Creating Your Online Course And Building A Successful Business, With Greg Smith of Thinkific


One of the hottest trends today is online education. And one of the fastest ways to “Get Ahead” is to take your knowledge and expertise and turn it into an online course people WANT to buy.

In today’s episode, I talk with Greg Smith – the Founder of Thinkific – a platform that helps people create, market, and sell their online courses. In fact, before Thinkific, Greg started his own journey by creating an online course!

Listen in as he reveals the secrets that took him from part-time entrepreneur … to owning one of the dominant platforms today in the online course space.

In today’s episode:

  • One thing every entrepreneur and course-creator needs to do … DAILY
  • How to set a proper deadline for building your course and stick to it (this is the KEY piece of advice Greg got from his brother) …
  • What entrepreneurial “balance” REALLY looks like (it’s not what you think) …
  • The kind of mindset you want to have if you’re really going to succeed with creating a course and life in general …
  • The concept of “giving away your Legos” and how it can help you scale your business FAST …
  • How a “wall of failures” can actually set you up to WIN – a lot more often …
  • And much more …

Resources Mentioned:


Transcript:

James Mel: Hey everybody, welcome to the Get Ahead Podcast. I’m James Mel. On this podcast, what I do is I find successful entrepreneurs. I dig deep to uncover the strategies, the mindsets, the techniques, and other things they’ve done to get ahead in their life and their business, so you can do the same. I know if you’re here, you’re a high achiever. I know you want to get ahead. That’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with my entire life. That’s what I want to help you do, is uncover the different strategies and techniques you need to be able to do that, to get ahead in your own life. 

So make sure to grab a pen, a paper, or something to take notes with. Because as we uncover these gold nuggets, you’re going to want to write them down. Now, before we jump into today’s episode, I have something really special to give you as a free gift. Like any successful person, I’ve got a mentor and I’ve had one for over 10 years. It turns out that he’s also my business partner. His name’s Eben Pagan and he’s written a book on opportunity. 

Now, if you want to get ahead in your life and your business, it’s super important that you not only know how to spot opportunity, but you know how to take advantage of it. That’s what this entire book is about. I’d like to give you a free copy. Not only that, I’d like to ship it to you, absolutely free. So you get a free copy and you get it shipped to you, absolutely free. The way you can get this is go to www.jamesmel.com/opportunity. It’s all on me. Go there now, grab your copy, you’ll be glad you did. 

All right, without further ado, let’s jump into today’s episode. 

Okay, welcome to another episode of Get Ahead. I’m really excited. Today’s guest is somebody I know and lives, actually, where I do as well. Here in Vancouver, Canada, beautiful Vancouver, Canada. My friend, Greg Smith, who is the owner and CEO of on online company called Thinkific. This is a software platform, incredible software platform that literally enables entrepreneurs to market, create, sell, and deliver their own online courses.

Super important, because as we know, online education is just picking up so much these days. He’s sort of one of the pioneers in this. The company is now 96, right [crosstalk 00:02:07]?

Greg Smith: That’s right, yeah. 

James Mel: 96, growing very quickly as well. So, I’m really excited to have you here, Greg. 

Greg Smith: Thanks. Yeah, yeah. 96 people, it’s a lot to manage these days. But I guess we’re still small, in the grand scheme of things. 

James Mel: Right.

Greg Smith: Yeah. 

James Mel: I’m sure-

Greg Smith: Really appreciate you being here, James. Thanks. 

James Mel: What is it like? Do you feel like you’re ahead now? What is it like to have that type of success right now? 

Greg Smith: It’s funny, I was at a conference yesterday, with a bunch of other CEOs, and talking. One of them was sharing their revenue numbers and where they’re at. Almost looking a little down, because they were talking about another company, actually my brother’s, who’s even further ahead than them. I said to them, I said, “The way I’ve learned to look at it is, try and put yourself in the head of where you were at when you got started and say ‘Imagine if I could be here today, how excited would I be?’ Or if I told myself, seven years ago or two years ago, ‘You’re going to be at this point, now.'” Then I get really excited, because the me back then would be super-stoked to be where I’m at. 

But I think, sometimes when you’re just grinding, your head’s down, you’re working hard, you kind of forget to put your head up and celebrate your successes. That’s actually a core value we have here, at Thinkific, is to celebrate our successes. To take that time to share what we’ve done and talk about it. We share our fails too, we have a fail wall. But really, to take the time to celebrate those successes. 

James Mel: So, how did it all happen? How did Thinkific come to be, how did you get to where you are now? What’s the origin story behind it? 

Greg Smith: Yeah. Well, I was my ideal customer first. I was practicing law for a big law firm, doing M&A and transactions and IPOs. I had tutored students in the LSAT and taught LSAT classes, when I was going to law school. I created this online LSAT course, and slowly it started doing better and better and better. Eventually, the revenue from that was actually surpassing my legal salary. So that was one piece. 

