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Ex-Paypal & Airbnb SEO Manager Tommy Griffith on Online Courses

Tommy Griffith has been doing search engine optimization for more than 10 years. He previously managed SEO at PayPal and Airbnb, and now runs ClickMinded, a digital marketing training platform for marketers and entrepreneurs.

Tommy started ClickMinded as a side project while working full-time at Airbnb. He grew it until it started generating more revenue than his annual salary. Two years ago, he quit Airbnb to go full-time on it and ran into a number of problems in trying to grow the business from there.

Learn More About Tommy Griffith & ClickMinded

 

How Tommy Griffith Got Started

Phil Singleton: Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Local Business Leaders podcast. I am your host, Phil Singleton. Today, our featured guest is Tommy Griffith. Tommy has been doing search engine optimization for more than 10 years. He previously managed SEO, PayPal, and Airbnb, and now runs ClickMinded, a digital marketing training platform for marketers and entrepreneurs. Tommy started ClickMinded as a side project while working full time at Airbnb. He grew it until it started generating more revenue than his annual salary. Two years ago, he quit Airbnb to go full time, awesome, and ran into a number of problems trying to grow the business from there. We’re going to talk about that today. Tommy, welcome to the show.

Tommy Griffith: Phil, what’s going on, man? Thanks so much for having me on.

Phil Singleton: Let’s just take a few steps back and talk to us about your journey, your first steps out of school and into the business world, kind of quickly run through PayPal and Airbnb and then what got you here today in creating and building ClickMinded.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. It’s always kind of funny and weird talking to internet marketers about how they got into the game because everyone’s kind of a weirdo, you know?

Phil Singleton: Here here.

Tommy Griffith: Right? No one has a very traditional path. It’s always very kind of strange story. Yeah, I started … I was studying finance, graduated in 2008 while the banks were crashing. Like a lot of internet marketers, I got started by reading this book, The Four Hour Work Week. Are you familiar with it?

Phil Singleton: Yep.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, so that’s a lot of … For the uninitiated or anyone that hasn’t read it, The Four Hour Work Week was kind of this, I think it was written in 2007 maybe, but it was kind of the catalyst for a lot of internet marketers. Today, it was one of the first books to put into place this idea that you could build a remote business, and travel while you build a business, and kind of sell something online sort of thing. It’s probably pretty out of date now, but the general concepts are still fairly strong.

Phil Singleton: That’s a Tim Ferriss book, right?

Tommy Griffith: Tim Ferriss, yeah.

Phil Singleton: Right, okay.

Tommy Griffith: Tim Ferriss, Four Hour Work Week, yep. I decided to not do finance or any banking or anything like that because I couldn’t find any jobs and the economy was crashing. I sat in a hammock in my home in New Hampshire and read this book and was kind of thinking through different ideas of what I could create. I ended up writing a very dorky e-book and started trying to sell it and get it to the top of Google so I was searching around for how to do that. This was back in 2008 and for like a more…the exact match domain update hadn’t happened yet. This is one of these moments in time where you could just pretty much put your-

Phil Singleton: There was a silver bullet in SEO.

Tommy Griffith: There was. There was a hole in the matrix that we all found. It was to buy a domain name that had your primary key word in it. I didn’t know that, but bought a domain name with the primary key word and got one link. Within like four days, it was ranking two. I was like, “I am a genius.” It was pretty funny. That sent me down the road. I ended up starting a business with a friend of mine shortly after that failed miserably. I was in this very lucky situation, my parents paid for university, I graduated with no debt, but I ended up putting myself into debt after graduating university trying this very dumb business idea.

Tommy Griffith: But, I guess the upside was I learned internet marketing. I spent a year learning SEO, learning paid advertising, but ran out of money, did the desperation call back home after a bunch of traveling and working with this business. I got a bail out from my dad for $400 for a one way ticket home. From there, it was just kind of right place right time. I was applying around like crazy for jobs, miserable, and in debt, living on mom and dad’s couch. Yeah, just at the time PayPal was hiring for SEO manager. I had been doing SEO, taught myself for the two years prior, and that started the catalyst. I moved to San Francisco and then for six years managed search engine optimization for two years at PayPal and then four years managing search engine optimization at Airbnb.

Phil Singleton: Right. That’s awesome. Right in the heart of it, man.

