Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Jude Novak, Co-Founder & CPO of Coassemble.
We’re an online training platform that empowers people at small to medium-sized businesses to train online for the first time.
We enable anybody to create beautiful and engaging content using our rapid course builder I like to think of us as the Squarespace of online training. We layer this course builder with flexible sharing options, deep reporting, and a focus on delivering genuinely engaging training experiences to employees.
Most of the competitors in the online training space try to differentiate themselves by adding more features and trying to look like the most powerful platform out there. Instead, we’ve positioned ourselves as the tool that is easiest to use and can create a great team learning experience, and we are going after the market segment that nobody else wants: new entrants.
We know that whilst there are many large Enterprise businesses with structured online training processes that are well served by the current online training offerings, there are also thousands of smaller businesses (we like to call them the Fortune 500,000) that have never trained online before but are looking to do so due to a broader move to cloud technology. This market is huge, untapped, and has very different needs to a standard Enterprise customer with a large training budget an L&D (Learning & Development) department.
By positioning our platform to capture an unloved market segment, we’ve seen customer growth >100% YoY in our 5 years since launch. We’ve now had over 1,000 businesses sign up to our platform, and 90% of our new customers are training online for the first time.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before Coassemble, I spent several years designing and developing iOS applications, mostly geared towards education. My most notable successes included educational applications for children (such as INKids Education) and a range of highly successful recipe apps that were always featured by Apple. Downloads of these applications numbered in the millions.
We used to put paid to spend behind keywords like ‘best LMS’, we now know that our ideal customer doesn’t even know what an ‘LMS’ is.
During this time, I was working with an educational publisher on their digital transformation — converting their hard-copy books into engaging digital training content.
This was a daunting task, and at the time, online training was simply awful. There was no consideration for the learner; the content was boring and stale, with walls of text and no personality — a complete contrast with what I was designing for iOS. It was my goal to make online training as fun and engaging as the educational applications I had built and had been downloaded by millions.
I did achieve that goal, however, it became clear early on that it was going to be impossible to scale without hiring an army of designers to help me. Each course screen had to be manually designed and saved as a physical file.
To solve this problem, I templatized all of my best designs so that anyone would be able to pick a template from a list and add it to a course outline. This allowed them to build a course in hours, instead of weeks.
Once I’d solved that problem it seemed like a no-brainer to remove the biggest barrier to online learning, and that was the LMS (Learning Management System). At the time, we were paying 100k a year for an LMS platform to host our online training content, and it wasn’t very good. So it made sense to invest those dollars into adding a layer of functionality to the course creation platform that allowed us to easily share and track the progress of learners.
What we ended up with was a platform that allowed you to create, share, and analyze how each learner progressed through a course. At this point we thought, this thing is great - why not sell it to other companies!
I was lucky to be part of a company at that time that could see the value of what I had created and was willing to help bootstrap us and spin the platform out as a new business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Designing the product was pretty easy because I was designing it for myself. I was trying to make not only my life easier but to also make the business more efficient by reducing the number of team members we need to employ.
I had always been focused on how to create a truly engaging experience for the end learner but was approaching the design of the product with myself in mind. Namely, how could I continue to create genuine learning experiences without spending hours doing so? This was a different approach to the existing tools on the market. The learning design market was stacked with tools that allowed for heavily customizable content (such as Articulate Storyline) but required professional training and countless hours to use.
Do something you enjoy... It’s too hard not to like what you’re doing.
The users who tested the product first were colleagues within the business who were using the product to create and share courses with. I knew it was a viable product because we were a very successful business off the back of it. How could it not work for other companies the way it worked for us.
Describe the process of launching the business.
After splitting out as a new business, our launch strategy was simple: bundle the platform up, and sell it to existing customers who had been purchasing the training content designed within the platform. This way, they could customize the courses they had purchased, and enroll learners directly into the platform. In addition, they could start creating their content to supplement the courses they’d already purchased.
This was a great strategy, in the beginning, to help us with cash flow, but we knew they weren’t the market we wanted to target. We designed the tool for simplicity and for people who didn’t have resources to get someone to build content for them.
We threw a free trial option up on our website, put about $5,000 a month towards paid marketing, and waited to see who would sign up for our platform. At this time, our paid keywords revolved heavily around the traditional online training market, with terms like ‘best LMS platform’.
