Three weeks ago Josh Comeau pre-launched his first course and sold over half a million dollars in just a few days.
After the launch Josh shared his learnings on IndieHackers and answered many reader questions in the comments. It turned a goldmine with takeaways on audience growth and launching a course.
In this post I synthesise the insights from Josh’s answers.
Josh is a seasoned software developer and an active contributor on Twitter. He’s been writing code for over 15 years and helps other developers improve through teaching, blogging and speaking. Until last year Josh was working as a Staff Software Engineer at Gatsby Inc.
After a repetitive stress injury led to him leaving his job, Josh took the plunge and started working on his course in August 2020. For the past eight months, he's been working full-time on the course called CSS for JS and his personal blog.
Growing his audience
Josh has been writing for several years. Before publishing on his own blog he wrote on Medium and continuously shared his knowledge despite low traction in the beginning. Fast forward to today, the blog averages over 80-100k visits per month.
After leaving his job Josh started publishing way more on his blog and had a few viral hits. Since early 2020 his numbers went from 10k Twitter followers and 1k email subscribers to 32k Twitter followers and 28k email subscribers.
One of the things that helped Josh grow his subscriber base was writing a 70-page book and giving it away for free. This added about 8k subscribers to his email list.
Apart from the book Josh spent years creating free resources without the intention of monetising the audience. His audience grew organically through Twitter, Reddit and word of mouth.
For the most part I just did it because it was fun, and partially because I thought it might help me land a better job; I wasn't really thinking that it would help me sell a course
If you enter Josh’s online home you’ll encounter a friendly tone and love for details. One example is a little animated avatar on his website that asks if you want to join the newsletter. This one stands out compared to a disturbing newsletter pop-up and increased signups by 50%.
Josh has three separate mailing lists: His primary newsletter, the course waitlist, and a third list consisting of people who downloaded his free book. The primary newsletter is by far the biggest. His newsletter tool is ConvertKit.
Shaping the course
Josh has been shaping the course over a span of seven months before the first launch. In the beginning of first working on the course he wasn't really able to use a computer, but he could use a phone, so he created many outlines and did a lot of reading.
Choosing the right topic
Josh picked CSS as the course topic because it has a broad appeal and high potential impact. Josh knew that in a couple of hours he can teach things about CSS that will help other developers for years to come. This wasn’t the same with other topics.
Many developers hate writing CSS; if I can change their relationship with it and make CSS fun, that's transformative!
A custom course platform
As if the content of a course wasn’t enough work, Josh built his own course platform from scratch. He knew he could have saved hundreds of hours by using existing course platforms like teachable but with his own platform he can embed one-off widgets and mini-games. This makes the course stand out to others and provide a better learning experience to students.
A big part of Josh’s course landingpage consists of social proof. Throughout his journey he built friendly relationships with the people who gave testimonials. Some people where fellow conference speakers and others he met on Twitter.
Josh reached out to the people he knew and asked them if they could check out the course and write something about it. He reported that it was uncomfortable for him to reach out but everyone was more than willing to write a testimonial.
Josh went for an early access launch, which means that people who purchased are able to access the content, but only about 50% of the course was completed. He aims to launch the course in full by September of this year.
The launch took place almost entirely on Twitter and his mailing list.
Open Cart Week
Josh decided to keep registration open for one week. From Wednesday, March 10th until Tuesday, March 16th.
Free first Module
In order to give people a glimpse into the learning experience Josh opened the first module of the course for free to the public for two consecutive days. This allowed prospects to get a feeling for what they can expect and make first actionable learning steps.
The course launched at $129 + tax which was the special early access price. He expects to sell the full course for $349, though he will also be supporting region-based pricing for lower income countries and different access tiers starting, likely from $129.
In order to prepare for the course and his creator journey Josh read and listened to different resources, here are the books and podcasts he mentions.
The Passion Economy by @adamdavidson
Company of One by @pjrvs
Launch by @JeffWalker
IH podcast by @IndieHackers
The Online Course Show @PianoIn21Days
I love how open Josh is about how he launched his course, and how willing he is to share details and the backstory. My personal take away though was the chain of contribution in the years before the launch.
Josh has a lot of great content, I barely read any of his blog but knew his course was going to be high signal and a good use of my time as I can see the thought put into the blog.
What appears like an over-night success was Josh consistently engaging the practice of helping other people get better.
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