How to Start Your First Cohort-Based Course ~ Gautham & Aruna

If you've decided you want to run your first cohort-based course, you probably want to avoid common pitfalls. That's why Gautham and Aruna explain how you can identify market-course-teacher fit to make your first cohort-based course a big hit.

We Covered
  • What got you into teaching others how to run cohort-based courses? (01:33)

  • Gautham and Aruna’s target audience: people who are new to cohort-based courses (08:17)

  • Step 1: identify your expertise. (10:08)

  • Market-course-teacher fit (13:27)

  • Step 2: Identify your market’s biggest problems (15:04)

  • How to identify your market’s problems (17:34)

  • Step 3: See if your idea has teeth (19:21)

  • You’re gonna need to test your offer for free and start small with micro lessons before you charge money for a full program (23:09)

  • How do you structure your cohort-based course? - Center those decisions around the outcomes you want your students to achieve (28:37)

  • Cohort-based courses >> evergreen courses (37:43)

  • How Gautham and Aruna structure the week-to-week of their cohort-based course (40:55)

  • Gautham and Aruna offer continued support after a given cohort is finished (46:40)

  • Final questions (48:12)

In a Nutshell

  1. Identify your world of expertise (e.g. writing, marketing, fishing, etc.).

  2. Hypothesize your market-course-teacher fit.

  3. Incrementally and iteratively test your market-course-teacher fit to maximize student outcomes.

Full Transcript

Listen here to the audio version of this transcript

[00:00:13] Jonathan: Ahoy, captain! Welcome to Cohort Captain, the only super actionable podcast and blog made for cohort-based course creators. I'm your host, Jonathan Woodruff. 

So you're thinking about creating a cohort-based course. Maybe you have an on-demand course, and you want to switch to a more premium offer, or maybe you're a professional looking to teach your skill as an independent worker, or maybe you're just getting started.

In any case, you want to avoid the pitfalls when creating your cohort-based course to make your cohort not a terrible experience and ideally a fantastic experience for your people. That is why my guests today are captains Gautham and Aruna, the creators over at They have a newsletter all about CBCs and they have plenty of experience running cohorts.

They know their shit, and they're also really nice people. I've spoken with them several times already, and I always enjoy our conversations. So what is up, Gautham!

[00:01:21] Gautham: Hello, Jonathan. Glad to be here.

[00:01:24] Jonathan: Glad to have you here, buddy. And what is up, Aruna?

[00:01:29] Aruna: Hey Jonathan, it's a great day. Thanks for having us.

[00:01:33] Jonathan: Awesome. So glad to have you guys here.

So tell me what got you into teaching people how to run cohort-based courses.

[00:01:43] Gautham: Okay. I can go first. So, I started getting the EdTech domain since 2013. So it's been, it's been since 2013, I've been toying around in the EdTech domain. In 2015, we were, we were running a digital incubator where we were helping people set up their first companies completely online.

And we were taking them through the ups and downs and betas process involved in setting up companies. So it was a digital incubator of sorts, and it was targeted at college students across India. Why are we running it? Then we decided to go online for first? We didn't want to run a physical program or have to do it in a physical space, et cetera, because we had done that in the past and we wanted to go online first and we wanted to come up with a program that would help a bunch of students from different calls across India, go through a structured program that would help them set up their first company.

So in other words, when we sort of realized that, okay, we are running a cohort-based course, we didn't know the main name back then. We were just taking a very common sensical approach to helping people go through a very structured program. So accidentally, we, I think we ran the first cohort-based course. And ever since that we've been running cohort after cohort, we later modified the startup program into an online skilling program because we realized that while people don't have trouble starting up, they have trouble up-skilling.

So that converted into a cohort-based program for upskilling in emerging technologies, again, tailored at students. So I must've run at least 10 different cohorts across some, some eight different domains. And I think over the course of years, we've must have impacted at least 10,000 students who have been part of cohorts large and small.

So that expertise is what I picked up and I realized, okay, in 2020 when Maven was launched, I realized, okay, they started using the term cohort-based courses and I realized, okay, this is what I've been doing for a long time. And that is how I got into cohort-based courses. And yeah. So that's me.

[00:03:42] Aruna:  Yeah. So I've been teaching for a long time. I started going to school for physics, because I wanted to do scientific research and all that stuff. So studying a lot. But as part of graduate school, I also had to teach. So, I had to teach all these college students that weren't necessarily excited about physics and maths, but I had to teach them anyway.

Cause that was part of my job. And,  I also enjoy teaching. So I found this opportunity to upskill myself really, because, I mean, I didn't want to teach disinterested students and it broke my heart in some ways that I love it so much, but they couldn't see the beauty. And so, my graduate school also had this program where they could help, like I was a TA in the beginning, so they helped us and they trained me and I started applying that.

And I started seeing some like improvements, some results, and then I continued teaching. So I finished my post-doc and all that. And I became a lecturer. So I continue to teach and I continued to improve my methods. And increasingly I found myself taking online classes. So, I read a lot of MOOCS.

