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This Solo Founder's Course Makes $550,000 In Revenue

How a repetitive stress injury did not stop this solo founder from living his dream

This Programming Course Makes $550K In Revenue

Hello! Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your business?

My name is Josh Comeau, and I'm a software developer and educator from Montreal, Canada. I blog at joshwcomeau.com, and I also create interactive online courses for front-end developers looking to deepen their understanding. 💪

The business is an online course called CSS for JavaScript Developers. It’s a comprehensive course that combines various media formats, from videos to articles to interactive widgets and mini-games.

How did you start this business? Take us through the process.

In 2020, I developed a repetitive stress injury and was unable to use a keyboard/mouse for a few months. It gave me a fresh perspective: all of us will only perform a certain number of keystrokes in our lifetimes, and we should spend those keystrokes wisely!

I had been teaching part-time at a local coding bootcamp, and found it really fulfilling. I had been seeing course creators like Wes Bos and Kent C Dodds build a brand for themselves, and thought it seemed like a great way to have an impact and earn a living.

The most unique thing about my course is that it's delivered through my own custom-built course platform, with an emphasis on interactivity; there are videos, but there are also embedded widgets, tons of exercises and practice opportunities, and special activities and mini-games.

The most challenging part of course creation is creating the videos. That video on the homepage took about 10 hours (3-4 hours of filming on 3 different days).

My first course was CSS for JavaScript Developers, a course focused on CSS fundamentals specifically for developers who use a component-driven framework like React. I spent the first few months building the course platform. I was still dealing with RSI issues at this point, so a good chunk of the platform was built using a microphone and eye-tracker instead of keyboard/mouse.

I started work around May of 2020, with the hopes of launching the course by the end of the year. That turned out to be wildly unrealistic: By March of 2021, the course was still only half complete, so I launched in “Early Access” (essentially a pre-order that included beta access to the completed content). The full course was released later that year, in September.

I did all of the work myself, including development and design, so there weren't really many upfront costs, though I did burn through a significant amount of my savings; this was my full-time focus, so I had no income for almost a year.

How did you get your first initial customers?

In 2015 or so, I started blogging at joshwcomeau.com, and over the course of many years, the blog grew to be fairly popular. This was my biggest advantage; people knew and enjoyed my teaching style already!

I also have a newsletter, I believe it had around 30-40k subscribers at that time. And a Twitter account. Along with the blog, this is how I let people know about the course.

I also did a lot of building in public, sharing little screen recordings of the course. People were pretty hyped about it when it finally did launch!

I should also say: an important part of any developer education experience is user testing. I did three rounds of testing:

  • I granted free access to the course to the students I had previously taught at a local coding bootcamp. I got some good feedback this way, but it wasn't truly representative, since these students were mostly checking it out as a favor to me, not because they were explicitly looking to learn CSS.

  • I invited 50-100 developers to join the course; this was sourced mainly from people who reached out and asked to help test the course. This worked better, since they were highly motivated learners.

  • The "Early Access" launch got thousands of developers to go through the course, and they sent thousands of pieces of feedback, which I used to polish the course before the full launch.

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Since launch, what are your marketing strategies or channels to get new customers?

The biggest thing is my blog. The blog gives people a clear look at my content. It's also how people join my primary newsletter.

I think the most important marketing strategy has been to give people glimpses into what the paid content is like. My blog does this to an extent, though my courses are more than just a collection of blog posts. During launches, I do "Open Houses" where a few lessons are made totally public:

I also share quick tips on Twitter, and that has helped, though I don't think I'd recommend it for anyone starting out; I'm not confident it'll even exist in a year.

How does your business make money?

All of my courses are single purchases, no subscriptions.

Prices range from US$149 to US$599. I have a single sale a year for Black Friday, as well as launch sales for new courses.

I also offer regional licenses, so that folks in countries with dramatically-lower purchasing power can access the course at a lower price point (with the caveat that the course can then only be accessed in their home country).

I plan on looking into payment plans, since $599 is a lot of cash to have on-hand all at once!

So when I was first starting out, I decided I would be transparent about the revenue from the first “Early Access” launch of my CSS course. My goal was to hit around US$50k. The launch blew my expectations out of the water; it wound up selling around US$550k!

Honestly, I felt pretty awkward sharing that figure, but I had told people I was going to ahead of the launch. That said, it seems to me like the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to ongoing revenue transparency, and so I'm not public with the current sales figures.

That said, I do share the number of people who have purchased the course on the CSS course homepage. As I write this, a little over 15k people have purchased the course. Just bear in mind, the average purchase price is nowhere near the top-line $399 price point: thousands joined the Early Access launch at $129. Roughly half of the purchases are for Regional Licenses, which can reduce the price by up to 75%. And there are tiers with less content at a lower price point as well.

In terms of cost, I think it costs around 5k a month to run the business, not including my salary.

Before you go, what advice would you give to another who wants to start a business like yours?

Yeah, so I think these are the things people under-estimate in terms of difficulty/time, or under-invest in:

1. Teaching is a skill in its own, and one that takes a long time to develop. I spent years teaching in-person at a local coding bootcamp, and I think the product is much stronger as a result.

If possible, I'd recommend finding some way to get real-time teaching experience before trying to make a course. I'd also recommend reading Teaching Tech Together and Make It Stick.

2. Creating a paid product is something you should only start after you've done the work of building an audience, and giving them a *bunch* of value for free. You want people to feel like they've already gained so much from you, a full course is a no-brainer.

3. Test frequently and often. You might *think* you know what the common questions are, but it's impossible to get this right without putting the content in front of people and seeing what trips them up. Creating courses honestly feels like a bit of a cheat code when it comes to Indie Hacking, since it's a proven model.

People do pay for developer education, and everybody's teaching style is unique, so it doesn't matter that there's competition. That said, it's *way harder* than I originally thought. It's not the sort of thing you can sit alone in a room for a few months and bang out alone.

Also, assume it'll take 4x longer than you think it will.

Where can we go to lean more about you and your business?

You can learn more about my two courses:

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