. That's kind of where a lot of this first really gelled.
But then yes, with CBCs and we can think about Thiago Forte and Dave Perel and some of those folks that were really early into then an alternative way to deliver that value that was more higher touch, more private, more exclusive. And that Jill, is what you just said, these cohort based courses, and I couldn't tell you either who gets credit for that term, Maven as a tech company, maven.com has really planted a big flag in that space and we actually use that platform for our CBCs. We call them bootcamps.
But now I think what you and I, again, have been really spicy about since the beginning of the year, it's like, okay, what's the next thing? Because the DIY approach and the CBC approach are almost completely compartmentalized away from each other, in terms of how you could technologically deliver that and bring people together and facilitate a broader experience. How can we find something in the middle? How can we build something now that technologies have advanced, et cetera, to hybridize that. And I see it almost, if you want to in your mind's eye, draw a bell curve in terms of standard market modeling. Okay, cool. I think the bell, the big part of the bell is going to be these hybridized things. I think that's where a lot of the puck is going in terms of interest, how people want to learn, how they want to connect, how they want to remain connected with people post experience, post education experience. I think that's the new bell that everyone's going to rush into. So yeah, it's like, okay, let's go there.
Jillian Benbow: And spicy hot take for me, not to be a hater, but I'm already seeing, so this whole community powered courses and things, I think a lot of people are getting caught up in the shiny thing and are like, "Oh, what should I make a course on?" And I'm interested to see, I predict, I'll say it here now, a prediction that isn't that groundbreaking, I'm sure other people have thought it, there's going to just be an influx of low quality courses and attempts at this and it may kind of muck the waters a bit for people who do have real expertise and quality content to deliver.
And so I'm interested to see how those of us who identify as the latter navigate this and come out on top to be like, "Yeah, no, we know what we're talking about. We're an authority in this." And I think, I mean not to brag, but I think SPI, we're going to be okay in this because we've established a reputation. But I'm interested, what are your thoughts on creators who are interested in doing this and do have the expertise that's worth sharing, but maybe don't have the brand recognition?
Matt Gartland: That happens in everything.
Jillian Benbow: It does, but especially in digital entrepreneurship, let's be honest.
Matt Gartland: Oh, of course.
Jillian Benbow: There's a lot of just clout chasing and fake.
Matt Gartland: When Amazon KDP first came on the scene for self-publishing, just the flood gates opened with book publishing and folks claiming authorship. And that's true. I'm not saying it's not true, in a very binary way, it's like, yes, you published a book, but I think it was even Seth Goden back in the day talking about that. It was like, "Hey, when anyone can publish a book, most people will and the majority are going to be crap." Or that wasn't the exact quote, but that was the point Seth was making. And we see this time and again, whenever the barriers to entry in anything come down from a technology standpoint, from the cost of that technology to the ease of use of that technology to its accessibility to different platforms, to its integration capabilities within other platforms. Because all of us in our space still trying to build our email list, so long as we can integrate with our chosen ESP flavor of the day, then okay, cool, going to even make it that much more, I think probably, I don't know, potent in terms of something to invest time and energy and to train to do so. But yeah, coming back to just, I guess we're calling them now, CPCs, Community Powered Courses.
Jillian Benbow: Another acronym under the belt.
Matt Gartland: Well again, in terms of I think just I dare say universal trends that are just never going to go away is people are going to replicate each other. People are going to like, okay, I don't know what this thing is. Okay cool, this looks exciting, this sounds like a sexy term. No flipping clue how to maybe do it, do it well, to your point around quality. And this is where I think SPI continues to have an advantage, I dare say, is we'll lead, we love leading. We love leading by example. So I fully expect that once our product is out there and we get amazing folks to subscribe and tried value and experience this, whatever, there'll be some knockoffs.
But that's like, that's part of being an entrepreneur and trying to build into arguably anything in terms of how you want to help people and serve, is someone's going to love what you do and start to take big or small ideas away from that and try to repurpose that. And no, I'm not overly criticizing it honestly, to be clear. It's just like that's what innovation looks like. So here we are at the dawn of the next big thing, trademark TM on top of this cohort or community powered course model. And that's going to happen. It's going to happen to us, it's going to happen to other people that have the intention and drive, motivation and resources, capital resources, human resources, talent resources, to try to do this. It's going to happen. And that's okay.