Tommy Griffith: Right in the heart of it, yeah. It was kind of a wild story. It went from try my own thing, to failing miserably, to working at a big, slow, kind of bank-like company, and then over to Airbnb where it was pretty wild. I joined at a time where it wasn’t as known when I joined in 2013. My friends hadn’t heard of it yet. The first week I joined Airbnb it was subpoena-d by the State of New York for their data and then the last week I left, we worked on a Superbowl ad, and Beyonce was staying at Airbnb’s, and everyone knew about it by that point. It was kind of a wild time to be there.

Phil Singleton: You were there before and after. That’s so awesome. Where are you now?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, so I’ve been traveling around the last two years, mostly through Europe and Asia and based in New York. I’m in Honolulu, Hawaii right now.

Phil Singleton: So awesome.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah.

Phil Singleton: I love that. I spent 10 years in Asia myself, but I’ve been based back in Kansas City here for the last 15 or so, but I love traveling too so that’s really cool. It’s so awesome that you’re having … maybe get into that a little bit later, but having kind of your own job on your own here and being able to have that kind of lifestyle. Literally living the book, right?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah.

Phil Singleton: You’re probably putting in a little bit more than four hours or have at least in the past.

Tommy Griffith: Oh man, the biggest … probably the most click bait title of the world is Four Hour Work Week. Tim Ferriss openly admits he’s never worked four hours a week in his life. He’s like an 80 hour a week guy. He’s nuts.

Phil Singleton: Right. If you’re doing stuff that you love and you’re into it where you’re not in a cubicle … I don’t know want to knock people who are working in a cubicle and stuff like that, but I came from that. I was miserable for three years working at an insurance company and I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is just never going to work.” I didn’t like what I was doing so the clock went really slow. But then, you end up loving … finding what you really truly love to do. It doesn’t feel like work anymore and you’re up at 5:00 because you’re excited about it. I mean, that’s how a lot of people work.

Tommy Griffith: Exactly. Yep, that’s totally true.

Phil Singleton: Let’s get into ClickMinded, man, because I’ve got a lot of things I’m personally interested that I’d like to talk about and get some free consulting from you out of. I’d also just like to go over what it is, who you target, and how it came about, and what you guys are up to right now.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, sure. When I first joined PayPal, I was in this situation where I had had a bunch of debt. I had started from the old company and needed to pay it off. Man, ClickMinded was probably idea number 15. I tried so many different ideas and this was just the one that stuck. It’s interesting how I came about it because I think there’s a little bit of a balance. On one hand, I was very neurotic, and ADD, and wanted to try a lot of different ideas. It really didn’t start to take off until I had forsaken everything else and really went all in on it. There’s a funny way to test this, like to test how neurotic you are as an entrepreneur. If you go into your web hosting account, check how many unused domains you have.

Phil Singleton: I’ve used it. That’s so funny. I have said that before too. I was like, “Man, how many of us have … our old domain accounts. There’s just so many half-baked ideas in there that are domains somebody thought about and bought.” I probably have 100 in there myself.

Tommy Griffith: Exactly.

Phil Singleton: Same idea, right? It’s crazy.

Tommy Griffith: Exactly.

Phil Singleton: You’ll never feel bad for having that.

Tommy Griffith: Well, that’s the thing is you need that to some degree, but if you … you can sort of test your neuroticism by how many you have. Yeah, I was the same way. You have a couple beers with someone, you buy the domain name, and then you don’t do anything about it, and then when the annual renewal comes up to pay the $12 you’re like, “I’m going to do something with this this year,” and you renew and you never do it, right?

Phil Singleton: Guilty as charged. I’m still doing that.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, exactly. We’re all hoarding digital real estate.

Phil Singleton: But, to your point, I think we all know this, nothing really works unless you give it 100%. I mean, there’s no easy way in anything. I don’t care what it is, not an SEO, there’s just nothing that really … unless you get truly lucky for a short period of time, I mean, no business idea, no business really works unless you put at least 100% into it. Am I-

Tommy Griffith: Exactly.

Phil Singleton: Am I wrong?

Tommy Griffith: You’re not wrong at all. That was sort of the issue was, okay, the neuroticism and the ADD was good in getting me to try a bunch of different things, but what I found was … this was sort of the story, I ended up … my boss had asked me to do a brief at training on SEO to my colleagues at PayPal, an in person class around 2011. I did it and I got a lot of really good feedback on it, specifically that I had made a nerdy, kind of hard to understand topic interesting and sort of fun. I took that and ran with it. I ended up teaching physical in person classes at coworking spaces in San Francisco for a while.