And one of the things, and probably everyone does this, I take a MOOC, and the first week would be like, yay, I'm super excited. And by like the second week, third week I drift off. So I got into online teaching and thinking about how to do that better. And then of course, like a few months ago, about six months ago, Gautham came to me and he said, Hey, I'm thinking of doing this thing online.

And I said, oh, that's so great. Because I've been thinking about this as well, like getting into the online space somehow. And how about we combine our past experiences and see if we can do something together. So that's how I got into this space.

[00:05:27] Jonathan: Super cool. Yeah. You and I both know how hard it is to teach to people who don't want to be taught.

So it's a breath of fresh air. When, when we do teach people who really want to be taught, well, we have to teach them. So. you know, and that's the thing about cohort-based courses too, that I've found, especially with business type things or, or even, you know, things where people pay money for them.

And they do want to attend the cohort-based course is that, you know, cohort-based courses really do have an advantage over, you know, evergreen courses, everything of course is being like your typical Udemy course or something like that, where you, you know, you pay and then you can watch any time, all on your own, basically,  cohort-based courses, being that you have a group of people that take in the course at the same time.

And it really gives a lot of advantages, you know, I think like there's built in scarcity and urgency. That's a huge advantage, I think because you know, if you miss cohort number two, you might not be able to get to do cohort number three until six months later, that type of thing.

So there's huge scarcity. People want to take the course or else they won't be able to for awhile, and urgency.  

You know, Louis, the guy I worked for at Everyone Hates Marketers, his third cohort made $60,30, which is a lot of money in one go like, and we're about to do the fourth cohort in September coming up here, so it can make a lot of money and people buy into it more.

That's I think that's the biggest thing about cohort…cohort-based courses that I love is that, you know, like people who pay money, they are like really into it. And they also have the extra accountability of having the coach there and the other people there. And that tends to get better results I think from my experience is that people really walk away transformed from however your course is intending to transform them. They're more likely to take the course to begin with, and they're more likely to go through all the effort to do all the things and, and get the results. So I love cohort-based courses.

I love that you guys are teaching people how to do cohort-based courses. Cause I think it is the future. I think it's a force to be reckoned with and I think it's the way things should go, because of those reasons. So what I want to know from you guys is, because your business is called how to CBC.

I really just want to dig into how to CBC. So when you are teaching people, you know how to run their cohort-based courses, what's the first step that you advise… actually, let's take a step back. Who do you typically work with when you're teaching people how to run cohort-based courses?

[00:08:17] Gautham: Yeah, I can take that. So we look at either folks who have had some bit of experience building courses, and they've maybe built self-paced courses, put up a couple of videos on YouTube and it's making a sort of foray into the online education space. That's one category of folks. The second category is people who are subject matter experts in any domain for that matter, who want to figure out a way to get into the online space and monetize their skills, find students online, teach their craft to help students solve their problems and actually get ahead. So subject matter experts, people who have toyed around with online courses a little bit. The third category would be people who've been in the traditional education space, like college professors or people who have been teaching in physical classes and carry some bit of expertise for them to venture into the online space. CBC's are a great way to get started. The other one is coaches. Anybody who's actively coaching folks in certain domains also are a good fit. So yeah, these are the categories of people I think we can specifically help with. And we specifically help them make their first cohort-based course.

So if you're, if you're a seasoned expert who’s been running multiple court-based courses in the past, et cetera, we may not be the right folks to come to. If you want to get started with your first cohort-based course, we are the folks to come to. We also specialize in, you know, helping out, even seasoned folks to handle certain elements of courses, for example, cohort-based courses for, for example, how do you make your sessions more engaging?

If you've not had engagement, how do you make them more engaging? What other different pedagogical techniques you can apply? So these are the category of folks that we can actively help them and show that, you know, we are able to add some value.

[00:10:08] Jonathan: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I mean, especially with your backgrounds, both of you in teaching, I imagine you could empathize quite a lot, you know, with each of those groups,  perhaps, especially with professors and  people who are currently running teaching programs. So you're teaching subject matter experts, professors, a couple other groups of folks. So, and, and people specifically who want to run their first cohort-based course. So what's the first step that you advise these people to take when they're getting ready to, and when, when, when they're just starting to think about creating their first cohort-based course?

[00:10:47] Aruna: So one thing we like to do is first talk. I mean, we do a lot of one-on-ones. So,  when we talk to someone that's engaging with us, we try to talk to them about their expertise. And so it's interesting. People, you know, are not always clear about what they're experts in, but in speaking, they're able to sort of come up with various ideas.

And most often people find that they have varying degrees of expertise in different areas. And so that's something we start with because we feel like, I mean, if it's good, if it's good to know that you're good at something, and then sort of have that confidence and then we sort of orient them towards thinking, okay, have you helped other people, you know, in situations or are people coming to you asking for you to solve their problems?

