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How To Build A Successful Social Learning Community (with Jared Falk from Drumeo)

The CEO of Musora Media—the company behind Drumeo, Guitareo, Pianote, and Recordeo—shares his ideas learned from building a successful social learning community.

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Audio Transcription:

Ben Aston

Welcome to the Indie Media Club Podcast. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Indie Media Club. We’re on a mission to help independent, bootstrapped media entrepreneurs succeed, to help people who create, promote, and monetize through content do it better. Check out indiemedia.club to find out more. 

Ben Aston

So today, I’m joined by Jared Falk, and he is the CEO of Musora Media. Musora empowers music students around the world through Drumeo, Pianote, Recordeo, and Guitareo. So keep listening to today’s podcast to learn how to build a successful social learning community. 

Ben Aston

Hey, Jared, thanks for joining us. 

Jared Falk

Thank you for having me. It’s good to be on the podcast. 

Ben Aston

Well, I want to start by digging a bit into your story and learning about Drumeo, which is where it all started for you. And I know from doing my research that you were getting tired of repeating itself as giving the same lessons and advice again and again. 

Ben Aston

So the idea was born to create an online music class for drummers. But I’m curious about that genesis, in that process, why you decided, hey, OK, I’m going to start some drum lessons. What made you think that you could do it, that you could create this social learning community? And was that the idea right at the beginning? 

Jared Falk

Well, I had no idea that I could do it. All I knew is that I could try. 

Jared Falk

And in the early days, I was teaching private lessons. And one of my students was into, you know, putting out videos online. And so but prior to that, I had really got into selling stuff on eBay. So even though selling drum gear or 1996, 97 I was selling hockey cards online. And so I just was really fascinated with the idea of an online business. And I grew up on the farm and the farming kind around my dad. My dad’s a farmer. My grandpa was a farmer.

So that was kind of what I was destined to. But with farming, it’s like, you know, the chickens never stop laying eggs, essentially. And it’s you’re working every day and you have to be in one location to work. So for me, I was like, I really like the idea of being in this different kind of business. The Internet was becoming more and more popular. And yeah. I didn’t like repeating myself, but more than that, I found that a lot of the first steps from learning instruments or learning drums, in this case, were very similar between students and that’s where we could film those concepts and put them out there.

And you know, more with more people could get that information than previously. And so that was like originally that was the idea. And it wasn’t really, oh, I’m going to build a social learning community or anything like that. It was more just we think that people are going to want to learn online. So let’s put up some videos. And that was like before YouTube and Facebook and everything. So by putting up the videos, I mean, getting a website, finding a way to upload videos after we filmed them. So it was more challenging back then, which is why I think we had some early success. There is because there is really no one else doing it. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so it was the early days of creating kind of rich content online, which I guess was a massive headstart for you. And in terms of so you decided, hey, I want to stop in on my business. I don’t want to be a chicken farmer. And obviously, you’re already teaching drums to students a month, and was that really intentional and thinking, hey, I want to build a business around music as well or were you just trying to find additional ways to monetize essentially the content that you were already creating? 

Jared Falk

I didn’t even know what monetize meant back then. You know, people use that term all the time now, like, how do I monetize my brand? No one talked like that back, you know, back then. It’s like if we gave away a free video one time, like hey we’re giving a free video. And people just went bananas for that. Like the fact that we were giving away a free video online. It was unheard of. And so that was like talking about lead generation, lead management, and stuff like that. You know, that back then it was a little bit easier like that. Now we look at it and it’s well that’s ridiculous. You can get millions and millions of videos online easily.

No one cares about getting a free video from you. So we weren’t thinking of monetizing. We were thinking about how can we create something and just and sell it online. But we weren’t putting up any free content. So it’s not like we had an audience. We created a product. Google Ads had kind of just came out and we started buying Google Ads and listing those products on eBay because eBay was the place where a lot of people were going to purchase stuff online. So it’s much more tactical in it. And it wasn’t that strategic at all. It was more just like figuring out what’s working, how can we reach customers, are there customers there? But yeah, the word monetize was not in my vocabulary. 

Ben Aston

So you had made the drum lessons, listed them on eBay, and then it was AdWords selling ads, selling these drum lessons through eBay using Google Ads. 

Jared Falk

Well, through our website, eBay was more of a built-in marketplace and that people there were already searching for stuff and they would naturally and organically find us there. So similarly, now I could use something on Amazon. That’s a relative niche product. You’ll just organically create sales. 

Ben Aston

So you’d created a bunch of drama lessons and tried in some AdWords. How else did you try and build your audience in that first year? 

Jared Falk

The first Website we launched was called breaksticks.com. And it was just a forum. And the idea there was to just create a community and a hub where people would talk about drums. And I think we had around 700 members and then we just like kind of work with that community. We didn’t really sell anything. We’re just kind of learning about how to reach people, how to build community online. But, yeah, that’s like what was the first thing? And then we started selling these little products like teaching rudiments of teaching drum beats and stuff like that. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. So, I mean, you just said, hey, we had 700 members but how did you get from zero to seven hundred? 