Tommy Griffith: It was kind of Saturday, all you can SEO, start ups and entrepreneurs who come in, and we would just nerd out on search engine optimization for a few hours. The business, that actual business was a terrible business. It didn’t work, it didn’t scale, there were all kinds of problems, but I really liked it. I really enjoyed it. It ended up just being right place, right time with this kind of online course renaissance that we’re in now. Udemy had just started to take off, I had been physically teaching these classes in person and ended up filming one of them and turning it into a Udemy course, and that sort of spiraled up from there. I think that-

Phil Singleton: That’s kind of where you started to get some initial traction, was from Udemy?

Tommy Griffith: That’s right, yeah. The whole course started on Udemy. It’s interesting just stepping back a minute to the giving 100% stuff, one example, I mentioned ClickMinded was kind of like idea number 15. One example was, before then, one of my other ideas, I had this idea an iPhone app development lead generation site. It was 2011, iOS apps were really starting to take off, every company wanted their own app, people were interested in learning x-code and how to develop their own apps. I saw the search volume, and I said, “Okay, I’m going to rank a site for iPhone app developers, and iPhone app development cost, and iPhone app development companies,” and get it ranking really high and then maybe sell the leads.

Tommy Griffith: I got it up, I got the site running, I got it ranking, it was generating traffic, it started to work, but then like every Saturday morning I would wake up to go work on it and i just hated it. I had no passion it, I had no interest in it. It was really, really hard to find the motivation to work on it. There’s this kind of trope in Silicon Valley and in a lot of start up world now around markets. They say like, “Okay, I would take a mediocre product and a mediocre team in a great market,” but when you’re starting a side project, I actually disagree with that.

Tommy Griffith: I think your own personal interests in the market is huge. It’s a massive piece to get started. That first zero to ten thousand dollars, or that zero to a hundred thousand dollars, or whatever it is, it’s all you and it’s all your personal interest in it. What you were alluding to earlier, Phil, around there’s just no room for anyone to not give 100%. It’s completely true. The world is getting so polarized that there’s just no room to suck anymore. People are too good at everything so you have to find these unfair advantages where you really enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise you’re kind of toast. You know what I mean?

Phil Singleton: Like you said, the information out there, literally. I mean, you have to be good and have passion because it almost into the courses and the things you’re talking about. I was talking about this with another guy before on a different type of business where it’s just so different, businesses today, because you can go out there and get great info from places like your website, let’s say, but if you don’t have the passion in SEO, you’re not probably good at it. If you’re not trying to start a business at it, you’re probably not going to succeed at selling those types of services. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t known it and it can help you better at what you do, type of thing, but in terms of making a career or business out of it, you just have to have passion anymore.

Tommy Griffith: For sure. You absolutely do. I really like this idea of Naval Ravikant, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, but he’s like a tech visionary, venture capitalist guy and he’s like all over Twitter on a lot of philosophical stuff now. His whole angle is, you have to find your unfair advantage, and more specifically, what other people view as work should feel like play for you.

Phil Singleton: Love it.

Tommy Griffith: If you can do that, you just have this natural out of the gate advantage where over the long term, you’re going to kick everyone’s ass. That’s sort of the angle I ended up taking and it ended up working.

All About Clickminded

Phil Singleton: Awesome. Let’s get right into ClickMinded. Tell us a little bit about what you guys do, what the course is about, kind of who it targets. One thing I’ve noticed about even writing an SEO book, it was really hard to satisfy a whole broad audience because it’s like people will either know some, or know a lot, or know nothing. It’s kind of hard to hit the mark with the message you’re trying to give sometimes because people come in with different levels of knowledge. When somebody takes a course through ClickMinded, what’s one of the modules or whole kind of bundled package that you sell? Who is it for mostly?

Tommy Griffith: It’s really interesting that you had that problem as well. Yeah, it’s been funny to get feedback. We’ll get back to back feedback from users. ClickMinded is now eight years old. We have more than ten thousand paid users and we’ll get feedback on the same day, “Hey, this was way too hard and complex and you move too fast,” and then five minutes later, “Hey, this was way too slow and too easy. What are you guys doing?” It’s like, okay.

Phil Singleton: That’s tough.

Tommy Griffith: Those are very minor critiques. The vast majority of users love it, but it’s because we really dialed in our customer avatar. ClickMinded is a digital marketing training platform. We started as an SEO course. As I mentioned, it started as an offline course and then became an online course. I continued to use it at PayPal and Airbnb to train up my own teams. Everyone who joined the SEO team, part of the growth team at Airbnb, all the data scientists and designers and engineers that joined would take the ClickMinded SEO course. Two years ago, I went full time on it and we now do seven types of digital marketing courses; SEO, paid ads, content marketing, email marketing, social media, sales funnels, and Google analytics.