Then the other thing that happening is, because I had this course out there, other entrepreneurs, other experts, other businesses, other people who wanted to create what I had created were calling me and saying, “How did you create your own online course? Can you help us build something like that?” So that’s where we really took the plunge, to go and build Thinkific. To help anyone go create their own course under their brand, their site, and do exactly what I was doing with my own LSAT course. 

James Mel: Interesting, yeah. You mentioned that you were sort of doing these two things simultaneously? You were tutoring, doing the law stuff, and building this at the same time? 

Greg Smith: Yeah. Well, I was in law school, teaching, and tutoring. Then I was practicing law, where I was doing a lot less of the teaching and tutoring. But then I had started the online course, and that was building over time. So, yeah. I guess, in terms of transitioning away from the nine-to-five grind, really, the way I got started was by starting a side project. Creating this, for me, an online course on the side. Just building it. Initially, we called it Mondays At Nine, I think. Mondays or Tuesdays At Nine. It was one weekday at nine, because I was working such long hours as a lawyer, and my brother was working long hours. We worked on it together, that Mondays at 9:00 PM, we would get together and start working on this project for a few hours, until we passed out. That’s how we built the whole, first online course. Was just once a week for whatever we could manage. 

James Mel: Wow. Do you think that’s one of the key things that allowed you to get ahead? Is just having that structure, every single Monday at 9:00 PM? How would you recommend somebody build, knowing what you know now, a side project, in addition to having a demanding full-time job?

Greg Smith: Yeah, definitely the structure. Then the other thing that worked well is, when I set out to do it, my brother gave me some really good advice. I said, “I want to build this 180-hour course.” 

James Mel: Wow. 

Greg Smith: He said, “How about you build whatever you can build, and we’re going to launch it in 30 days. So, you got 30 days. If you want to work all night and weekends, and get it all done and do 180 hours, great. But get what you can get done in 30 days.” It was the best piece of advice. We held to that deadline and we launched in 30 days. The course was tiny, in comparison to what I wanted to create, but we launched something. 

People bought it, and then they gave us a bunch of feedback on it, that completely changed how I built the rest of the course. So, it actually saved me a ton of time, because I started getting that feedback early. Plus, I got the nice ego-boost, that, “Wow, people actually want to buy this thing.” Right? It was only $29, but some people were buying it at $29, so that gave me the indication that there was something here. 

So to me, it was setting that deadline, creating a structure to launch on that day, and being okay with whatever we could get to by that deadline. So that I could then, learn and build on top of it.

James Mel: Such a good point. One of the things I’ve realized about entrepreneurship is sometimes, we want to have everything planned out, and you want the 180-hour course, but you almost need the feedback from the market place, from the customers, to be able to create the best 180-hour course, or whatever it is you want to create. So, getting that feedback loop can really help set you up for success. Yeah, it’s really interesting to see how you did that. Then having those deadlines, to just getting it done. 

Greg Smith: Yeah, yeah. That feedback was amazing, because I ended up completely… The original course was this complicated, interactive, voice-over slides. Then, based on the feedback, I did video. It was easier to produce, it took me less times, and it gave way better results to the students. 

James Mel: Right. So now, here you are. You’ve got the course launched within 30 days and you’re selling a few copies at $29. Was there any big break that just really put you on the trajectory of getting to the next level?

Greg Smith: Well for me it was… I actually left law. Then, because I had a little bit of this passive revenue coming in from the course, I went and moved to this little mountain town called Squamish. It’s half-way between Vancouver and Whistler. 

James Mel: Yeah.

Greg Smith: You’ve been there. 

James Mel: Yeah, yeah. [crosstalk 00:08:19]

Greg Smith: It’s beautiful. There’s rock climbing and hiking and skiing nearby. My favorite is kite boarding. So, I got a little apartment, rented out the spare bedroom. I had three bedrooms, so I rented out one, and then I used the third bedroom as my studio, to film marketing videos, and then course videos. I spent most of my days kite boarding. 

James Mel: Yeah, well-

Greg Smith: But during that period, I remember I had one particular day on the water where I was kite boarding for five hours. I came, I checked my phone and we’d made like 2, $3,000 while I was out on the water, just in that four hours. That was a big point for me, of, “There’s really something to this. We can actually turn this into a real business.” So, that’s where I really started to double-down on it and push harder on building out the course. 

James Mel: Interesting. So, you almost need that proof of concept of, “Oh, wow. This is real.” Seeing that, that then just inspired you to do everything else. 

Greg Smith: Yup.

James Mel: Maybe tone down the kite boarding a little bit and spend a bit more time on that. 

Greg Smith: Yeah. I was already grinding at that point. I would kite board for a few hours in the day, and then I’d go home and produce videos. Put them up on YouTube, try and get… That was a lot of SEO work, all sorts of stuff. Really working on, to try and get it going. But it was still kind of a part-time thing, trying to build that up, to see real success from it. 

