The SaaS Podcast
How a High-School Teacher Earned $5 Million With Online Coding Courses – with Rob Percival 
Rob Percival is a former high school math teacher from England who started teaching people to code. He posted his first online web development course for $199 in June 2014 and only made 1 sale in the first 24 hours.
Since then he's gone on to launch several coding courses with well over 500,000 students and has generated over $5 million in revenue.
You can find his online courses at Udemy.com. The topics range from web and mobile development courses to Ruby on Rails & Python programming and database development.
He's also the founder and managing director of Eco Web Hosting, a company that focused on environmentally friendly web hosting and packages that are 100% carbon neutral.
[00:11] Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast.
[00:15] I'm your host Omer Khan and this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their strategies and insights to help you build, launch and grow your business.
[00:28] This episode is a little different. It's not actually about a SaaS business. It's about a high school Math teacher in England who decided to create an online web development course on Udemy.com. He wanted it to be the best web development course on Udemy. So he put in a lot of time and effort into creating the course. He launched in June 2014 and waited with excitement. But he had just one sale in 24 hours and it didn't get much better after that. So instead of selling the course he decided to give it away for free. And then something happened which literally changed his life. Since then he's gone on to create a number of web development courses, he has over half a million students on Udemy and he's generated over $5 million dollars in sales. This is a great story about following your passion.
[01:31] Setting a high quality bar for whatever you create and having the persistence to keep going with things don't look so good. I hope you enjoy it and I'd love to hear what you think. So if you get a chance send me a tweet at @omerkhan. Before we get started I'd love to send you my Free Productivity Tool Kit which will teach you the habits hacks and tools used by successful founders and entrepreneurs. If you'd like to get a copy just head over to thesaaspodcast.com OK.
[02:09] Let's get on with the interview. Today's guest is a former high school Math teacher from England who started teaching people to code. He posted his first online web development course for $199. In June 2014 and only made one sale in the first 24 hours. Since then he's gone on to launch several coding courses with well over five hundred thousand students and has generated five million dollars in revenue. You can find his online courses at Udemy.com. The topics range from web and mobile development, Ruby on Rails and Python programming and database development just to name a few. He's also the founder and managing director of Eco Web Hosting a company that is focused on environmentally friendly web hosting and office packages that are 100 percent carbon neutral. So today I'd like to welcome Rob Percival. Rob welcome to the show.
[02:09] Thank you Omer. Great to be here.
[03:13] Now I always start by asking my guess what what drives and motivates them what so what gets you out of bed every day. Do you have a favorite quote or you know in your own words tell us what sort of gets you to work on your business.
[03:26] Sure yeah, there's a quote that I came across relatively recently that actually encapsulates how I feel about doing business and in life in general that is a quote by Jack Canfield which is slightly cheesy but “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” And I read that and that really spoke to me and that what I get from that is that if you're not doing something that makes you slightly afraid you're probably not growing you're not doing new things and you're not experimenting as much as you should be. So really what I'm aiming for every day is something that makes me a little bit afraid to put something on line that I'm not 100% sure. Or build something I don't 100% know how to build or just do something that I haven't done before and that that's what really drives me forward and motivates me and gets me through the day and through life.
[04:15] So I gave the audience an overview of the courses some of the courses that you offer currently. Tell us a little bit more about what courses you currently have available online.
[04:31] Sure as as you mentioned my my primary goal was my first course was a web developer course and that's still my biggest course which teaches people with no coding skills whatsoever to become a web developer and I also have an iOS iPhone and iPad app develop of course and an Android app developer of course as well. And then I've got a few small courses as an apple watch develop of course and a PHP course. And then there are a number of other courses that I actually partnered with other instructors. And so you mentioned it the Ruby course and then there's a bunch of other ones as well and they are ones that I've worked on with other instructors. So I'm not actually an expert in all of the topics that are covered in my courses quite a few of them. The expertise comes from the co-instructor.
[05:19] What was the reason for partnering with somebody I mean I guess from what I'm not going to guess why didn't you just tell me the reason for partnering.
[05:33] Well these courses. One thing you learn quite quickly is that they don't stay very static for very long. So it's not like you can just build an iOS developer course or web developer course. And then it's there forever. They need pretty regular updating. And that that can be just from the day to day tweaking and images of websites as they as they update or in some cases it can be re-recording the whole course such as when a new version of iOS is released quite often that breaks everything that's in the previous course so effectively a whole new course is required. So I realized reasonably quickly that I wasn't going to have the capacity to keep on producing courses on on every topic as much as I might like to do. So that's why I partnered with other people. It also enables me to kind of scale up what I do.