Jillian Benbow: I think it's also okay too just to give, as a community builder listening, give yourself permission to not. We're obviously super excited about this, but we've been in that community ed tech venn diagram for a while, so this makes perfect sense with our business model. I think there's going to be, like all shiny things, because it's so community specific and the buzzwords are a flying and just the ease of how you can do it now with platforms having LMS systems built inside them, it makes it a lot easier, but it doesn't mean you have to. If you're like, "Oh I have to do this because everyone's doing it and everyone's talking about all this money they're making," it's like, well, don't compare yourself to the Instagram version of whatever someone else's touting because it's one, probably a little embellished, but two, really good communities can survive without adding an education component on it. However, if you're like us and that is a part of what you do, this is gangbusters. I'm so excited.
Matt Gartland: Exactly. No, that's a remarkably important point, especially for folks that are earlier in the journey, they're still solopreneurs or they're still beginning to build a team, don't have one fully, anywhere in that earlier stage phase of their small business or startup, is you have to be, or at least I guess teach this from a business strategy standpoint is you have to be ruthlessly selective with where you're going to put your focus and your time and your limited resources. Again, energy versus mental health resources, just your mental health period. And certainly your financial resources in terms of what you can bring to bear. So this may not be the right next move for you if you are in fact excited and curious about community, it might be something else. Or even again Zoom, this space at large with education, maybe a DIY course is the first move for you if you don't even have that product.
We still believe highly in the relevance of that as a vehicle to deliver value to people, to audiences based on your skill or craft. That's never going to go away from our model. But our model is increasingly community oriented as I've probably said 20 times on this show by now. And the way that we're even saying it these days, very much internally first, in terms of our North Star vision statement as a company is SPI Media is a community company. Full stop period. And then there's more text after that, but it starts there. So it makes sense for us to continue to say, okay, these sorts of new concepts are relevant to us, need to be tip of the spear for us to play into that vision to hopefully manifest that vision and intention for the company. But if that's not right for someone else, totally cool, totally cool not to.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, there's a lot of things that happen, even in community where I'm like, I really enjoy watching this from the sidelines and I have no interest in participating, but I'm going to stay abreast to what's happening just because I'm nosy and I like all things community, but there's something really nice about being like, I'm going to opt out of this trend. I'll watch it, but I'm good. We should probably frame too, so Circle, the platform we used, recently launched in LMS, and there are other platforms out there, Mighty Networks has had an LMS baked in for a while. I'm not super sure if Tribe or any of the million, seemingly million other platforms have. So it's not exactly a new concept to have a course within a community.
But I think what the distinction is moving forward, and it's certainly what we are really focused on is this idea that people generally doing a DIY course all on your own, you're much less likely to finish it. It's lonely. There may be comments embedded in lessons and things, but that's not really community. Because there could be a comment from four years ago that you're like, oh, that's the one you would interact with, but that person's not going to reply. So it's a little stagnant. And so this idea of the community powered course is really, and here's the distinction I think between that and a cohort based course, is you can still have that evergreen setup for people to purchase into an experience and start on their own time, but just have more people to talk to because it's within a community of people who, even if they went through that course a year ago, if they're still in the community, they're engaged because you're doing other things. There's specific programming going on that's ongoing.
And so for me, that's obviously where I get super excited. Ashley, our community manager in our Academy, which is where we're launching our new product that we should talk about.
Matt Gartland: We should.
Jillian Benbow: It's been so secret, but let's talk about it. So we're launching something called All Access Pass and basically, it's access to our entire course catalog for a quarterly subscription fee. So you're not purchasing a DIY course and you have it forever. It's not that model, although we do technically still have that. It's the option to get it all and on demand, if you really wanted to, you could buy a quarter membership, go through all our material and then be graduate with honors from SPI. You'd do all our courses.
