9 Key Takeaways from Udemy LIVE 2016

The inaugural Udemy LIVE conference just happened, and I had the honor and pleasure of attending it. To help me (and to hopteachabefully help you) grasp what just happened, I’ve come up with my list of 9 key takeaways from Udemy Live.


Waiting for my flight to SF on Friday. (Photo By Isabel Ebiner)

Meeting my fellow instructors and the Udemy team created such energy and enthusiasm that I struggled to fall asleep last night, upon arriving home. I was so excited to wake up Monday morning, and start implementing the strategies taught in the many amazing workshops, presentations, and conversations from the weekend.

In no particular order, here we go!

P.S. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a behind the scenes video to my YT Channel. Or watch below at the end of this article.

udemy live badge

Speaker – how cool!

1. Udemy is the NOW (and the future)

During Seth Godin’s keynote address, he was asked what he thought was the next big thing for online education. His response, challenged me to think about how I run my business while bringing clarity too.

Instead of worrying about the future, let’s care about the now.

Right now, Udemy is where it’s at. Right now, Udemy is the best platform for sharing knowledge with the world (and monetizing it). Right now, Udemy is poised to be a longterm success that changes the world of education in ways we might not even comprehend yet.

Instead of wondering what is next (what’s the next platform, what’s the next type of course, what’s the next marketing trick), we need to focus on what’s working right now. For me, Udemy is what’s working. It’s worked in ways that I am forever grateful since I joined in September, 2012. And while I’ve experimented with other platforms and strategies, often times getting caught up in timely detours, Udemy has been there improving and growing. Why not focus on what’s working now, and be the best at it?

This brings me to my next takeaway…

seth godin udemy live 2015

Seth Godin engaging with the audience during his keynote address on Sunday.

2. Choose to Be Great at Your Thing, NOT Mediocre at Many Things

I pride myself as someone that can wear many hats. As an entrepreneur and founder of Video School Online Inc., I wear the video creator, teacher, blogger, marketer, accountant, legal, promotion, and HR hats every week. To promote courses, I post YouTube videos, write articles, host webinars, join podcasts, post on social media, build sales funnels. The list could go on.

I’m not amazing at all of these things.

I’d like to think I’m good at some of them. But I know that I’m pretty bad with a few (social media, webinars).

Why do I try to do all of these things? Because every time I open up my Facebook feed or email, I see people suggesting these strategies (and more) to grow my business.

What I’ve failed to understand is that if I focused on just one, I could be great at it.

To be financially smart, I like to spread out my streams of income. But why should I do that so much so that I actually hurt my other streams? I’ll bet you that if instead of worrying about other platforms or even trying to promote my courses in 100+ ways, I just spent my time focusing on building better, remarkable, courses on Udemy, that I’d be 2 – 10x better than where I’m at right now.

As many of you know, I’ve had a lot of success on Udemy. So to think about that really means a lot.

Seth Godin admitted that he isn’t good at social media. He doesn’t like tweeting. What he does like is writing. That’s what he does, every day. He’s become successful because he does that.

When new social media platforms snap onto the Internet, he doesn’t jump on board right away because he prides himself on being a great writer, and knows that by doing so he would hurt his writing.

This has challenged me to think about what I do. Maybe I need to simplify. Maybe I need to focus more. Do what I love (creating course), but make them even better. Let go of some of the other things.

3 phil training

During an Advanced Video Production I ran with the amazing David Quintanilla of Udemy.

3. Create Remarkable Content that is Shared

Not all of these takeaways will be from Seth Godin’s address, I promise. But these first few are so intertwined and important that I have to group them together.

People don’t just want information when they buy a Udemy course. If they did, they could find that information for free elsewhere, and wouldn’t purchase courses on Udemy. This is similar to how people paying $200k+ to learn how to program at MIT. It’s not for the information. It’s for the piece of paper, for the story – to paraphrase Godin.

People want to partake in something they can share.

When creating any content, we need to think in those terms.

How do we create content that people want to share?

First we have to make it remarkable (high quality, interesting, engaging). If we do that, it will most likely be shared by whomever is consuming our content.

We also need to think about the share-ability while creating the course. It has to be inherently shareable. How we actually do that with an online course is a bit tricky, and something I’ll be working on over the next years.

udemy live friends 2

Enjoying the events with Jack Wilson, Ravinder Deol, Joe Parys, and Dennis J. Smith.

4. Your Tribe is More Important than Any Platform

By creating remarkable content that is shared (YouTube videos, courses, blog articles, social media posts, etc), you will start to build a tribe of followers.

Your tribe likes, knows, and trusts you.

Gaining the trust of your followers is the ultimate goal, and if you can achieve that in whatever you do, you’ll never struggle to earn a living.

