Hi there 👋 I’m Gagan, co-founder at Maven. AMA 👇
I'm Gagan Biyani, co-founder and CEO at Maven, a platform for cohort-based courses (CBCs). Backed by a16z and First Round, Maven empowers creators to monetize their expertise by teaching their audience via live and asynchronous video. In just one year, Maven has dozens of creators making over $10k and many who have made over $100k. Previously, I co-founded Udemy, a platform for video-based courses or MOOCs. With over 500 million course enrollments, Udemy was the first major MOOC platform online and is the most extensive video courses library on the Internet. I was also co-founder and CEO of Sprig, a food delivery company that raised $60M and eventually shut down. Currently, I'm working on a 3-day virtual lecture series called The Ideation Bootcamp where you can learn how to reverse engineer $100 million startup ideas. I also write about my experiences as a founder here and here. Let's talk startup ideas, Maven, online learning, the transition to CBC's and more. AMA 👇
Hey Gagan, thanks for doing this, here are a few questions to get the AMA rolling: 1. Which topic, according to you can be taught better in person? 2. With the advent of hybrid education, how is Maven (or you) planning to approach CBC's with both in-person and online presence or are you currently more focused on online only?
@kshitij_malhotra hey Kshitij! 1. At this point, very few. Zoom changed everything - now most intellectual knowledge is just as effective online as it is in person. For high level subject areas, they can all be taught online. However, there are often details where supplemental in person is useful. Sports, medicine, physical therapy, yoga, are all situations where in-person is still a critical component of learning. You can't learn to drive without getting behind the wheel. But, you can learn the rules of the road and the basics via an online video! 2. We're still so early in our specific area: online cohort-based courses! So I think it will be awhile before we expand beyond that. However, I do love the idea of in-person meetups and facilitating introductions so students can meet each other over coffee or dinner. I doubt we'll move to in-person education, but we will enable in-person connections.
@gagan_biyani Thanks for the epic response, all the best with Maven🙌🚀
Thank you for this AMA, @gagan_biyani 🙏 Two questions: 1. How has building Udemy's experience helped you while creating Maven? Is the 'second-time founder' advantage real? 2. What tips would you like to offer to create an engaging CBC? Online courses are infamous for their incompletion or dropout rates. What can be done to keep the cohort active and running?
@adityavsc Awesome Aditya! 1. The First Round Capital team shared an interesting point with me which is that second-time founders don't have significantly higher success than first-time founders. While you do have less execution risk, you still have the same market risk and are prone to assuming that whatever worked at your first company will work in your second. This is rarely true, as markets evolve. Luckily, I'm a 3rd time founder (my second company failed!). So I like to think its a lot better now; I've had the success of Udemy and the failure of Sprig. Execution-wise, Maven has been 10x easier than Udemy was. However, strategically, we still have to be right and that is relatively difficult even on your 3rd, 5th, 10th time. So it is definitely easier, but not as much easier as you may think. 2. If you are teaching a CBC you will immediately have a much lower dropout rate. It is inherent to the CBC model! Still, I'll give a few tips: - Use Maven. Haha - joking but seriously. We run a Maven Course Accelerator where we teach you in depth how to run a successful CBC; much more content than I can share in an AMA. https://maven.com/maven/course-a... - Use the state change method to make live lectures engaging. My co-founder Wes Kao explains it here: https://www.weskao.com/blog/the-... - Put effort into ensuring people get to know each other. An active cohort is about peer connections, not you as the instructor. - Create barriers to entry. Charge a bit more than you'd think and/or have a good application process. People are more likely to take it seriously if they have to feel some pain to get into the course!
Hi Gagan, excited for this! And thank you for doing it! What is one thing you have recently changed your mind on?
@d_nebinski So many things. One example: I used to believe diets are BS and mock anyone who goes on paleo, atkins, slow carbs, etc. Here I am doing intermittent fasting! I'm getting married soon and as I've gotten older it is harder to lose weight, so I decided to do IMF to shed a few pounds before my wedding.
@gagan_biyani that is really interesting -- thank you so much! Wishing you nothing but the best with the upcoming wedding!
Hi Gagan - We recently built and grew a product in the same space as Maven. My question is as follows: the pandemic brought people to online (live or asynchronous) learning in the masses, what would be your best bet on keeping them here in the post pandemic world? Thank you for the AMA!
@atawfiq Awesome to hear about your product. Mind sharing a link? I assume people will go back in person (many already have) to eat, socialize, and perhaps work. However, the shift in online learning has been going on for 10+ years pre-pandemic. I buy into the argument that the pandemic accelerated change that was already happening. So I'm (perhaps naively) not too concerned about people going back to in person learning. But let's see - I can see many reasons to believe I'm wrong.