But it's not just a course catalog. And that's where the community powered courses come in. We have very intentionally been planning out different community events and programming and pathways and ways to really make it just the best experience possible. And I am so excited about it and it launches, depending when you're listening, it probably will not have launched yet actually, now that I'm thinking about it. But you can go to our website to learn more. Matt, you've been super excited about this, I honestly think it was Q3, Q4 of last year that we conceptualized this maybe, I don't even know. It's all a blur.
Matt Gartland: I'm sure the first shot was fired probably. Yeah. Which is crazy because we're recording this at the very end of September, so it's like holy crap, that was a year ago more or less. Yeah. Not that we're trying to again, plant too big a flag here and take credit for the whole model, but again, proud in terms of how we have derived this idea from over two years, pushing two and a half years of experience with straight up community. Led by SPI Pro, we now have three tiers, we launched our Learner tier, our Learner membership, as well as our MBA membership in the summer. Learner being for-
Jillian Benbow: Which I've actually never talked about MBA on here because we're still technically in beta.
Matt Gartland: Yeah, no, I'm here for that too. So gosh, we could just go totally...
Jillian Benbow: Pick a membership, any membership.
Matt Gartland: But let's just stay on All Access for, I guess, a little bit longer. So what I think is really motivating for us is it's not just taking our DIY courses and bolting on, so to speak, something that gets called community about explicitly and only say email marketing. Because we have a course called Email Marketing Magic and cool, bolt on whatever, that's not what this is. It is much more what you described, which is this kind of double helix, if you want to now imagine that in your mind's eye, interwovenness of the education from not just one course but several into a deliberate pathway that then you jump in and out of that, you get extra community, deliberate programming, experiences, connections, resources, and then yes, the network effect of the community itself, to a certain destination, but then when you get there, choose your own adventure style.
You can keep going onto a different pathway, you can elevate, there's different options. I kind of see this as a closer representation of a massive multiplayer online game. There's sort of this world now that we can have a more, I would say, thoughtful digital experience because of the technologies that we can leverage now. And you can join and be a part of that game. You can build your character to keep playing into that, I guess motif. And you can choose your pathways, you can build your little guild with friends or whatever and go through that. And then we take the role and we're proud to as the guide, the mage, the Gandalf character to try to help-
Jillian Benbow: Finally get to be a mage, I'm so excited.
Matt Gartland: Oh gosh, yeah, I just want a staff and magic. That's all I want to do. Anyway, so yeah, that's All Access and again, relevant for us to our vision, our model, how we want to show up and serve entrepreneurs at earlier stages of their journey and really help to bring them to really exciting new points forward on their journey however that's true for them. This is so perfectly aligned. This product type is perfectly aligned to what we're trying to do.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Well, to scope back a bit, so Matt and I very much have aligned on this idea that community at SPI, which is basically what we do, it's very much I like to use the Legend of Zelda as my explanation, except I always forget what the actual character is named. It's not Zelda.
Matt Gartland: Link.
Jillian Benbow: Link, yes, I'm not a gamer but I try hard to-
Matt Gartland: I think you lose 10 house points for that.
Jillian Benbow: I know. It's okay, it's okay. I'll admit it. If it's not Super Mario Bros. 3 on a Super Nintendo, it's beyond my scope, so I'm very limited. But the concept remains that you're Link, you come into our world and we're going to help you along the journey. And so they'll be checkpoints and levels and you'll level up and face maybe not too scary of a dragon, but you may face frustration while you grow your email list while following our guidance and all of that.
Yeah. But I'm so excited especially about this concept. A pain point I have with online courses, DIY courses, education in general is, especially if you're recording things and you're launching something, it never fails that whatever you're doing will become outdated. And it's hard, it's a lot of work, it's a lot of lift to update, say a course. And things change. And it's certainly something we experience. We update our courses when we can, but things evolve quickly as we know in this world. And so this community powered course especially gives such a great opportunity to create supplemental modules or education or tips or tricks, bring people in and have an increasingly growing catalog of additional assets that adding to a DIY course I just don't think would be as exciting or obvious. If you're a member of All Access Pass, you know that we have a schedule where we're adding additional content and it may be relevant to you. Versus if you bought one of our courses three years ago and we make an update, you might not, it just isn't the same vibe to go back and be like, Oh, what was that update?