James Mel: Because I know it’s really intensive, starting a new business and whatnot. For somebody really trying to get ahead, how important do you think it is, to have balance in your life? Maybe do a bit of kite boarding and hobbies and that sort of stuff, versus just like, “You know what? I’m going to go head-down for 90 days or half a year, and just really grind it.” What’s your take on that? 

Greg Smith: Yeah, I think my view’s a little controversial. Maybe not. I’m not so great… Well, I’m great with balance, in my definition of it. My definition of it, I heard that concept, like you’re either juggling five balls. There’s health and friends and family and career and, I guess, health and fitness. I’ve picked two. For me, right now, it’s business and it’s family. It’s a real choice to kind of… Because I got two little kids at home, and so my wife and my two kids, and then my company are really, that’s all I do. I’ve got some friends who are like, “We don’t really get to see you that much any more.” But it’s been a conscious choice to focus on those. 

That’s my balance, is just those two things. Not to the 100% exclusion of everything else, but really, I minimize everything else as much as possible. I haven’t found it possible to balance all the things. To me, that’s not balance. I haven’t found it that possible. It’s not ideal, because I think I could be doing more, health-wise and fitness-wise. 

James Mel: Right.

Greg Smith: But that’s allowed me to have a great family life and really push the business ahead, exponentially. I think it’s one of those things where you have to shift those priorities at the different points in your life. Like when you’re getting started on something, maybe you’re really all-in on the business. Then you have a kid, you’re all-in on family for awhile. So, even within the last seven years, I’ve had shifts in balance in that. I think I’m moving into a phase now, where I’m going to bring in more on the health and fitness side because I notice I’m lacking on that. Spend a bit more time doing that, but still try and drive hard on the business. 

James Mel: Makes sense. It seems like one of the common denominators I found, in people that get ahead, is really having that clarity to what’s important to them and what they want to achieve. Because it’s so clear for you. You know, “Family, my business. That’s it, right now.” Versus having five different balls you’re juggling in the air. I found that was true for me too, when I got started in real estate. I had to sacrifice a lot to just focus on real estate. Because after working during the day, I’d do that at night. Renovate homes and work with contractors and whatnot. Not in that place anymore. 

Greg Smith: Right.

James Mel: For that five years, to really get that started, that’s where I was. 

Greg Smith: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, from where I was at, three, four years ago to now, it’s a different space for sure, on that balance. The other really cool thing, I forget who shared this with me but it’s a simple quote of, “Schedule your priorities.” So for me, a big thing was to take the things that are important and stick them in my calendar. So for example, with my wife, we’ve got date nights going out for months. I’ve got a day off work booked in a couple of weeks, where we’ll just go do a hike together. I’ll put it in my calendar months ahead of time, and I protect it with my life. 

People’ll be like, “Oh, I notice you’re not doing anything on Friday, can I get a meeting?” I’m like, “No, no. My calendar’s blocked.” I’ll even call it, I won’t call it day off, I’ll call it important meeting and I block the day. Then I defend it with my life, because otherwise it just doesn’t happen. So for me, for the things, especially outside of work, you have to, I think… Gym time, family time, I put it in the calendar. 

James Mel: Yeah. What gets scheduled gets done. 

Greg Smith: Yeah. Yup.

James Mel: Basic. WHat’s been the favorite date night so far, this year? Now that you brought it up, I’m curious. You do this every week or whatever, what’s the favorite one? 

Greg Smith: Well, the favorite date for sure, I think, is we went up, actually, Squamish and hiked up under the gondola. Then, had a beer up at the top. There was a band playing and just a gorgeous day in the sun. Date nights, for us, I think we need to mix it up, but we’ve just been going to a couple nice restaurants that we love in town. Doing a tasting menu and just a night with… Love the kids, but a night with no kids and eye contact with my wife is amazing. 

James Mel: Yeah. Do you take turns planning them? 

Greg Smith: We do, yeah. Yeah. 

James Mel: That’s fun, yeah. So what would you say, now that you’ve built a business and you’re really getting ahead? I mean, obviously, you’ve had to learn a bunch of different skills. For somebody that’s maybe a little bit behind right now and trying to get ahead, what have you found to be the most important skills to develop? 

Greg Smith: One that I love and I’m still really trying to develop is this growth mindset and looking at things in a way… I think I’ve had a good chunk of it in some areas and a total lack of it, fixed mindset, in other areas. So it’s like, people talk about growth mindset. 

Just to back it up for somebody that hasn’t heard it before, to me, growth mindset is when you look at an area, understanding that you have no idea what your potential is there That your potential in that area is unknown and unknowable. So, it doesn’t stop you from trying. You don’t look at art and say, “Oh, I’m just not good at art,” and not do it. You look at it and say, “Well, I could be good. I don’t know how good I could be, but I could be better than I am. I could learn, and try and accelerate my abilities in art. I don’t know what my ceiling is going to be. So, if I want to be an amazing artist, I could really, really push on that.”  

