How I Made $20,739 from a Niche Course Launch

every month i write down a list of goals in my notebook. this month i had something really ambitious in mind: “outline a new course.”

fast forward 2 weeks, i built a landing page in 30 minutes and sold $10k+ in the first 24 hours. no course yet.

a week later my course was done and we sold another $10k before launching today.

in this post i’m sharing exactly how it all happened.

some backstory

i’ve spent the last few years buying and growing small apps. and people ask me: “Ryan, how can i buy and grow small apps?

while i try to be helpful, a lot of these questions are the same. or the opposite: they’re too specific. and it takes serious brain power + free time i don’t have to answer them all thoughtfully.

so finally, on July 4 when i was asked the umpteenth time for free help, i “snapped” with an aha moment — maybe people would pay for this!

i told the person “look, i can’t keep offering free advice on the subject, but if i built a course about it, would you pay for it?

with this nice affirmation i moved on to step two: more validation.

i did what i do best: Tweet.

validating the idea

while most Americans were eating BBQ (Independence Day) i turned this email exchange into a business proposition for strangers on the internet:

https://twitter.com/ryanckulp/status/1146776396666155008

i only have ~3,000 followers, which may sound like a lot but is peanuts considering i’ve consumed myself with Twitter for ~10 years.

usually my witticisms get 0-2 retweets and 3-9 likes. real basic b*tch metrics. but this time was… different.

Hiten Shah and others immediately shared it with their followers, and for that i’m forever grateful. this led to 191 likes and 37 replies. nothing crazy, but a good bump by my standards.

in addition to “yes definitely” sentiments, a few folks replied with specific content they’d like to see in order to consider buying.

this was the extent of my market research phase for the course.

i responded back to the guy who emailed me earlier that afternoon and linked him to the Tweet so he knew i was “on the case.”

let’s make some money

a couple weeks after the July 4 Tweet i got bored while out drinking wine so i ditched my wife and walked to the office around midnight to build a landing page.

i signed up for Podia (referral link), a white label course platform with a simple page builder and great design. combining my original tweet’s bullet points with some of the content requests i managed to jot down titles for 30 lectures.

unsure if this would make any $$$, i didn’t even change the default theme colors. i then recorded a pre launch sales video in one take, with no script, ~drunk.

since the theme colors were purple, and i wear this purple shirt almost every day, it appears intentional and genius.

the next day, hungover, i tweeted again.

within an ~hour, all 25 promo codes sold out.

making $1,875 in < 60 minutes

remember all those people who replied to my July 4 Tweet saying they’d “definitely buy?

yeah, i decided to hold them accountable. i made a spreadsheet of all 23 Twitter handles who replied positively and manually sent each of them a direct message immediately after posting the pre launch sales page.

a few accounts disabled the direct message feature, oh well. and i sent them all a variation of these 3 texts:

  1. yo {{ first_name }}!
  2. < embed link to their tweet expressing purchase intent >
  3. thanks for your interest in the Micro PE course. just opened up pre-launch @ 50% off, will be live Aug 1. < LINK >

surprisingly, many of these people immediately purchased. one guy even purchased prior* to seeing my DM; he was already following along closely.

making $8,000+ in 22 hours

to be honest, i was content with $2k in sales.

it wouldn’t justify my time to record the lectures, but i rationalized it would become a passive income project that pays itself back over time.

that said, why not capitalize on all the resources you have available? so i emailed the list of marketers subscribed to this blog.

now before you pull out your “privilege!” screech, note that my list is only ~700 people. i’ve written nearly 200 essays on this blog since 2012 to earn those 700 subscribers one by one.

anyway, a few hours later the 25 promo codes from my email newsletter also sold out, and folks from Twitter kept buying it at full price.

over the next 24 hours we sold $10,000+ in enrollments and it dawned on me: i have to really make this course!

making the course

producing a course requires a bit of soul searching. i know because i’ve done it twice — Sales Hacking, GrowthX Academy.

you spend weeks or months agonizing over “things you know,” debating if they’re useful enough to share and then further debating how to disseminate the information in an organized way.

as i began creating slide decks, scripts, worksheets, and doodles, it became evident 30 lectures was not enough to give students a zero to one in buying small companies.

so i staffed my wife — the one i abandoned at the bar — and asked her to produce what became some of the greatest content in the course on financial leverage, managing your pipeline, and legal templates.

we ended up shipping 49 lectures.

she was pretty pissed that i promised an August 1 launch date, and it was now July 18 with zero content completed. i further had 7 days booked in a recording studio for my new [music] album, and we were collectively wrapping up multiple software deals at Fork Equity.

i told her: this week is going to suck but it will be awesome. then we didn’t stop working until 4-6am for the next 7 days.

launching the course (again)

i’m a believer that if you owe a debt, it’s literally stupid to pay it back a moment before it’s due.

suppose you have a credit card with $1k expenses. the payment is due on the 15th of the month, and it’s currently the 1st. you could pay it off now, but if you wait until the 15th you’d have 14 days to reinvest that $1,000. maybe you’ll even double your money, effectively wiping out the debt simply by not paying it off early.

similarly, when we finished our course at 6am on Monday morning, July 29, i sort of felt stupid because the launch date wasn’t until 72 hours later, August 1.

so we brainstormed how to extract value from the fact we finished producing content early. the result was this welcome email with a few gamification techniques:

first, i offered enrolled students early access in exchange for sharing the course on social media.

second, i offered a 100% refund to someone that completes the course within a week and scores highly on the quizzes.

third, i whet their appetite with the promise of upcoming bonus content. it was a hedge in case they thought v1 wasn’t worth the full $150. note: this content is being created as i type, NOT a bluff.