This is very intentionally supposed to be an ongoing and very engaging experience. That I'd argue is also, I love a cohort based course. The comradery we've seen in our past bootcamps. We still have a mastermind from the last Heroic Online Courses Bootcamp that happened, they are still going, they still meet every week. And so certainly there's that piece in a cohort based course, but just the nature of how we're looking at community powered courses just takes that and up levels it. Link's next level. And so I am excited, I'm excited to just see once we get some members in, once we open the doors to All Access, what do people want? What workshops should we do next week? And then of course record it, add resources and have evergreen support materials. I'm just so excited.
Matt Gartland: All of that warms my heart. There's a really big idea, at least I guess to me in the business chair thinking about the vision and strategies to manage and grow a business, is that there is built in market research and product validation if you listen, if you ask the right questions at the right time and if you can harness what you're hearing and seeing. And I don't even believe that that's limited to, now, the notion of a community powered course, but even going back to again what we call bootcamps, so cohort based courses that are time bound. They're 3, 4, 5, 6 week long, there's no right or wrong answer to that. I couldn't quote you what Build a Second Brain runs, that's Thiago Forte's flagship CBC, or Rite of Passage, which is Dave Perel's. They're different lengths. Dickey Bush at Ship 30 for 30 has another phenomenal CBC. And they're all obviously different in their choices. But I guess the point that I'm trying to get to this big idea is if you have an idea for an education experience, for an education product, but you're maybe not totally sure this is the idea, it's going to work. Maybe because you're again, earlier in your process and you don't have an audience of a size that you might determine, it's like, okay, maybe I'm still quote unquote small and I don't know if this is going to work. You can test that idea again, what I would strongly submit, in a lower risk way. If you offer a cohort based course experience because you're not going all the way deep into video recording, post production editing and all the other things that would be necessary for your traditional DIY course, you're just making a bigger bet before you get any sort of validation on the back end of it.
So if you do a more live instruction model, CBC or potentially now the emergence of these hybrid versions like CPCs, you potentially can go faster, get something to market quicker, start to generate revenue, income from the thing, you can sell it or pre-sell it or whatever, different business mechanics there, and then get feedback. It's like, cool, was this curriculum valuable? Did it help solve problems? Did it help with the big transformation, that maybe you're trying to play into. Or holy crap, I swung and missed. And that's valuable too. If you can learn that and learn that fast before you've sunk a lot of time and maybe dollars into a DIY course because again you hired a videographer or you hired an editor to help you edit the videos and all that other stuff.
Yeah, I would, and I do, I'm probably again, too loud on this one point, but void of understanding people's individual circumstances, I would generally recommend consider or tilt the playing field and give more consideration to a more live instruction or hybrid model before going straight to DIY. That's what we did with Heroic Online courses. That came around, Pat and I co-created the concept, we launched it first as a cohort on Maven, maven.com. And then because that was successful and we had such great feedback and response to it, it's like okay cool, now we can go next step and create the on-demand DIY version. Because we had that validation, we had the confidence to know that the branding, the messaging, the general curriculum, now we can create a self-serve model. And so that's what we ended up doing.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, let's talk more because like you said, you're sitting in the business chair, the business professional in the room. I think it's really valuable to hear more about just some best practices on testing things to market. Again, we get excited about the big shiny thing and it's like I'm going all in, I'm going to create a whole suite of courses and blah blah blah. And then you spend all that time when in reality that's not what your members or audience actually wanted. So obviously asking is a great first step, but talk me through, this is turning into an interview. Gotcha.
Matt Gartland: You duped me.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I did.
Matt Gartland: There it is.
Jillian Benbow: Talk me through just, so Heroic Online Courses is a perfect example. It's one of our newer courses. We really like doing a live bootcamp cohort based course model with it. How did even the topic, how did y'all decide, you know what we need, you know what the people need, and then just knowing that that is what you wanted to test and then obviously it validated itself. But even pre-validation, like where did conceptualized and...
Matt Gartland: Sure. So oh gosh.
Jillian Benbow: Give us the hot goss, man.