It’s the same in so many different areas of business. “Can I be a good coach, can I hire great people, can I become a great marketer.” For a lot of people, that’s a blocking point. Especially if you’re launching something online, is, “Oh, I don’t really know marketing or tech.” It’s like, “No, you can learn that if you have that mindset of ‘I can learn this.'”

So, one thing that’s helped me right from the start is, I looked at everything as, “I can learn this.” There were some things where I realized, “I probably shouldn’t.” Software development was one, I spent a couple years learning to code and my brother said, “you know what, you’re a decent coder but you should stop.” 

James Mel: Yeah. 

Greg Smith: Because unless you’re going to go all-in on code, it’s just going to be this kind of, sort of hobby. But marketing was one thing I really pushed in, and became a way better marketer. So for me, that mindset is probably the number one thing. Because going through entrepreneurship, you’re going to have one battle today and a totally different one a month from now. I’m still experiencing that, a decade in. Is, my challenge now is completely different from what it was six months ago. 

James Mel: Yeah, it’s so interesting, We have a very similar way of looking at this Greg, because I’ve always thought it about like any skill you can learn, just like a new language. It’s like, there’s people that learn two, three, four, ten new languages. They can just do that. We learned how to do a language, we learned math in school, whatever. It’s just treating it like that, and that’s one of the things that’s really served me too. 

It’s interesting though, how you’ve got a software company and then, you didn’t specialize in that though. A little bit. For most people, that’s probably be like, “Whoa, that’s a little bit counterintuitive.” What’s your take on that, or what have you… One of the things I’ve realized is, like I invest in real estate, I’m not a handy person, at all. I never had the intention of doing it, because I always wanted to be the entrepreneur. How have you approached having a technology company and not being a software developer?    

Greg Smith: I think, for any of this kind of stuff… Someone actually mentioned this, literally, to me today, is often your role creating something is to dive in on the things that you or your company or your project is not competent at. Get good at it, and then ideally, pass that off to someone else who joins the organization and can take it on. You’ve learned it, you’ve kind of figured it out, you got it going, and then you pass it off. 

We call it, “Giving away our Legos,” as I’m constantly giving away my Legos. I get good at building something up, and then I’m like, “All right, can you take this and do ut even better?” The nice thing is, I think, if you do a good job of getting good people to join you, work with you, contractors, team building, whatever it is, what I shoot for it be able to hand that stuff to someone who can do it way better than I can. So I can get it started, and then they can be way better. 

For me, early days, starting a software company, I realized really, really quickly I wasn’t going to be the developer. I was lucky enough that my brother’s a great software developer, so it went to him. He said, “Okay, I’ll do that part of it.” So I think, for the parts you’re not able to figure out or can’t get good enough on, or even the stuff that you become great at, eventually, if you start doing a lot of it, you’re going to have to pass it off. So, finding people to join you who can take that on. 

James Mel: Mm, got it. Got it. Now when it comes to getting ahead and as you’re building things up, there’s lots of different things we can do. Get a coach, read books, go to seminars, do yoga even, I don’t know. But what have you found have been the things that really stood out, like the 80/20 that really, when looking back, you’re like, “That’s the stuff that really moved the needle”?

Greg Smith: Yeah. I would love to say online courses for me, is some of it. I have learned a fair amount from going and taking courses from people. I would say a big one is just finding someone like you and watching what you’re doing and dissecting it. So, if I want to learn about email marketing and you’re talking about stuff to do with, say, real estate or building a business. Maybe that’s not exactly what I’m doing, I’ll still go in and follow everything you’re doing. Kind of figure out how you’re, “Okay, they send an email on Monday and then they follow up, two days later. Then there’s a landing page.” Unpack all of that and figure it out. So definitely, watching what others are doing, who are doing well. 

I still do that today. I don’t look, so much, at my competitors. I actually look outside our industry completely, to people who are way bigger and better than us. And say, “Well, what is the real gold standard? What is someone with a billion dollars in the bank doing to solve this problem? How can we do something even better than that?” So, looking at what other people is doing, is another. 

I read a ton. Constantly, I’m reading or listening to books. Then, the coaching piece is definitely important. But I also look to, if you have people you work with. Whether it’s customers or team, asking for feedback constantly. The just get really good at accepting it. Because, especially if you’re the boss, if you don’t accept the feedback well, you’ve kind of closed that door for a long time. So, I constantly look for feedback. I’d say, probably one of my best sources of growth is from the team here. They are ruthless with telling me what I’m terrible at. So, that gives me a great thing to grow on. 

James Mel: Yeah, wow. Talk a little bit more about, you said you have a wall of failures. 