finally i inserted an Easter egg, which was inviting them to our affiliate program and then encouraging them to use their affiliate link to get early access (see technique #1).

more than 35 students took advantage of this offer, driving thousands more clicks to the website over the next 72 hours.

sales vs marketing

while most students purchased the course in a “low touch” fashion — visited the URL, clicked buy, no conversation with me — some people needed more information to make the right decision.

to help this group of people self-identify i added a friendly email capture widget to the bottom of the home page:

this let prospective students know that, hey, i understand if you don’t want to buy the course, but maybe we can keep in touch.

around 40 people opted in and i manually emailed each person a message like this:

for those who opted in with a work email, i visited their website first to find a broken link on the home page, or really anything i could do to add a personal touch to my outreach. it worked.

by simply being human, more sales ensued.

at least 5 of the 40 people who opted into the newsletter bought my course within a couple back/forth exchanges.

is this scaleable? no. do i care? hahahhaha. no.

baking marketing into the product

in case we haven’t met, i’m a huge fan of social proof. i’ve even been called an expert, as i run a social proof platform.

so in every one of my ventures, i try to figure out how to get customers to refer more customers. and i pretty much put all my effort into this strategy. no fancy copywriting, no advertising, and no manipulation tactics.

the pre-launch email i sent to ~150 paying students on Monday, July 29 was all we needed to keep sales flowing for 3 more days, leading up to tonight.

as a bonus, since students were encouraged to complete the course quickly (for a chance at a 100% refund), we earned several 10/10 reviews by alumni within the first 12 hours of pre-launch.

immediately i published them on our website:

as you can imagine this further improved signup conversions, especially with “lurkers” who needed more proof before committing.

between July 17 and July 31 we sold $20,739 in enrollments before the course even launched, thanks to students, not me.

one more thing

the impetus of this entire course was that email i received on July 4.

but just because the course is now live, doesn’t mean the email inquiries will go away. if anything i’m expecting even more questions about Micro PE.

to handle this demand we created a paid, private, alumni-only community called Rainmakers.

this has two components: a private messaging board to share new lectures and a Slack team where entrepreneurs can network with one another in channels like #buying, #selling, #marketing, and so on.

starting today, whenever someone asks me about Micro PE i can point them to the course ($150 /once) and then the community ($49 /year).

i repeat: capitalize on what you’ve got.

https://twitter.com/ryanckulp/status/1155882360296157185

and by the way, that person who emailed me July 4 saying “yes, that’s definitely something i would pay for,never bought the course.

i’m not mad, he made me $20k richer. and he still doesn’t know anything about how to buy, grow and sell small companies.

the future of Micro Acquisitions

thanks to all the encouragement, early reviews, and of course sales, i’m amped to continue investing in the course to make it best in class.

here are a few things currently in the works, which i believe can be abstracted and applied to ~any course marketing strategy.

partnerships

it’s too early to announce, but i’m in conversations with leading brokers and Micro PE firms (tech, ecommerce, content) to co-produce exclusive interviews.

serial entrepreneurs and multi-exit founders are also chipping in with guest lectures, presentations, and fat discounts to give students access to the world’s best tools to grow their companies.

affiliates

i made deals with a handful of talented blogger/entrepreneurs who are going to take the course and write detailed, long-form reviews on their own websites.

i will not have any influence over their posts, so if the course sucks everyone in the world will know about it when you search for “micro acquisition course reviews.”

affiliates (advanced)

throughout the course we recommend tools, brokers, and back office services to run your own Micro PE fund. we only recommend what we’ve personally used, by the way.

so after sending a ton of emails and filling out a lot of application forms, many of these links are now referral / incentivized which should increase our student ARPU (average revenue) significantly.

let’s say the average student applies for one of our recommended business credit cards, incorporates a new entity, or hires someone to design their new logo… any single one of these referral links embedded in our show notes pays $5-100 per sale, and we have dozens of them.

cross selling

since we like Podia so much, my wife and i decided to migrate a couple of our other courses like 60 Minute LBO Model and Sales Hacking (cold email automation) so they’re now under the Micro Acquisitions moniker.

where relevant we link to these resources within the Micro Acquisitions flagship course, which in addition to increasing our bottom line also increases our value to students. win win.

as an aside, when i migrated my 200 sales hacking students i had to send them password reset instructions to generate new credentials inside Podia.

think i added a “PS, i have a new course…” to that email? you betcha. and did it convert to more sales? oh yeah.

custom apps

i’m perhaps most excited about this upcoming angle to the Micro Acquisitions platform.

since my wife and i both code, we’re building a few utilities to help our students scale their dealflow and run portfolios smoothly.

things like:

  • legal contract generators (we already provided templates, but pasting values into Google Docs is painful)
  • RSS and API feeds for deals on broker websites, queryable by category / revenue / etc
  • tentative: a lightweight, dealflow-specific CRM for managing your opportunity pipeline, portfolio valuations, and so on

we’ve already integrated Zapier webhooks to send student records to our Rails app database, and all the other stuff is just a few hour hackathons away.

summary

my key learning from this, and my key suggestion to readers is: don’t launch.

if you read this post, looking for special tactics and advanced 37-drip pre launch email sequences, i’ve obviously disappointed you.

there was no launch, no master plan. to recap:

  1. i got a bunch of emails, asking for help with X
  2. i tweeted, asking if people would pay for help with X
  3. people said “yes i would pay
  4. i said “ok go here and pay
  5. people paid
  6. i [actually] made the course

you can de-risk any course launch with the above strategy.

you can also do all of this without automation, without knowing how to code, without building a website, and without hiring a designer.

just use Podia, your brain, and your bare hands.

to sell me your small company, email [email protected].