[06:20] The courses take a lot of time to put together a lot of effort and maybe of a month or two for one of my typical courses. So there was only so many I was going to be able to produce and keep up to date by myself. And so it made sense to share my expertise and I had quite a few requests from other instructors coming in saying can I can I do of course with you. And that seems like a sort of natural thing to do. So I worked with the other instructor to make the course better to make sure that the content is what people are going to be interested in and and make it an excellent course essentially and then I help publicize it to my students at the end as well. And that seemed an ideal match really to find great instructors and grow the number of courses that I have available without having to spend a couple of months myself creating the course.
[07:08] OK so if somebody is an expert let's say on Ruby on Rails. They they can come along.
[07:16] And partner with you or somebody has already done that they're partnered with you and they bring the expertise around the specific, the technical aspects of programming in Rails and you partner with them and bring your experience in terms of what it takes to build a successful course. And then also obviously being able to promote that to your half a million students. Exactly!
[07:47] Yes. So we're acting more or less like a traditional book publisher really. We're finding someone who's an expert and then training them up making sure that the content is good and then helping them with publicity as well.
[08:00] Once there the content is out there. And Eco Web Hosting is a business that you've been running for over a decade. Can it get the audience a little bit about that. Why did you get started with that. Why is an eco-friendly hosting business important to you.
[08:20] Sure, yeah it was one of the web sites I worked on many many years ago about 12 13 years ago was a website called Green England. I've always been very keen on helping the planet. And you know living a good lifestyle in that way and Green England was a directory of events places you could go to get eco-friendly products lists of products that kind of thing and it grew into a reasonably sizable website but it was never a great success. But one of the things I noticed while running Green England was that it was very difficult to get eco-friendly web hosting and either the services that I could find were extremely expensive or they didn't offer the same features that the big web hosts who were generally a lot cheaper offer. So there seemed to me to be an opportunity to provide a and web hosting service which was eco-friendly but competitive with the best and biggest web hosts out there.
[09:19] And that's where you called web hosting came from. And actually that was my first business that kind of grew organically without me having to do a great deal of marketing. It turned out that was something that a lot of people wanted. And so far I still want an as as a product. So it's now mixed up with my courses in quite a nice way the web developer of course offers a year's free of eco web hosting so you can learn how to not just build a website but you can actually get them home on the internet and get them live for free. As part of the web hosting and then some people carry on and continue to use the web hosting so it actually one funneled into the other that the web hosting is now growing quite quickly because of the courses.
[10:02] It's always been my impression that it's a pain in the butt to run a hosting business. Has that been your experience.
[10:08] Well it has its disadvantages. I mean the great thing about the web hosting business is recurring revenue. As I'm sure a lot of your listeners will be familiar with. It's great to have a business where people as long as they stay with you just just keep on paying you money.
[10:23] As as time goes on. Whereas the courses is generally a one off payment that people buy the course and the mayor and it's a life so it's actually really nice to have a mixture of the two. But of course yet you need to keep everything live, you need to keep the pool high quality and you need to continually develop and add new features as and as the industry develops so it's not an easy easy business to stay in. But it does does have its advantages.
[10:48] How how big is the company I mean how many employees do you have with the Eco Web Hosting.
[10:51] We we have five employees, the two currently are actually part of the same company where we don't separate out the web hosting and the courses. We're planning to quite soon but right now there's six of us in total, five employees and myself who are running both the web hosting and the courses.
[11:08] And how has your time split. How much of your time do you spend on the hosting business versus being an instructor and creating and promoting courses.
[11:19] A good question it's it's very variable is the short answer. Right now I'm spending quite a lot of time on the web hosting business. I'll spare you the technicalities but we're moving to a news server system essentially at the moment. And that means transferring about 30000 websites from one system to another which as you can imagine brings a fair few problems with it and I'm getting involved in quite a lot of that nitty gritty and that by next month it's likely that Apple will release iOS 11. And that means back probably a new iOS course is going to be needed. So I'm going to be knocking down and getting that recorded. So it's probably 50/50 overall. But definitely some months can be very web hosting heavy and some months can be very course heavy.
[12:04] So let's go back to June 2014 and when you posted your first web development course and made the one sale the first 24 hours I want to kind of go back a little bit before then and just kind of find out from you why did you decide that you wanted to start creating online courses or creating an online course at that point.
[12:28] Yeah. I mean we talked about I mentioned that you were formerly a high school teacher and so presumably you're someone who likes to teach. But why. Why was the coding the sort of the topic that you decided to to tackle.