Greg Smith: Yeah. 

James Mel: What’s the mindset or strategy behind that? 

Greg Smith: Well, there’s a wall of wins, a wall of fails. We talk about things that went well, talk about things that didn’t. But the wall of fails is to say… It’s really to encourage a “failure is okay” culture. You can do that if it’s just yourself. But it’s not beating yourself up, over having a fail. Instead, looking at is as, “Awesome, what did I learn?” So for me, part of that is not doing anything without some kind of ROI analysis or hypothesis. “What’s the effort I’m putting in, what do I expect to happen when I do it?” That’s my kind of hypothesis, as to what change will occur. Then measuring that after the fact, of, “Did the result that I want happen? If not, what did we learn from it?” 

So, I see failures are, often, a much better way to learn than having a success. But if you have that hypothesis going in, so you can measure your failure, you also measure your wins. Otherwise, you don’t even know if it’s a win or a fail. You just did something and maybe it felt good, maybe it didn’t. But I always try and measure if it lived up to what we set as… We set a win-fail condition, before we do something. Then it’s really clear what side of the fence it’s on. 

James Mel: Mm. So you have specific, tangible goals that-

Greg Smith: Yup. 

James Mel: … very clear for everybody. 

Greg Smith: Yup. Yeah. If we build a new feature, we think, “Oh, this will help people build their courses faster.” Then, that’s not enough to make it a win. It’s, “We expect 10,000 extra people next month. We’ll be able to launch a course 50% faster than they did last month. That’s our win condition,” or something like that. 

James Mel: Got it, got it. Now speaking of failures, is there one particular “failure” you experienced in your career, that really stands out in what you learned from it? 

Greg Smith: Oh, they’re like every day. Tons. Yeah. So many that are… It’s like 1,000 paper cuts that you learn from, as opposed to, “Oh, we really messed this one, big thing up.” I’d say one that took us a long time to see and correct. There were good and bad elements of it. Is like, early on our hiring processes, of finding people to join the team. And I would apply this to whether you’re finding a contractor to put in a few days or weeks worth of work, or build a website once or something. To anything. Any time you’re going to with… 

I actually apply what we’ve learned from this to putting a tenent in a apartment now, or hiring a babysitter. Is, we had no real scientific process. It was all just sort of talk to them, have an interview, go with gut feel. I found some absolutely amazing people who are still here today, four, five years ago, doing that. But also some… We were sort of 50/50, on whether people worked out. Then we shifted to topgrading, using the book Who, by Geoff Smart. We really went pretty scientific and regimented of how we interview. Like I said, I use the process whether it’s for anyone we’re going to work with in any context on any serious level. That was a game changer, in terms of radically improving the success rate of choosing those people you get to work with. 

James Mel: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I’m a huge fan of Brad Smart’s work, Topgrading. The book you mentioned, I think that’s his son, right? 

Greg Smith: Yes it is, yeah. Yeah. 

James Mel: Yeah. I haven’t read that one. But one of the interesting things I found about topgrading is that, in a counterintuitive way, it goes all the way back to childhood. 

Greg Smith: Yeah. 

James Mel: This way of interviewing. Most people have these catch-phrase interview questions like, “What would you do in this situation?” Whatever. But topgrading actually goes all the way back to childhood, to find the patterns and the commonalities. From what I learned from it, it’s like, if you have a successful candidate, like a star or driver, it’s going to be like a walk down memory lane for them. Because you’re going to see the common patterns originating very early on. It’s just so interesting. [crosstalk 00:24:19]

Greg Smith: We bring a box of tissues to the interview, because some… But the awesome thing is, it’s like… I think if you Google topgrading, sometimes there’s so negative stuff about it on the Internet, like a lot of great things. But we get the most amazing post-interview reviews, even from people who don’t get a job here. We interview thousands of people every year, we hire about 2% of candidates. But we’ll have people go on Glassdoor after an interview and leave us a five star, even though they know they didn’t get the job. Or they’ll ask like, “Hey, can I have one of your hoodies? I just loved the experience so much, I want to promote your brand.” So, it can actually be almost a promotional thing, by being really…

Partly it’s topgrading, partly it’s we have a process of just being super human and kind, through the whole process. So, it can be a real source of benefit to the business. 

James Mel: Yeah, interesting. What would you say, because you interview thousands of people, what would you say, the people who really get ahead in your company, what qualities, what traits do they have that really stand out? 

Greg Smith: Well, part of that goes back to the growth mindset of, “I can take this on and charge ahead.” I think, especially when you’re starting something new, whether you’re the founder or the entrepreneur creating it, or you’re someone joining the team early on, is having that mindset through any new project. Of, “Whatever the problem is, I’m going to dive in and try and solve it. Solve it quickly, figure it out.” To me, when I see… Part of it is being able to move fast, because like it or not, being able to move quickly and get results quickly…

Two companies, one that does the same thing in three years, and the other does it in six months, the six-month one is going to win out every time. Because they can do that six-times over in the same period you take it to do it once. So, being able to move quickly and having that growth mindset. That problem-solving approach of… The worst thing I can hear is, “That’s not my job.” 

