In my Epic Life Quest, sometimes I post [Redacted] achievements. It’s stuff that I’m really proud of, but I’m not quite ready to talk about publicly yet. The last one was hitting the $1mm/year total revenue mark.
A while back in Level 7, I wrote:
[Redacted] – I set a revenue goal for our company’s online sales (training classes & videos), and we crossed it. I’m not sharing the goal publicly yet, but I’ll circle back in a couple/few years and blog about it in my Life Quest category. Completed September 2015.
It’s been a while now, so let’s un-redact that and discuss it. We hit:
- $1mm/year in training revenue (including both live & recorded classes), and
- $2mm/year in combined revenue (training and consulting)
For numbers geeks, I’m measuring on a rolling 12 months basis – for young, growing businesses, you don’t wanna wait for calendar years to measure stuff. (Also, at the risk of stating the obvious: these numbers are revenue, not profit.)
How we got there: steadily building training
When we started the company, Jeremiah, Kendra, and I had a limited amount of presentations built. Since our day job was teaching customers what was broken in their SQL Server, we found ourselves continuously writing new training. That customer training material was designed to be super-concise, and it used real examples from their environments. Writing public training material is much harder.
We started with some online 1-day events, then gradually expanded to a 2-day in-person class. Over the course of a few years, we ended up with a huge library of online stuff plus three 4-day live classes: The Senior DBA Class, Advanced Querying & Indexing, and SQL Server Performance Troubleshooting.
Steadily building a tolerance for risk, too
Selling live training class seats means:
- Paying a large deposit to a training class venue, typically in a hotel
- Committing to a minimum spend for food, A/V, and hotel rooms
- Buying your own travel to the event
- And if enough students don’t show up, you eat some of the food/A/V/hotel costs
As an extreme example, I had a January class in Newark, NJ (SHUT UP I KNOW NOW) where only 5 students showed up. I lost something like $15k that week on hotel fees, and that’s not even including the money I could have earned doing consulting or something instead.
If you have one or two of those bombs every now and then, it’s no big deal – but as a small company starting up, those are big eye-opening events. We started with just a little risk, and then gradually added more and more risk, signing several contracts for class dates throughout the year, and forking out tens of thousands of dollars in hotel deposits at once.
We also faced risk in that there were only three of us, and we didn’t have complete topic overlap. All of us had written modules that no one else knew well enough to teach: I couldn’t teach Jeremiah’s dynamic SQL module or Kendra’s THREADPOOL module, for example. If one of us broke our arm right before class, we had to put our game face on and keep going.
But with risk comes reward, thus this blog post.
Training powered the company buyouts.
When the company bought out Jeremiah & Kendra, this trove of training material was key to making it work:
- Jeremiah & Kendra chose to leave their intellectual property (training classes) in the company
- This meant I could deliver those modules, generating cash flow to pay them off over time
- But this also meant I had to learn to deliver the live in-person modules all by myself (the self-paced online recorded classes weren’t an issue, obviously)
Teaching a class is more than just reading stuff off a slide. (Well, that’s all you get in a lot of crappy vendor classes, material taught by people who’ve never actually done it in real life, but I won’t settle for that kind of garbage.) I had to dig deeply into the material and be prepared to answer tough attendee questions on it.
This also meant a spectacularly high level of risk. One instructor teaching a series of 4-day live classes, all by himself? No missed travel allowed. No sore throats acceptable. No off/downer/slow days. No second instructor to turn to for questions. Those initial 4-day classes were really challenging. (But also rewarding! I’ve been able to sustain and grow those training revenue numbers, and they powered the company through the really dark times – more about those in next week’s installment of my annual How the Company-Startup Thing Worked Out for Me series.)