This story was initially published in The Creators — a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it sent to your inbox.
Teachable, an online courses platform, was founded by Ankur Nagpal in 2014, years before the creator economy boomed. Nagpal had used another online courses platform to teach a marketing class and decided he could create a better service. Teachable markets itself as a way for creators to monetize their skills by offering instruction to their existing audiences.
Tens of thousands of creators use Teachable, though the company couldn’t provide an exact number. It offers courses in topics from blacksmithing to breast-feeding. Jenell Stewart, a creator with 103,000 followers on Instagram, offers brand coaching through one-on-one sessions and self-guided programs. Jasmine Katatikarn, who has 53,300 followers on Instagram, makes $17,000 a month selling courses on creating 3D animation. Since its launch, more than 46 million people have taken a course through Teachable. And last year, the company saw a 15 percent increase in the number of creators earning more than $70,000 annually on the platform.
Earlier this year, the company recruited Mark Haseltine, a Boston native, to serve as general manager, or Teachable’s version of a CEO. Haseltine, 52, has a long history in higher education and online services, previously serving in C-suite positions at edX, which offers university-level online courses, and GoDaddy, a web hosting company.
The Observer’s Rachyl Jones recently spoke with Haseltine.
Why did you join Teachable?
I really do believe that education online is the future. There are so many topics that aren’t covered by higher-ed institutions that are really necessary for people to live full lives and for their careers. (Creators) are entrepreneurs, right? They’re looking for gaps in the education system that they’re filling. Every person I talked to has the same type of story—“I was just hearing this from my audience. They really wanted education on this, and I could provide it ahead of anybody else.”
How has Teachable evolved since its founding?
For the first couple of years, we were trying to make sure creators had enough tools to create an online course and reach their audience, like signups and registrations—all the mechanics of building and running a course. It’s a lot of solopreneurs, so it has to be automated. It has to be easy for them to do it. Many of these creators were teaching courses, just not on a course platform. And as their businesses grew, it became impossible to do it that way. Over time, we started to add more features—more robust courses, more types of content, we added a commerce capability so you could start to charge on the platform for various aspects of it—really driving the growth and scale. Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about APIs and interactions with other systems. I think you can imagine all-in-one solutions are very hard in the creator economy, because it’s so diverse. We want to provide core knowledge products, but then integrate with systems that creators need as they grow.
What kind of systems?
Marketing tools, ways to manage email lists, campaigns to get students from out of social media and into their course content. But there are niche engines that various people use for specific types of courses. Technical courses might have different needs than financial courses. There might be different verticals they have to integrate with. One of the creators—her name is Jasmine—teaches a 3D animation course. She brings that to middle school students in New York. And as a part of that, she needs to ship them a kit when they sign up for the course. Not many people ship a physical good when someone signs up, so we’re working with her to try and solve that problem to get the kits in the hands of the students taking the course.
What’s the biggest challenge that Teachable faces in getting new students?
I think one of the biggest challenges is just awareness of knowledge products as the best way to start and grow a business online. There are, by some estimates, 300 million creators out there. We have massive room to grow if we can help them understand that, “Hey, the best way to engage with an audience, to monetize an audience and to grow a business is to teach them something.” It’s a natural way to start and grow a business.
How do you address the problem of awareness?
It’s a lot of meeting creators where they are. There are different types of creators reaching different audiences. What we need to do is figure out—[on what platforms] do they live? How do we get onto those platforms and help them know that we’re around? I’m finding that the market is evolving. A lot of companies are starting to launch knowledge product-type tools. That, to me, is a good sign that we are in the right place. We’re just, you know, eight years ahead.
How do creators make money on Teachable, and how do you?
We have subscription plans—free, all the way up to pro. Depending on the plan, we charge a transaction fee. On the higher-end plans, we don’t. On the lower plans we do. How our creators make money—lots of different ways. In general, they’re charging students for access to the course. And they set that pricing.
Where do you see the creator economy moving in the next few years?
There’s been a lot of hype around the creator economy in the past few years. It does feel like the hype is starting to go away. There’s a lot of venture money that was poured into it, companies popping up all over the place. I think that’s starting to move away, and now we’re left with the serious creators. I believe there is a real business here, that creators want to control their own destiny. They want to be their own business leader.
Entrepreneurships are on the rise, despite the market. New business applications rose again in October. We think that’s a great sign for the creator economy. We’re seeing lots of new creators join, and knowledge products are a great way for them to start and grow their business online.
This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.