Matt Gartland: Great question. As you know with me, there's always some three dimensional chess multidimensional answer. So-
Jillian Benbow: I can't wait.
Matt Gartland: Bear with me. Point one, is that we had heard for years through feedback in different capacities. So on social media to Pat, host experience from some of our other courses around, say Power of Podcasting, so learning podcasting, different versions of the same idea. It's like, man, Power of Podcasting, great. I wish you had something like this about courses itself. Or in some of our collaborations with Teachable that we have a longstanding relationship with, a great platform option if you're getting into DIY courses. We've done a lot with them in terms of free events and summits and stuff like that. We have been asked, and even Teachable itself has said kind of behind the scenes, "You guys could have a meta course or do something meta, like a course on courses."
Jillian Benbow: The course course.
Matt Gartland: Right. There's this long standing amorphous, non-specific thought of, man, that's a need. Clearly we're hearing this in different ways, but it just wasn't focused, it wasn't sharp because there's just so much in this ed tech or just education space. Okay, how do we teach this? What constraints do we want to put on this? And I guess that leads me the point too is we had to figure out the constraints. One major constraint that we chose, but again, we weren't sure if it was going to be a good constraint in terms of trying to bring focus to our offering. What are we promising by way of this experience and not over promising. That's critical. Is we said, okay, we're not going to do the full kit and caboodle of course creation from raw idea you had in the shower all the way to everything is finished, you're launching and here's your marketing plan.
Literally all of that, it's too massive. So we said, okay, we're going to go more on the front end of that creative experience and say, okay, from the shower moment idea through to essentially the plan. So you've taken this nugget amorphous idea that you might have for a course to support your business and your brand. And we're going to test that idea. We're going to start to give it structure by way of curriculum design. We're going to start working on the beginnings of your positioning copy for your course in a way that is imbued with really, I guess, time tested and effective copy writing disciplines and manifest that as the first version of even a landing page sales page thing. You're going to work on your production plan to film your course, the timelines you're going to need, the deadlines that you should have for yourself, so that by the end of our curriculum you will have everything you need, the blueprint for the house, so to speak.
But then we stop there. We don't go beyond that to say, okay, we're going to be with you all the way through your filming, all the way through your editing, all the way through... Because again, that was too much. And this point's becoming long. But we needed to find really important constraints to then test. So then three was, okay, how do we test? And again, I guess this is now repetitive, but we're like, okay, we don't want to just jump right into the machine of creating the DIY version. Let's validate this by selling that concept as a CBC. And it was just, I think one of those happy accidents where we'd been introduced to the Maven team. They weren't even Maven back then. This was really OG days of that company.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, I didn't know that.
Matt Gartland: Yeah, they didn't have that name yet. So we were just really grateful to have been invited privately into their first, they had an experience, to teach folks like us, okay cool, here's our opinion. Meaning Mavens opinion.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, they had their accelerator.
Matt Gartland: How to do this thing well, so Pat and I went through, I mean, it was an exhausting, if I'm honest, six week intense experience. It was a CBC that they delivered to learn these methods and we learned-
Jillian Benbow: A CBC of CBCs.
Matt Gartland: Exactly. Anyway, and from that experience was born HOC, Heroic Online Courses. So anyway, yeah, long answer, three parts, three dimensions. But that's what we did and it worked. And if I may plug, depending on, again, when this posts, we are running our next cohort of Heroic Online Courses on the Maven platform. The products come lightyears from where it was when we started. I'm proud to say. So yeah, I guess anyone's out there that's even remotely curious around the subject matter of getting really good at conceptualizing and crafting a really strong online course, like a DIY online course. And also hint hint, if you want to study the mechanics of a cohort based course and kind of study our methods and how we do it, we'd love to have you. You can go to maven.com and find us there. We can probably put a link to it in the show notes.
Jillian Benbow: I think I can manage that. And by I, I mean, the team.
Matt Gartland: Enrollment's open now.
Jillian Benbow: Can't help yourself.
Matt Gartland: Nope, can't help it.
