Today, we have an interview with David Young. He is the founder of Drone Launch Academy where he sells online courses to help people who are looking to use drones commercially.
In less than 24 months, he was able to grow Drone Launch Academy to $50K/month in sales. He didn’t have a blog or any existing audience and he built the entire business from scratch.
To date, he has sold $800K worth of courses but what’s amazing is that Drone Launch Academy was a side gig for him for the major part while he had a full-time job with the FBI.
I helped David with a few things for Drone Launch Academy and I have known him for a couple of years now. So, I wanted to invite him on this blog to share his experience of growing the Drone Launch Academy into a multi-six-figure business.
In this interview, we’ll go through everything from how he came up with the idea, how he creates content, how he markets courses, and how he has been able to manage everything while working a full-time job.
Hey David, good to have you on my blog! Why don’t you start by giving us some background on yourself and the story behind Drone Launch Academy?
Sure, well thanks for having me, really appreciate it! So, Drone Launch Academy is a website that I run and the primary purpose of that site is to help people who are looking to use drones commercially.
Three years ago, I started talking to a friend of mine at work who was a former military guy and he was getting into drones. At that time, you had to have an actual full-on pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US to fly drones.
I studied the entire process for a while and then started charging people for help with the paperwork process.
Then they changed this whole process and you now have to take and pass this test. It’s a sixty-question test, once you pass it, they will give you the remote pilot certificate which is basically like a pilot’s license for drones.
So, I thought, well I need to make a prep course for this test. I started doing a lot of research, I partnered with two other guys that I had met at a conference and we developed this prep course for this drone exam and that’s how the Drone Launch Academy was born.
So, when you came up with the idea of this test prep exam, how confident were you about it and that it’s going to make money? I ask this because a lot of people have ideas for an online course but they never take action because they think no one will buy their course.
The short answer is: I felt pretty confident about it and I was actually almost too confident about it. So, by doing that other business of helping people with that paperwork process, I just saw the level of demand there was for people getting into this commercial drone space.
I had also seen reports from the FAA on how many drone pilots they expected and I saw some numbers that my competitors had thrown up about how much they were doing which all made me feel pretty confident about the idea.
The advice that I give other people when they’re asking me about course topics is that you can always use some keyword planner type stuff to see what people are searching for but don’t be discouraged if there aren’t 10 million searches for your course topic.
So, If you search for FAA Part 107, the course that I sell, it’s not the most searched thing but I’m still able to make a full-time income. So, if you know that people have a problem and you have a solution, people will pay for it.
I usually tell people to listen, go join some Facebook groups, look at forums, just see what people are bickering about and complaining about and if you can come up with a good solution to that problem, you’ll have success.
That’s some of the best advice that I’ve heard about finding a profitable course topic. So, when you were creating this prep course, how did you go about it, how long did it take you and how much did it cost?
I probably started on it in the late Spring of 2016. I literally had zero idea about how to do this and so, it was just a lot of googling.
I had never heard anything about online course platforms. I found a few people on Upwork who offered to develop a custom solution for me but it sounded like it was going to be like ridiculously expensive.
Anyways through more research, I realized that there are a couple of online course platform providers that will host your content and have the user interface already built. Finally, I landed on Teachable which seemed like the best option for me at that point and I decided to go with it.
Now, I had to figure out how to film stuff and make it look good. I did some more googling and I found this one guy, Alex Harris who had a course for 20 dollars where he offered to show everything including what equipment to buy and how to do the editing.
So, I bought this course and bought all the equipment he suggested. I got an older model Canon for a few hundred dollars, I spent another couple hundred bucks for a decent lens, I bought some basic lighting and got some other stuff like backdrop etc.
Then I had to research the topic, there wasn’t a ton of information out there at the time because this test hadn’t even been released yet. So, I had to go through various documents, books and FAA publications. I actually ended up writing an e-book and I basically built my curriculum around that.
I also hired Alex to edit the videos and I got my cousin on-board to do some animations and graphics. These two guys were a big chunk of my cost but I think it was worth it.
We ended up launching in October, so, it probably took me four to six months. I don’t know the exact total but I’m putting it between like fifteen and twenty thousand dollars that I spent total to get this course off the ground.
If I was doing it today, I could do it for much less than what it costed me. I was trying to go very high production value, whereas now I realize that information is the most important thing and so, you could go a low production value and make a course by just recording on your iPhone.
When you’re creating your first course, you shouldn’t worry a lot about the production quality as it is one of the main reasons why many creators aren’t able to take their course off the ground in the first place.
When I was creating my first course it was all screen recording. I didn’t appear on the camera or do any animations in my videos and still, I was able to sell it for a decent price of $199.
Keep in mind that people pay for results and the information you share and not for fancy videos.
Let’s change the track a little bit here and talk about marketing because that’s the #1 challenge course creators face. So, how did you go on to get your first hundred paying students? What was your approach and strategy?
Yeah good question! My initial plan was that I’m going to build an email list and then I’ll sell to that list. I was a little naive as I thought that everybody will open my emails and I’ll probably convert 10% of the people. So, I was assuming that if I get an email list of 5,000 people, I’ll easily you know I’ll convert 500 of them. Yeah, pipe dream!
Now, first off my email list was 100% made up of people who signed up for a drone giveaway. I was counting on the fact that they also wanted to create a business with a drone or use drones commercially which didn’t turn out to be the case. So, it wasn’t a quality list.
