Why is now the best way to grow revenue with online courses and corporate digital training? And is there a way to achieve this in a culture that demands authenticity? Isaac Tolpin reveals ways of disrupting EdTech by aligning online courses with human behavior. Isaac is one of the Founders of ConveYour.com, the #1 Micro-Learning platform for influencers and companies. He’s a tech entrepreneur and futurist at heart, on a mission, enabling brands to authentically connect and inform at scale with over 105 million in combined revenues from the companies he’s helped build. His success comes from understanding the relationships between human behavior, business and technology. This expertise has helped celebrity influencers and companies to transform their knowledge into humanized digital training. His recent background includes being a keynote speaker, digital marketer, and EdTech disrupter through the pioneering Micro-Training technology, ConveYour.com. Learn from Isaac’s real-life experiences before his success on how to overcome massive entrepreneurial failure, and come back to battle stronger and better prepared.
Secrets To Growing Revenue With Online Courses With Isaac Tolpin
You’re about to meet a tech entrepreneur and a futurist who enables brands to authentically connect with their audience. If you coach people, train people, provide a training program or want to, you’re going to be very excited about this show. Those of you who are always here know that I am a huge fan of learning management systems and that I assisted Tony Robbins and building his own virtual training platform. When I bring somebody of this caliber to you, I suggest you listen carefully. Take good notes and enjoy what is about to unfold completely for your benefit. Welcome, Isaac Tolpin, to the show.
Thank you, Mitch. It’s so great to be here. I’m excited to chat with you and share some of this wisdom.
Isaac, I took a look at your web page and I smiled because creating a fantastic learning management system and training environment, I believe is a gift to mankind. I know that’s what you’ve done. I know that’s how you serve your clients. I would like to know how all of this started for you?
It really started when I was probably eight or nine years old and I grew up in a very small town, Port Townsend, Washington. My parents didn’t want to give me allowance or what it is, but I’m very thankful because there’d be like street markets and craft shows and things in town. Instead of giving me money, my dad had me build little crafts, little boats, wooden boats for kids, little airplanes, things like that. I did a pretty good job. They came out well and set up my card table and sold them on the streets at nine years old. It was a profound experience because entrepreneurs is when you think of something in your mind and you actually create something physical or service and then somebody buys that from you and then you watch them delight in it and it benefits them, it’s really a transformational experience. I think everybody can probably relate with. That really hooked me on entrepreneurship early. I remember my first $100 a day in profit at nine and I was just blown away. I’m like, “This is amazing.” It continues to go from there.
What we’re talking about here is implanting success in children at young ages. My father was the master that as well. I’ve got $0.15 or $0.20 allowance and yet on a snow day, I can go out and I could take home $100. The scope is so completely different. To be able to take your $0.15 allowance and save it every week or instead spend your weekends washing cars and making $1.75 a car and washing five to ten cars a day. Entrepreneurship is something that I believe we’re drawn to and driven to, but it’s great when we have a parent or somebody who helps it along and nurtures it for us. Don’t you agree?
We’re yearning. We’re built to yearn for more responsibility and to know that we’re valuable to the world around us. If we can create that signature experience at a young age, with young people, it’s transformational. From there, I was really hooked on entrepreneurship, but I was in a small town though, so there weren’t tons of opportunities as I got older. I did some commercial fishing in Alaska which I learned how to work hard at fifteen or sixteen as a deckhand. That was intense and incredible. I did the college thing because in our generation that was the expected thing. I finished college, but I wasn’t the typical student that, but love the academic side of things, I’m more of an entrepreneur. While I was going through college, I got in direct sales with Cutco Cutlery. A great company that recruits college students to sell on referral basis and build their sales system and so forth. I was more of an introverted child who never did any customer service or sales or anything and dove into that. Very quickly, really continued with that to get into leadership and ran my first office by myself during a summer in Bellingham, Washington while I was in college. That summer, I think I profited $28,000
after expenses in four months building a team. That was a transformational experience. I went on to graduate and running your own office. A couple of years later, I was running Washington and Oregon as a division manager.