To build your tribe you can use tools like social media groups, an online course, or an email list. This tribe will follow you wherever you go.

Seth Godin talked about using TypePad to host his blog. Whether he’s using TypePad or WordPress doesn’t matter. It’s just a way to share his art/work. What matters is having a loyal tribe of trusting followers.

If TypePad disappears, he can always move to WordPress, and 99.9% of his followers wouldn’t care.

This idea is the one that will change how I run my online course business more than any other.

To be completely open and honest, I’ve always been afraid of finances (and more specifically, being financially unsound). That’s why over the past few months I started promoting courses hosted with a Teachable account. I was preemptively preparing for slower sales on Udemy. While the pricing change did effect my sales (down 25% in April, 10% in May from 2015s average), I think part of the drop was because I switched my promotion strategy.

I take part of the blame.

I started to think about what would happen if Udemy disappeared. Would I be able to earn a living with my online courses? Initially, it would be difficult. And that’s why I started building my own course site, to ‘have more control’ of my income.

Now that I think about it, this has probably hurt more than benefitted. I’ve split my tribe. I’ve created confusion for people trying to access my courses. Why are they on Udemy and Teachable? Which one should I buy?

I now believe that it doesn’t matter if I build up my own course platform, and it is probably hurting me because if I have a loyal following of students, they’ll come with me wherever I go. Promoting my courses on Udemy is probably better (something Mark Timberlake had explained in an appearance on our Passive Income Show). This brings me to my next takeaway.

landing page

The landing page for my Photography Masterclass course.

5. Drive Traffic to Udemy Course Landing Pages

I’ve started to build a tribe, but it’s still small and not as strong as I’d love it to be. I need to focus on building trust first. And for now (and hopefully many years, decades, forever) Udemy is where I should host and promote my courses.

Not only is it financially the best decision (they only charge a 3% transaction fee for any course sale I make), but there’s other benefits of being in their marketplace.

Social Proof

Seeing thousands of students and hundreds of reviews will help people make a purchase decision.


When I drive traffic to my course landing pages on Udemy and they don’t purchase, Udemy will step in and start targeting those visitors with ads for my courses. I don’t have to do any of that myself. All I need to do is drive traffic to Udemy.


Competition is good. A popular analogy is about opening up a shoe store. Studies show that you’ll be more successful opening up a shoe store on a street full of shoe stores than on the other side of town where there are none.

Seth Godin likened this to authors. Authors love selling their books in book stores. People go in with the idea of buying a book. If every author set up their own little stand on the street corner, they would struggle much more to make sales.

In that vein, we aren’t even competitors. We are all instructors with our own unique selling proposition building our own tribes. Udemy is the best place to put our courses and earn money from them, and if Udemy wins, we all win.


Would you pay 12x for a movie?

6. Pricing Shouldn’t Be a Barrier to Education

Early Saturday afternoon, we all sat down with Udemy CEO Dennis Yang and founder Eren Bali. VP of Content Grégory Boutté asked them questions about the founding of Udemy and where Udemy is headed.

Udemy’s mission, which clearly came across throughout the weekend, is to help anyone in the world become the person they want to be through education.

To do that, education has to be accessible. To be accessible, education has to be affordable.

People shouldn’t have to worry about price when choosing what they want to learn.

Founder Bali used the analogy of going to the movies. What if movie prices were different based off of the actors or genre? What if the latest action flick was $60 and the indie comedy was $5? That makes the decision a lot harder. Is the $60 film 12 times better than the $5 movie?

Why make that decision harder for the student?

phil ebiner udemy teaching around the globe

Checking out a map of my Udemy students – 1 in Greenland!

If you put courses on Udemy, you should realize, accept, and support this mission. And because of this, the pricing change makes a lot more sense.

If you want to charge higher for your courses because you think you can make more money from them or believe that they’re honestly more valuable than $20 – $50, then that’s okay. You can use another platform.

While CEO Yang and Bali would love for you to put all of your courses on Udemy, they realize this and accept it. Udemy isn’t for every type of online course (right now, and who knows if it ever will be).

I admit to getting caught up in wanting to make more, more, more money with my courses. When I do, I end up creating mediocre (or bad) courses. Strip that inclination away, I do believe in their mission. I don’t create online courses to just make money. I make money to educate and help other people.

Fortunately, Udemy does provide an amazing income that allows me to create more and better courses.

Two More Positives about the Price Change

Aside from this golden nugget about why pricing change is better, they also shared some great data that shows an increase in student engagement (i.e. better for you and me to build trusting tribe) and course sales price (i.e. more money for you and me when we create higher quality courses that people love).

udemy live panel

Enjoying a workshop with Mosh Hamedani and Brandon Hakim.