Jared Falk

That’s a good question. Basically, we would post in other forums. So we will go and engage in other forums and we’d have our signature on our website. But we would never like to spam them and say, hey, come over to our forum. You know, even back then, that was rude. It seems like people are more brazen now with that kind of stuff, hijacking threads, and stuff. But, yeah, back then, it’s like we would go to other community forums in the drum space and we would add value there.

We would try and answer questions, become a part of the community, and then people would naturally see our signature and they would ask us about it. And then they would move over. And so it was a long process. I think it was 6 to 12 months to build that. But you have to remember, there was no one really doing stuff back then. Like we could create sales on Google AdWords for a dollar or less per sale.

That’s right now, you’ll pay a dollar per lead. Well, not let alone like not a dollar per sale. And that’s just because there are way fewer people online doing it. It was almost in some ways where you put up a website and you start getting some revenue. And so I had that early advantage where it nowadays, like starting something new, like this podcast is new.

You’re gonna go through the struggles of having to reach people, finding out what people find valuable, what they like about this podcast, but they don’t like about it, what you need to change, how you need to market it, how you need to optimize it. All this kind of stuff. Right. So it’s much more difficult now than it was then. So it was pretty simple back then.

Ben Aston

So you created this forum and over the course of the year saying you’ve got 700 people in that. What was it about the forum and that community that you were beginning to create that was sticky? How did you make people keep coming back and get them engaged in what was going on? 

Jared Falk

We just talked about things that they wanted to talk about. So we asked them if they had any questions. We responded quickly to the posts that they made and the questions that they asked, and we just engaged and really focused on them. You know, I think that’s the biggest thing with a consumer-facing business are direct to consumer businesses. You have to get as close to your customer as possible.

Back then, it wasn’t strategic like that. And even saying it like that, it sounds like I’m trying to social engineer or manipulate, but I think it’s just a good way to do business, get close to your customer, understand what they want, what brings them value, and then create products and services that help them. And with direct to consumer stuff, that’s just that’s kind of the model in a very, very simplistic way.

Ben Aston

Right. And so the evolution of this forum then to become Drumeo. Tell me about how that process happened. Yeah, well, we started out selling downloadable lessons, quickly realized I still remember the phone call I got when I was driving back then. It was fine to talk on the cell phone and drive. I was driving and I had two cell phones. Right, because one was for my sales job. I was still selling duck in Chinatown and one was for the Website and we forwarded a 1-800 number to my cellphone so we could take any phone calls that came in.

And this one guy was calling me wondering where his DVD was. And I’m well you know, you’ll get you don’t get any DVD you bought like a digital file. And this did not make any sense to people back then. He hung up on me. I called him back and said, hey, your phone cut out, you psycho. My phone didn’t cut out. He was, like, super upset that he thought I scammed him. And that was never the intent. It was never our intent. Like scam anyone. 

So I smoothed that over with him and gave him a refund and went back to the drawing board and said, OK, I think this is maybe, you know, the market’s not really ready for purchasing downloadable lessons, because if you think about the timing right before YouTube, before Facebook, before online media became a sin, like now it’s so heavily commoditized. 

And so we went to and we said, well, let’s publish a DVD because that’s the medium that people are accepting this type of information. And I think that’s a lesson that we can all learn today as well. What medium is your audience consuming the information on? Is it YouTube, is it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, you know, all these different channels that you can access for free, which is pretty crazy. But so we said, OK, let’s publish a DVD.

And so in 2005, we launched DVD maxed out the credit cards, ordered a thousand DVDs, launched it and the early days there we’re doing some really impressive revenue for us, at least at that point it was we’re doing like a thousand dollars a day in sales. And I just remember thinking this. That’s like I did doing the math like Wow, that’s thirty thousand dollars in a month. But we had expenses. We had to pay ourselves to pay replication, to pay to ship. You know, there are lots of expenses associated with that. But it started to become a real business.

And so we incorporated and over the next five or six years, we published DVD packs. And within that span of time, Netflix came out. YouTube was launched. Facebook was launched. You know, mobile phones got a lot better. And people just got more comfortable with digital media. And so in 2011, we launched Drumeo. And all of the packs that we have created, although all the lesson packs from the previous five or six years, we launched there and we launched a membership called Drumeo Edge. So they got all these existing lessons.

Plus we did seven live lessons per week. So seven one our lives, interactive streaming lessons per week. That was really before live streaming became such a big thing. Now, again, you can just go on your phone and Livestream with a like an LTE signal, which is pretty crazy. And back then, life was new and it was fresh. And so Drumeo launched as more of it was called Drumeo Live. And then over the years, it’s just evolved into now where it’s we bring out the best drummers in the world to our facility here. We film courses with them and we do live streams. And now it’s become kind of like Netflix for drummers. 

Ben Aston

Yes, so t’s been an amazing transformation going from you say you selling duck in Chinatown and then kind of hustling on the side. 

Jared Falk

Yeah. 

Ben Aston

Creating DVD packs and then going online. And then I think what’s interesting is how you, I guess, differentiated yourself in this well it’s a quite crowded marketplace. Now, obviously, you had a great head start there, but can you talk about how you try and differentiate yourself in terms of all of the free content out there? I mean, as you said, you could just go to YouTube and get some drum lessons on that. I don’t know. Guess you have a unique way of teaching people and in the way that you break down that kind of learning experience for them to make it more digestible and memorable. But how do you fundamentally differentiate your paid content from all the free content out there? 