Those were formative experiences of really learning who I was as a leader, growing as a leader and learning that I absolutely love speaking, which I would’ve never known unless I threw myself out there. I really love motivating, encouraging, and impacting people’s lives. The capstone of that is I’m sure everyone can relate to this, I was at the height of that career. There are 40 of us in the company that are division managers. I was doing about $5 million a year in revenue. The spiritual agitation, I’m like, “Do I stay here or is it time to move on?” Even though you’re successful, making really good money, total freedom, independent, it doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing still. Sometimes we have to really listen to that and I listened and read 30 purposeful books and was ready to really do something. I felt called to stay there a little while longer. I stayed under the condition that I was fully going to be 100% of myself and do what all the business books have taught me to do instead of perhaps what the culture was telling me to do. We changed a lot of things it totally worked. We went from $5 to $11 million over the next four years, in 2008, 2009 when the economy was crashing. We did what had never been done before. What I learned in that is that you absolutely have to 100% be yourself and sometimes you do have to break the rules if the rules are holding back the possibility of doing good things in the right way. That was an incredible experience.
Once we reached the top, I ended up leaving. I thought, “I can go build a huge company now. I’ve got money, I’ve got freedom, I can go build my thing. I went out and built an eLearning company, actually on the production side. It was a publishing model where we worked with top tier influencers and build out their programs and we made a commission on the back end of all sales and built that up. I had 43 employees and big office space with two production studios. People were flying in from around the world to get their stuff done. In that process I learned, one, how fundamentally flawed the digital training world is in the many respects. Two, I learned all about failure in a really big way. Obviously, I’ve had challenges before but we ended up closing that company. The learning experiences of that are amazing and I’m sure some people can relate. I had seven kids at the time and married, I went down to zero income and had to make serious decisions on building forward. I had a business partner that still existed with my tech company, Stephen Rhyne. I jumped in with him and in the last couple of years, we’ve scaled up our software and it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of.
It’s a great story, Isaac and I appreciate you telling it. Up until the point that you left, what you did was you’re basically building skills and you will learning and you’re accumulating skills and you are accumulating knowledge. It wasn’t until you fell down and failed that you began to develop wisdom. Let’s talk a little bit about that part of it because that’s where the wisdom lies. That’s the part I want to get to. What did you learn after revenue went to zero?
You’re really tested, are you truly an entrepreneur? Are you going to believe in yourself and go down a path or are you going to go to the job route? You have to know who you are and I just know who I am. I’m not very employable. You have to have faith. I’ve always had but it’s really tested in those moments of extreme challenge like that. What I also learned is that we can have an inflated ego and that ego, on the negative side of it, I would call it pride. If you have pride, it means you have blind spots. Blind spots are making it so you don’t make the wisest choices. I also learned that it’s incredibly important to have really true friends that will speak truth to you, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Even if it could jeopardize the relationship and hopefully it doesn’t. I had some friends that really pulled me aside and said, “You’ve really got to shift gears here.” I’m thankful for that. There are a lot of lessons, but I think those are really powerful. Another one is, if you nurture your wife or husband and you raise your kids well, they will rally behind you and have faith in you. If you, all along had been a great leader in the most important place with which is within your family.
That’s what we all want. We want a strong family. We want to have the support of our family. I have one daughter and what I realized when I built my software company, we had a bad year. We had dropped from number one. We were rated number one with our time and billing software in every magazine, on every platform until one year when we lost the number one rating. As a result of that, we became depressed as a company and we became sad. We’ve got determined and we worked extra hard. The following year we recovered that number one spot because we liked being number one and we didn’t like how it felt being anything less than number one. When my daughter was born, I tried to find the thing that she could be number one at so that we can implant that in her as that feeling of success. It turned out to be the silliest thing of all. It turned out to be candlepin bowling of all things. We took her for candlepin bowling.