7. Target Your Specific Student Type

Veronica Spindler, Claire Menke, and Sara Hooker of the Udemy team led the first breakout session I attended on Saturday. With all of data that Udemy collects, they’ve segmented their student population into roughly 7 types of learners. These ranged from millennial learners who are just out of college looking for new skills on the cheap to lifelong learners who care about continued education and have more money to spend.

Knowing these different types of personalities helps course creators in a number of ways. Primarily, we’re able to better create courses with that audience in mind through style and tone of voice. And just as important, we’re able to promote specifically to that type of person.

I’ve personally found (and Udemy’s data team backs this up) that my worst reviews come from people whose expectations for the course were not met.

My After Effects course wasn’t advanced enough. My Photography Masterclass lessons were too basic.

This is feedback that I constantly hear. How do I fix this issue? I can either try to create a course that matches that student’s feedback or I can make sure that people who enroll in the course know exactly what to expect.

Being more specific is easier and more important. Through the sales copy and promo video, we need to make sure that whoever reads or watches it understands exactly what the course is about. If they do, and they enroll, then they’re going to have a great experience.

If what you say you are offering matches what you actually offer, there’s no way anyone that purchases your course can feel cheated.

This great experience translates into great reviews, great shares, and more sales.

udemy live equipment

Shooting behind the scenes footage with Dennis J Smith a la Casey Neistat.

8. Don’t Trick People Into Buying Your Course

When asked about how to use ads (Google, Facebook, etc.) to promote courses, Seth Godin responded with some great truths about advertising. He ultimately dissuaded us from using ads to sell our products because instead of ads, we should be selling our courses by word of mouth.

People should enroll in our remarkable courses, share that with their circle, and that’s how we get more sales.

He admits that it is possible to sell courses with ads (or anything with ads), but the way most people use ads is to try to trick someone into buying something.

Ads pop up in the most inconvenient times – at the beginning of a YouTube video, above the actual search results, when you’re trying to connect with people on social media. The only way to get someone to click on an ad includes some for of visual and textual trickery.

Not only is it hard for us as individual instructors to be able to make money from using ads, but we should be more focused on just growing our tribe of followers organically with amazing content (free or accessibly priced).

udemy live friends

And these are the people who teach on Udemy.

9. It’s About Actual People

Aside from the amazing workshops and presentations, there was an even better reason for attending Udemy Live. Meeting people whom I’ve talked to online for years, face to face, was absolutely incredible. I don’t even want to try to list all of the instructors whom I spoke to, so I won’t. You know if you’re one of them.

Meeting you, hanging out with you, laughing with you, and learning with you shows the power of Udemy. Everyone there is changing the world. Everyone there just sort of clicked. There was no competitive spirit. There was just openness and smiles.

Meeting one of my biggest inspirations, Miguel Hernandez, in person!

Meeting one of my biggest inspirations, Miguel Hernandez, in person!

Meeting the Udemy team was just as incredible. While I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of you before, it still amazes me how passionate about you are about your jobs at Udemy. Whether you were passionate from the start, or just became passionate about your job (like Seth Godin encourages), it was apparent.

Hearing from you, from your brains and from your hearts, and where you believe Udemy is going is inspiring. Understanding the thought process behind your decisions was eye opening. I hope everyone who teaches on Udemy gets to one day meet the amazing team that creates, maintains, and grows this platform.

Lastly, meeting students brought it all home. Many of the instructors I met had taken a course of mine. They didn’t just take my course on how to teach online. They took my After Effects course, my photography course, my video editing in Premiere Pro course. Seeing how I’ve made a small impression on you, reminds me of why I love creating online courses.

There are actual people learning from me. That’s amazing. I feel humbled and in awe of how Udemy connects instructors with people from around the world. And meeting people from Holland, Australia, Pakistan, Switzerland, Canada, India, and around the globe who have taken my courses face to face, really meant a lot.

Thank you Udemy.

I cannot wait to attend next years Udemy LIVE event, wherever it may be. It was a weekend to remember, and one that will spring board me to some of the most productive and authentic (perhaps consistent) things I do.

What do you think? For those of you who attended Udemy LIVE, what takeaways did you have? Post a comment below with your top one!


Watch the Behind-the-Scenes Vlog

  • Phil it was great to meet you in person. I feel so lucky to have started on Udemy so early that I got to inspire awesome instructors like you to get started teaching online. Now 5 years later I am the one inspired. I’d love to know how you find the time to produce so much content so quickly. May be you could create a course teaching us how your organize yourself to be so productive! I would buy it!
    Keep the great work!