[12:44] Sure. Yeah. As you said I was a high school Math teacher so I taught Mathematics 10 years and that was that was my subject at university. So that was what I knew. But reasonably early in my teaching career I started to think that classroom teaching is probably not what I wanted to do for my whole life. So I looked for a number of other things and that's where web development came along it was something I could do in my spare time I didn't need to invest any money into it I could just learn the skills through Google and then start building things straight away and that was that was pretty intoxicating. So I went through various different websites most of which went successful. My most hilarious failure is a website where people could exchange homes on holidays and make it you know swap their homes for a couple of weeks and live in the other person's house and I call that website
[13:37] homesexchange.org on a log which is the domain name I was quite proud of. That's soon after I built the website and people started coming to use it people started asking for home sex changes which was which was not something I expected. But then you looked at the domain name and that's that it comes across that business didn't particularly work out but it did give way to Green England which then gaveway to Eco Web Hosting and that's then built us enough monthly recurring revenue to allow me to leave teaching in I think it was 2012. And at that point I then started doing a bunch of different things so I had the Web Hosting to run.
[14:17] I was running that completely singlehandedly at that point and I had a range of other jobs going on there a couple of other website ideas I was working on a couple of other freelance projects a couple of apps I was building there was all sorts happening. And one of the things I was doing in must have been the summer of 2014 was a live coding course so this was not online it was a coding course to students in the UK and it was going to be a two week summer course and I did that and it went fairly well. It was a lot of work to get students in. I went round to local schools in the assemblies and there was a lot of interest and a lot of sort of positive feedback. But I think we had six students in the end which was nice but it wasn't as many as I'd hoped for and it just didn't seem to be working out as a business.
[15:05] But the person that I did it with my partner at the time was. And one day I went to their office and they had Udemy website up on their computer and teaching online something that I'd thought about doing for quite a while. But I'd never thought that I could bring students in, it's the marketing side that is more challenging really I thought I could create a great course but then I just put it put it up on my website and I wouldn't be able to get students in. So discovering Udemy really was the breakthrough for me and I did what a lot of people do when they discover Udemy I had a look and see sort of the most popular courses where I tended to be web development courses and then you do a quick summation of how many.
[15:51] How many of this course sold and what it sell for you to put more location and say wow that's a lot of money I think if I could gain any small fraction of that I'd be I'd be very happy and that the next stage was then to have a look at some of the most popular courses and at the time I have to say that they weren't particularly good they they weren't particularly inspiring they were quite dry. They didn't really focus on how to how to build websites and did things they focused on. And the more kind of technical aspects of languages and how they work. So I thought I really had something different to offer here. And that was where the web developer course came about.
[16:24] So this was in February I think. And I really went full on for that. So I decided that if I was going to do anything it was going to be an absolutely complete course. So I didn't just want to do a little dip my toe in the water a little html course or something like that I wanted to to make the cool switch and everyone would want to buy if they wanted to get into web development. So I spent months and months I think it was probably about four or five months altogether. Putting that close together and recording the contents and one particular disaster I had about halfway through was a catastrophic Dropbox sync which I was using Dropbox to back everything up and somehow I managed to lose absolutely everything that I've done up to that point which is two months solid work which was pretty painful and but I just kept pulling away and I went straight back to the start and I now do look back on that is probably good today and I think the the very first few videos that I recorded weren't particularly good.
[17:23] And then by the time I recorded maybe 10 or 15 hours I was a lot better. And a lot smoother and generally a lot more pleasant to listen to. And it was probably a good thing or that first 15 hours docs got deleted but still it was. It was a bit of a blow at the time. And so then I put all that together and I combined it with offering the web hosting which I thought was a really nice extra that no one else would be able to provide because most online instructors don't have web hosting businesses.
[17:54] And I also wrote a short book called “How to Earn $10000 While Learning to Code.” And this was to teach people the business side of coding. I thought that that wasn't particularly well taught in videos. I think videos are great for explaining coding and web development because you can literally watch the person and create something and then you can follow along. But things like marketing and sales and more and softer skills I think are better read and digested rather than watched or listened to.
[18:29] So I created that book to go alongside it and I really was chucking everything I could imagine into this course. And and finally got yeah it was June 2014. And I put it out there and I put it on there for $200 which was about the same kind of price that that similar courses were on for and I thought right this is the moment of truth. And as you said in your introduction I got precisely one sale in that first 24 hours. And the really depressing thing was after they bought it I actually requested a refund. So the proper sale at all only lasted a few hours.
[19:03] So I panicked slightly but I didn't quite give up at this point. And what I did was I actually made it through so the course was free for I think two weeks. And as soon as I made it free people just just came in extremely quickly. I remember actually being in Sainsbury's which is a supermarket here. My phone just started dinging with people coming on and and that was really exciting that we were getting maybe one sign up every minute but those were not a students they barely watched anything. It seemed to be just students that were getting something for free. I'm not quite sure what these students were doing whether they were just hanging out on Udemy to find free courses but they and they definitely came in their numbers and a few of them watched some of the videos.