We took her for everything, ice skating, roller skating, hockey, yoga. Just anything we could think of, but the thing she took two is this candlepin bowling. She wanted to go back week after week and sometimes twice a week to practice until three years later, she was asked to be in a tournament and the tournament was for our Little Bowling League. That league in 30 years had never won, until that day when my daughter on that team won the tournament. It was her actions that made the team win. Ever since then, that was instilled in her at a very early age. She’s always tried to be successful at everything she’s done and she succeeded. It sounds like you did the same thing for your own kids.
You’ve got to be diligent with your children and you’re preparing them differently. We always have to remember too how we were prepared. It doesn’t mean that’s adequate for how to prepare kids in now’s world. We have to be growing and learning as parents too. One of the things I often tell people if I’m coaching them or just giving them wisdom, is that you’ve got to not turn things off when you get home. You have to take that entrepreneurial experience and those leadership qualities and you have to turn them on in your home. We have a family meeting most mornings actually to get the day started right. I think that’s just so important, but how many people run a great meeting at work and then come home and disengage? That’s really important.
I’ve got another thing I want to ask you about. You built this current company that you’re in, how did that start for you?
It started originally, we built something for one client. There was an obvious need and they became a client. That birthed the company. I’ve got the guy that I had a great relationship with and knew the most about technology and I said, “Let’s solve this and build this one thing.” It was a solution I needed and that’s often how things start. Then it birthed into, “This thing’s self-funded from the revenues we have coming in, let’s figure out what next to build.” Stephen and I, he also was a Cutco guy in the sales side of it. We really understood human behavior because we’re working with so many people. We also understood the eLearning world because I was involved in the e-learning agency. We built something that has resemblances of both of those worlds. When you look at the digital training world, retention and engagement is very, very low. That’s why we went into building ConveYour, which is really a disruptive and very positive disruptive technology because it has a communication side to it and it’s got an LMS side to it. It really has a difference to it to where it matches where human behavior is now. We thought, “None of this stuff out here we’re seeing or at least not very much of it is matching human behavior.” Even Ivy League colleges, they’re getting sub 25% completion of college classes they’re paying full price for. It’s really low, low engagement.
I’m going to ask you a loaded question. Do you think accountability might help?
Accountability is incredibly important, whether it’s from a person or the system or both. It’s super important.
We both basically came to try to solve the same problem a little bit differently, but still it’s the goal of trying to help people really get the most out of the learning that they paid for or have enrolled in. Tell me exactly what is it that your company and your software do?
We wanted to get rid of the friction on the content side. The ability to put content together and get it out there and have it be far more engaging. We took away the friction as well on the learner side where people are getting unbelievable engagement. The way we did that, is we looked at, “Where is human behavior now and what needs to exist to keep them engaged in a highly distracted environment?” The most distracted environment in the world is digital, the internet or on your devices. How do you grab them? We had to follow some rules which is bite sized content, sub-five minutes to complete something, get recognized for it and move on. Mobile driven, it’s got to not just work on mobile but be amazing on mobile. It’s got to have real-time notifications.
We believe if you email around digital content notifications, you’ve already lost to a guilty place and they stack up and they associate guilt with your learning program. It’s got to have gamification. They’ve got to have achievement currency. You’ve get to tap into the psychological side of people who want to do well and compete. You’ve got to make them feel connected with other people. It’s got to have lots of different engagement formats and opportunities to do that. Then the other side of things, it’s got to be easy. You’ve got to enable the content provider, whether it’s a company or an influencer or a trainer to take the friction out of their product production because what’s the thing that really holds people back is the production site, creating videos and putting it together and understanding how to do that. We’ve really accomplished that but we started backwards. We would go like any entrepreneur, “What does the end customer want? What does the end learner not even know they want, but need to be retained and engaged?”
It’s a very powerful objective and not well-solved by many people in many companies. I applaud you for tackling that. Apparently, you’ve done a good job because you have clients and they agree with you that you’ve solved the problem. Let’s say I am your customer and I want to create a learning environment. I want you to treat me like you would a client engagement. Tell me what to do. What do I have to do if I own a course or a program to make my material better and to make my training more engaging and get it done?