    • Hey Miguel! It was great meeting you in person. It’s funny that you mention my productivity, I’m creating a course with Joe Parys about productivity in July. So I’ll try to remember to send you the link!

  • Dina Lynch Eisenberg

    Phil I loved meeting you in person and sharing a conversation. I know what it feels like to meet your inspiration since that’s you! I’m so honored and proud to have been at the first Udemy Live with you, Cathy and Jacqueline, instructors/giants whose shoulders I stand on. Thx!

    • Hi Dina,
      It WAS GREAT meeting you in person! I hope to meet in person again, and until then I’ll see you on Blab and beyond!

  • Jonathan Levi

    Great article, Phil, thanks for filling us in. I can’t help but feel, though, that there was a certain level of brainwashing going on, because both driving non-Udemy traffic to Udemy and avoiding creating your own site are probably very bad decisions on my eyes.

    Though I do admit, my Udemy revenues have suffered since shifting some of my focus, I think a lot of it is due to pricing changes. Who knows. However, I do know that I’m glad I had a backup plan in place well before April, especially since my MasterClass costs between 5 and 7 times the maximum price of a course on Udemy. I’ll continue supporting Udemy and creating the best possible courses I can there, but I’m keeping my own Thinkific site up and investing a huge portion of my time, money, and energy into it – just in case.

    And as for driving email subscribers to Udemy, well… I think I’ll just use promotional announcements for that and save my email list for non-Udemy products.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    • Hey Jonathan,
      Thanks for checking it out. And I think you make some good points. I think you have been building a great audience/tribe of your own since you started on Udemy. Being able to do a masterclass off of Udemy is wonderful (and I’d really like to pick your brain on how you have done it so successfully!).

      We’ll both have to compare notes over the next few years to see how our strategies are working out! I’m betting/hoping we’ll both be pretty successful!


      • Jonathan Levi

        Rock on, Phil. I can tell when students love you – your friendliness shines through in all that you do. Drop me a line and we’ll hop on a Skype call and compare notes. I’m always keen to meet other instructors – in fact, Anthony Metivier has become one of my best friends after we decided to meet up and chat. 4-5 meetings later, we work together on loads of stuff.

  • It was really great meeting you Phil. I really enjoyed your session and I thought it was an awesome touch to have the equipment there for all of us to see. Thank you for everything!

    • Hey Dan! It was awesome meeting you in person too! And thanks – I was so nervous! But glad you enjoyed the session!

  • Hi Phil. You wrote this “Udemy is where I should host and promote my courses.”, but what about your teachable site?, you send traffic to that site. Should I not use teachable.com?

    • This is a debate that I’ve been having with myself for a while, and something that I plan on continuing to experiment with. My current belief is that by driving traffic to my Udemy courses, I will make about the same amount of sales, but also increase the engagement, reviews, and ranking of the courses on Udemy. This will have a compounding effect that actually results in more sales overall. I will continue to use Teachable to bundle courses (which isn’t an option on Udemy yet) and free courses that allow me to capture email leads and market with email sequences.

  • Elmira Strange

    Hey Phil, just wanted to say thank you for the article and the video. The energy I get from it so inspiring and enthusiastic! I see other ‘faces’ that I recognise as well because I took their (and yours) courses. I hope to become a successful Udemy instructor myself and meet with you and others at one of the Udemy Live events!

    • Yay! So glad you enjoyed the video (and the article!).

  • Thanks Phil for a great article and great photos!

  • Leila Gharani

    Great article! I particularly like the details you gave on Seth’s speech. Thank you for sharing.

  • Curious that there are NO photos of women …

    • This is SO true! And I wish I got photos with some of the amazing women instructors and Udemy team members that I got to talk to and learn from.

  • Robert Thompson

    Why doesn’t Udemy require Closed Captions? Coursera.com and Kadenze.com do. Your article is about Creating Courses. I bought a lot of courses a few years ago and was very disappointed because I can’t make out everything with my hearing impairment.

    Please pass on to Udemy the following links, just FYI, the All Caps are just copied from links. Trying to help Udemy.



    • Hi Robert, it’s a good question. I’m not exactly sure how the rules affect Udemy. I do know that Coursera and Kadenze are courses from actual universities. But Udemy is not selling accredited courses like the ones on Courses, Kadenze, or that you’d find from a university. I know they offer the ability to have closed captions on their courses. And I’ve added some to many of my courses.

      • Robert Thompson

        Thanks for reply Phil. Nice to see your After Effects videos are CC’ed. Would be nice to see a Unity 3D VR class CC’ed. I checked and there were classes but when I chose “Closed Caption” features none yet. Hopefully soon. Maybe Unity can put a quick click request later on to request CC.