[19:50] But the vast majority just seemed to like having the course for free. And regardless of whether they actually involve themselves in the course I now have 2000 those students on my on my course page. So it looks suddenly it wasn't an empty course anymore there were people in it. But what I didn't have was reviews. So I did what all men have to do that's and need to get reviews and I phoned around and I just emailed my family, friends and just said please get to watch the first few videos and write, write a comment and write a quick review.
[20:24] And finally I got to around 20 reviews and as I say 2000 customers and I thought right this is. We have something that looks good here. And so the final stage of the promotion was then to promote it to my web hosting customers. And this was one of the great things for me because there was real synergy between my web hosting customers and this course because a lot of them were small business owners. Some of them are coders but they didn't all have those sort of skills but they were all working with a website every day. So it was actually a product that a lot of them were interested in. So I did a pretty simple promotion.
[21:03] And and we got a really good sign at rates there, I made around $15000 I think from that promotion which is a little more than I expected to get. Really I was looking for around three or four thousand dollars a month. I think that's what I was really hoping for. So it was a great first month. And then that's brought me to the attention of Udemy and then the kind of the Udemy marketing and machine started getting into overdrive and that that's when things really started taking off. So I'm going to stop talking back because I realize that I've been talking a very long time and give you an opportunity to ask me to clarify or I'll happily continue telling the story if you'd rather. I do have a few questions for you.
[21:47] You said you spend four or five months creating this course. Was that sort of part time you know a bit in the evenings of the weekends or were you like like totally immersed this became like a number one thing that you were doing on a week to week, day to day basis.
[22:06] It definitely felt like the latter of the two. When I look back at that time when I remember it was just intense. I would just go into. I had an office and I would just go and sit in that office and record and and it was it was quite an epic experience really it wasn't quite full time because I did still have this other stuff to do. I
[22:26] was still running the web hostings so I have to stop every now and again and reply to web hosting queries and I spent a few days still on my freelance projects and everything else. But definitely my memory of that time is just intense.
[22:40] Sitting there with my microphone and computer talking to myself and just creating endless content. And how much revenue did that first course going to generate before you went and did sort of a revised you know, a big update or anything like that.
[22:56] Yeah. I don't know the actual number. It's a crazy number it's over a million dollars. I think that I don't know the precise number that I do know it's over over a million dollars.
[23:08] Actually and that's that's my revenue. So.
[23:10] And including the actual Udemy cut which is on average about 50% probably something like two million. So you ended up generating two million dollars of revenue on a course that you sold one copy in the first 24 hours and then the person asked for a refund.
[23:30] Absolutely. I've given up at that point things would be very different now.
[23:35] And I think that's this is kind of like such a nugget here that number one we're sort of especially in the software world we kind of told about you know go out and do you minimum viable product, ship quickly, ship light and you didn't really do that you just you have clear intent on if I'm going to do something I want it to be the best that is available there on Udemy and as a result you had to put in a lot of you know sweat and time and to create this course and losing the dropbox sync, I mean that's the last thing you need. But you know again it would've been easy to give up at that point and just said OK maybe this isn't meant to be. And I think it's just fascinating that somebody could you know you could have launched this course felt kind of completely demoralized and said OK I wasted my time for four or five months.
[24:32] I can't even get one person to buy this thing. I'm not a marketing person. I'm not really focused on how to drive sig ups and sales and attract customers. And it can be really easy to give up and there was a few things that you know you did in terms of you made it free.
[24:53] Why did you decide to make it free.
[24:56] It was essentially a pretty pretty easy choice I think no one was buying it at a price that it was. So it was either make it free or cheaper. And I did think you go along to the page and you know you have my marketing video and all the great description of the course. I thought the course looked great but at the very top of the page there zero students zero reviews. And I just thought would I buy a course with zero students and zero reviews however good at it looks I probably wouldn't.
[25:26] So yeah I had no idea how effective or how quickly students would come in at that price range. But I thought if I can at least get it up to say a few hundred students and then I can probably ask around to friends and family to get a few reviews in, then maybe I can start upping the price of it. My plan was actually to go gradually up to maybe $20, $30 and then increase that price as we started to get more and more feedback. But I think without that social proof particularly on a website like Udemy where you're competing against a lot of very similar courses it's very difficult to sell. So really it was those those free students for me with that's an amount of social proof.
[26:08] And then calling around friends and family and getting people to start writing reviews I think was also smart because sometimes it just takes one review for somebody who's going through the course to say OK well I'll add mine there as well now. Yeah. So. So yeah I mean it sounds like you've made you know a couple of smart moves.
[26:31] And then I think once the you talked about the Udemy marketing machine kicking in. What did that involve the day. It was just really about them getting more focused on this this it's comes onto their radar. They
[26:49] see the quality of the content and then they do things like what like start promoting it on their home page and their email updates those kinds of things.