Jillian Benbow: There's no soliciting on my show, Matthew. Just kidding. Just kidding. Actually I think it's the super meta, the meta of the meta because you can go and experience a CBC, work on a DIY course that you could then potentially sell as a CBC to test it out, from whatever you created in Heroic Online Courses. Boom.
Matt Gartland: Yep. Completely, completely. So gosh, we should try to bend it back. Let's bend it back.
Jillian Benbow: I will say though, even one of our staff members, Mindy, did the course and created a course, a solutions based course from it. So we like our own products. Okay, well I have a pivot back, but along the way, one more spicy take. Something else that's very hot in the world of kind of community but also just digital businesses is newsletters. Newsletters have gotten so hot and a lot of platforms are creating an easier way to identify with sponsors. We've launched a newsletter Unstuck that is doing great and we're leveraging ConvertKit's sponsorship options. So it's been fun. It's been fun to see the results. However, I am curious, just your thoughts on this idea that a newsletter list, an audience list is a community. Because I have strong opinions that it is not a community, it is an audience. But I'm curious just where you're sitting and I think there's an opportunity for sure, but let's just talk a little bit about newsletters as a shiny thing.
Matt Gartland: As a shiny thing. They are-
Jillian Benbow: In reference to community. Yeah. Love them, don't get me wrong.
Matt Gartland: I take the same position, not to be antagonistic to the opposing, I would say, position from a debate class standpoint I guess. But I have never regarded really email by itself as quote unquote community. It can be a gateway into community. It can include pseudo community elements, but as the canvas to really facilitate community. That's where I think it kind of falls apart in my brain in terms of the logic of that. Email is wonderful to invite people into a different deeper level of the thing you're building, especially obviously in the digital world. And it's wonderful that there's now seemingly some new flurry or burst of inspiration and creativity around what newsletters can be and adaptation on those things. And we can thank our friends over at Morning Brew for, I think, pioneering a lot of these concepts and mechanics and things that might get a little bit closer to quote unquote community around referrals, referral mechanisms to help, well, yes, grow their list, but that gets more people involved and it's just tapping into then your friends and family network because you're sharing it like wildfire.
So that sharing idea is getting a little bit into network effects and network dynamics a la maybe community. And then there's platforms if you want to kind of, again, scratch that yourself, like Spark Loop, I think it's sparkloop.app, A-P-P, that then makes some of those mechanics accessible to folks like us and folks maybe like you to bring into your newsletter. But just as a straight up thing, I don't see it as community. That's not a dig on it. It's just, okay, it serves a different need at a different point as a part of the collage of things that you're probably thinking about to build an effective online business.
Jillian Benbow: I think it always goes back to the age old adage of is it a one to many conversation? Because that's an audience. The many is an audience versus a community is collaborative at it's very core. It's many to many.
Matt Gartland: There's a great phrase from, I believe it's Dave Bates, an executive coach, he's my executive coach just to be transparent with it. Not to say that. He's dabbled in community, I think Jill, you know that a little bit. But anyway, he's been a part of Seth Goden's Akimbo community and stuff from I think the early days. But this kind of poetic phrase from Dave is that in a community, shucks, Dave's going to kill me because I'm butchering this. People will miss you when you're gone or people will miss you when you're not showing up and not there is the essence of it. So I didn't get that verbatim. And I don't see how that's possible with email. If Jill, you have the world's best newsletter on alpine skiing, maybe you do, and I subscribe to it, but then I stop opening your emails. And especially if then your newsletter takes off because it's the bees knees, then I become an increasingly infinitesimally small piece of this larger list that you have.
You're never going to know if I stop opening and stop paying attention. So I will not be missed by you in that hypothetical. But especially then, I mean it's a pretty drastic jump as a comparative, but to our beloved new MBA community to where we have a very select group of folks in our first cohort, only 20. And again, these are entrepreneurs at a more advanced level and working on their business. That's I guess the center that, because we didn't really come back to that actually. And that's kind of the thrust of that community. My gosh, if Jeremy or Marla or Diane don't show up for office hours or don't post one of their status reports on a Monday, especially if they miss a couple Mondays or something, it's like, okay, where are they? Are they okay?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Matt Gartland: So anyway, it's such a very different thing and a different experience. Not even just in the pixels of the internet, but I will over dinner potentially be like, man, I'm really worried about Jeff who's going through some stuff. And it's like, gosh, I hope he's okay right now. That's not going to happen arguably with someone that's just on your email list.