@gagan_biyani Thank you for taking the time Gagan - agreed the shift to online learning is here to stay no doubt about that, particularly when adding certain elements (Maven's bet on CBC is spot on here) to the online learning experience that didn't quite exist some time ago (online community, live & interactive classes, etc). The key in the post pandemic world will be figuring out the balance between consumers' demand for high quality online learning (with visible results) and the desire for a hybrid online/physical community to supplement the learning. Fun challenge! And yes of course, I started & grew goboomerang.com 3 years ago to help retirees and semi-retirees beat social isolation through online learning. Would be great to chat sometime if you're open to it :)
yo! I'm curious about the diffs between Sprig and Maven, illustrated via two questions below: - How has your time management changed CEOing Maven vs. Spring? What's the same? What's different? - Any rituals from Sprig carried over Maven? What did you not carry over? More on Maven itself: - What kind of signals are you seeing teaching people become teachers from non-tech industries (health, wellness, finance, etc)? - follow-up questions: What are the challenges in creating a cohort-based curriculum with them?
@amanik Yo Aman! - Time Management. Different: I don't pack my schedule anymore. After this session, I have literally 0 work meetings on my calendar for the rest of the day (Wednesdays are no-meeting days at Maven). I'm amazed at how much this has improved my productivity since I love writing/reading as forms of work but used to only do talking/listening. I also started doing a lot more work on my computer (I used to be mostly phone), since I've found that I like getting deeper into the work version of metaverse when I'm working. I also stopped working out of my inbox and now use Asana. Same: Hmmm, a lot is the same TBH. I still believe strongly in exec coaching and exec assistants. I still delegate a lot and hire leaders earlier than other founders might. - Rituals. At the advice of my coach Patrick Ewers from MindMaven, I started to do a daily ritual where I look at my tasks every morning, organize them, and then also do an evening routine where I shut down. This has been pretty powerful. Going to try to come back to the on Maven questions :)
Hi Gagan, What did your first MVP for Maven look like when you launched it?
@natkaratkova Depends on whether you are asking about MVP or MVT :) I outline a lot of the MVTs here: https://review.firstround.com/th... Our first MVP was launching Pomp's Crypto course: https://www.pompscryptocourse.com/. This was launched without any real technology - just sent via Twitter to Pomp's audience!
@gagan_biyani Thanks for sharing! It's actually the first time I hear about MVT. Super interesting concept.
@gagan_biyani just finished the whole article and this is extremely helpful! 🙏💛 I've been struggling with my MVP scope because I still don't know where the best starting point is. And now I can see it from a different angle!
@aracena I write about my strategy here: review.firstround.com/the-minimum-viable-testing-process-for-evaluating-startup-ideas I also am teaching a course on the subject (applications close a week from today!) https://maven.com/samparr/ideati...
Hey Gagan! Thanks for doing this for the community! I have two curious questions: 1. What was your take on founders being scrappy versus perfect? 2. And what is your mindset when Maven in the initial days?
@5harath 1. Always scrappy over perfect. In reality, it's a balance. You want to be scrappy enough that you're always doing things with less resources and less time, since those are your two most precious assets. However, if you don't try to do things well and just throw shit at a wall, you won't learn much and won't ever find success. You have to be thoughtful about what you test and how you execute your tests. At Maven, I think we balance this well: 80% of what we put out is of really high quality, but 20% isn't and of the 80%, some of it just looks high quality in the area that is most relevant - usually it is stitched together with duct tape on the back-end! 2. Make sure the strategy is right. We rigorously went through stages of questions about the company, based on riskiest assumptions: Would we be able to make creators successful with CBCs? Could we teach creators to build CBCs en masse? Would these CBCs continue to succeed after the first cohort "pop"? --> It took about 12 months to go through that list, but sometime in Q4 last year we finally felt like we had nailed these questions. Now we're trying to scale it a bit to see if we're right about the next question: How big is the CBC market and how many people could be successful teaching CBCs? So far, signs are good :)
@gagan_biyani Love the answers! I knew your take on being scrappy :)
Hi Gagan, I've learned a bunch from your writings and musings so I'm excited for this. I've been researching the customer success space and noticed that onboarding / digital adoption is comparable to CPC. Any thoughts on that space?
@davinchew I love Minerva! Had so many great conversations with various folks from that team. Customer success - my fiance actually runs customer success at a startup so I know the function well! I would agree that there are some good comparisons to digital learning in general, and there are lots of ways to utilize principles from courses to apply them to CS. Ultimately, the better your customers know how to use your product and what the benefits are, the more likely you are to retain and upsell them. So CS is pretty much entirely an education game on some level. Also, the way you monitor student health in a CBC is kind of related to how you monitor customer health in a CS function.