Jared Falk

Yeah, it’s the packaging. And it’s not really talked about lots online because a lot of businesses who are like digitally native businesses, especially when they sell physical products, they don’t really focus on the packaging of those and the packaging of your physical products. Yeah, you have to put it in something. You have to ship it in something. So we have to think about that. But I find a lot of companies, you know, if you ordered a hat from someone, you just get a hat stuffed in an envelope when you get it.

Whereas if you bought that hat in a department store, it would be on display. You would have a nice tag. It might be in a branded bag. And would they do that because it increases the perception of value when you compare that product to other similar products? Right? And digitally, this is the same thing. There’s the packaging on your videos in a very basic form. Let’s talk about YouTube. YouTube has packaging with the thumbnail, the title, the description, whatever you choose to put in the top comments and pin there.

All these things are going to be what? Sell the person on viewing your video. You know, first I would say the first eight seconds of your YouTube video is part of your package. And so what we do with Drumeo is we really, really make our packaging amazing and we package our lessons, just the videos with great tools and technology that augment the lessons to make them more engaging and more immersive. So instead of just having a video that they can watch, there’s a video. And then below the video, there’s and it’s assignments section.

So they know exactly what they need to work on from within that video. There are chapter markers to the specific points in the video where the students can get more information on those specific assignments. Then there’s a place where they can ask our instructors and get direct and personalized advice. And then there are many other things within the video player and stuff that we add in their ability to slow down.

There’s interactive sheet music. And so we really focus on providing tools and technology as a way to differentiate it from a platform like YouTube, where YouTube is definitely an educational platform. That’s one of their sectors, but we are solely an educational platform. So we wrap all of our content in this amazing packaging of two of these tools and technology. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. And in terms of the transition you made from DVD to online lessons and life lessons and changing, I guess, to a subscription model. How did you, I mean, currently there’s a monthly membership for twenty-nine dollars a month or one hundred ninety-seven a year. So in terms of the evolution of that pricing as well. Can you talk us through how you got to that sweet spot of, hey, this is what people are willing to pay? Because I think you see lots of subscriptions. One hundred nineteen seventy. Was that through trial and error or extensive testing. Or is that just a number you picked? 

Jared Falk

That’s just always been the price. We did some research on is it better to have one nine seven or one ninety-nine? You know, in a different. In those days we found if it’s less than 50 dollars, it’s better to do like a nine, it’s like forty-nine as opposed to forty-seven. And then when the prices become higher, like over 50, instead of doing one ninety-nine do one ninety-seven and you’ll increase conversions. Don’t, don’t quote me on that though. Who knows really. 

Ben Aston

You need to test and learn.

Jared Falk

Yes, exactly. And so we really just chose that price early on. That was the first price we chose. We wanted to heavily incentivize annual memberships because learning an instrument is not a one month process. And so we wanted if people wanted to subscribe for a month, they could pay the twenty-nine bucks and they can leave after a month. But we really wanted to focus on getting serious students inside the platform. And we wanted them to commit for a long, long time. So, I mean, it’s 197. It comes with a 90-day money-back guarantee.

And so if it’s after 90 days they’re not happy, we’ll just give them all their money back. It auto-renews the next year. We send them a reminder prior to that renewal happening. So we’re not trying to, like, trick them into renewing again. And if they forget to renew the 90-day money-back guarantee’ is also available on the renewal. And so we’re not like we’re trying to be scamming or, you know, we’re trying to be rude about it. But that’s just the price that we chose and that’s the price it’s always been. And I think it’s a good value for students. So, yeah. 

Ben Aston

Can you tell me how many subscribers you have? 

Jared Falk

Around… In Drumeo or Pianote and Guitareo as well? 

Ben Aston

Yeah, just in Drumeo.

Jared Falk

In Drumeo there is almost 20,000. 

Ben Aston

Wow. And how many of those are actually active users? Do you know that much? 

Jared Falk

They all have an active subscription that they’re paying for. Right. 

Ben Aston

And do they all access to content? 

Jared Falk

A large portion of them accesses the content. I have to look at our monthly active users and that’s different on the app and the website. But I believe it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of like thirty-five to forty-five percent of people access the website weekly. But then that increases on a monthly basis. 

Ben Aston

That’s interesting. 

Jared Falk

Yeah, but not everyone like, you know, not everyone who buys a subscription uses it every month. They might buy it and use it two months from now. And we find that a lot of people will jump in and out based on their schedule because it is like something that requires physical practice, time, and dedication. And I did the same like I have Amazon Prime and I never like prime video and I only watch it maybe twice a year, but I still like it when I do and. Yeah. And so not all those subscribers are active all the time, but they all choose to stay subscribed. I see some value in it. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. I also have a subscription model with the Digital Project Manager site and I think it’s challenging. One thing that we found really challenging is that we have had really high attrition rates. And the reason for that people gives us is that they haven’t had time to consume the content. So they say, hey, well, I’m just not using it or I’m not using it as much as I thought I would or wanted to. So I’ve got this. People will sign up for three months and then stop. So one thing we did, which made a massive difference, as you were talking about, is changing the default to an annual membership sign up.