James Mel: Right. 

Greg Smith: So, it’s the opposite attitude, that of like, “Sure. Yeah, I’ll solve it. Great, let’s dive in and make it happen.” Then the other piece of advice I give people, I haven’t read the book, but the title, I think, speaks volumes. Is really around… Oh my gosh, now I’m blanked on the title. But it’s basically to be absolutely amazing at what you’re doing. Even if it’s not your passion project yet, to do an amazing job with the role that you’re in, or the thing you’ve chosen to do today. Whether you’re the entrepreneur or it’s your job, and that creates that next opportunity for you. 

James Mel: Yeah, it’s so true. What would you say is the thing that keeps people behind, in your experience? Like it keeps people stock from really achieving their goals and what they actually want? 

Greg Smith: One of the biggest ones, I think… Well, the growth mindset of having a fixed mindset of… If you start saying, “I can’t do this,” that’s a big piece. Because I think anyone can learn to get decently good at almost anything out there, whether it’s internet marketing or high-tech stuff, tools, or whatever it is. 

Then the other one is that perfectionism. Or, and the flip side of it, set a goal, set a deadline, and deliver something. I do see a lot of us entrepreneurs get fixated on, “I want to deliver my best possible work, before anybody sees it.” Whether that’s a book or a course or something else, that can kill you. Because the worst thing I can hear from a customer is, “I’ve spent a year building my course and I’m still working on getting it to the point where I’m going to launch it.” What I want to hear is like, “All right, we’ve got the first version out, it was pretty crappy. Some people tried it, we got a lot of feedback, now we’re onto improving it.”

James Mel: Which is exactly what you did. That’s-

Greg Smith: Yup. 

James Mel: 30 days, you git your course. Exactly. Yeah, perfectionism really can hold… I dealt with that, a little bit, with this podcast. It’s like, I’ve never done a podcast before. This is only my third episode. 

Greg Smith: Yup. 

James Mel: Things aren’t perfect. The logo, probably, isn’t perfect dialed in, this isn’t even a studio. This is my home office. You know? But, I find by just doing, you learn as you go. You figure it out, and if you have that growth mindset, like what you’re talking about, then you’re just going to keep getting better and better. 

Greg Smith: Yup. Yup.

James Mel: So, yeah. Interesting. It’s interesting too, Greg, how I’ve learned so much of it comes down to mindset. Your growth mindset that I can tell, is in every aspect of your life and your business, the team members you have. A lot of it’s mindset, it’s not like, “Oh this person came to us with some amazing skill,” or, “I had this amazing…” It’s really the mindset, 90% of the game is played above the shoulders. 

Greg Smith: Yup. Yeah, I mean, yeah. Exactly. It is. Nobody’s really looking at your transcript anymore, I think, for roles. I don’t remember the last time I looked at anyone’s transcript in a hiring thing. Whereas, when I practiced law, the first thing we looked at before we booked an interview was like, “What percentile were you in, in your law graduating class?” So…

James Mel: Yeah. Yeah, that’s so interesting. What do find, because online, especially online education, the industry you’re in, it’s just rapidly growing, what do you find it takes to really get ahead in that area? If there’s somebody who wants to take their knowledge, passion, expertise and put it out there to the world? What does it take to do that, and what do really need to get ahead? 

Greg Smith: Well, there’s the base levels of just setting that deadline and actually doing stuff. Not being a perfectionist and getting something out. Then you get into marketing. I think one piece of advice I try and give is, try and actually find your market and even write some of your marketing copy and your promises and your storytelling, before you build the course. 

If you get really, really straight on, “Who is this for? How am I going to make their life better? WHat’s the difference I’m going to create in their life?” You write that all up ahead of time, as if it… I just say, “Write your actual landing page. Write out your marketing copy, that you’re going to show someone to convince them to buy it. Then, build your course to solve that problem you’ve created.” Then you’re not building a solution and trying to find people who have the problem. You’ve actually started from, “Who am I solving a problem for? What exactly is their problem? How am I going to help them? How’s their life going to be different? What story am I going to tell, to help bring out that desire in them and show that tension, and cause desire to actually want to take this program? Then, build the course around that.”  

That can take a couple of hours, right? That can be a really, really, quick process. But now you’ve got it. You can even, potentially, test that on people and see if they’re interested, and then build the course. Because then, if you give yourself a 30-day deadline, you’re not launching something and saying, “Who do I sell it to?” So, I like to start with the marketing, actually. Or at least, just that couple hours effort, to figure out who and what it’s for. 

James Mel: Very counterintuitive, in a way. Because what I see a lot of people do is they want to build the product first. It’s almost like, “Build it and they will come.” 