Jillian Benbow: Oh absolutely. Yeah, I agree. I agree. Shockingly. Also, newsletter idea, the bees skis.
Matt Gartland: There you go. Go buy the domain right now.
Jillian Benbow: I know. Rush, rush. Go. Add it to the list of domains. Matt was sharing some of the many domains he owns with me via Slack or text. And they're amazing. So we'll see who gets the bees skis first.
Matt Gartland: There you go. Love it. Love it.
Jillian Benbow: So, let's wrap it up a little. What are your predictions with community powered courses and just this kind of era that community is entering?
Matt Gartland: Well, depending on how you want to interpret this, it could be a net positive or a net negative I think.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, go on.
Matt Gartland: There's going to be a lot of experimentation. I see it kind of going bang shotgun with some of these thoughts where a lot of people I think are still learning the ropes and testing the waters of what just straight up community is. And flexing into Mighty Networks or Circle or some of these other platforms have now adding community as a feature set into their tech. I mean that is still, I think by all measures, relatively in its infancy in terms of the broader creator economy and how things have been changing over the last decade, decade and a half from the OG blogging days. So that alone is still in its infancy and now we're talking about community powered courses and we're talking about what the heck does a newsletter do in maybe some combination with community. So I bet there's a lot of experimentation across a wide swath of people in different market segments and I am all here for that.
But, and here comes the but, a lot of people are going to struggle and sustaining a lot of these things is always the devil. A lot of these things won't sustain. A lot of people realize community's hard, it's awesome, it's worth trying. And if it's consistent with how you want to show up on the internet and help people, then cool. Maybe that is a one thing that you learn how to do well and that stays. But maybe other aspects of some of this experimentation doesn't. Maybe community powered courses doesn't. So I see the shotgun, I see a lot of experimentation. There's a lot of wonderful unicorn rainbow energy kind of going into it. And again, I'm here for it. But I think the pragmatic side of me then from again a business sense, from the numbers guy sense and all these other things that I have in my brain, that also there's going to be consolidation.
Things are going to be like, okay, cool, I'm going to have to jettison this. I can't keep sustaining this thing that I've been experimenting with. I'm going to have to let that one sunset. I'm going to have to let one go so that I can prioritize and focus on and sustain this one thing that you have now learned through this process to be like, okay, this is the main thing that I want. That's kind of maybe prophecy number one.
There's maybe even a more sub-level prophecy number two, which is it's an opportunity to transform your business model pretty fantastically from A to B. And candidly that's not all that dissimilar in some broad stroke with what we're doing, which I haven't been, I think, bashful about either on this show or in some other stuff where I pop up. So for other folks that maybe especially still really rooted in services, group-based coaching, stuff like that, or there's even folks, Jill, that are in our MBA community that have physical products or other things and they want to transition from said thing to now potentially something that's more kind of community oriented.
Now's the time because it's all new, it's fresh, there's a lot of experimentation. I think there's then ultimately from a consumer standpoint going to be, I would argue, more tolerance. Anytime there's something new and it's like, cool, this is beta, this is prototype, you get a little bit of a pass in terms of, okay, if you play into that energy and you show up in the beta period of something, okay, if it's clunky, if something doesn't work, you kind of get that pass. So it's a good moment if you are motivated to do something different and transform your business, do that now so that potentially as a part of this, again, bang and then consolidation, you can leave behind maybe aspects of your business that you intentionally want to leave behind and transform in something else.
Jillian Benbow: Boom. I will say just an exiting thought, a parting thought, is I do think, I see more and more because a lot of people are trying to create their own community and do it all and it's just them. And looking how we do things and even just these bigger platforms and whatnot that show you all these ideas, we're fully staffed. And so if you're an individual and you're like, I'm going to take on community and courses and now community powered courses and do all these things, even if you're intentionally, if you're not going for huge numbers of membership and all of that, you're going to run yourself empty. You know what I mean?