So we got a high-quality person who was committed to something for a year rather than just on a monthly basis. And that has really helped increase the lifetime value of the customer. But also, I think what you have done in terms of helping people with the way that you’re structuring their lessons and providing people with these very simple, digestible content that they can see, hey, I’m getting a lot of value here for my three seventy-nine a week. So even if I’m not using it, I think I’ll keep it just because, hey, I know that when I do have time. This is the best place to get the lesson that I want. 

Jared Falk

Yeah. As one of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain. And he says, I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. And as educators, we have to really think about how much time are we using our students to teach this concept? And is it too much? And you see a lot of people market their lesson packages. And we used to do it we used to be like “30 hours of video”. Now, if I see that from someone else’s package, I’m like, you’re going to take 30 hours of my time in order to teach me to obtain this skill or get this result? That’s way too much.

And so we need to focus on delivering the right information in the short and using the shortest amount of time possible for our students because the “I don’t have time” thing is a valid excuse for never using the membership. [13.9s] And so we’re constantly like measuring all this stuff and trying to make sure, like, figure out the bottlenecks within our curriculum. Where are people dropping off? How can we optimize things? And that’s just like a consistent, you know, an evolution that we get up and we work out every single day. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, I think trying to find ways to simplify and speed up that value exchange so that people feel like, oh, I got something from this time as possible. It’s super important. 

Jared Falk

Yeah, they need to make lots of quick wins. Every time they achieve something that’s going to motivate them to keep going. And so the more achievements that you can give them, the more likely they are to keep going. And the best way to, like, test yourself or like to learn more about this, I should say, not test yourself, but is to play like any video game online. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. 

Jared Falk

Xbox—Just look at how they onboard and teach you. And you shoot the gun once and you get achievement unlocked and then you end up opening a door and achievement unlocked. Open the door. And they’re really like rewarding you constantly and trying to provide lots of quick little wins because, you know, all the brain chemistry points towards that, making a more addictive product. And so as educators, especially in music, I think we need to make music more addictive. It’s not right now. And we’re losing out to videogames and other hobbies. 

Ben Aston

And so as as you’ve evolved this platform and you’ve been testing and trying to gain if I guess your experience to create a more engaging subscription, what do you what has been your inspiration for that in terms of the way that you develop the curriculum, the way that you develop the experience? Where are you getting inspired? 

Jared Falk

We get inspired by what our students tell us. I can’t think of another platform that we look at. I mean, we look at some of the bigger ones, like Lynda.com and a few of the other big e-learning, e-learning places. But we really just ask our students, like, what’s missing? What do you need more of? What was you know, why did you like why did you cancel? What did you? What could we have done better? Then our students just tell us like we do an exit survey for every student that leaves. We do onboarding and we get feedback when people ask.

I think it’s 21 days after they join with we do a survey just to kind of check-in with them and say, hey, is this working for you? Do you like it? And so that’s where we get our inspiration from. And then we just slowly kind of chip away at all the little issues that come up and we kind of, you know, fix things as we go. If you want to call it that or you can say optimize, it sounds better.

Ben Aston

Now, one of the things I am curious about is the way that you’ve diversified the kind of experience that you’re drawing from. I mean, you said, you know, you have your own recording facility studios where you film and you stream stuff every week. So how did you decide to make that transition from just being about you and your drum lessons online to actually, this is richer and better if I get other people involved in this. 

Jared Falk

I ran out of stuff to say. I mean, I did like a thousand videos. I think one year I uploaded a video every day. And as a drummer, I was spending more time creating videos and less time actually getting better at drums. And so I felt I found myself just like becoming less inspired musically. And I felt it was a disservice to my students to continually just pump out content for the sake of content without actually knowing that this is something that they can use in the real world of music. And I grew up learning from many different teachers, like my first two years of playing drums I had 10 different teachers. 

Jared Falk

And so I thought it’d be great if students could also access lots of different perspectives because one person might teach a concept one way and it does not resonate with the student at all. Another teacher could teach the same concept a different way, and that also it’s a light bulb moment for a student. So for me, it’s like multiple instructors are necessary. And that’s really why I did outreach. And I started talking to the bigger brands in the drum spaces. And I shared with them some of the numbers that we had.

And I asked them to connect us to their artists because they have endorsers, an endorser list. And so once I got kind of connected in that scene and I started working closely with Yamaha, Yamaha started bringing out artists. And from there it was it just kind of snowballed because the videos did really, really well. The community really liked hearing different perspectives. And so for us for me, it was really easy. Like, if anything, I want to continue to removed myself more unless I have something really important to say. But I really don’t want to be forced into creating content for the sake of creating content. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And we concerned at all in that process that somehow you would dilute the brand or the people had become accustomed to you teaching them, you then beginning to introduce other people and diluting maybe for some people what it was all about, to begin with? Was that a concern for you at all? begin

Jared Falk

No, not at all. We kind of compared it. And I’m not comparing myself on the same level, but we compared it like Oprah. And that does. Does Oprah is her brand diluted? I mean, I think everyone can agree that she is the conduit between the artist or the experts and the community. 