[26:59] Exactly yeah. So there's a lot of promotion within Udemy itself. Yes like emails and pin it on their homepage. I also do a lot of paid promotions so there's a lot of Adwords and Facebook ads, YouTube ads and I think they did actually widened the range of online advertising that they do since 2014. But I think I generally speak very highly of Udemy and I think that the thing that they are very very good at is marketing good courses. So once they see that the courses is selling and they have a look at it and make sure it's quality and that the reviews are good and everything and they will just sort of put as much weight behind it as they can. And because they've got that scale and they've got to I think they had about 3 million students at the time. I think it's maybe five or six now. Could be more than that.
[27:51] And they have the scale to really bring students in when they've got something that's converting well and selling well. I'm still curious about why you decided to build such a big course it would have been I think many people would have said I could cover, I could do a pretty decent course on HTML
[28:41] It's a good question and I don't entirely know the answer. I like you to preach the same things. Now it's testing your market doing a minimum viable product. And in this case I just did the complete opposite. I think one big part of it was naivety I simply underestimated how much effort a course like that would take. I thought I am a teacher, you know I know this stuff it can't be that hard. I want to make. I think it was 20, 22 hours. Doesn't sound that much maybe a couple of weeks and it'll be done. And there was this very naive sort of belief that it would get done in almost no time at all. My my general optimism. And once there was also I think there was some kind of zeal in me at this point which I've never really had at any other time but I kind of saw in my mind's eye as soon as I came across these courses on Udemy that were kind of doing the kind of thing that I thought was a good idea but not doing it very well.
[29:41] That kind of the whole web developer course just came into my mind in one go and it felt like doing any small part of it just wouldn't encapsulate it. I wanted to do something that provided absolutely everything or at least as much as I could possibly get it to to someone who wanted to get into web development and be doing something like you say HTML course just felt like it wouldn't be a minimum viable product because it wouldn't be an example of this complete everything that you need.
[30:14] And so it really was all or nothing. I think at that point I didn't really think that hard about it wasn't like I made a really rational decision. I just had this image in my head of this final final product project and that was going to be fantastic and unlike anything else that was out last. You know when you get this zeal in your heart you just have to build that thing because anything else will hugely fall short. So I guess it was a risk and there I still look back and you know it could well have been for five months. Completely wasted it if nobody wanted it and fortunately bit of survivor's bias or survivor's luck means that I'm here right now on it and it didn't go that way. But it's definitely definitely a risk and not one that are calculated by any means just one that happened turn out
[31:01] well I guess I was going to say I think sometimes naivity is a good thing and it stops us from over thinking things. It reminds me of a story that I actually heard you mentioned Jack Canfield earlier. It was a story I heard from Jack Canfield that if you are familiar with this about a guy called Cliff Young this was Cliff Young was a an Australian potato farmer who at the, I think he was 61 years old. He ran the Sydney to Melbourne ultramarathon which is about I don't know like over 500 miles and he'd never run a race before and I don't think I think he even the way that I heard the story from Canfield was that you know he even turned up in his you know, you know farming boots and all of that stuff he didn't he wasn't even dressed for this race. And he kind of was like you know just kind of kind of low playing along at a very slow pace. He was behind everybody. Obviously this guy was 61 years old.
[32:06] And the thing was that he didn't really know about this race or how it's supposed to work. So by the end of the first day when all the runners had ended and stopped running and they were sleeping, Cliff kept running all night. You know because he didn't know he was supposed to stop and eventually he ended up winning this race by 10 hours because of that. And he's going to get serious this is a great thing about hey you know it's just sometimes just just not knowing too much or are just not over thinking sometimes is not a bad thing.
[32:40] Absolutely. Yeah. I agree completely and it's breaking the rules and whether it's intentionally or unintentionally quite often it works out badly but sometimes breaking the rules does something new and something different and exciting. And yeah, just like that it sometimes, if you've got a real zeal in your heart about something you really want to make that thing. Forget the nonsense about minimum viable product and testing the market just build the thing and see what happen.
[33:08] Now have all your courses been successes.
[33:14] Not exactly no. Well it depends how you would define success I guess but and I'll tell you what happened after the web developer course because this is sort of where it gets interesting. So the web developer course was gaining quite a bit of momentum and then that summer there were fortuitously Apple released a new programming language called Swift and this was a really nice new language easy to read easy to write and a lot easier to read and write than a previous language for making iPhone apps which was Objective-C and so Udemy actually contacted me and said would I be interested in making a course on Swift for iPhone app development.