There are a few beliefs that have to be adjusted before we outline. The outline comes but we’ve got to adjust some beliefs. There are some beliefs out there that, “My content can’t be broken down into small pieces. It’s too deep and too important and people listened to my videos.” I just want to squash that because it’s a YouTube world. People are not going to watch your long videos. They’re just not going to. Here’s a rule. You have to believe in this rule right here, which is you do not want to break trust. I guess it’s not a rule but you don’t want to break trust with people. Here’s the trust I’m talking about. Are you going to spend more than five minutes of my time when I have to take a lesson? If you do, even if I loved the material, later on when I have to come back to it and I’m in my world of busyness and I think, “Do I have twenty minutes right now?” “No. I don’t have twenty minutes.” “Do I have ten?” “No.” “Do I have five minutes?” “Yes.” You have to build a trust that you’re never going to go much beyond five minutes and they’re going to achieve something because then it’s so much easier to get rid of that friction. It’s so much easier for them to come back. You’ve got to first of all buy into that. Then the first step I would tell you is depending on what software you’re going to use, you need to look at the software first. You’re going to need to build your content to work within that platform because a lot of software work differently.
What I would recommend with us is to just take the demo in the front of the website, ConveYour.com. Look at that. It will text to your phone link. You’re right in on your phone and you’re playing with it. Simple as that. Now, you have an idea of these philosophies and see it at play, where most entrepreneurs are visual people so you see it at play. The next thing I would do is I would outline and I would create something that is anywhere from eight to twelve micro lessons at first. Then I would break those down and I would simply title my lessons. Then I would create two to three, four max bullet points for each video. I have a title. I have my bullet points for each video and then I would leave it at that and I would make that very simple outline.
The next thing I would do is I would probably go into the software in and look at the different engagement formats and start building the structure of that, which by the way is very simple in our software. It’s a matter of half a day to build out a course, if you have all the videos. That gives you a very clear idea of how you’re going to do that. In our software, all you do is you open up your campaign and you go to a dashboard that has nine different engagement formats. Whether it’s a slider where you’re drag and dropping, whether it’s an open-ended question, whether it’s multiple choice, where they losing points on speed and accuracy, these kinds of things. You pick your engagement format and then let’s say you have a video on YouTube, you could grab just an existing one just to play with it. You grab a link from YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia and you embed it right in there and then you had tested it out and you can see this lesson just completely come to life.
This is the same exact thing that I spend time with my clients on when we build certification programs. I love what you’re saying. It’s so precise and the fact that you were able to outline it so beautifully, tells me that you really understand how to help somebody learn and how to help them create the courses that help other people learn, which is just wonderful. I’m glad you did that. That makes a lot of sense to me. Isaac, at this point, what makes your software different than other learning management systems?
I think one of the things that’s different is it wasn’t built for a PC and made to work really well on a mobile device. It was built from the ground up for the mobile and also works on a PC. It works on anything, but it really is just beautiful and clean and easy and really engaging to use. I’ll give you an example. We have an innovation speaker, he is the New York Times bestseller many books and he goes into companies like Boeing, Marriott and so forth, and gives his consulting or speaking. He created a 30-day innovation challenge in our platform. He was one of our Beta users a couple of years ago, still a customer. Over the last two years, what the study he is found from the stats is he is getting as much as 95% completion of entire management teams and major companies and they make it optional. What that tells you is that we have nailed engagement. At the time where there are large MOOCs that have spent $100 million that can’t figure it out. As entrepreneurs, sometimes we can bypass the spend with our experiences, intuitive feel and connecting the dots. That’s exactly what we did from understanding the psychology of where people are changing, working with so many college students in our past to the education of being in the e-learning world which was really different.