It was mayhem. We got about 200 free trial signups a month and were able to convert a decent number of customers, but we had such a range of people signing up and purchasing. In one week we would sign a dog walking business, a university, and a multinational marketing company.
It took about 2 years before we started seeing traction. During this time, we were able to secure the customers needed to continue growing and developing our product, but our customers were so varied that we struggled to align our product roadmap to any singular user profile. But then we started to hit the market for SMBs training online for the first time.
We started to see a pattern: when a growing, tech-enabled business that had never used an online training tool before signed up for our platform, they took to it quickly, loved the user experience, and were able to have a business impact within a few months.
Companies like Typeform and Hopper signed up for our offering and gave us great feedback on how easy our platform was to understand and how powerful it could be for a growing organization with training needs. Our biggest lesson from this time was that it is not a weakness to niche your market: it allows you to focus your marketing, sales, and product around a single user.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We try to align our whole business around our target customer.
We know that people training online for the first time need great support, so we invest heavily in amazing, real customer support. We believe that great customer support doesn’t come from having a good support team; it comes from building a great support company. We hire sales reps with customer support backgrounds so they can act as consultants for our leads, and then hand them over to a customer success team that proactively partners with our customers to help them find success.
We use in-app live chat to ensure that our team is just a click away and do not charge any extra for our support. We’ve found that high investment in support is our number one driver of customer expansion.
We build our product for ease of use and think deeply about our UX to create an intuitive experience that is not intimidating or overwhelming.
We also know that our target customer wants to create genuinely engaging learning experiences for their team and employees, so we build unique features around that.
On the Marketing side, we’ve found that businesses training online for the first time often want to test a product out for themselves before speaking to a rep, so we offer a free trial on our website.
In terms of demand generation, paid marketing has allowed us to hone in on this market segment. Where we used to put paid to spend behind keywords like ‘best LMS’, we now know that our ideal customer doesn’t even know what an ‘LMS’ is: instead, we have refactored our paid channels around terms that someone new to online training would use, like ‘best tool to train my team’.
Google Adwords has been a big lead source for us, as have review sites: we’ve found that our customer base relies heavily on review sites to research the offerings that suit them best. We focus heavily on incentivizing our customers to review us online, with giveaways and competitions to drive review volumes.
We have also found that an affordable base plan (our $49/month Starter Plan) allows users to continue testing our platform without having to commit to anything.
We know that our customers need to see the real value before they are willing to increase their subscription costs, as they have never implemented a solution like ours in their business before, so we plan to only see true revenue from customers 3-6 months after they make their first purchase with us.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re in between our Series A and Series B and are aiming to continue our 100% YoY growth, having raised $5.1m for our Series A.
We’re a VC-led business so are planning to continue to invest heavily in building out our product and acquiring new customers. For example, we know that our customers’ biggest pain point is still creating content, as it is often a team manager or leader shouldering the burden of content creation. For this reason, we’re doubling down on our content creation suite and adding features to make it as easy as possible to create. We just released a new feature called screen swapping that allows users to toggle between different interactive screens to see how their content looks in different engaging formats.
As a Saas business, our gross margins are consistently over 90%, so we know that our opportunity is huge.
We believe that we can continue to double down on our market and capture what we like to call the Fortune 500,000 - all of the smaller businesses that need a better way to train online but haven’t yet taken the plunge.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned that people should only start a business if they like what they’re doing, and selling something they believe in.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I love Figma because it's changed the way we work. It makes it easier to collaborate, and I can't imagine how we would have coped had we not been using it during COVID. It's the perfect design tool for collaborating remotely and sharing designs with engineers.
Integrating with Zapier means we can focus on what we are good at, allowing our customers to extend the functionality of the application by connecting Coassemble to thousands of other online platforms.
I've always used JIRA for managing software development projects, as most engineers are familiar with it.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Do something you enjoy... It’s too hard not to like what you’re doing.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re looking for talented Senior Engineers (front-end, back-end, and full-stack), QA, and Product Designers to help us continue to build out our product as the best first online training platform on the market.
Where can we go to learn more?
The best place to learn more is our website.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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