And you can't possibly do it all, all the time. And so really, really think about protecting your own time. Yeah, there are ways to do things very efficiently, but at the end of the day to sustain, because it is definitely a marathon, but to sustain and keep going and not just completely burn out or frankly have a health event as a result of stress, it is okay to dabble and then say, nope, too much, or just do it slowly.
Yeah, to Matt's point, there's value to getting in early and that is an opportunity to get your name to grow. We've seen it with lots of entrepreneurs that get into things. Pat's a great example of getting into podcasting when it was still pretty new and he was able to find a niche and provide the quality level that exploded his show. So that opportunity is there, but I think there's just always, I'm always going to advocate for boundaries and rest. I'm just throwing that out there. Don't compare your beginning to our middle or someone else's middle, especially if it's just you doing it.
Matt Gartland: Absolutely. Yeah. Big plus one, it's not meant to dissuade anyone from not doing that experimentation, especially not now.
Jillian Benbow: But eyes wide open.
Matt Gartland: Eyes wide open. Cognitive dissonance, you have to hold potentially competing notions in your head at the same time because a lot of it's true, it's like, yes and yes and yes and. And then be genuinely okay, the cliche of the century, but fail fast and fail forward. And that's cool. Again, especially if you're approaching it with that eyes wide open kind of mentality and you potentially even showcase a little bit of that to again, the people you're trying to serve. I think we try to do that even again with our MBA group as I guess my very near and dear example right now. It's like, cool, we're going to experiment with this. We have a lot of theories going into how we want to do this. Give us feedback along the way.
But yeah, I was going to add one other quick PS. To me there's a magic word around a lot of that thinking, which is sequencing. So from a business standpoint, when again, you're trying to build toward a future destination, okay, I have vision, great, cool, visionary and all that energy, I'm here for it to a point. It's like, okay, then you have to plan and you have to go, okay, what's the first chess move that sets up the second chess move, that is called strategy. And then that gets into strategic planning. So yeah, it's like planning your move so that you don't burn out, so that you can respect those boundaries, so that you can take the small bets and hopefully quick bets, get validation or not. Both things are valuable. And keep playing that chess game forward.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, sequins, I love sequins. Or sequencing, but I call it sequins. It makes it more fun, Matt. Matt is rolling his eyes just so everyone knows.
Matt Gartland: Glitter.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. How can we sass this up? All right, well, we will end it there. Open invitation to anyone listening if you want to come check, see how we're doing these things, you can head to smartpassiveincome.com. There's a community page, has all of the things we're doing. By the time you hear this, All Access should be there. But just, yeah, I'd love to bring in anybody that's doing community. If you want to come take a look and just have a little peek behind the curtain and experience it with us. Lots of good things coming. But on that, hit us up on Twitter, SPI, @teamSPI. Or you can hit me up personally @JillianBenbow. Matt does not Twitter, so I will relay hot goss to him. But yeah, let us know, what are you doing with community powered courses or what questions do you have? Let's continue the convo. Yeah, Matt, thanks for coming on.
Matt Gartland: Always a hoot.
Jillian Benbow: Just spitting takes.
Matt Gartland: I will be back.
Jillian Benbow: You will be back.
Matt Gartland: Let's get spicy again sometime.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. All right. Take care.
Jillian Benbow: And that's a wrap with Matt, all about everything we are doing in community, but particularly our All Access Pass, which launches December 5th. And if you're interested, you could head over to smartpassiveincome.com/allaccess, it's just all one word, allaccess, so smartpassiveincome.com/allaccess. We will have a wait list if you want to be reminded of when we do launch. We'd love to have you, of course. And you can always just head to our community page as well if you just want to learn more about all the different things we're doing in community. I'd love to hear, what do you think? Hit me up on the Twitter sphere @JillianBenbow, tell me what you think about where we're taking our company direction. I'd love to continue the convo and I will see you next Tuesday.
Head to smartpassiveincome.com/community, that's smartpassiveincome.com/community to learn more about the All Access Pass and everything else Matt and I talked about today.
Your lead host for the community experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski. And our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.