Another difference I would say is just the ease of putting content together and launching something. What I really believe is by the time you highly produced something, it’s probably already irrelevant. Companies will spend six months and six figures in dollar amounts, having a company produce this stuff and by the time they get it, they don’t have control of it. They can’t easily switch a video out. They can’t easily switch the engagement, update a product or something they’re training people on. If that exists for you, it reminds me of the old days before I got into WordPress when I had a $15,000-website built and I threw it away when it was done, because I couldn’t control it.
A good friend of mine, his name is Brad Lea. He runs a company called LightSpeed VT. It is a virtual training environment and it’s the one we used to build Tony’s training. What was interesting about what you just said is that with LightSpeed, we’re talking about somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 an hour to produce finished content and anywhere from four to twelve months before that content is available to be used. I totally agree with you. That is in most cases, completely unacceptable. He’s done a great job of trying to move that down, but back then, that’s what it took to get great content produced in a very unique and very exclusive way. I like what you said. It’s very true and very important. Speed is so important in the learning world because information is changing so quickly and people are using many sources to learn more so than they ever have before. That’s another thing that we found when we do work with clients on creating these types of training programs for certification is number one, we use the same short episode formula you do. We also use a very powerful outlining system similar to the one you talk about and number three, what we do is we pull lots of examples from social media as to how something should work. We see the way social media works, we say, “Why don’t we make our system work the same way?” Nowadays, that’s what people know. They know social media.
I know LightSpeed and they do some great work. What I will tell you is that there’s just a massive shift happening and you have to have control of it. You have to be able to do it really quick and if you have the right system, there’s less burden on the video. The video needs to be good, but if it’s less than five minutes, one, that’s less expensive and easier to produce, and two, you don’t have to highly edit it and have lots of screen shares, screen changes and things like that, because they can listen to it if it’s good content. if the software wrapped around it brings that video to life with engagement, and it’s tapped into achievement currency, I’m going to get recognized. My name is going to move up on the leaderboard. I’m going to see it instantly compared to everybody else, then there’s less pressure on that video. You’ve got to have good lighting, you’ve got to have good audio, good background and good content, but you don’t need it to be highly edited if you have the right platform.
Those are great tips and when people are building learning environments, some of the things you said I wanted to point out and highlight. Social proof inside of communities is very, very important. If you are able to create the type of gamification that allows people to see themselves in front of others winning and being showcased for others to see their results, then that’s highly, highly incentivizing for people to complete and to work fast. I was involved in a training where the company actually gave prizes for those people who could get to a certain point in the course by a certain time. All of what you’re saying is very, very important when people are creating courses to keep in mind and to really ensure that those things take place.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that when I started working at Digital Equipment Corporation in 1976, I was brought to the library and I was handed a cardboard box of about 24x24x18, filled with VCR tapes with old-style tapes. What I had to do was I had to sit down and plug the tape in and I had to sit in front of that computer watching the tape for at least 90 minutes. Talk about drifting, talk about losing interest, there were other guys in there who are watching the videos who are going out and smoking while the video is still playing. Compared to the way we used to learn, you have created magic when it comes to helping people learn. Having that perspective, being an old dude like me, I get to reflect on what it used to be in the past. Things have come so far and it sounds like Isaac, you’ve built an incredible system.
Anything I want to be involved with has to be impacting the world. There are a lot of ways to make money in the United States. There are a lot of ways to do well. I think what we all have to pay attention to is, “Is what I’m doing how I’m making money in alignment with who I am and truly making a large difference?” At least that’s what I’m training my kids to do is to look for that alignment.
Let’s talk more about the whole alignment thing. That’s something that I believe you have made a cornerstone of your company and the type of life you lead in the work you do. Talk more about that.
There are opportunities. If you don’t have a strong constitution and what I mean by that is knowing truly who you are and what you’re called to do, and have that big mission in mind, then you don’t know what to say yes to and what to say no to. If you’re a successful person, you’ve studied, you’re a person that perseveres, you have great character, you have a lot of leadership qualities, the ability to influence people, speak, if you’re those kinds of people, you have some of those traits, you’re going to get a lot of people that asked you to do things or give you opportunities. If you don’t have a strong constitution about these things, about yourself and where you’re going and what’s truly deep and important to you, then you’ll say yes to the wrong things which are really good things.