And so that's, that's sort of the idea of, you know, who might your audience be? I mean, that's what we're really going for, but, you know, having grounded themselves in what their expertise is, it becomes then somewhat, you know, I don't know if you've been able to connect it to…

[00:12:01] Jonathan: A hundred percent. So when you're asking them about their expertise…sorry to cut you…what, like what's an example that you can think of, of someone like you've, you've kind of talked them through, like what their expertise is and they're trying to kind of figure it out. Like, how does that conversation, like, what's an example of how that conversation goes?

[00:12:21] Aruna: Okay, so I can give this a shot, for example, the most recent example of us having done this. Most often people start with what they're doing, like their professional, like where they're at professionally now. So yeah, there's one person that was, that was a consultant/coach sort of for executives in the corporate market, but then they also, in speaking with them, we found that they had all of these other skills they've gained from a personal experience.

You know of having gone through divorce. And so that certainly became like a very interesting tangent to pursue. And, you know, they found that they actually had a lot of experience and materials and ideas for how they would help somebody else that was going through the same. And they also had, you know, that also because of what they've been through, they also knew of a lot of other people who wanted help.

So that's one example I can think of. Gautham?

[00:13:27] Gautham: Yeah, I can add one more example. So the scenario of a lot of people know how to write online, but they do not know how to exactly monetize their writing. It's a whole different skillset. That's, that's a good audience for you.

So there are folks who teach exactly that. Okay. Why are you maybe great at writing? Here are the steps that you have to, you have to actually go through to answer that you are able to monetize your writing. That is actually a good cohort-based course to run. And we have a friend who is running exactly that.

And, yeah, that's, that's one example I can give. And we also take them through something called a market-course-teacher fit. That's one of the, one of the first exercises that we take our people through, which is, what is the market telling you? What is a problem that students want solved?

Right, that's the market need. The second bit is course. Okay, given this is the clear market need that certain folks want to figure out how to get paid for their writing online, for writing, for publications, et cetera. What is the exact course that should be delivered to them that solves the problem for them?

So you've now followed the market with the curse bit. Finally, the question is, are you the right person to solve this? Are you the right person to teach this? And so this is a process that you go through, you will list down a lot of problems that you sort of remotely identify with. Then you figure out what the course is, then you ask yourself, are you the right person?

And then you repeat the cycle over and over again until you find a statement that fits all three very, very well. As a tutor, you're achieving market-course-teacher fit, and that's what you should go for. That's a CBC you should be building.

[00:15:04] Jonathan: So do you start with the market or do you start with the teacher?

[00:15:10] Gautham: So it's, since it's an iterative cyclical process, generally we recommend starting with the market because then the good thing is it takes the focus away from the teacher because they start thinking in terms of actual problems that require solving in the real world. Right. So that's the good thing is then you're always ensuring that you stick with a clear, clear market need.

[00:15:37] Jonathan: Yeah, that's interesting. I suppose you'd have to, like, let's say I'm a professor, I teach, I don't know, writing. Let's just stick with that. I teach I'm a professor. I teach writing. So my first thought would be, could be, you know, oh, I can teach,  just going through like a hypothetical real life example here.

It could be like, oh, I teach writing everyday in a university. You know, maybe I could make a cohort-based course online. But that's not necessarily the right approach because you want to start with the market first. So I guess what it should be instead is, oh, I'm a writing professor. Yeah. I could teach something in the realm of writing, but let's dig into the market and what the market needs to know in the world of writing, I guess, is that kind of how it works?

So you're still like, it's kinda like in my mind teacher first in a way, in the sense that you're like setting your constraints, like your world, like it's writing, but then like immediately you don't go, oh, what do I want to teach? Absolutely. The first step is know what does the market need?

[00:16:42] Gautham: You’re absolutely right. It's not exactly black and white, I would say, because the good thing is, about thinking of a market needs first, invariably, you will, you will gravitate towards your areas of expertise. I mean, that's what all of us naturally do, right? This is just, it's the frameworks to ensure that you start thinking from the student point of view.

But the moment you get to the course and the moment you get to the, are you the right person to teach it? You will realize that there is, it's not an infinite set that you can start off with as a market statement, problem statement, right? So invariably, the filtration happens. It is, it is a, it is a process.

So invariably you will, when you are starting off your thought process or the activity or the exercise as an expert, you will draw boundaries that are well within your areas of expertise.

[00:17:34] Jonathan: Yeah, it makes sense. So when you teach your students to dig into the market, what kind of steps do you have them go through?

[00:17:47] Gautham: There’s a quick exercise that we take them through. In fact, this is the most recent newsletter that we wrote out and which we have listed down, you know, four or five steps. So, that's one area we’ve gotten everything very clearly, but, what we start off with is, if you can actually block, let's say 10 to 15 minutes, not more than that. Timebox this activity, and just list down all the stuff that you can think of as a problem that, for example, seasoned writers who have been laid off from news organizations have trouble finding online news outlets.