[33:56] And if that if I did my that course they would be really excited about it and they would market it and it would be pretty big. And you know I'm still only two or three months into this at this point. So this seems like a great opportunity. But this was over the summer break the summer holidays, July and August 2014 and I promised my wife when I left teaching that I would always keep the summers free and I wouldn't work during the summers just like I didn't work as an as a teacher. And and so I went home with my tail between my legs. They live with a really good opportunity but it does mean I'm going to have to work throughout the summer to put this course together. And unfortunately we came to an understanding and I built the course and that actually turned out to be more successful at least at the beginning than the web developer course so is that a lot of these things I think really come down to timing and the web developer course was kind of the first of its kind.
[34:49] But then I found after the web developer course was was particularly good because Apple released this new language and no one knew this language so it was a really great and big course it was the first big course on Swift so that was a great opportunity. And but the next course after that.
[35:08] And soon after that Apple released the Apple Watch which at the time people were a bit unsure. But I was quite excited about it.
[35:16] I thought this was going to be a big new market. So my next course after that was was the Apple watch developer course which it sold OK. It was by no means a waste of time but it was it was far less popular than both the web course and the iPhone app course. And I think as remains the case right now an Apple Watch is not as hot a platform as as definitely as the iPhone and people are just not as interested in making apps for it presumably because the scale isn't there. So that course was a bit of a disappointment. And I haven't actually gone on to make any updates to that one. It's still there I think but it's a few years old now. So it's pretty out of date.
[35:59] But other than that I then went on to build the Android developer course which again hasn't quite achieved the scale of the iOS course or the web developer course but it's been pretty big and I've updated that a couple of times as well.
[36:12] So yeah really the Apple Watch I think is the only one that really hasn't sold as much as I'd hoped. And I think that's just a matter of that people aren't as interested in that platform as the others.
[36:24] Had you done any iOS development before you started putting together the Swift course, I have that course by the way I think is great. But yeah. Oh fantastic, thank you!
[37:26] And literally I only planned that one lesson you teach that. And then you plan the next one and you teach that.
[37:32] So what happens as you are you're kind of putting together the course you're going one step at a time. What happens when you learn something about say Swift further down the road and you go oh I wish I had known that information when I did the first module in. What do you do in those cases.
[37:51] Yeah. It's a great question.
[37:53] On some occasions I definitely did go back and then edit that video if I believe that I've done something actually wrong. That's a really bad way of doing something I will go back and change it. Most of the time the way that I work is very much, I focus on being able to do something. So it's not like I'm analyzing the language and working out the best way to do a loop or work with variables or whatever it is it's very much doing something practical. So if I want to show them how to put an image on the screen or play a sound or store some data permanently whatever it is I'll focus on how to do that and I will just if I don't know how to do it I'll google it, work it out and put it together that makes sense in my mind and then go through that process.
[38:43] And as long as I've got something that actually works and does the thing that I wanted to do at the end of the day then I'm pretty happy with that. I'm not super focused on getting everything exactly as an expert coder would do it. And in fact in many ways that can be a disadvantage doing it. The expert coder way because although that might be good for memory or speed or whatever it is it's often not the best way for a learner to learn because they don't know all the details of how to make super efficient or super scalable application. They just want to know the basics and a nice simple way to do something like they can always learn more complicated stuff or the better and more advanced ways later on. So that's been one of the features of my courses and it is I have to be fair criticism that some people say that I don't always teach that the best way or the most efficient way.
[39:36] But I think I generally teach the simplest way and thought for people learning I think that's the most important way to do it. And it turns out that if you if you're not an expert then it's it's the only way that you can really teach anyway. So that's a happy coincidence for me.
[39:51] Yeah I have a personal experience with that that I started. I mean I've I've dabbled both with Rails. You know Ruby on Rails and with Python and Django and in both those cases it was almost the whole kind of black box scaffolding and all of that stuff all of these things that happen and you don't really understand how they're happening. Maybe it made it really difficult for me to really learn.
[40:28] And I know a lot of people talk about well you know Rails is really easy it is but, but when things go wrong do you know enough about it to be able to go in and fix it. Right. And so because I was kind of more comfortable with Python I ended up using a flask as a framework and I don't know if you're familiar with that but…I've used it a little yeah. Yeah I mean that's so lightweight like you know you literally starting with a couple of files and you're kind of adding on what you need.
[40:59] And it for me it was so beautiful in its simplicity because you kind of constructing every piece of the puzzle as you go along. And so when you hit problems it's much easier to deal with them.
[41:15] So I've kind of I've kind of stuck with that approach. But yeah I agree with you I think you know now that I go back and I look at some of the things I've done. Yeah sure I can go back and think about how to refact to the code and clean things up. And this code that I look at now I just go oh my god I'm I'm you know I would never show this to anyone because it's so embarrassing right. Because you kind of evolve and you become a better developers then you can go back and fix those things. But I don't think if I had started out like learning Python and trying to do it in the kind of the kind of the Pythonic way of making everything you know writing 10 lines of code in one line would necessarily have been the best way for me to learn.
