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Jason SurfrApp - Build An Online Business

This is part two (of four) of in-depth look at the process I’m going through to create a new business. Missed part one? Click here to read that.

Where we left off last week was that I had paid a developer ($1,800) to build my online course using WordPress. It certainly wasn’t perfect and super easy to use, but it would tide me over to launching something (taking some action is better than taking no action!).

Getting Feedback

Now that my course was finished it was time to get some feedback. I shared it with a few folks in my trust circle. I created login information for them and asked them to check it out and give me some feedback. These were the first people to see my online course outside of myself and my developer.

I sent the course to three people who I knew had created online courses before (using some of the platforms I had researched). I also sent it to three people who I knew were in the process of creating their own online courses. I asked them to be brutally honest with their thoughts and feedback.

The feedback from all six people was overwhelmingly similar and went something like this:

“Jason, this online course looks awesome. It’s so simple, easy to use, and I need to know what platform you used to create it? Is it WordPress? Custom made? I need it!”

And so you know I’m not just blowing proverbial smoke, here’s an actual email from one of the six people I emailed (thanks Clay!).

Email from Clay

To be honest, that feedback was not at all what I expected when I sent off those emails. I wanted to know how the course looked, if the content was being showcased well, and what I should think about changing.

A little light bulb popped up above my head. DING! The course framework I had built for myself, the way I wanted to see an online course, was something other people were interested in.

Seeing the Business Opportunity

With the feedback from multiple people I saw an opportunity to take the course framework I’d built and turn it into a product other people could pay for and use. My idea was to build a subscription based service people could pay a monthly fee for and use (like Basecamp, Freshbooks, etc).

While there were plenty of other course frameworks available, I felt I could create a unique value proposition based on a few things:

  1. My course would require absolutely zero technical knowledge.
  2. You wouldn’t need a designer or developer to help you setup your course. No technical knowledge needed!
  3. My course wouldn’t host your video content, you would do this elsewhere and drop in your embed code (I used Wistia for my course).
  4. My course framework would be fully responsive (tablet and mobile friendly).
  5. You would easily be able to set up multiple payment pages if you wanted to sell your course to different audiences for different prices.
  6. If your course videos and transcripts were done ahead of time, you could create a fully functional course in less than 10 minutes. Yes. 10 minutes.
  7. I would keep the pricing very affordable (something I’d be willing to pay).

Now this thinking is all well and good, but I’m not a developer, I haven’t ever created a subscription based product, and I had plenty of other things I needed to be doing with my time (mind you, I was getting ready to launch my first book).

Enter the Co-Founder

Earlier this year I attended Misfit Con (which I’ve written about previously many times) and chatted with my friend Gerlando. In passing he happened to mention he was looking to stretch his ‘developer legs’ a bit. He told me if I had any interesting projects that required development to reach out.

Luckily my subconscious remembered this information and as quickly as you can say “how the heck do you create a subscription based product?” I had typed and sent an email to Gerlando asking him if he wanted to join the project.

With a seductive subject line and a perfectly eloquent email, Gerlando was on board. Actually, the email I sent Gerlando was a lot of jumbled thoughts arranged in a bulleted list. Either way, it worked!

We traded a few emails back and forth and Gerlando was interested in combining forces with me to build this new business. He immediately started a Basecamp project for us so we could start tracking all our thoughts and whatnot about this new venture.


However, I did one important thing I always do before working with a potential business partner: Had a conversation about ownership of the company.

I’m an excitable entrepreneur, like any other, but I’ve also learned my lesson a handful of times over the years by working with people and not setting terms and expectations up front. I didn’t spend money on a lawyer or write up a fancy contract, I simply started a new Basecamp message and shared my thoughts about our future partnership. We agreed on a 50/50 split of the new company (name TBD). As far as expectations go, Gerlando would carry the technical load of the project and I would handle the planning, process, design, and marketing. Both in agreement of ownership and expectations, we said we’d do the business-y stuff later (become an LLC, set up a bank account, have boring contracts/paperwork written by people with law degrees).

More Project Organization

Being a developer, Gerlando also plugged us in to Github, where he could manage more of the technical side of the project. Features, errors, etc, were all placed in Github. Bigger picture thoughts and discussions about the project were handled in Basecamp.

*NOTE: I’d heard of Github, never used it. I’ll admit I was afraid it would be too technical for me. However, I wanted to make Gerlando happy so I jumped in and messed around. Fear is a funny thing huh? I almost asked not to use it before even trying it. After 3 minutes I had the hang of Github and was already responding to and submitting “issues” related to our project.


You may be wondering how many phone calls and Skype calls I’ve had up to this point with Gerlando. The answer to that is two. One Skype call and one phone call. Everything else has been handled through discussions in Basecamp and Github. I do have to give Gerlando credit for explaining to me on Skype that we’re building a SaaS (Service As A Software) product. And by “we” I obviously mean Gerlando.

I take time to share this part of the journey as I think it’s incredibly important to use a project management “software” to stay organized and efficient. Phone calls are great, but it’s not an efficient way to track the progress of building something. And while I’d love to impart some amazing advice about one project management platform that rules them all, we’re using Basecamp, Github, Skype, Phone Calls, Email, and Text Messages (and I’m sure Gerlando has a bunch of super techy stuff he’s using that he doesn’t show me).

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