Jared Falk

So she is essentially the one that says, here’s who you should pay attention to now. And that’s, I think, really interesting. And I’m I don’t really have all of that yet. I mean, the more trust I can build through doing great work and I think trust is earned from our audience. And if I can continue to earn it with every piece of content I release. And if I say they should listen to someone, then our audience, trust me that they should listen to them. Because, you know, here’s a great video that they created. So for me, I don’t think it dilutes it at all. I think if anything, it just adds so much more value to it than it all being for me. 

Ben Aston

Yeah, that’s cool. You’ve been talking as we’ve been discussing this. You’ve been saying “we” right from the very start. Who is we? And what is your team like now and how has that changed from that time when you are churning out DVDs? are

Jared Falk

So I have a team of around 40, 45 people. They are now because of COVID. They are half remote and half work in the office here. And the team is made up of six departments. So we have a community which focuses on the membership. So creating content for the membership and supporting our students through personalized feedback. Then we have creative and this is essentially how the brands look and feel.

They focus on anything that anyone interacts with. So their UX, their graphic design, and anything like that. We have developed and they focus on supporting the content through the technology and so wrapping the content and great tools, making sure that the servers are running and the website functions really quickly. Then we have marketing super important to get the message out there. 

Jared Falk

And then what? What did I say? It’s at five… Yeah. I don’t know. I can’t count. And then there’s finance and special projects, kind of R&D, which is that’s the department I still run personally, but otherwise, I have a leader of a great leadership team that that manages. Well, we have support. So I forgot about support, customer support. There are six or seven people there and they basically manage we have around three to five hundred messages per day, seven days a week. And they managed those incoming messages, as well as try their best to keep up with that and be proactive in doing outreach for students on other issues. So it’s a bigger team, but it’s I think it’s so far it’s going really, really well. So I like it. 

Ben Aston

And so how did you scale up to that lots in terms of the… You’ve got some distinct departments now, distinct roles. When you started, what did you like then? And how did you kind of scale to put it with people because that is that a lot of people?  

Jared Falk

Yeah, well, when it started, it’s like… I read the book Enough and it talks about when you start a business, you’ve got to build your organizational structure and you gotta build an org chart. And so we create an org chart in the early days and it was just our names and everything. Right. I did shipping. Yeah, I did customer support. I did lesson creation, you know, all this stuff. And as we over time, we asked ourselves, what do we hate doing? And we suck at the most. And that’s those are the people we hired first. So anyone who does paperwork I love you and I want to hire you because I hate paperwork and I can’t stand doing it.

And some people love paperwork and they love filling out forms and doing administrative stuff and logistical stuff. And so I hired bookkeepers first. We hired customer support, shipping, and we just started kind of getting rid of the things that sapped our energy and our creativity. And we focused on trying to find ways to be two to three more in the lane of us doing what’s within our unique ability. And that’s something I learned from Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach, which was like a coaching company out of Toronto that I went to for many years.

And they taught me a lot about how to build a business, how to choose what you do, how to manage your time, how to choose what you do on a Day-To-Day basis. And so, yeah, it’s just a matter of creating that org chart for your company. How do you think it is? Put your name in all the boxes that it is and then figure out what you want to carve off first when it comes to the hiring process. But it’s hard to do and it’s different for everyone. So I can’t there’s not a lot like a one size fits all solution there. Some people might you know, I’ve hired the video editing first and they might have kept doing the shipping. You know, everyone’s different. 

Ben Aston

Can you share in this process of going from small to forty-five? What’s been your biggest screw-up or has it been plain sailing the whole way? 

Jared Falk

I think the biggest screw-ups came from how we try a lot of stuff. We throw a lot of stuff at the wall and hope that hopefully, it sticks. And so we try to at one point we tried to launch a store that sold other people’s products and we bought a bunch of stock. And then we’re like, why are we? Why are we trying to compete with Amazon here? This is ridiculous. We had just wasted like over fifty thousand dollars and that was a huge screw-up.

Another screw-up was when we’re buying Google ads and you know, back in the day, our page quality score was really low and we didn’t really focus enough on providing a great on-page experience. And so then like overnight, Google shut off all of our ads and almost kind of ended our business. That’s when we started focusing on search engine optimization. And I would say we got too heavily into search engine optimization for too long. That was another mistake. But we hired too many… 

Ben Aston

Yeah. When you say you went too heavily into SEO, what do you mean by that? 

Jared Falk

I mean, like, we put too many eggs in that basket. All right. I like more of a balanced approach when it comes to that sort of stuff. And I know it’s tough now because there’s like so many platforms and people like, well, where do I to actually publish content and how and what type of content I publish next. There’s so much like analysis paralysis going on now, but back then it’s like we couldn’t do Google ads because they shut our pages down and we hated that about them or we couldn’t believe that they just didn’t want our money. 

But thinking about it, it made total sense that Google doesn’t want to send give someone results and send them to a page that looks like crap. Right. They want to give them a good experience. And so creating content and doing SEO is good. But we just went so hard on it and it became like all we focused on is like our rankings in Google and trying to like, write new articles. How fast can we get new articles written? There’s a site I was like paying someone five bucks an hour to write. It was before Fiverr. I forget the name of it. And so we are like publishing lots of articles, a lot of it was junk, you know, a lot of it was like say Black Hat.

Some of it was Gray Hat and that the cross-linking stuff as we were trying to like the game the system instead of just really create amazing content. And when we just stopped doing that, we thought we launched a website called  freedrumlessons.com and that was kind of like our entry into like instead of trying to game the system to get to number one, how do we just create the best content online and the best experience? And that was really when we started focusing on brand and building value for our audience as the number one thing. And that very much started taking an audience-first approach in 2007, 2006 – 2007 when YouTube launched. 

Ben Aston

Some good learnings that I think obviously you’ve been massively successful in this enough that you decided, hey, we can do this beyond just drums. We can teach guitar. We can teach piano. How did you kind of spun off the platform into additional instruments. How was that transition? And did you learn things through that unexpectedly? The things that you thought you knew how to do. You realized you didn’t actually know how to do it. 

Jared Falk

Yeah, well, that’s another time [00:38:49]I almost went out of business. You know, it’s happened lots over the years, but we tried to do too much too quickly. And we’ve spread ourselves too thin. And so in 2007-ish around there, we bought pianolessons.com. In 2009, I bought guitarlessons.com. And we’re like, OK, we’re gonna get into these two new markets and we’re just going to like control C, control V, everything we’ve learned and we quickly realized that there are unique cultures within each market. There’s a unique audience. They want something different to just swipe the copy.

That’s I don’t get the whole swiped copies. And there are all these like marketers. That’s all. You can just email. Take my e-mails and it just doesn’t work like that. And if it does, it’s a kind of a fluke. But you know. So back then I really screwed up. And then last three or four years we simplified. It’s actually like we’re not really focusing on Guitareo right now that much, although a little bit when we’re going back into it more methodically and using what we’ve learned. Recordeo is kind of on the backburner and Pianote and Drumeo our main focuses. 

Jared Falk

And so since it seems like every time I simplify, I make more money. And I think that’s just because it allows us to laser focus better. So now we’re in piano and we’re really learning more about that audience. We’re not just like copying and pasting everything from Drumeo. We have our own content meetings. We have our own unique sales page. You know, everything it’s unique to that one specific audience. And so that I think it was a big learning moment for us. And that’s how I think we’re better equipped to go into the guitar space again because I think we could really provide something valuable for that community. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. And so as you I mean, you’re talking about the community as you launch then Guitareo and Pianote and try and build those communities, which is kind of at the heart of this. You describe it as a social learning community. One of the ways that you do that, you’ve mentioned SEO. And previously we talked about kind of hacking forum threads or not hacking them, but engaging in them as you try to build out these new communities. What are the ways in which you do that now? 

Jared Falk

Well, we call it technology meets tradition, and traditionally you have a teacher and you have someone you can ask questions to. And it’s not just like you’re on your own like that. I don’t mind like those two, like the technology-based tools, you know, like musicians. And I think there are a few others where it’s like you just follow the bouncing ball or you hit the keys when the stuff comes down. That sounds good, but we really like the idea of someone being able to connect with a teacher, a real person. And so we in taken Drumeo, we have two community managers and all they do is focus on engaging with students.

In Pianote, we have two community managers and they’re always there engaging with students. And then I think that really creates this culture of students feeling like they want to engage more. And so they then actually talk among themselves. And so we have community forums. There are our comment sections are Really active. And we do something called student focus where students will submit videos and we’ll actually in a Livestream, show their video, and then give them personalized feedback.

And so that’s really great for developing community because it shows, you know, all the different people using the platform. Other people have the same struggles as them. So it’s very relatable in that regard. And I just think it’s like it’s just good, good to do as opposed to throwing a piece of technology at them and saying this is going to teach you how to do art because I don’t think computers can really teach us how to do art in that way. I think they’re good tools. 

Ben Aston

And so when you talk about your community managers engaging what you do, you mean. Exactly. 

Jared Falk

I mean, so when a student needs help, like with, let’s say, a student trying to get a specific technique. They can send, they can email the teacher or through I could ask a question box. They can send a direct message right to their teacher and our teachers will get back to them usually within 24 hours, sometimes even with a personalized video reply, sometimes with just an e-mail, sometimes with like lesson recommendations. We do student plans. So our community managers will actually, you know, they’ll take information from a student either through a phone call or through email, and they’ll now actually create a PDF document and send them that document as their student plan. 

Jared Falk

And that has specific tips that just we created for them. And so they’re constantly engaging and we know they’re very, very busy because we have a lot of students and we can always do better, but we really try and be as proactive as possible. And just really show people that we’re approachable and feel free to reach out if they need anything. 

Ben Aston

Yeah. Obviously, there’s lots of content being produced all the time. In the drum lessons, the teachers also helping out students, the community. Can you talk through your process for creating content and how do you manage all these thousands of pieces of content that are being created and produced and manage that production schedule? 

Jared Falk

Well, the content that we create inside the member’s area is we have our methods. So those are like they’ll take longer to go through. But it’s more of a like, I hate the word institutional learning, but it’s more traditional in that there’s like it’s very linear style. You start here, you slowly work your way through the curriculum. And so there we create the content with that in mind like we want to go from level 1 to 10 on their instrument. And so we have to figure out what each level consists of and how we’re going to move students through the process of learning an instrument.

Then we have things called packs or courses. And those are really, we figure out what result we want to provide for a student. So if a student wants to get faster at moving around the kit, then will kind of reverse engineer that and figure out one of the steps that got us there. We ask our artists, instructors that come in, what are the steps that got you there, and what would a student do in order to kind of get that same result? And we reverse engineer and figure out the four or five or six or seven videos that would go in that course or pack.

When it comes to stuff that we publish publicly, the process is very different in that our public lessons are meant to kind of get market attention and build trust, get, you know, get people to know, like and trust us because our end goal is for them to become members and part of our community. And so that content, we look at it from more of a marketing and branding approach. 

Ben Aston

And so how are you managing all this through Asana, Trello or is there any tools that you use to manage these different types of content and the different workstreams? It’s like going from ideation through to filming through to pre-production online? 

Jared Falk

Departments sometimes they have their own tools. Like, one thing we’ve found helpful in production is we use a service called Frame. So when someone finishes an edit, they upload to Frame, and then they send out that link. And then everyone can comment on those specific parts. And then that goes right into the premiere timeline and they can review all those suggestions and make necessary changes. And so that’s what we use. We internally, we use Slack, we use base camp, we use Google Hangouts a lot. But we had departments like they also have their own workflows and they all have their own processes.

And I really let my leadership team kind of take care of that. One thing we changed this last year is I kind of changed the operating system of the business. And so we changed it to like nobody ever heard of the EOS system. But, yeah, it works for small and medium-sized companies and it’s worked really, really well for us in keeping everyone on the right, you know, going down the right path and really providing accountability and feedback on a regular basis with all of our staff. And that’s been really powerful, especially as more people are working remotely. But it’s always a challenge to keep everyone on track. 

Ben Aston

And do you ever work out of try and calculate how much a piece of content or lesson cost you to produce? 

Jared Falk

No. Now, you know, I talked to TV guys before and they’re like they’re trying to figure out my costs per minute and production. I never think like that. I don’t know. I just don’t operate like that. I’m sure I could if I wanted to do the calculations. But for me, it’s just I don’t find that information valuable. 

Ben Aston

So when you are looking at metrics and you’re trying to evaluate how well you were doing, what for you are the metrics that matter and that you’re trying to do work on? 

Jared Falk

Time on site is a big one. How many how much time are people spending on the website. Audience retention when it comes to the video? How much of each of our videos are people watching? I look at revenue because I think revenue is a good indicator of everything within the business. So is everything working? Are people actually renewing and subscribing? And it’s like probably one of the strongest indicators.

And it’s a symptom to show you that you’re doing something. You’re doing things right. If revenue is not good, then you have to figure out where you know, where you’re screwing up essentially. And then another one is the number of leads. So I think like it like you need to have the Legion. You need to be building value some with someone before you ask them to purchase anything.

And so for us, we really try and build a lot of value. We know the customer journey prior to purchase is upwards of like it could be 30 to 90 days of them, you know, engaging with your brand like 10 to 20 times over that span before they actually take an action and actually purchase anything. 

Ben Aston

Well that is a long lead time. 

Jared Falk

Yeah, the customer journey is long and it’s only going to get longer I think.

Ben Aston

You know. What are your biggest challenges? What’s tough for you at the moment that you’re working through. 

Jared Falk

I think. Like, now that we have a good foundation within Drumeo on Pianote. We have to really focus on how do we continue to stay ahead of the game and create the most amazing platform for current students as well as scale into new verticals? Because I think what we are doing in drums and piano and the feedback we’re getting from students, it’s for them it’s truly life-changing. Like Lisa or my piano community manager, she called me the other day or sent me a video, I should say. And she was almost in tears because she was just talking to students and the students were saying how they never thought they could ever play. They never thought they could do it. And after using the courses and stuff, they’re finally able to.

And that for her was really powerful to know that we’re changing people’s lives. And you know that they’re taking a course correction in their life when all of a sudden you’re learning an instrument now, never thought you could do it. And so for me, my challenge is like, how do I do more of that? Because I like it. I like doing that kind of work. It feels good to help people. And I want to do more of it. And so I really want to find a way to go into more verticals like guitar, like home recording, you know, violin, singing, all this kind of stuff. I think we can do a good job of providing an option within those markets. 

Ben Aston

And fundamentally, what is your why? Well, what kind of gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you think this is a mission that you care about. 

Jared Falk

Well, for me, it’s like kind of our tagline is empowering music students and what that means is like I remember the first time I was playing my drums. And it almost felt out of the body like my emotions were finally just happening. And I was like creating on the fly. I was improvising and I just felt this almost feeling of very euphoric feeling. And that to me is the ultimate hook.