That's one particular problem statement. Or people who have had blogs with a lot of visits do not know how to get their stuff published in let's say reputable journals or publications. That is a specific thing that I can tie down. So the student is expected to list down everything in quick succession.

List it, not exhaustively. And timebox it. Because otherwise this activity can extend out to hours. 

So you time box quickly on this demo, and then you jump to the next bit. What is the course? And then you jump to the next bit. 

You iterate over this. A couple of times. The student will understand the nature of the activity.

Then the good thing is this, this becomes a very back of the main activity. Invariably, your mind starts working in this direction. Think of problem. Think of the course. Think of, am I the right person to teach? Invariably that clarity emerges inside your mind that, okay, this is the exact configuration that I should go for.

[00:19:21] Aruna: And there's an important step here, which is that at some point, it doesn't stay in your mind anymore. You want to take it, you want to try it on other people. So like we recommend that you first try it on your close sort of circle, whoever you think might be interested in these could be your colleagues, your friends, your family, whatever.

I mean, it starts with just chatting, like do you think this is a crazy idea, or parts of online communities that you're part of. Just throw out like, Hey, this is an idea I have and then see what feedback you get. And then the iteration makes more sense if you get that feedback

[00:19:55] Jonathan: Totally. Okay. So I'm kind of starting to see the steps develop here. So we really get to know their expertise. And to do that, we have them iterate through market-course-teacher fit. So we really kind of narrow. What are we going to do? For who? And then at that point, it's kind of like, okay, we have an idea, let's test it. And you're testing it with people that, you know, so I guess ideally you either have people that you know, or you need to make those connections.

Do you guys delve into the area of like, let's say I don't have any, like, let's say I have like a, I'm gonna do like a business related cohort-based course. So friends and family, those won't work. It has to be like colleagues and things like that. Do you go into, like, if people don't have immediate connections or names that pop in their mind for who to reach out to, like how to start finding those people, is that something you teach in HowToCBC?

Does that make sense?

[00:21:10] Gautham: Yeah. So, that aspect is something that we don't do a deep dive into, because it comes under the broad umbrella of, you know, finding an audience. However, what we recommend is, in this day and age, everybody's bound to have at least a couple of contacts on their phone.

So we encourage folks to reach out to the folks, people that they already know. Not, not, not with the intent of, okay, I'm going to find my audience, exactly. That the intent there is testing it out, putting it something out in the real world and seeing how it's received. What is the feedback that you're getting?

So we actually encourage you to go to your friends and family first, your immediate network first, and get some third person to give you honest feedback on how you're approaching this. It's easier. Communication is clear what is being understood by a third person. That activity of completing the market-course-teacher fit and actually finally putting it out there itself is enlightening in a lot of ways. 

Now, finding an audience is a completely, you know, once you arrive at something, once you've decided to bet on this particular configuration or a combination of things, finding an audience is a completely separate activity, which we don't deep dive into in our course.

Audience building I think nowadays is a different science altogether, and there are dedicated sessions. We will eventually expand our full fledged offering to maybe something that's over five weeks or six weeks or eight week program. We have not been actively doing that right now. In our current two week program that we have to deliver to students. We don't address audience building specifically.

[00:22:45] Jonathan: Okay. Yeah, no, totally makes sense. I kind of figured cuz that's yeah, that's a whole different beast like you guys said.

[00:22:52] Gautham: Yeah. Although the reality is that designing your course itself is a lot of work. So it's practically impossible to fit this into a two week course.

It's six live sessions, 90 minutes each with a lot of office hours. It makes it impractical to dedicate that kind of time toward audience building.

[00:23:09] Jonathan: Yeah, no, it makes sense. And so is that the next step then? So once you kind of, so once you test it out, you get a little bit of feedback, like, oh yeah. Okay. I think this could work, and I ideally, right, like ideally people would pay for it right then and there, or at least like promise to pay for it. I think that'd be the ultimate validation, but if possible, I would think. 

Or is it, or like what's, what's enough? Like how do you know what's enough to be like, okay, yeah, I think this is going to work? What kind of validation do you need?

[00:23:41] Aruna: You mean validate? Like when do you start selling? Like when do you start selling versus doing it for free? Like when you know you’ve hit the fit?

[00:23:50] Jonathan: Yeah. 

[00:23:54] Aruna: Okay. This is the other thing that Gautham and I tell people that come to us is that you're probably going to offer a lot of stuff for free in the beginning, just cuz you're testing it out and then it's going to be, it's not going to be the final form that it's going to take.

So you will be offering a lot of stuff for free. For example, through our course, we take them through, how can you build a one-hour workshop. You know, once you get to the part where you've talked with friends and family, and especially when you start reaching out to professional networks and you have specific people that you want to test your ideas out on, then you want to offer them something more than just like a two minute conversation or something.