Greg Smith: Yup. 

James Mel: In most cases, I don’t find that’s true. I love what you said about that is, “If you’re focused on your customer and their problems, then you’re serving them, not putting out there what you want or what you think people want.” 

Greg Smith: Yup, yeah. This applies across all industries. Even you look at toys. 

James Mel: Yeah. 

Greg Smith: A lot of toys weren’t built… I think there’s a Netflix special on this now, where they look at He-Man and She-Ra. They actually went and interviewed children, figured out, “What’s going on in your life? What are you struggling with?” Then they built these toys for them, to meet that need. It wasn’t like they just had an idea for a cartoon and got lucky. I mean, I think that was Star Wars. But for a lot of the other ones, they actually interviewed the kids and built to solve their problems. So, I think it applies in anything you’re doing. Is like, get to know the people you want to help and build something to help them. As opposed to, “Here’s what I had an idea of last night in the shower. Who wants to buy it?” 

James Mel: Right, yeah. Wow, that’s a-

Greg Smith: It could work, it’s just harder. 

James Mel: Yeah. Would you say that you’ve applied that philosophy to almost every area of your life? I mean, I know when I first got started, I made the shift from my corporate jib to working online, that’s exactly what I did. Is I literally [inaudible 00:32:27] two months free. Because I was just like, “I want to help them with whatever problems they have. I want to offer value,” which was so counterintuitive. But it’s one of the ways that I really found to be able to get ahead. 

Greg Smith: Yeah. 

James Mel: So, it seems like that’s sort of what you’re suggesting too, with creating the courses. Is like, put out the value first. Find out how you could help others, and then it will all sort of come back. 

Greg Smith: Yeah. I think it also puts you in that right mindset, of really wanting to help through whatever you’re doing. It allows you to feel better about what you’re doing, people feel better buying from you. You create a better over-all experience and impact in the world. So, yeah. For me, so when I started the course, I was already doing this tutoring and teaching in the classroom. Then I was talking to students and a lot of them were like, “Oh, I commuted in from six hours away, to take this course.” Or, “I’m driving across town,” or, “I had to miss that. It’d be great if I could get it online. Can you send me some stuff?”

So, I was really trying to help meet that need when I built the online course. Then, when we built Thinkific, I didn’t even have to do the customer research. They were really, literally, banging on the door, calling me up and saying, “I saw what you did with your LSAT course, I want to do that. Can you build this for me?” So we just got to listen to what… 

Well actually, this is probably back to the biggest mistake. They told us that, and then we spent three years building other things… 

James Mel: Oh, no way. 

Greg Smith: … working towards that, because we really didn’t have the tech, the experience. A lot of the technology wasn’t quite there yet, to do exactly what they wanted. [crosstalk 00:34:00] Spent three years doing sort of things in that direction, but not really listening exactly to what they wanted. I think if I had, really, just talked to them more and listened to exactly what they wanted, we would have ended up here three years faster. So, that was probably the biggest mistake, is not listening in the case. We did listen, but not enough to really figure out exactly what they wanted, initially. Then, do it. 

James Mel: Yeah, it’s probably a common mistake. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, is that, if you’re actually willing to listen to your customers, they’ll tell you everything you need to know. Everything you need to know. Huh. It’s interesting too, hearing your journey, how one step almost led to the next. You didn’t have it all planned out, it’s like you released the course and people were like, “How did you do that?” And that paved the way for your next opportunity of Thinkific. 

Greg Smith: Yup, yeah. 

James Mel: How [crosstalk 00:34:52]-

Greg Smith: Funny how those things snowball. You start one thing… The great thing too, so the revenue from the course is actually how we funded building the software company, at the beginning. Right? It was kind of bootstrapped to start. Because we had course revenue, so I was able to quit my job as a lawyer, live in Squamish and kite board. Then, start Thinkific and fund Thinkific and pay salaries. Not my own, I didn’t have any salary for a long time, but pay other people’s salaries for those early days. Just funded, purely, from having an online course. 

We have lots of customers take the online course and go live on a beach, or take the course and just build it and build it and build it. Have businesses, some of which I think are even bigger than Thinkific, in terms of what they’re doing with their own online courses, which is awesome. But, yeah. SO, it created that freedom. Then you could take it to the next thing or take it and accelerate it. 

James Mel: Yeah. You said something interesting there, that commonality which is like, when you start making revenue with your course.

Greg Smith: Yeah. 

James Mel: You didn’t just go blow it and live the life. It sounds like you invested in the next business. What’s your take on that? Because you probably had a mindset, planning for the longterm, or something like that. What do you feel you need to do, to really get ahead? Did you sort of double-down on it? What was your mindset, at that time? 

