Launching an online course

Motivations, plan, and format
Posted in Course, the 15/11/2021.


Teaching and learning

I’m passionate about the web. It started out as a hobby, I’ve then had the chance to transform it into a full-time job more than 10 years ago. Building for the web is exciting. If you have a computer at hand, within minutes you could be building your first webpage. You change a few lines in a file, you refresh your browser, and you immediately see the result, that’s thrilling. I still appreciate this feeling even after all these years as a developer.

Curiosity and excitement are a start, but sometimes you get stuck and need help. The second huge benefit you get from working in the web industry is the community. There are so many great and inspiring people out there, sharing their knowledge, replying in forums, streaming, blogging, creating open-source tools, it’s vibrant! I always loved that, and I benefited so much from it that I would like to thank every person who helped me out directly or indirectly for the past 15 years. Those people have always been my models, and I’ve always wanted to be like them.

That explains why I’m reasonably active online, outside of my day-to-day job. I write articles on my blog to express myself on subjects I’d like to discuss. I often have an eye on Twitter, where I both read the tweets or engage with the community. I go to local meetups, where I sometimes speak. I’ve given interventions at schools in the past, and I’d like to do some new ones again soon if I get the opportunity. I’ve joined technical slacks where I like to exchange with fellow developers and tech leaders.

I do so because it’s rich and lively. I’ve gained so much by exchanging with peers, sometimes by listening, sometimes by debating, sometimes by showing, sometimes by teaching. All these actions had positive effects on me and made me intellectually richer.

Learning, building, and exchanging with the community, are key pillars of my motivation and interest in the web industry. That’s the reason why I wanted to work on a new project, which would tick all those boxes, which would be about teaching online. That’s where the idea of creating an online course first came to me. But I wasn’t sure at this point.

Stepping out of the comfort zone

Having to handle a situation you don’t master is certainly uncomfortable at first. It forces you to learn, to adapt. But past this stage, it can also be very rewarding in many ways, for example with knowledge gains, self-esteem, recognition, etc.

As a team lead, I’ve always developed a great interest in optimizing the way a production team operates. It’s very interesting, especially when you get the chance to start from nearly scratch. My last experience on the subject at Wonderful has been very successful, and I have a thankful thought for every person who trusted me for driving this project for the last few years. Now that this work has been conducted, the team produces like clockwork, my expertise on improving the team productivity is less required. I’ve recently felt right in the middle of my comfort zone, but not really in a positive way.

I needed a shake, a boost, a new challenge, which would force me to learn, unlearn, relearn if need be. This new point gave some more weight towards the idea of creating an educational project. I would have to research, I would have to train on areas I don’t know, like marketing for example. I would have to write or speak or maybe produce videos, grow an audience, put my work in front of people I don’t know. Maybe they’ll like it, maybe they will not. I’ll certainly have to challenge what I think I know, or what I think is best. That’s really a shake. That feels a lot like stepping right out of the comfort zone and I like the idea.

The content creator boom

We have a lot of trending topics in the web community. Sometimes it’s WordPress, sometimes it’s a JS framework, sometimes it’s the Open Source world, etc. Twitter gets crazy over it for a few months, then the next topic comes along, bringing its whole lot of arguments for or against. To me, this shows the community is dynamic and endlessly creating value and possibilities.

Recently two subjects seem to be trending: crypto and the creator economy. As you can guess, the second subject is more within the scope of this article.

The creator economy seems booming at the moment, and not just within the web industry. We see content creators everywhere online, on social media, youtube, twitch, Instagram, tik tok, dedicated platforms. If anyone wants to get started at creating content online, he or she can have access to plenty of mature tools and platforms to do so and that’s a real chance.

I didn’t really notice the movement at first, then I realized many of the people I follow were becoming content creators either full-time or part-time. Some were creating videos courses on, some were streaming on twitch or youtube, some were creating online courses on custom-made websites, some were literally building platforms for other content creators.

Here’s a few of them out of my head if you’re interested :

I follow these persons because I admire their work, and now they’re also an inspiration to believe in myself to launch this project.

Diversifying my revenue model

From the beginning of my career, I’ve always been a full-time salaried employee. That’s a pretty straightforward revenue model: you exchange a certain amount of hours of work against a given salary. This model suited me well, I didn’t really think much about it until recently.

I’m now 34, married to the love of my life, proud dad of two kids, owner of a lovely house outside of Montpellier in the south of France. Life is sweet overall, I don’t really need much at the moment, but some questions arise. Will it always be the case? Probably not. Kids will grow up, they’ll need to go to university at some point. Life expenses go up via inflation, salary sometimes does not follow immediately. What if something goes wrong with my current employer?