So, that's when. We go into, how do you design like this pre-workshop or this little free thing that you can just take out to the world to test? Now, I suppose if you start getting a lot of, you know, interest in what you're offering, you start charging a small amount of money and see if people are willing to pay. 

And the one thing we do say is like a course could be a really big thing and you don't start with something huge because it's not easy to change or easy to build. It takes too much time. So take something really small to get out there. And then if, if that gets traction, then build on that and start charging a small amount of money and then increase scope, go about it that way.

If it doesn't work, it's also easy for you to just throw it out and work on the next small thing.

[00:25:31] Jonathan: I like that approach. I mean, it gives you the freedom to persevere, I mean, if you do hit tough times, you're like, ah, I don't know about this anymore. Like giving yourself the freedom to just kind of keep exploring, to not to think that you have all the answers right away.

Like if you think, oh, market-course-teacher fit, I've got it. And then suddenly you feel like, oh, it's not going to work. It's over… Well, you don't think that it's over, you think, oh, let's keep trying. Let's keep working it. Let's keep iterating and keep testing it with other people and what they think. And until you get that confidence, like, oh, okay, now they're paying money, et cetera, et cetera. I liked that a lot.

[00:26:12] Gautham: I can add one more point to that. Like Aruna mentioned, right, you test out something. Now, one approach that we take in our two week program is: envision your entire topic, the one that you're taking to take. For you to cover that topic extensively, it might take you say, let's say 10 sessions or 15 sessions or 12 sessions.

It depends on how big your curriculum is. What we help you help you build is what we call a micro lesson. Now a micro lesson is basically 10 sessions. Think of just if you're thinking of 10 sessions, that's 90 minutes each. Think of one 90 minute session. Now break down a 90 minute session down into further smaller sessions of 10-15 minutes each.

Now, ideally what you want to test out on the workshop is a combination of two micro lessons. That's like 30 minutes of content. For one workshop, you can try out one micro lesson. For a different workshop, you can do a different micro lesson. Eventually you start noticing that, okay, people resonate with certain micro lesson topics over some other micro lesson topics. 

Now when you’re an expert, you have multiple different content approaches to test. So I can take this example. Let's say podcasting. One would be, how do you do a deep dive? Or it could be editing of a podcast, or it could be what are the tools associated with good podcasting. 

Now, you will see the audience interest varying for different topics, which means that you get a better sense of, okay, what is a topic that's really resonating with the audience? What are people responding to? What is it organically pull towards? So that's one advantage that you get. And the classic mistake that people end up making is they announce a five-week cohort at the very beginning.

There is no better way to sabotage your mental health, right? No better way, because it can, it can be exhausting. So we highly recommend starting off with small workshops, stitching it together to form a, let's say a two day or a three-day or a four-day course, then slowly expanding out from there. And this exercise can also help in figuring out even the idea of I'd say market-course-teacher fit.

It's an ongoing process. It's not something that you would discover in two days. It's a slow conversation that happens. And eventually you arrive at something that, and trust me when I say this, even mature course creators, right? Who've run multiple courts are still going through the exercise. They're also figuring out more about their own course, each passing bit, which makes their market-course-teacher fit more and more precise.

[00:28:37] Jonathan: So now that we're kind of iterating and, you know, we're really getting down to, okay, this course is working, like, this market-course-teacher fit is really it's getting good. I guess backing up a little bit, actually. Like how do you guys advise a newbie on how to construct or design their cohort-based course? Because there's so many different ways to do it.

I'll just pull this up. I have this snippet saved from Wes Kao. I don't know how to pronounce her name. She's the co-founder of Maven. And she has this blog that talks about the levers of cohort-based courses. And so you can go, so I just, for example, like… length, cohort-based course length. Is it going to be 12 weeks? Is it going to be two weeks?  

Number of students: Is it going to be 100? Is it going to be a 10? Price: Is it going to be 3000? Is it going to be 200 or 100? Intensity. Group interaction. Coach involvement. Instructor involvement. Production value. Application process. 

Cohort frequency: Is it once every year? Is it once every two weeks?  

Pre-recorded content: Is it going to be pre-recorded videos or live videos? 

So there's all these different levers. What's the kind of typical setup that you recommend for people, or is there a typical setup? Like what kind of setup do you recommend in this regard?

[00:30:21] Aruna: It's so interesting that we start with none of the things you mentioned, right?

One thing. So what we start with is we really ask like our creators, the people that come to us to think about what outcomes they want for their students. So, because we feel like everything else that you mentioned can flow from that and we'll make more coherent sense if you started with this. So,  I guess this is an idea that, I mean, it's not from us really, but it's existed in teaching and you're probably aware of it too, right?

Like it's going to learner-centered teaching where you focus entirely on what the student needs. So you're sort of listing down your audience needs. And then, and then we get into asking them to think about what outcomes do you specifically want for them? Because once you go into the details of what these outcomes are, that will clarify to you how long it needs to be. That will clarify to you whether they do it alone or they need to do it in groups and how big these groups are.

And that will also clarify to you what you will be including in your curriculum. Right? So it affects so many parts of what you would design into your course, because at the end of the day you want your, I mean, like it's really important that the student gets something out of it. Of course, there's the business side of things that's there, but like none of this divides that the student doesn't get what they need.

And so that's what we tend to start with.

[00:32:00] Jonathan: That makes sense. I mean, just on a high level, like, you know, if, if it's going to take eight weeks for them to get the results, then I guess the cohort-based course should be eight weeks long instead of two weeks, or if it only takes them four weeks, it should be four weeks, not 12 weeks cuz why make it any longer than it needs to be? 

So that totally makes sense. So like, when you have them kind of think through the outcome, is there any level of detail that you have them go through, or is it a pretty quick exercise to have them think of the outcome?

[00:32:39] Aruna: Sure. So I think we spend a lot of time going over outcomes, at least in our two week course.

So we start with course level outcomes because it started with all of these broad ideas of who your audience is and what, you know, what obstacles they’re facing and such. So you start with the broad course level outcomes. What we aim to do is try and get the teacher or the expert, whoever, to get into the student's mindset.

And I think about what are a few actionable things that somebody that comes to you is able to do that they were not able to do before and that addresses real pain points in their lives. So, that's something we do. And then we also break it down because at least in the two weeks we want them eventually to showcase like one micro lesson. So one does not jump from, you know, the course level outcomes to micro lesson outcomes just like that. So we then break it down into, okay, how would you possibly break it down into something that could be covered in 90 minutes or two hours or three hours, however long you want your session to be? 

And then we deep dive into, okay, what would those outcomes be? So an example in our own course could be, let's say, let's say someone comes to us and they want to teach executives how to build sales and marketing teams.

Right. So they come with this very broad idea and then they figured out that, oh, there's going to be like lots of different angles to it. So maybe one session is focused on how do I set targets for my team? Because these are executives that manage teams. So one session could be, how do I set targets for my team?

They would have arrived at that by looking at course outcomes. And then we would then jump into details. What does that mean? To set targets, like what are four or five things, do you mean that they will apply some framework? Are they going to be doing some sort of calculations to get to that?

Or do they need to be thinking about like five or six factors? You know, are they going to be able to apply that framework to decide what's the most important factors you need to think about and such? So now I feel like I'm rambling.

[00:35:06] Jonathan: No, that's really good. Gautham, were you going to say something?

[00:35:10] Gautham: I can give one other context, maybe, to further illustrate. If it's like, like it's a sales course, right? The goal is to figure out what, what, what other things that students should be able to demonstrate by the end of the course?

So, what are students supposed to actually showcase by the end of the course in terms of actual upskilling? So now, that actually does also determine the answer to the question, whether how long the course should be, how long does it take for the student to be able to demonstrate that by the end of the course.

So now how do you teach it? You teach it effectively by the instructor first showcasing how they do it. They actually demonstrate to the student, this is how I do it. Here are the exact steps. I follow step one, step two, step three. And they demonstrate the steps, and the student has to perform those steps.

In case of, let's say a sales course, the instructor becomes the person who is being sold. Right. And if, for example, if I'm teaching you something, you are expected to actually make a sales call to me and actually test it. I have a dry run of a sales call where I respond as a prospect. And that happens.

And then what happened at the end of the end of the call? I pause as an insight and I'll give you real-time feedback. See, for example, Jonathan here are the things that you did right. These are the things you did wrong. These can improve in so-and-so fashion. You want to give one more shot or do you want to move on to the next task? 

This iterative process of real time live feedback coming to you, the moment you perform the task, that makes all the difference. That is the exact matter in which the cohort-based courses start. Now that you've done the task, now that you've gone through the process once, I can now suggest, see Jonathan, here are two to three videos you can watch that will help you exactly upskill, because it talks about this particular topic.

Now, if you think about it, this is a reverse approach in the education that most of us have gone through. We are given a ton of theory and then we’re given a tiny task at the end and mostly no feedback for it. So this, now, if you concatenate all these little tasks, it should lead to the student achieving the learner outcome by the end of it. The students would be able to make 20 cold calls and probably try and convert, let’s say five of them. That's an exact metric. That's how cohort-based courses are structured and that makes all the difference.

[00:37:43] Jonathan: Hmm. I love that. Yeah, and I'm glad you commented on the power of that, cuz as Aruna was talking and as you were talking, I was like, this is why cohort-based courses are so powerful is because of that feedback.

You don't get that with other courses. You just don't. Even if you set up a course to have like a Facebook group and you can kind of ask questions, it's not the same. With a CBC you’re held accountable.

[00:38:10] Gautham: Yeah. And not just any feedback. It’s contextual speak feedback relayed to you in an intentional space.

That's how I call it. Now, if you were teaching me how to ask great podcasts questions, like you asked me a question, I'm processing it, and I'm actually trying to figure out, okay, how can I make this question better? I think, how can I make this better?