[41:54] So I completely understand that and that kind of leads me on to the next question for you is there going to be people who listen to this interview and they probably in a situation where they are either starting a software business or maybe they want to get into a career as a developer or whatever. But most people here are going to be about starting a business and maybe they have a decision to make. They've got to think about OK I'm not a technical person. Do I invest the time and learn to code? So at least I can get started and build the prototype or my minimum viable product and kind of go out and validate that or maybe some people just want to learn to code so they can work with a developer and not feel like they're completely out of their depth and I have no idea what that person is doing or what they telling them so in your experience can anyone learn to code?
[42:58] Well of course the answer is yes I can say anything but yes in the same way that as a Math teacher I would say that everyone can learn Math. So of course there are some people but perhaps more naturally inclined towards it. There are definitely some people that enjoy it more than others but I think it is something that everyone you know just as everyone can can do basic Math that everyone can do basic coding that the question is really whether that's something that's that everyone would want to do and would benefit from. And I think that the vast vast majority of people especially people listening who want to start their own business at least trying out and say say one of my courses or just going online and searching for how to build website and seeing how it goes I think is hugely important.
[43:48] It might turn out that it's not so much that that you're offering or you don't understand it but it's just you don't enjoy it and not the way that your mind works and you're more creative and you're better at work. Working on development or marketing or something else and finding a technical co-founder to do that techie stuff as as a single co-founder. I I find obviously coding is very much at the center of my business but before it became a thing that I towards it was really just the thing that allowed me to build things to then sell and market and grow. And having those coding skills is, just allows you to do so much more on your own without having to get someone into build everything that you need. So I think that that's a very basic starting point but just a few simple skills can get you a really long way and and take you a long way on your own without having to get some of the help you.
[44:44] The other side of it is if you do have those simple skills even if again you realize it's not something you want to take in any further and not something you want to go on and build your own apps and websites. But at least if you have that understanding of how it fits together then there's so much more that you can do. So when you're hiring a developer to build your app you're not going to get absolutely fleeced and charged a huge amount for a very simple app because you know the constraints and you know what you're asking and you know what it's going to take to build it. So I think that's a very simple level skill.
[45:20] And just trying out coding is something that I really do think that everyone should try it and especially people that want to build their own businesses. It might not turn out to be for you but it's very unlikely but it won't help you out at some point later in your career or while building your business.
[46:08] And you don't know how they kind of work together.
[46:14] And then I think beyond that I think the best piece of advice that I ever got from anybody was when you start thinking about you know sort of the backend Cisco programming whether it's you know PHP, or Python or Ruby try try them all out a little bit get a feel of them because there's no right answer on what you should be using and you may find that one particular programming language just works better for you just got better with it and you'll never find that out unless you try it.
[47:19] if some of it does which bits and you know ironically for me having spent many years working at Microsoft you know I thought I'd be going down sort of the dotnet path or something like that. And actually I found that you know Python worked a lot better for me. So that's why I kind of stuck with. OK. Great. It's been a great conversation. And I know we're running out of time so I want to move on to %the lightning round I'm just going to ask you seven questions. Just try to answer as quickly as you can. You ready.
[47:49] OK. So what's the best piece of business advice that you've ever received?
[48:01] This is thePaul Graham quote, “Make something people want” and it's it's just something that's so simple. But in my life I think I've done that twice I've done it once with Eco Web Hosting and once with that courses and I've done a bunch or I failed to do a bunch of other times at least 10 or 12 businesses that I've that went nowhere and it's just this feeling when you when you have made something that people want and people are just coming to you and they're just buying your thing without you having to go out there and really sell it to them is an amazing feeling. And we spend a lot of time I think trying to sell stuff that people don't really want. So really making that really great product and making something people really want is the secret to business.
[48:42] Yes that's great advice and I would just add it you need to go through the process of failing to figure out what it is and if you just wait for the day until you're 100% sure that you have the right thing then you might be waiting a long time. It kind of goes back to what you said earlier at the start about doing something that makes you a little bit uncomfortable creates a little bit of fear.
[49:06] So what book would you recommend to our audience and why? It's a fairly easy choice again but it is my favorite it's the Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I've read it maybe four or five times now. And the bit that I really love about it that there's a lot about how to outsource a lot of the stuff you do and overcoming fear and that kind of thing. I'm actually not that keen on those bits but the bits that I love the bits at the beginning when he talks about working out why you want to do this. Why do you want to earn a lot of money to build a big business. Well what is the actual end goal for you. And that was so important for me and it was something that I'd never really thought about it was just. Well let's go the business and see what happens.
[49:47] But actually thinking about ways and goals means that you know what you're going for. And so when you get there you know what to do rather than just kind of get there. All right I've got a million dollars what do I do now if I get another million dollars and just keep on going and stopping to think about what your real life goals are. Is it something I think everyone should do. And this book is for me it's been the best way to do that.