Tommy Griffith: Our model is we try and use world class experts that do this stuff every day. The social media course is taught by the former head of social media at Airbnb. The content marketing course is taught by the former content strategist from Lyft. We kind of try and focus on entrepreneurs, in house marketers, and consultants or agencies that want to either get better at one particular topic or they want to train up their teams. That’s sort of the angle that we take. 35 hours of HD video and then we do life time updates for free. When you enroll, you get access forever and every time we push out an update, you get it for free. That’s kind of the angle we’ve taken. It’s been a lot of evolution and iterating on it for sure. It’s been eight years and so it did not happen overnight.

Phil Singleton: You’re constantly probably updating. Stuff happens all the time. The book that we wrote, we were talking about Google Plus in 2006. We’re not talking about that anymore.

Tommy Griffith: Right.

Phil Singleton: You’re probably constantly tweaking, and updating, and changing stuff.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah.

Phil Singleton: Which is why that’s valuable.

Tommy Griffith: That’s got to be really tough for you to write a physical book. We can barely keep our blog posts up to date.

Phil Singleton: Right?

Tommy Griffith: I don’t know how you can do that with a book. That’s tough. That’s really tough.

Phil Singleton: Talk to me about the people who do join. Is it kind of all mixes? Are they mostly digital marketers? Do you get people that work in companies that are trying to learn more about it?

Tommy Griffith: It’s about a one-third, one-third, one-third split. Entrepreneurs is about one-third, in hours marketers, like you know, people on the marketing team at Coca-Cola, and Proctor and Gamble, and stuff like that, and then consultants and agencies. That’s usually on the smaller side, like two to a hundred employees.

Phil Singleton: Great.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. Our model … Are you familiar with this guy, Ramit Sethi? He’s a personal finance blogger. He wrote this book called, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. It’s a corny sounding title, but it’s actually a great read. It’s kind of like millennial, personal finance sort of stuff. Anyways, his model around how he does it is he says, “Okay, 98% of everything I do is free for users, but if you’re looking to get the results, the other 2% is for the paid product.” That’s sort of how we operate as well. We have at on of checklists, templates, cheat sheets, downloadables, free mini courses, free webinars we do all the time.

Tommy Griffith: Then, we say, “Yeah, all this is free, but if you want to get the results faster or if you want to train up a whole team, here’s the paid product.” We’ve had a lot of success with that so it’s cool to give people a ton of value for free, but then if they’re already further along in their business and they want to train up a bunch of people or they want the results even faster, then we have a paid product for them. It’s been a lot of fun and all of that is done through our online course.

Phil Singleton: Okay, awesome. I’ll have to ask you, what would you do differently if you had to start over again? How would you set it up? This is probably not … Let me rephrase this a different way because you’ve already gone through a ton. You probably, I don’t know what the site’s built on or what program you use to power it. For just the average person like myself that maybe has a book or wants to build a course on something like WordPress or something else, how would you get started into taking your knowledge and turning it into a course or taking a book that you’ve written into a course? What are the steps?

Tommy Griffith: Right.

Phil Singleton: Are you so far removed from that that now?

Tommy Griffith: Actually, no, not at all. It’s every day and I have a lot of strong opinions on this now. I’m very passionate about online learning as well because I think there’s so much room for this stuff. I am an avid … I am so angered and motivated by the graduate school education system in the US. I think this is a massive … student debt problem in the US and graduate school is a complete scam. It’s horrible. I say this as a former graduate school, right? I used to teach at a grad school in San Francisco. I taught an elective, an internet marketing elective. I think there is so much room for entrepreneurs to create online courses and completely destroy secondary education.

Phil Singleton: You’re like freaking me out. It’s almost like … We were talking about a zoom … What was it? Some kind of security breach and being able to hear and see people. It’s almost like we’re so like-minded that you’ve been listening to me. I’m so zeroed in on the same thing. I was just having this conversation with somebody else where it’s like, there’s so much good information that you could get out. The time that you would spend in college or even graduate school, I mean, you can go and people like yourself, you’re giving it up and selling it to somebody that could then turn around and turn that into real money.

Phil Singleton: The tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that you would go into debt could be a complete swing the other way because you’re out of high school learning a real skill that people need. There’s so many people that need all sorts of services, but digital services in general. It’s like, what is the point? I just don’t get it. I’m like, man, I’m totally just like lit up because I couldn’t agree more. I want to be part of that too, where’s like, “Hey, you know, we’ve got the same thing. I can actually teach somebody a skill that’s made me some money,” pass that along, make a little bit of money, maybe scale it up a little bit where somebody can totally bypass all the heartache that we’re reading about right now.

Phil Singleton: Who wants to go to school? I don’t want to knock college too much, but I didn’t really learn anything when I stepped out of college. I couldn’t have started making money the day out it, right? I had somebody else had to train me for like six months before I was any use to anybody. Even then, it took me a couple years worth of experience to really start making any kind of a difference.

Tommy Griffith: Absolutely. It makes no sense. The economics have been upside down for almost a generation. An entire generation of people are putting their life on hold for it. It’s horrible across every category. There’s a handful of exceptions, rocket scientist, and pediatricians, and things like that.

Phil Singleton: Yeah, doctors and lawyers, I mean, you’re going to walk out, but you’re learning something you’ll probably have to go to school for. That probably makes a little bit … you need to do other things.

Tommy Griffith: For sure, but the vast majority do not need it. I mean, there’s 50 … There’s more than 50 graduate school degrees in the United States that offer a Master’s Degree in digital marketing. They range from 40 to 100 thousand dollars and they are completely useless. They are … We’ve hired people at PayPal and Airbnb, I’ve hired people in my own company. No one respectable in this industry would ever glance at this degree. It means nothing. It means absolutely nothing. It’s an opportunity … Think about from the university’s perspective. It’s an opportunity. It’s a move in a new vertical. They have no idea what they’re teaching, but you’re a 22 year old kid, you’re at a university in Florida, you get an email your senior year that says, “Get a Master’s Degree in social media. We’ll give you financing.”

Tommy Griffith: You think, “I don’t want to go start my work yet. They would never give me a loan if I couldn’t afford it. I’m good at Facebook,” and you take the offer. This is happening … This is close to my heart because it’s digital marketing, but this is happening across a lot of other categories. We’re on a bit of a tangent here, but because of this online learning renaissance that we’re in, people can compartmentalize their knowledge and scale it up to this massive amount of leverage and teach people. I have a lot of strong opinions on this and I think the market is big, but I think it has an opportunity to be hundreds of times bigger than we could ever really conceivably imagine because of, what are we at? More than a trillion dollars in student loan debt, with a T, trillion with a T.

Tommy Griffith: It’s like, inconceivable amounts of opportunity. The way I would … The first thing I think I would note is that it is so much easier now today to launch an online course than it was when I started in 2012. It’s incredibly simple to get going. I really love Teachable. I use Teachable as my learning management system. I’ve tried everything else and Teachable has been-

Phil Singleton: Teachable? Is that something like a Kajabi or something like that?

Tommy Griffith: Those are all in the same ballpark.

Phil Singleton: Okay.

Tommy Griffith: Teachable, Thinkific, and Kajabi. I really like Teachable. I’m friends with the founder. I was on Udemy and after trying many different other WordPress learning management systems, had a lot more success with Teachable. It’s just one of these kind of, it just works. You can make some customizations to it if you want. If you want to be a real power user, it’s probably not for you, but one way I heard it described is as like the Shopify or the Square Space for online courses.

Phil Singleton: It is their platform and you kind of pay a subscription type of thing?

Tommy Griffith: Yep. You pay a subscription, but the way we do it so our site is WordPress, our core site is on WordPress, but our product is on a sub domain of our site, which is Teachable. I don’t know how technical you want to get here, but you can just change a C name record in your hosting and set up the course on a sub domain. You can customize it to a degree, but the actual course is happening on a sub domain on our site. You’re not going to teachable.com or anything to do it.

Tommy Griffith: It’s been … It’s just really nice to just pay someone else to handle all this because I have … I spent a year and a half managing user login credentials and dealing with payments. Then, a WordPress developer changes one thing and everything breaks and that kind of stuff. I just refuse to go down that road again. There’s probably other alternatives, but I really highly recommend checking out teachable first because we’ve had a lot of great success with them.

Phil Singleton: That’s literally something you can just upload your course and your slice it up how you want, your content, people can pay through it and pay their subscription or however they do it, and it all kind of is done through Teachable.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, exactly. It’s really the 80/20 of getting going the fastest. They have all the payment processing there as well. It’s improved a lot over the last few years.