You will give me expert feedback right here on this, which means that I've been brought into an intentional space by you. This call that you're on, you've brought me to an intentional space where I'm actually disconnected from everything else. I'm disconnected from my regular life. I'm not thinking about, you know, my other work assignments.

I'm not thinking about any random stuff. I'm not on Netflix. I've come to this intentional space that is designed by you. And you have my full attention, and I am present with you. And then I have performed a task in your presence and also in the presence of other peers. And then I’m  being given immediate feedback then and there. So contextual feedback in an intentional space makes a world of difference.

You can go through, let's say, self-paced content for six months and never get this, and never, you know, the intensity by which you learn is insane. And that makes all the difference. The number of these kind of intense moments you can pack into the cohort-based course and show that by the end of it, the student has a very transformative experience.

This is why we sort of place a lot of emphasis on doing office hours with the tutor, because we encourage all our students to have office hours, because what we're doing effectively with the curriculum that we have built with the structured activities that we have built, we are building a shared space and a shared context.

So during the course of the two week program, we take both of us, both the student and the instructor are having a very clear, structured, shared context. Now on the platform that the shared context is, we now have an option to deep dive into the student's unique context. Just because we have prepared a curriculum does not necessarily mean that it's going to produce a desired outcome for the student.

The student comes from their own different problems, their own challenges, their own insecurities. And during the office hours, we use the shared context to deep dive into the student's unique context and see, okay, we've taught you all of this, but where is your challenge, and where are you stuck? What can work for you?

And that deep dive helps the student move along and make progress. So it ensures that we bring all the students to the same level and then we can progress and, you know, all of us can march towards a learning outcome, but we have assigned them the upfront.

[00:40:55] Jonathan: Dude, that's totally what I was going to comment on was that like, again, the power of CBCs, because when you have just an evergreen course, it can cover kind of overall challenge that they're going through, but I think there’s almost always the question of, well, what about my situation? What about in this case? What about me? And so that's when the live cohort-based course and the process of being around the instructor and the other people, that question gets answered, and that alone probably increases the value and therefore the price, yeah, so much. It's like reading a book, you can pay 10 bucks for that… fair price. Being able to ask. What about my situation? What do I do… so much more valuable. 

So we're talking about office hours and kind of a community space Aruna kind of alluded to. So when this all gets put together, what does the program kind of look like? I know for Louis’ program Stand The F*ck Out, it's like a pre-recorded video at the start of the week, followed by, you know, worksheets and assignments. And then there's at least the way cohort three worked, there is a group coaching call.

And then people would submit their assignments and get feedback on those assignments. And that was kind of the flow. So it was the course content, the group coaching call to be able to ask their questions and the assignments to work on and to get feedback from both the instructor and their peers.

So is that kind of how you - just very high level - view the structure of it? Or do you have a different take on it?

[00:42:52] Aruna: I think what we do is what's known like to a lot of teachers as flipping the classroom. So that's what Gautham and I do specifically in our two week course. And this has a lot to do with me not loving homework. Right. I don't think Gautham was a fan of that either. So what we try to do is we try to get what would typically be assigned as an assignment to do by yourself outside of class.

We try to get it in class. So we have these intense 90 minute sessions, six of those, and it's constantly going between me presenting an idea. And then we immediately ask you to apply it. And the point of this being that we want to complete one loop when we're all done. Right. And the loop being like presenting information, and you're thinking about it a little bit, and then you're trying to apply it yourself, and you immediately get feedback.

Now feedback then becomes like a new bit of information. And the idea is if you do this once when you're with everybody, it becomes so much easier to just do it on your own after class. So yeah, so that way, I think we're a little bit different because we don't offer a lot of pre-recorded content, like necessarily, or we, in fact, we make it a point to say that you don't need to come prepared, especially to the first class.

You don't need to prepare for any class really. And our hope is that in the 90 minutes that you spend with us, you take back something with you. That's very specific to your context, as you mentioned. Cause that's the most important thing. And we often find what happens with that is that because it is so personalized to themselves, and they do this by filling out a workbook in our course, for example, that they are naturally inclined to continue working on that.

Like we've just turned the switch on. And then they continue on their journey. And of course there's all these optional office hours and optional spaces to meet again and get further feedback and keep iterating. But at least the first, you know, the potential barrier is crossed. That's our aim with doing this, like do something in class, do something with us immediately.

[00:45:06] Jonathan: So each week you have the live session and then you have office hours. And then is that kind of, did I miss anything? It’s really those two things right? Each week?

[00:45:22] Aruna: We have three live sessions per week. So that's Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And then there's, you can book your office hours anytime in between, and that's how we have it done in two weeks.

Yeah. It's a very, it's quite an intense experience and it's designed to be. Yeah. Like we want you to, we want you to see if this is for you. You know, we don't want you to waste a lot of time. We don't want you to waste six months to see if a CBC is something you can do, because what happens most times is that people get into it with one sort of idea.