Greg Smith: Yeah. So for me, and I think I could’ve gone either way. I look at the course space and I know I could’ve built a large business that would’ve been very hands-off. My course still exists, it still does 10, 20,000 a month on full auto-pilot. So, I could live on that, or I could’ve doubled or tripled or maybe even 10Xed it, just working on it. And created something that would be almost completely hands-off, very life-style business, and have all the time in the world for friends, family, working out and everything. That was definitely a very realistic path. 

But, for a variety of reasons, my brother wanted to build something bigger, he wanted to do the software development side, he was excited about building tech. We had all these people asking us for it. Just the stage and point in life, I wanted to do this other thing of create a software company. So, we switched gears and put all that revenue into building a software company. It could have been, I think, depending on the person and the point, you can go either way. But I chose, yeah, to take the first success and funnel it into the next success and create the next thing. But it would have been just as interesting, I think, to take the course and keep going with it. 

James Mel: Yeah. Got it. Interesting. So, last question here. Somebody that might be a bit behind in their life and their relationships and whatever it is they were working on, what would you recommend them? What’s the hack, the gimmick, the strategy, the mindset, if you have one? That you would suggest in their situation, to really help them start getting ahead? 

Greg Smith: I think one of the things that worked for me, other than a lot of the stuff we talked about around growth mindset, one of the things that worked for me was just seeking to help others. I’ve been in ruts, emotionally or psychologically or whatever, before. I’ve been in ruts in a business, I’ve been in ruts in a relationship. But if you really go out searching for a way to help someone else around you, be it that your relationship partner, your family member, or your potential customer, and you go in with that pure of heart mindset of helping someone. I’ve always found that both elevates my overall mood, happiness. But it also brings great things to both of us, right? 

Because inevitably, I think you end up helping people. Even if you do it completely altruistically, for no selfish endeavors. Sometimes there’s no return, and that’s great. I think you should go into it with that mindset. But if you go in with the approach of starting from a place of helping someone else, and I’m going through this right now, actually, in my relationship with my wife. Where I was like, “I think our communication is suffering a little bit lately.” We got two young kids, so no sleep will do that to you. 

But I started looking around. I’m like, “How can I…” At first, actually, I started criticizing her. I’m like, “Oh, this is your fault. You’re not communicating this way.” Then I’m like, “You know, maybe it’s better if I seek to help and solve this problem.” So I started looking for tools to make me better in our communication, and wow. Just taking that approach, instantly, huge difference in how everything went with our communication. 

So to me, it’s starting from a place of like, “How can I help other people?” 

James Mel: Yeah, it’s so good. Wow. One of my favorite quotes, and I’ve said this a bunch of times. Zig Ziglar, “Help enough people get what they want, and you’ll get what you want.”

Greg Smith: Yeah. 

James Mel: It’s counterintuitive for a lot of… Because we’re wired, somewhat, to be selfish people. But I just found the same to be true in my life The more you give, the more value you offer, the more seems to come back and you feel better, like what you mentioned. 

Greg Smith: Yeah, and I’ve seen that work, even for people who are in depression, right? 

James Mel: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Greg Smith: Where you become very internally focused and then… I’m not saying this is a magic cure-all for it, right? 

James Mel: Yeah. 

Greg Smith: But it’s one tool, I think, that allows you to pull yourself out of yourself and focus on others. Then, when you lift them up, as opposed to even focusing on lifting yourself up, it ends up lifting you up in the end anyway. 

James Mel: Right. Yeah, that’s so great. Greg, thanks so much-

Greg Smith: Thank you.

James Mel: … for this conversation, for sharing your mindsets, strategies, everything like that. Helping us get ahead. 

Greg Smith: Awesome, I really appreciate it. Thanks, James. 

James Mel: Well, I hope you loved this week’s episode. If you did, tell your friends. That would be a huge favor for me and it could help build this community. We can all get ahead. Something I’d like to do is give you a special gift. It turns out that one of the ways to get ahead is to be able to find, spot, and then take advantage of opportunity. We all know this. It turns out that my business partner and mentor, Eben Pagan, has written a book on this very topic. I’d like to give you that book and ship it to you, absolutely free. So the book is called Opportunity, How To Win In Business And Create The Life You Love. All you got to do is go to www.jamesmel/opportunity. Enter your details and I’m going to send you the book free, you’re going to get the book for free, and I know you’re going to love it. 

I have learned so much from Eben Pagan over the 10 years we’ve known each other. It’s truly been one of the ways I’ve been able to get ahead in my life, in my business. I know, what you learn inside of this book is going to help you do the same. So go there now, www.jamesmel/opportunity and grab your copy while you can. I’ve got 4,000 copies that I’m doing this for and sending absolutely free. Shipping is on me, the book is on me, so grab one while you can. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for joining here. Thank you so much for investing in yourself, to get ahead. By you getting ahead, it’s going to inspire other people. Then we’re all going to get ahead. So, have an amazing week and I look forward to talking to you on the next episode.