[50:11] What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful entrepreneur? Persistence.
[50:17] That's that's the big thing that comes back to me it's the people that have been successful. Yet cause occasionally the people that get lucky and the people that have got flare or whatever but the vast majority of people that are successful just keep on going and keep on at them. It's like you know that moment where where I got most sales or that one sale and the refund stopping there means that I wouldn't be where I am right now and it's the people that just keep plugging on keep trying new things and they don't give up. They are the ones that more often than not make it at the end.
[50:50] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
[50:54] I'm a big morning person and I love miracle mornings by Hal Elrod. I think it's said. I don't know how it's said but it's a very short very quick book and he guides you through setting up a morning routine of six things.
[51:12] I'm not going to remember what they will on air but there's meditation, there's exercise, there's reading, there's writing, there's visualization I think. And one more I can't remember what it is but I find if I do that if I spend an hour doing all those things first thing in the morning then I just feel like Superman and I'm really ready to go for the day. If however on a late night or a bad night sleep I'm just our plans you know going straight away. It's a it's a very different experience so. I mean miracle mornings has been by far the biggest productivity bonus that I've experienced.
[51:46] What's a new crazy business idea you love to pursue if you had the extra time? The things been going in the back of my mind for a long time now.
[51:56] Is a 100% online school. So a school that teaches everything that students need to know in Mathematics, English and has video lessons from the absolute best teachers in the world and automatically marked assignments and just the best school experience you could get but absolutely scaleable and online and ideally free and accessible to everyone that that would be my dream creation.
[52:22] You know I've been thinking about something like that for quite some time as well.
[52:28] From a business perspective but from a from a parent perspective if there was a different way to educate kids that that maybe we should be thinking about maybe there might be a conversation for ou future topics.
[52:43] I'd love that. What's interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?
[52:50] I always hate this question but I'll give my most sort of vulnerable answer which is I hate my nose get the public in a large nose and I really didn't want to put my space anywhere on the courses and actually if you look at the original version of the complete web developer course, my face doesn't get you anywhere. Even in the promotional video it's a cartoon version of me that comes out but later on I am I did put my face in it not but I could only get myself to do it if I'm absolutely straight on to the camera. So whenever you see me on video I'm always straight on.
[53:26] And that's because you can't see quite how big my nose is and then finally what is one of your most important passions outside of your work?
[53:35] There's lots to choose from. Really I play guitar, I sing. I play a lot of football but the big one I think that I really need in my life is travel and this is something that I've done a lot less recently I've got see two boys now one is 2 and one is 6 there's not the same opportunities to get away as they used to be but I try and travel I find that if I hadn't been anywhere out of out of Britain for six months or so I start to get a very cheap and I think traveling for me is really something that clears the mind down and enables you to forget about obsessing over congressional rates and sales targets and you realize that there's there's a lot more to life than just building businesses and travel is
[54:16] But the one thing that reminds me of that.
54:18] That's awesome. Rob I want and I want to thank you for joining me and for sharing your story and insights. It's been a great conversation and I've really enjoyed chatting with you. Would love to get you back on the show some time and continue the conversation. Now if people want to check out your courses they can go to www.udemy.com and just search for for you Rob.
[54:45] First of all what I'll do in the show notes I'll include a link to maybe your instructor page does that list all the courses in one.
[54:55] That's probably the best place. Yeah. If you like I could create some coupons for you. We do 75% off coupons quite often.
[55:04] So if you wanted you know specific coupon for the podcast for say the webinar of iOS developer and the Android developer course that would be fine.
[55:14] Oh that would be awesome. Just a single thing. Yeah yeah I can follow up with you after that I don't know maybe we can offer that to people if they're interested.
[55:21] I think that I think people should definitely check out these courses. And I'm not just saying that because you're a guest on the show because I already own. I think at least a couple of your courses so it's it's it's from personal experience that I'm recommending that so. And if they want to find out about Eco Web Hosting they can go to www.ecowebhosting.co.uk. If people want to get in touch with you what's the best way for them to do that.
[55:47] Twitter is probably best. I'm @techedrob on Twitter.
[55:51] OK great we'll include a link to that as well.
[55:55] Rob thank you again. It's been an absolute pleasure and I wish you all the best.
56:01] Alright thanks for listening. I really hope you enjoyed the interview. You can get to the show notes as usual by going to thesaaspodcast.com where you'll find a summary of this episode and a link to all the resources that we discussed. If you enjoy the episode then head over to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast and consider leaving a rating and a review to show your support. If you're not already on iTunes just head over to thesaaspodcast.com. That's thesaaspodcast.com and click the iTunes button. Thanks for listening. Until next time take care.
- “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris