Looking to start a business? 6 reasons why you should begin by teaching

I just finished listening to a great podcast on Indiehackers with Web Bos. (Wes is one of the biggest names in teaching Javascript and React online.) The interview was great but I particularly remembered this section where they talk about teaching as a way to start a business. I have edited their conversation into the 6 points Courtland and Wes went over, along with some tactics on how to do it well.

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Start by Teaching

One of the best things that you can do, if you are trying to start a business, is start by teaching. It doesn’t have to be teaching in the most traditional sense. You can start courses or video tutorials, but you can also start an interview site, like Indie Hackers, or a podcast, or you could even just aggregate raw data on a topic and tell people who are doing research.

A good example of that is Nomad List, which started off as a Google spreadsheet full of information on cities that digital nomads like to travel to.

Regardless of the format, I think helping people learn something is one of the best ways to get your start as an entrepreneur. Here are 6 reasons why teaching is a great place to start a business:

1. You don’t have to worry about the competition

In teaching nobody is really going to have the market completely cornered. People have different learning styles. Some like learning in classroom settings others reading blog posts, other like audio. Some people like hands-on exercises, some prefer textbooks, et cetera.

Teaching is almost never a winner-take-all market, just because there’s so many different solutions to the problem of people wanting to know something, and you can always add your own solution to that list.

2. Easy to come up with ideas

It is relatively easy to come up with an idea for teaching. You have to start with something that you know very well or that you’re willing to learn yourself, so that you can actually teach it. Then just get a little bit creative with building a product or a service that helps people learn.

3. Launch Minimum Viable Product quickly

You don’t actually have to build an entire course to get started. You can just start with one or two blog posts or a YouTube video and measure the results, and actually get practice in marketing it and figuring out how people react to it.

4. Ship it Quickly

There’s not that much code involved in teaching. You’re generally just writing, and so you can get a blog post or video out the door in a day and start trying to sell it immediately or start trying to market it immediately, and you don’t fall into this black hole that a lot of people do of spending six months, basically just building a product without any idea whether or not people are going to like it.

Courtland: Yeah, totally agree. I think that’s the other end of the spectrum. It’s either spending way too much time on what you’re building, to the point where it actually isn’t good. You spend so much time without talking to anybody that you are investing in something that’s not good. The other extreme is spending way to little time and focusing too much on the tactics. That’s great advice.

5. If you can teach it, you are more passionate about it

If you know something well enough to teach it, you’re probably a lot more likely to be passionate about it. A lot of people end up starting these businesses that seem very opportunistic. They see a gap in the market and their like, “I’m going to do that.” It turns out they’re selling bibs to babies in Taiwan, or something they don’t care about. After a month or two, they’re like, “Oh, this is exhausting. I’m tired.” If you’re teaching something that you know very well, you’re a lot more likely to enjoy it and stick with it when things get tough, and you’re actually reaching people, who are interested in the same topic that you’re interested in. I can’t overstate how important it is to be motivated about what you’re working on.

6. Teaching is a great way to build an audience

There are just so many people in the market to learn something. People are always learning, and if you can teach them successfully and help them actually learn what they’re trying to learn, then that’s a very personal experience, especially if you’re doing something like video or audio. The people that you teach will trust you. They will follow you. They’ll want to hear more about what you have to say, and building that kind of engaged audience is really the secret to serial entrepreneurship and launching products in the future that succeed.


Test the waters

Sometimes people come and teach something that is very obtuse, so they don’t necessarily know if there’s a market there or not. That’s where I’d encourage people to write blog posts or make YouTube videos on maybe three or four different topics, and then you will clearly see which ones there’s interest are by the number of views that that thing has. If people aren’t sharing it, if people aren’t watching it, maybe it’s not something that people are all that interested in, or it’s not a problem that they actually have to be solved.

Quality over Quantity

In this whole Internet marketing space, I think that there’s a lot of people that don’t focus on quality content all that much. They’re more focused on building their email list or all these marketing techniques. What happens is that they just crank out some PDF or some crappy course or something like that, and then they go nuts with all the tactics. They listen to 300 Mixergy interviews or something like that and start going to town with the different tactics, when, at the core of a successful teaching business is really good content. Then, the marketing and all the techniques are just on top of that, to expose the very good content. So go quick with your stuff and crank out a blog post in a day, but also make sure that it’s good quality as well.


This section on teaching as a start to business starts at 15:30.



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