I like to relate this to the vineyard. I used to have a vineyard. We did it with my family, a Pinot Noir and Riesling. We had about just shy of 1,300 plants. One of the interesting things about a vineyard is that once you get your first fruit and you’re going to actually harvest, the first of your harvest, which is like your third or fourth year, then you have to go out there and you get so excited. It’s been three or four years. You’ve been doing this thing and had no results. Then go out there and you see your first fruit, your first sales, your first whatever, relate that to business and then literally my consultant. Because I didn’t know how to do a vineyard, I hired a consultant to meet with me once a month at certain parts of the year. He said it like no big deal but it was ripping my heart out. He said, “You have to cut off half of the fruit and drop it to the ground. The reason you need to do that is because to make great wine, if you have all this fruit exists, the energy will be dissipated amongst too much fruit. If you cut off half of the fruit, all of the energy will go into the other half and make them worthy of great tasting wine.” That’s a powerful lesson. If you don’t have a strong constitution, you’re saying yes to things that actually should have been cut off.
You’ve never been a vintner before and you don’t understand the nature of building a vineyard, if you’re told by an expert to cut off half of your fruit and throw it away or let it just fall to the ground, that has to rip your heart out. I can imagine what you went through to do that. I have to admire anyone who has been through that as well because they know how hard that is. I also know what a big risk it is because there’s no guarantee that if you grow a crop, it was going to turn into a quality fruit. I’ve got to ask you a question here and this is one of my favorite questions to ask, Isaac, because it helps everyone really understand who we’re talking to. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
I’m going to say Jesus Christ, and that might sound strange to some people. I’m an avid student of leadership, always have been. I read tons of books and when I had read the scriptures, there are aspects in the scriptures that display unbelievable leadership qualities. It is just incredible. Whether you believe in Jesus in the faith aspects of it, which I do, or whether you don’t and that’s okay, but even if you don’t, there’s historical evidence that he was real and he was on earth. There were manuscripts written about this person. It was just dumb-founding to me of how in situations where people were trying to trick him or people are trying to second guess him or challenge him, his responses were out of this world. His responses were incredible. That’s who I’d want to spend time with.
That name has been brought up on this show before, but I love the way you said it. No one has ever really used a Jesus as an example of leadership. In fact, you’re right. So much of the Old Testament covers really times in history when somebody had to step up and lead. It’s a great example. Thanks for sharing that. Here’s the next question. This is the grand finale question. It’s the change the world question. What is it that you were doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
It’s exactly what Stephen Rhyne and I are doing. We’re co-founders of ConveYour.com and we are passionate about it from a business, but maybe even more deeply from an impact the world standpoint because we believe if you build the right technology, which we believe we have to do this, you can literally level the playing field with education in the world. There are third world countries that will never have computers, but most people have cell phones now and most people are on the Internet and they’re hungry. They’re so hungry for knowledge. They eat it up and if you can curate knowledge and lower the expense of it, you can change the world. I was talking to one of the deans of Stanford Education and he’s also passionate about this and just the idea of, “Let’s take this knowledge at Stanford and let’s make it affordable or free even to parts to world that don’t have access to this information. Let’s elevate humanity by giving access to information digitally that doesn’t force people to be in a physical place, that enables people to earn a living but on the side and in between being becoming educated in a very, very worthy manner.” I believe with our platform because it’s all mobile-driven, text notifications, real notifications, easy to build, easy to put together, easy to monetize or not, we really believe that will happen. We see a path of giving a portion of our proceeds towards those efforts as we go forward.
Isaac Tolpin, it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. Can you tell everyone how they might find you on the internet?
Thank you, Isaac. I can’t wait to talk to you again soon.
It has been great, Mitch. Thanks for having me on.
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