And then they find out that, oh my God, this is really a lot of work. Right? So we want to get you to get the intense experience in two weeks. So, you know, this is all of the work you need to do. But you leave knowing that this is all the work you need to do. So you have a sense that, okay, I did this much in two weeks, so surely when I can dedicate time to this, I will be able to do it.

But at least I know everything that I need to do as far as course design goes… I've had one, like, run through of it start to finish. So they're not intimidated that there aren't going to be like unknown data in terms of how much effort needs to be put in.

[00:46:40] Jonathan: So then on that topic of like, after the course, do you offer any support after the cohort-based course has reached its end, or do you just kind of call it good at that point, and they’re pretty well-prepared?

[00:46:56] Aruna: So we offer open channels of communication throughout and afterwards, because our hope is to continue building this community. Right. So we are always available and we often tell them also, anytime you want to test out an idea, especially like, now you have two of us, like we always come and we'll listen to you, you know, if you're trying some new material out or if you just want to brainstorm.

So yeah, we definitely offer support because we know how hard it is and how lonely it can get. Yeah.

[00:47:27] Jonathan: Do you offer that extra support for free or do you charge?

[00:47:31] Aruna: So far, free.

[00:47:34] Jonathan: I like that answer because I was going to say, I was gonna say, if you said free, I'd be like, mm, I don't know. You guys could probably charge money for that. So,  hopefully, your customers don't come, you know, with forks, er, pitchforks at my doorstep someday once you start charging money for it because I definitely think you could.

[00:47:59] Gautham: Well our customer base has been small. It's not a huge number per se, but we've had the good fortune of scoring a perfect 10 on the NPS scores. So yeah, quite, quite happy about that.

[00:48:12] Jonathan: Nice! Well, we are just about out of time. I can't believe how quickly the time went by. Two last questions for you. They're pretty quick. I just like to ask them at the end, what's the biggest challenge that you've encountered so far in running cohort-based courses…your own cohort-based course…and how did you solve that challenge?

[00:48:37] Aruna: I can go. The actual running of the course has not been as challenging, and the actual logistics and delivering the course has not been challenging for me personally. And because I've never done this before, like talking about the course, filling up the seats, marketing, that sort of thing. I've never had to do it because I was always in universities, Penn State, or Harvard, wherever I was, the students always came even if they were reluctant.

But now speaking about this and doing this, in fact, this whole market-course-teacher fit and audience building exercise, that's been challenging for me, but I'm pushing myself, you know, finding my voice in the online space and learning how to genuinely interact with people.

'cause I think that's how I get to know them, you know, and that's how they get to know me. And there's a real exchange of value because that's what this is about. Like at the end of the day,  you know, whatever format it's delivered and people want you to sell it and people want real value. And I want to offer that back.

I don't want to make a quick buck. I mean, surely I want money, but you know what I mean.

[00:49:48] Gautham: Yeah, just to add to that, so as I said, the one piece that we are actively working on is the audience building, because both of us, technically, if you think about it, both of us come from very non-internet first worlds, because my previous business was largely an enterprise business and selling directly to universities across India.

So we extensively built out networks that we weren't in, in our previous careers, we weren’t actively online on a regular basis. So that's one skill that both of us are upskilling, you know, picking up on, and it's been fun. We've had massive inbound interest, even when we put ourselves a little bit out there, we've had people reach out to us on a consistent basis.

We’ve had corporates reach out to us, et cetera. So it's been, it's been a fun ride on that front too.

[00:50:40] Aruna: Lots of learning. Yeah.

[00:50:41] Jonathan: Yeah. Nice. Well, last question for you. How can folks keep in touch with you?

[00:50:49] Gautham: So our website is the best place to find us. So it's It's pretty straightforward. And we're also active on Twitter @HowToCBC, and you can find our newsletter at Yeah, these are places where we are most active.

Both me and Aruna are actively present on Twitter too. You can find both of us there. I'm sure you’ll put these links in the description too. So, yeah.

[00:51:22] Jonathan: Yeah. I'll put all those links there. And you have another cohort coming up soon, right?

[00:51:28] Gautham: Precisely. On the 23rd of May our next cohort is starting. So yeah, you can go directly to our website and click on courses, and you will be directly led to the landing page. You can sign up.

[00:51:42] Jonathan: Awesome. Well, thank you very, very much Gautham and Aruna. As always, I enjoyed our conversation, and I learned a lot. I think I definitely got some takeaways from it and things to consider, especially how you guys do three days, like Monday, Wednesday, Friday in a single week. For some reason, I never thought about doing that.

I was like, oh, one lesson per week. That's it. That's pretty cool, and lots of other stuff. So I thank you guys a lot, yeah.

[00:52:12] Gautham: It comes from a philosophy. It’s that philosophy that you come, you just disconnect from your life, show up, and we'll take care of the rest.

[00:52:20] Jonathan: Nice. Love it. Well, we will see you guys around and chat soon.

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