When I take classes, read books for learning, or attend info sessions, I'm often disappointed to find that I already know much of the material; other times, especially when I'm going far afield, the material is far beyond my level. E.g., with the Ideation Bootcamp, I imagine there's much there that would be worth my learning, but I expect I'd have to sit through hours of stuff I already basically know to get there. But that's understandable -- there's only one Ideation Bootcamp, and no good way for my existing knowledge to be evaluated and adapted for. How do you see knowledge modeling relating to the future of learning?
@benjamin_wheeler So many people have tried to solve this problem and personally I think it is going to be very difficult. I have the problem myself: I used to be excellent at Chess and Spanish, but I'm out of practice. How do I get back into it without suffering through a lot of basics I already know? The problem is that your individual solution is different from almost everyone else. I am good at Chess strategy but don't remember any of the opening positions. They will come back to me, but I need a refresher. Other people might need refreshers too, but they will all need different types of refreshers. Very difficult to design a system that addresses this. So from an entrepreneurial perspective, I'm super skeptical of solutions like ML in education. They might work on the margins, but generally they don't seem to be even close yet. Instead, I prefer the opposite. You will have to suffer through about 25% of the Ideation Bootcamp that you already know, but the other 75% will blow your mind because Sam and I are marketing this to people who already read a lot of public entrepreneurship content. Furthermore, sometimes it is actually helpful to learn the same thing twice - in fact in philosophical/theoretical learnings, you often have to hear the same thing 10-20x before you learn them. So I'd say you have two choices: Either you can afford a teacher who is willing to teach this to you 1:1 OR you just accept that you'll need to learn some things again, benefit from reinforcing of them, and then you'll also learn some new things. If you do end up specifically buying the Ideation Bootcamp and the ratio is worse than 50/50 new stuff vs old, I'll give you your money back :)
Thanks @gagan_biyani, I appreciate your clarity on this! I share your skepticism, though I wonder if there is some promise in "cyborg" solutions that couple a small amount of ML (e.g., a library of categorized, difficulty-tracked questions) with a large amount of learner agency in choosing sub-topics and paths. Thanks also for clarifying that you're aware of the existing entrepreneurship content that your learners will be aware of. Your track record is a big draw for me, especially because online learning and food delivery are crowded fields, rather than moonshot or invention-first companies where your experience might not translate as widely.
Hi Gagan, I shared this with my team. You do a great job!
Awesome 👏🏾 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾
@thejackiejones Woohoo! Although these days I'm much more confined to my specific neighborhood in Oakland, CA than I used to be :). Life has changed a lot since my nomad days, but I love it nonetheless.
Gagan appreciate you sharing this great information. I am going to check out the state change method, cohort-based course and start-up information. In addition to capturing interest during online courses, I am challenged by and interested in your thoughts on driving employee engagement to the resources. Many companies offer multiple wellness options for parents and limit the ability to market to their employees, can you share impactful onboarding or other tools to drive engagement. We are in a similar space and share at least one client who has connected our companies. Looking forward to expanding our conversations. www.peaceathomeparenting.com/cor... thanks Kath
Hello Gagan - I am the scrappy (I love this new designation that I will continue to live up to) founder of a digital parenting education company called Peace At Home Parenting Solutions. We serve MIT, CVS Health, IPG, Omnicom, Big Brothers Big Sisters and others with a 99% overall satisfaction rate among class participants. It seems that Peace At Home grew in the opposite way from your amazing Maven (we love it - we both serve parents at The Hartford and greatly admire your exceptional program). I was teaching online classes for one of my corporate clients and they were so successful that my daughter, who is in analytics, suggested that we bring it to the public. All I knew was hour long webinars and that is where we started as I slowly built a team of 20+ exceptional experts on specific parenting topics - kids with autism, anxiety, birth to five, youth exploring gender identity, etc. So the team came almost first and the digital products are being created as we go along. We now deliver quick recorded "Flash Classes," individual and small group coaching, monitored, private Facebook community, etc. My two questions for you are 1. Do you have any suggestions about Learning Management Systems? I want us to be the Amazon of parenting education and I mean specifically that a parent struggling with a particular issue can easily navigate right to the expert or content that they need. 2. Is there any way I can inspire you to meet with us to pick your brain and consider ways we might partner with Maven. Thank you so much for being available in this way to us big dreamers.
Thanks for taking the time to take our questions. Mine is pretty simple, and maybe it's the marketer in me.. but why the term "cohort"? Don't you just think this will cause confusion in the industry? I know that my potential student demographics (men & women, 30-65) won't get it, at least not at first lol. Just wondering. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
Hi Gagan, I'm considering joining the course and emailed a couple of questions ... appreciate you may not have seen them yet. 1. What time of day do the live sessions run? (I'm based in the UK) 2. What sort of time investment does the ideation bootcamp recommend from participants? Thanks