Phil Singleton: Awesome. What things … How do you market it? You’re out there and you’re known, you’re very obviously an expert in SEO, you’ve done things like podcasts, you’re on one right now so that’s really good stuff. What things have worked? How have you marketed it from the beginning and what things are kind of working recently?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, I mean, the majority of our sales come from SEO. YouTube and YouTube SEO as well, which has been an interesting one recently. We’ve done other stuff, too. We’ve done interesting partnerships, JV partnerships. Over the last year, we’ve actually really focused a lot more on our product and our bottom funnel and our middle funnel and how users experience the site. We’ve almost become a webinar and an email marketing company now. We do a lot of webinars and we’ve had a lot of success and they’re a lot of fun. I enjoyed doing them quite a lot. Our email marketing game has been very, very strong. We run everything on Drip. Drip is an email marketing software and CRM. Even though they’ve had some stumbles this year with pricing and some technical problems that we’ve been a little grumpy with them about. But overall, Drip is fantastic and it’s been a really good way to kind of manage our business. All of our automations and all of our flows flow from Drip. We’ve had a lot of success there.

Phil Singleton: In terms of when you get started, pricing, because I know a lot of times … Because like I said, we did a little bit of … Let me take a couple steps back. One of the things I think is really interesting about some of the digital marketing modules out there, kind of like you said, even in this space, there’s all sorts of … they don’t really … a lot of them just don’t compete directly. I noticed on some of them, they’ll come in and maybe to basics and somebody like Moz has some training where they focus a lot on maybe selling the SEO services or digital marketing services so there’s a whole training on that. Some of them don’t have it.

Phil Singleton: The other guys like Brian Dean out there who really kind of zero in on all about this content piece that he does type of deal. There’s other ones that are kind of teaching the broad basics. There’s another one out there that we saw that’s almost more on creating the processes on the back end so it’s really heavy on operations and setting up the business side. It’s like, how do you actually deliver SEO services? They all kind of are pitched in and around digital and SEO. I think it’s really interesting how everybody’s got their different perspective, right? There’s different ways and different things you can learn in digital where you can’t just really stop at one sometimes if you really want to get the whole picture and other things that are working.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. That’s an interesting way to think about it. Brian’s course is great. We’re buddies and he’s just such a great leader on so much of this stuff and created a number of different tactics and techniques around content marketing and link building and a lot of that.

Phil Singleton: There’s so many angles, there’s so many different ways to skin the cat. I mean, so many people have different ways to do things. Especially, with digital in general. Everybody’s got their own recipe and they all can all work really well, right?

Tommy Griffith: For sure, yeah. For sure. It’s been a lot of fun, too, because I love chatting with digital marketers about how they do stuff. We get inspired by a lot of different people on how they do it. Brennan Dunn has been a great leader for us, in terms of how to run a lot of different automations. Andre Chaperon has a course called Auto Responder Madness. He’s an incredible copywriter on how to write emails. We pick stuff up from a number of different sources, for sure.

How do you set pricing for online courses?

Phil Singleton: One of the other things that I want to talk about that’s related to this is how do you suggest people price things? It’s funny because I’ve thought about doing a course. At some point, eventually we will. You see all sorts of things where people kind of will go to the three, six thousand dollar things that they have. Hot spots seem to be $997 or around a thousand for something. You’ve got people who are focused maybe selling on the modules or just monthly subscription type of a thing. You’ve probably experimented with different types of pricing. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who are thinking about creating a course? What is a good price point or a good pricing strategy that people will bite on?

Tommy Griffith: Pricing is fascinating. I still have not figured this out. I wrote a blog post a while ago on my pricing progression and how to think about this. The only real conclusion I came to is always get it wrong. Yeah, I mean, we’ve played with a lot of different things. The one thing I think …. so, I don’t know what your pricing should be. I’ve seen so many different models like Brian Dean is a very high priced product and he only does it through launches so you can only enroll a couple times a year. That puts a real scarcity behind it and that definitely works for him. The other thing, too, to keep in mind is how you want to manage your business operationally.

Tommy Griffith: For example, and full disclosure, with our business, we don’t have a Facebook community, a forum, or a way to interact with the community. We answer email questions and take support tickets all the time. That stuff is all cool, but we don’t have an ongoing management piece. The reason why is because we would suck at it. We know what we’re good at. We know what we want to work on and so we leave out those aspects that we know we wouldn’t be great at. People say this all the time, “Why don’t you create a membership product, or a Slack channel, or a Discord channel, or a Facebook group that costs zero to 99 dollars a month?”

Tommy Griffith: Outside of the opportunity and the totally addressable market around it, think about what you want to work on. Think about how big you want your team to be. Think about what sort of services you want to offer. Are we leaving money on the table by not having a monthly recurring community? Probably, but I’m not convinced it would be good. I’m fairly convinced it would be very mediocre. We’re not going to do it. The precursor to how to do pricing is to first think about where your unfair advantages are and what you actually want to work on, and then you can start from there. In terms of pricing, yeah, we started the courses on Udemy way back at $99.