And so if I can provide that for students, I know that they’re going to be hooked and they’re going to continue to push and create new and better music. And we’re gonna populate the world with amazing musicians. And so, you know, that’s kind of why I get up. It’s like that that feeling is amazing. And I want to help more people get there. Yeah. 

Ben Aston

That’s cool. Tell us what else you’re working on. We’ve been talking about how Drumeo has been your main kind of business, but you’ve tried expanding and now you’re trying and trying again. Is there anything I mean, you mentioned special projects which piqued my interest? What do your special projects look like and are they the same as what we’ve just been talking about or something else? 

Jared Falk

I have some ideas for different types of projects within the music space as well as outside of the music space. I’m really interested in real estate as well. You know, when I was in grade four, I said I was going to be a real estate agent. And I just love doing that kind of stuff. It’s just I don’t do a ton of it, but special projects we’re working on some things we call it like user-generated content on our platforms as we have more and more users. And so we’re trying to build up more technology. But in many ways we are. I mean, we’re a media company with an identity crisis in that we’re trying to also be a technology company. And so, you know those are just a few of the things that.

Actually, one other thing I would love to work on is a project for parents who want to homeschool their kids. I feel like there are some good tools out there, but it’s so scattered and more and more people are going to be wanting to find solutions for at-home learning. And so I’m looking into stuff like that. I’m always looking I’m always like figuring out where we can provide value with what we’ve created. 

Ben Aston

I’d say you’ve approached this like we were talking offline before and we’re talking about what stack you’re on and you’re like I don’t know. So the way that you tackle this is this from you’re the blue sky visionary thinker, or when you start going down the rabbit hole, your special projects, what’s your process for jamming on something or hacking something together? 

Jared Falk

Well, I bring it to my leadership team and I say, is this a ridiculous idea? And many times I just did it. Yes, I did it on I think on Father’s Day, I went for a walk and I had this idea. I created a Google doc. The outlines, the idea, I sent it to them and I got a lot of interesting feedback. You know, not everyone agrees with me. And so they’re kind of like the barrier between me and my all my staff. Not that I don’t love my staff. And I see myself as many of my staff as I can all the time.

But I’m very much the type of person that’s like I’m a quick start, so I’ll have an idea and I’ll get excited about it and then I’ll want to work on it right now. And in a business, like that’s terrible for employees to constantly be trying new stuff at them. And so that’s why my leadership team, they’re kind of like my filter. And so I’ll, you know my brother Dave, a good friend and business partner. Now for a long time, we just chat about that kind of stuff and then from there say, do we want to do this? And do we have the team to do it or doing it to hire? We’ll get it onboard if we need to do it and then start moving in that direction. But yeah, it’s always a little bit different, too, but it’s gets good. 

Ben Aston

And what are you personally trying to get better at as you develop of you know, as the CEO of this company that’s been hugely successful but also experienced challenges in trying to scale and diversify to other verticals? What are you personally trying to develop and get better at? 

Jared Falk

I think like time management is always a big issue. What do I spend my time on leadership? It’s like, how can I be a leader that people want to follow? You know, a good leader just, you know, if you’re a leader when you look behind you, people are following. And I found over the years like that’s especially in the last year. And I think that was one of our gaps. And I really needed to level up there. I want to be a better musician. I still practice a lot.

I still don’t want to be selling music lessons and telling people they need to practice without also doing that. And so I want to continue growing as a musician and not just because it’s my business, but because I just love music and I love learning and growing in that area. And so those are some areas. And then obviously on the personal side, I want to be a better husband and a better dad to my kids. 

Ben Aston

Good stuff. And so for someone at the start of that digital media journey. Say someone has decided that they are going to create something, create a community, and again, to create great content and they want to start becoming a digital media entrepreneur. What’s one piece of advice that you’d give someone maybe from one of your favorite years or maybe something that’s worked really well for you? What’s one thing that you think everyone is thinking about getting into the digital media world they should be thinking about. 

Jared Falk

But the biggest thing is most people will want to create a product first. And it’s like bands, you know, bands will get into the studio and recorded an album and they love being in the studio and they love this creative process. But when they go to launch the album, no one’s listening. No one’s there because they haven’t really focused on who they’re creating the product for or how it’s going to provide value for them or who their audience is. And so if I was getting into it now, I would focus first on figuring out who am I going to speak to and how am I going to provide value.

And I would do that creating content for free until I created a bit of an audience first. And once I had that audience, only then would I think going back to your when your first questions only then would I think about monetizing that. And I would really not think about it even in the ways of like making money off of them. I would think of it in a way of like, how can I actually provide value in their lives? And so I figure out your audience first, build that audience, then start to provide products and services to that audience.

And that’s like digital media, right? If you’re wanting to sell clothes or cars or something physical, like, you know, you want to get into product development, like physical product development, it’s a little bit different there, because if you create a product and you’re able to purchase advertising profitably, then you could technically do it with no audience. 

Jared Falk

But if you do build an audience and really focus on that first, you’re always going to be better off because those who are closest to the customer will always win.

Ben Aston

Good stuff. And some great insights there, Jared. Thank you so much for joining us today. Great having you with us. 

Jared Falk

Thank you. 

Ben Aston

And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on indiemedia.club. But until next time. Thanks for listening.

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