It’s not that I’m worried, it’s more about resilience, trying to imagine a more robust revenue model that would not entirely rely on the relationship I have with my employer. It’s also related to investing in yourself, which, if I’m honest, is the only thing I’m able to invest on based on my current revenue model. So investing on my knowledge to create an online resource people would be interested in buying would be a great achievement, in itself, but also one towards a more diverse income scheme.

I was dubious I could pull this off from within my existing work/life balance too. I’m working 39 hours per week, and have a demanding personal planning outside of that with the family. It seemed very very hard at first to squeeze enough quality time in the week to work seriously on this new project. That’s why I reached out to my boss, and I presented him the project, the reasons behind it, the benefits it would have on me, and by rebound hopefully on Wonderful. He took it with great wisdom, and vision, and freed me 3 hours of my work time per week to work on the project. And I would like to thank him personally for that.

Choosing a subject

If we take a step back, so far we’ve discussed teaching, learning, becoming a creator, and gaining some income from it. That sounds like a great but ambitious plan, but at least it sounded like a plan. A plan I took the time to mature and consolidate. One I would feel motivated to put the necessary efforts in to realize. One I’m at peace with: I’m going to create an online course.

But soon enough, crucial questions come into play. What should I talk about? What would the subject be? What would the format be? I can talk about many subjects, but then surely I can’t teach that many well enough, and even, I wouldn’t feel legitimate to teach them at all.

It took me some time to think through the fact that in the end, I only felt legitimate enough about one subject: the work I’ve been doing for the last 10 years: improving development teams’ organization and productivity.

Figuring out the table of content

At this step again, I was at peace with the project direction. I was also convinced by the reason why I wanted to do it, and by my subject. But like I said in the previous paragraph, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past ten years, that’s a lot to discuss, so I had to figure how to cut and organize my thoughts into a clear and educational roadmap.

I started with the brain dump technique, where I wrote into a file everything I could think of. This ended up being a big list. But at least it was a start and a concrete base I could work with. I reorganized items, grouped some, deleted some. I saw that some were potential subjects, some were more chapter titles, some were more content that should be inside a chapter instead of being their own one, and I carried on reworking the file until I had something manageable and teachable over a reasonable period.

I ended up with three parts of roughly 10 chapters in each. That sounded coherent to me.

Choosing the format

At this point, the project is becoming clearer to me. I know what I can talk about. But so far I still don’t know how I will do so. Will it be a video course? Will it be a hosted online course? Will it be an email sequence course? A custom website course? There are many choices.

  • The Video course: I eliminated the video format for many reasons: I don’t have any equipment for this, I don’t have a proper recording space at home, most importantly I don’t have the recording or editing skills to make professional-looking videos. Nothing unconquerable, but that would mean adding more investment and more risks to my project, which I decided not to do.
  • The email course: The email course format didn’t seem very appropriate either, mainly considering the table of content I imagined. 30 chapters sent in your inbox could be a lot of emails to receive, but also to read, digest, keep for future reference, etc.
  • Online course platforms: I then turned to dedicated online course platforms. I compared a few of them, but couldn’t get convinced by one in particular. Either the course presentation was not great, sometimes it was expensive up front, sometimes it required me to work on a file download instead of a web format, sometimes your course would be drowned under a sea of diverse other courses. I could not find the perfect candidate mainly because I had a set of requirements in mind that I couldn’t match with a particular platform, not because the platforms were not good.
  • A custom website: I’m a developer so I can build the website myself if I needed, but doing so would require a lot of time if I had to build everything entirely, especially the membership part, with the payment handling and all.

So what I’ve decided to do, is to host the course on my personal website to start with, which would give me the freedom to create and write the course as I wish. And then I would delegate the membership part to a creator platform.

So as you can see, I’ve settled for a solution that is a mix between the last two points: a dedicated website + a creator platform.

I’ve chosen gumroad for several reasons :

  • It has a free mode which allowed me to deeply test what the app can do :
    • I tested the product creation
    • I then embedded it in my site
    • I then faked a purchase
    • I controlled the confirmation email I got
    • I liked the process and all went well
  • It can generate unique license numbers per purchase. That’s great for the course authentication on my site
  • It has an API to control license numbers. Another great part for controlling access to the course.

I’ve then coded the communication between my site and gumroad, on the API part to protect the course access, and with their embed code to present my products.

After a few days of work, I finished the technical aspects, which meant I was ready to host it.


Based on the described preliminary work, I’ve decided to build an online course. This certainly won’t be easy, and that’s why I’m also preparing a series of articles explaining my journey as a course creator.

I’ve already started to write the first chapters of the course content. But then I’ve decided to put the writing on hold, because of a reason I’ve read while doing some new research: attention to marketing is crucial to the success of such projects. So we’ll see in the next post of this series how I approached the course marketing.