Hi everyone! Welcome back to the second part of the blog on the second episode of the Townhall series, where Mohammed Zeeshan tells us what are the benefits of online learning communities for new-age careers. It was so nice learning a lot from the perspective of someone who bootstrapped to building a community at this scale today and we could also see a lot of interesting patterns. I am glad that we are moving forward to sharing our learnings with everyone in our community-building industry.
Below is a link to the blog on the first part of the discussion:
In this exclusive conversation with Zeeshan, we got to know:
And much more‚ So let's get reading!
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Zeeshan comes from an era where the bubble around startups was bursting. Suddenly, the funding had dried out. There was a lot of apprehension in the ecosystem on who should get funded. If you look at the statistics as well, from 20,000 startups starting in a year, it probably got down to 11,000 within a year.
So, it was a turmoil era, and during that time, there was a lot of focus on 'unit economics'. This was primarily because a lot of logistics companies started failing in that period. Because they started the venture during that time, and again they were student entrepreneurs, nobody was going to place a bet on a 19-year-old kid from a tier 2 college.
These situations led them to create a business model which was extremely efficient in terms of its usage of capital. It had its CAT (Capital Acquisitions Tax) extremely low and it also had very strong unit economics. This is why they were able to bootstrap the venture. They also utilized a lot of referrals and very early community building to get their early customers.
The first batch of MyCaptain was launched primarily for a bunch of 15-20 DPS RK Puram kids. They wanted to learn creative writing. Once they started engaging them, they saw that there was a great amount of community already inbuilt within the students, and these students were enjoying their learnings.
It was the first time that an online education platform used cohort-based courses - if you tap
it well, it can just go viral through referrals. That is why they started contacting their learners
and said, "Hey, if you are liking the course, just recommend probably 5 people to join in, and you can get any book from Flipkart for free."
So, they just rolled the offer out for the school students back then, and for the next four months, they were booked. They did not have to do any marketing because their first batch got them their next four months of batches from probably 20 different schools across the country.
Offline communities are very difficult to scale. For example, Zeeshan comes from a background of working for ISEC and Enactus. So, ISEC had been built over almost 80 years, compared to what, let's say, TheProductFolks today would be. TheProductFolks would be at half of the scale within one and a half years of starting. So, the scale that comes with the online community is so huge that offline communities cannot be compared to it.
The amount of effort and energy that is needed to build an offline community and the logistics and growth of it, is very difficult compared to an online community. So, while MyCaptain started as an offline community initially, the way forward was always online.
However, there is always an aspect where there is a sweet spot between how you build a hybrid community, which is online as well as offline. So, this was the pre-covid era where they started engaging their students in offline meetups, offline events, offline boot camps, even
things like retreats and going out for a two-three day camp, etc. But the COVID era came in and they could not scale.
In his words, "I won't be able to tell you how it works or whether it works or not because right at the moment where we thought we were able to crack it, the world completely transformed and changed."
MyCaptain PowerTalks was a mid surf influencer campaign with learning and a top-of-the-funnel activity with a branding touch to it. So, what they did was that they got Vir Das, Tanmay Bhat, Simon Tofield, Yahya Bootwala, Ravinder Singh. They took live classes and courses onto the platform as well.
MyCaptain had more than 30,000 to40,000 people registered for the PowerTalks and a fair amount of people turned up and showed up for the live classes. But what they saw was that the conversion rates vastly differed based on the celebrity that was coming in.
For example, when Tanmay came in, probably 8,000 to 9,000 people registered and 6,000 to 7,000 came in for the session, but the course that was associated with him, which was social media content creation course, hardly 10-20 people paid for it. From such a huge volume, the conversion was so low because people came in for Tanmay but they did not come in to become professionals in his field.
Things that you should keep in mind if you are doing celebrity-led engagements are as follows:
So, that is something that they observed. When Ravinder Singh took a novel-writing workshop, the conversion rates were 8-10% which is humongous. Now, that was not because of Ravinder's popularity but because the kind of following he already had was the following of people who were passionate and series about writing.
Zeeshan made the mistake of being fairly late and looking at the community as an alumni engagement way and then, later on, realizing the potential of it. He requests everyone to not make that mistake. According to him, you can get into the community from day one and you should have a community from day one because it gets you close to your potential customers.
The kind of learnings that you can get from just being close to potential customers and building the community is going to be the reason why you are successful, compared to your competitors. And that was true for MyCaptain as well. Now, they did not focus on a community but they were the community where 19-year-old kids were solving 19-year-old people's problems.
Hence, they knew how to navigate through what was the requirement of their user base and what was the requirement of their customers. So, it was of immense learning for MyCapatain that in 2015, they were doing cohort-based live courses. The solution came very naturally because they were inside the community even though they did not look at it as a community or even work as a community.
But because they were a part of the community, they were the people who faced the problem. And so, they were able to crack it much better than any other big player out there. In his words, "Do not build a community for catering to your business goals. That does not work out. You have to cater to the growth of your community. A community-led growth is much more efficient than a product-led growth, and it can also provide brand advocacy."
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