Phil Singleton: A lot of those seem to be lower priced stuff. Usually it’s like, whatever it is, $29.99.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. I have a lot of strong opinions about Udemy. Udemy has really hurt the online course marketplace. We got into a very public fight. They kicked me off the platform. I’ve got some Jerry Springer level drama with Udemy.

Phil Singleton: Oh wow.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. I wrote a blog post actually about how … It was titled, My Revenue Increased 300% After Leaving Udemy. That was obviously much higher than now.

Phil Singleton: I can’t imagine ever using that now, but I guess at one point it was probably the place to go and it probably still is maybe for some folks who just don’t have any access to-

Tommy Griffith: It’s interesting. I actually … It was the place for a while and Udemy really … The reason why I’m so mad at them is because they really were positioned to kill grad school. They could have done it. They decided to do these vapor wear level deals where everything is $10. It’s all these very mediocre Photoshop courses and things like that. There’s a handful of exceptions of great content out there. What they really did was they hurt the creators. They hurt the course creators. You just … There’s so many platforms out there where you can really build a business and lifestyle. You can build a lifestyle on Uber, on Airbnb, on YouTube.

Tommy Griffith: You cannot build a lifestyle on Udemy. You can’t do it. There was a moment in time where you maybe could have and you no longer can. They take too high of a revenue share. They don’t let you price whatever you want. You don’t get access to the email address. I used to recommend using them to get started-

Phil Singleton: Do you guys take a really big cut? I don’t even … or is it reason?

Tommy Griffith: It changes all the time now. They’re really fumbling now and their CEO was let go a little while ago. It’s varied a lot the last couple of years. I have no idea what it is now. It was too high even back in 2014. I’m not sure where they are now. Anyways, we started at kind of the $99 mark. We moved up and down. It was too low for too long. What we found, all the way up to $500 was that sales went up the more you moved the price up, which is fascinating. Refunds go down, people complete more of the course, so it was really kind of fascinating for us, and people commit to it. It’s been really interesting.

Phil Singleton: On yours, I’ve noticed that you’ve got what a lot of people do is you kind of parse them out, you can take modules, and you’ve got like a bundled price, which is really attractive because it’s half or third or whatever all of them together would be, right? Is that a big part of sales? Do most people kind of go for that? I mean, I guess I probably would, but I’m not every buyer either.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, it is. It is. What people realize is … You know, we do a ton of free stuff, and free mini courses, and things like that. People get a taste of what our style is and our style is really good, world class people that do this stuff every day that take technical concepts and make it pretty easy. They know they’re going to get that with all the courses so we’ve bundled them all up into one and it’s lifetime access so any time there’s updates, you get them for free. People say, “Okay, I’ll have lifetime access to this and all these topics free forever for this one price? Okay, I’m in.” We’ve found a lot of success with that and a lot people take it.

Phil Singleton: Awesome. One of the things I’d like to ask about your opinion too, because what I’ve noticed in, again, trying to maybe create my own course at some point is it seems like a lot of people who go the course route do something different than you’re doing. That is, they’ll do the course as a way to get … actually as an entry level lead generator almost. To pay for itself and make some money off of, but the real track that they’ll tell you to making money is getting those folks to come in, having them join a group, like you were saying, and then maybe turning it into some kind of master mind where they become big ticket consulting clients that you’re making tens of thousands of dollars maybe or ten thousand dollars a year.

Phil Singleton: To me, that didn’t ever become … It’s not appealing because that’s a lot of time. I mean, how many people … If somebody’s going to spend X amount of dollars on a master mind group and really try to make a decent amount of money on it, they’re going to need a lot of your time. Well, if you’re already stretched out on other businesses that require “100% of your time” that gets really tough. You’re able to do this, it sounds like, without really having any of that. My understanding is a lot of these guys that are doing it do have that kind of master mind backend.

Tommy Griffith: Yeah.

Phil Singleton: It actually ends up being more than the front end piece. That’s what I love about what you’re doing. Do I have that right?

Tommy Griffith: You have that completely right, Phil. It’s fascinating to me because somewhere someone … at some point, someone laid out a sales funnel where they said, “And by the way, on the back end, you can invite people to an island and charge them ten thousand dollars for it,” and everyone started doing this. I think … I’m not going to sit here and say it’s wrong, but I think two things; one is, we’re just very clear about who our customer avatar is and what’s best for them and the best way to help them, and then two, we’re very, very certain about where we’re good and where we suck.

Tommy Griffith: I think what a lot of entrepreneurs do when they start to get some success is they continually say, “How do we 2X? How do we 2X? How do we 2X? Where are there other opportunities?” Of course, that’s fine, that’s great, that’s doing what’s best for the shareholders and all that, right? There’s a point where if you’re constantly valuing your own time at zero and it’s just this relentless pursuit of revenue, you end up doing a lot of BS you might not want to do. We’ve found we really like what we do. Everything we do we scale up and we write really evergreen content and tutorials. We don’t do master mind calls, and we don’t do the big annual retreat, and we just stick to our basics. We are definitely-

Phil Singleton: That, personally, is just not appealing to me because you just took the scalability out of it and put a bunch of consulting work into it, which yeah, then it gets to be like, well, what’s your time worth? Can you really scale this out? That’s what I love about what you’re doing. If you’re not doing that, your eye’s on the ball, which is making the best possible course that you can to really good job, like what you said, stay away from the stuff that you suck or you’re not going to like at. Stick at the things that you’re really good at. Keep making that really awesome. Then, all of the sudden, that’s the really scalable piece of the business that you have is the one that you don’t have to worry about, like the groups, and the customer service, and the master mind stuff, and all the people that might asking personal questions at the end of that piece.

Tommy Griffith: Right.

Phil Singleton: That’s really, really appealing. In my mind, when we’ve been kind of researching this, I was like, “That just doesn’t appeal to me at all,” but that’s what’s pitched by people who have kind of coached or given some advice on. I was like, “That’s just not me.” It’s awesome to see that somebody’s doing it this way and the front end is kind of … that’s where the value is, right?

Tommy Griffith: Right. Yeah. I’ve never thought of it that way, but that’s a really good point. There’s other funny things to think about. When I go to a retreat, when I go to an island, I don’t want to be hosting master mind calls. I want to be drinking Mai Tais. You know what I mean? It’s very … I think a lot of this, too, comes to the fact that when you’re out there working for yourself and dragging it home every night and it’s all on you, but you don’t have any obligations, it can change your mentality a lot. When there’s no investors to have to email and there’s no one else but you. You kind of realize it’s just on you. It just becomes a little bit more clear.

Tommy Griffith: There’s other funny examples, too, like we do promotions or joint venture email marketing things sometimes. Sometimes we’ll get questions. People read through the FAQ, they’re considering something, and they’ll send an email or they’ll post a comment and they’ll say, “Why isn’t there a Facebook group? Why isn’t there an ongoing community? Are you going to offer one soon?” I’ll just reply back and say, “No, we don’t plan on offering one soon.” I’ve seen multiple replies that are like, “Smart. That’s pretty smart.” It’s like, even the people who are demanding the extra things are like, “Yeah, I get it. I get it. I would be that awful customer that would ruin your life. You’re a smart man. Touche, sales man.” It’s just like … We’re just very open about what it is and people seem to get it.

Get in touch with & follow Tommy Griffith & Clickminded

Phil Singleton: Tommy, this has been awesome. These are my favorite ones where we talk shop a little bit with literally someone who looks at the world the same way I do, I think, and obviously got the same level of passion that I have for SEO and digital marketing. This has been especially cool. I’m so appreciative that you came on and chatted with me. Where can we follow you? What have you guys got going on? How does somebody follow you and what do you have on your website in terms of people maybe getting a little trial, a try before you buy or sign up, or getting a little taste of what you guys have to offer?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah. Thanks a lot, Phil. You can find us at ClickMinded.com. On Twitter, I’m @TommyGriffith. We have … Actually, we just launched these, they’re pretty cool, we launched these retro looking, 8-bit digital marketing and SEO strategy guides. They’re modeled after these old school, Nintendo powered video game strategy guides from the 90’s with kind of the 8-bit characters, these free strategy guides. Maybe I can send you the links and you can link them up in the show notes, if that’s cool.

Phil Singleton: Oh, big time. Any particular social platform that you’re more active on others that people should look out for you on?

Tommy Griffith: Yeah, probably Twitter, @TommyGriffith on Twitter.

Phil Singleton: Awesome.

Tommy Griffith: We’re at ClickMinded.com.

Phil Singleton: We are going to have all these links in the show notes and once again, thank you so much, Tommy Griffith, for coming on the show and be sure to check out his website ClickMinded.com and check out one of the best digital marketing courses out there.

Tommy Griffith: Phil, thanks a lot.