Plus I didn’t introduce or warm them up at all, I just went straight for sales. I only sold two courses and I was like oh my goodness, this plan is not going to work.
Then I launched some campaigns in Google Ads and cost per conversions were just really high. I didn’t have much money to play with at this time and I couldn’t afford to experiment like this.
So, I stopped doing AdWords and I thought okay, you know I’m going to see who else already has the attention of the people that I want to get in front of, so, I turned to affiliates.
I emailed a few popular bloggers at the time, I would just google drone test prep or some other keywords and whoever came up on the first two or three pages of Google, I reached out to them and I said “Hey, here’s what I’ve got, would you want to partner up?”.
I remember when I sent that first email to this girl, Sally French who runs the thedronegirl.com and she would agree to partner with me, I was like incredibly thrilled!
She was really our only affiliate, I reached out to a couple more but she really drove all of our sales for a few months. So, I think I found my first hundred students through getting affiliates. I don’t know if it was exactly 100 but the several months in the beginning were all basically affiliate sales.
Affiliate marketing is one of the better marketing strategies when you are getting started, simply because you aren’t paying anything upfront and you only pay a commission when you get sales. So, you don’t really need a budget to succeed with affiliate marketing.
Another thing that I like about the affiliate strategy is that while it does take some effort to find good affiliates and get them on board but once you do that, there is a minimal effort in managing them.
If I’m correct, you also had some good success with Google Ads after that. How did that happen and is that your main traffic strategy now?
So, then after getting some initial sales, I said okay, now I’ve got some cushion and I think I need to lower the price point a little bit. I played around with my sales page as well and I felt better about my offer and my positioning.
I started testing out AdWords again and I found that with my current setup and the way I had my offer structured, this worked a lot better. I was able to put more money behind my ads and started scaling it. That’s when the business really started to take off!
Fast forward a couple of months, I don’t know what I did with AdWords but I kind of screwed it up and in July of 2017, I spent fifteen thousand dollars on AdWords and only had revenue of twelve thousand dollars from it.
So I was like, well that’s not good and at that point, I reached out to somebody who was recommended to me and I hired them to take over paid advertising. They’ve done a great job with it and they still manage all my paid ads till today.
What I tell everybody now is that before you start running paid traffic, make sure that you have an offer that converts. So, basically you have something that people want to buy and it’s priced at a price point that people want to pay for it.
So, yes Google Ads was the main strategy for a long time and it’s still a big part of the strategy but right now we’re pushing and I wish I would have pushed on this earlier, to get more affiliates in our system.
Another thing that I wish I would have done earlier is paying my affiliates more. Because I thought that they’re going to put my link up there regardless, I’m going to give them 20%.
But my competitors were giving a higher percentage and they basically had the incentive to promote them harder. So, now I give my top affiliates 50% of the course sales and that has tripled our affiliate income.
As far as revenue by traffic source is concerned, I would say probably 30 to 50% of our sales on any regular basis comes from paid traffic and then the rest is split up between organic search and affiliates.
If I may ask, what is your current average monthly revenue?
Well, it fluctuates a bit but if you look over the last six to twelve months, it’s between $40K and $60K a month in online course revenue and it has taken us around 2 years to reach this level.
That’s awesome! If I’m correct, you were selling only this test prep course for quite sometime. So, what was the idea there and and do you think it’s better to sell one course initially versus multiple courses?
I say when you start out, just do one course. It’s hard enough to to sell one course and if you’re going to try to focus on selling five courses, your focus and attention will be so divided and split up that I don’t think you’d have a ton of success with any of them.
I’ve realized lately how important focus is for any project. If you get 10 projects 50% done, you’re not going to make money on any of them but you get one project done 100% and you get another 100% done, you’ll make money on each of those.
So, I would say stick to one course at first. Pick the one you think will be the most valuable and you know has the biggest demand, stick to that one and grow that as much as possible.
We branched out into other courses only when we knew that the first one was going really well. We had set up some systems around customer support and some other things that provided some stability for it.
Then even the second and the third course were not created by me. I partnered with Alex Harris, the guy I mentioned before and he created their curriculum. I obviously helped and consulted on various things.
So it wasn’t as much of a lift on my end afterwards because I had partnered with some other people and that’s the kind of route we’ve taken for future courses as well.
Which brings me to, you left your job in April 2018. Right? So, till then, Drone Launch Academy was basically a side-gig for you. How would you manage everything? Did you outsource a lot of things?
Yeah, well, I first had to manage everything myself because I had no money. I would do everything at night after my regular job. Soon, I found that by the time you work all day and you come home, it’s hard to have the energy and motivation to do stuff.
What worked better for me was that I would wake up early in the morning and before going for work, I would go sit at a coffee shop or somewhere eating breakfast and I would spend two hours, two and a half hours working on my course before I would go into my regular job for the day.
I managed it myself at first but then as soon as I had some money coming in the door, I couldn’t keep up with the customer service inquiries that were coming in during the day. I thought I can’t be on my phone all day answering emails and calls.
So, I hired a virtual assistant and then I found someone to help me with customer support. So, a girl in Arizona, she still works for me today like two years later, she handled all the phone calls and the emails during the day when I was at my job.
So, what would you advise people, work on online courses full-time right from the start or work on it part time in the beginning?
I think it really depends on your life situation. At the time, my wife wasn’t working anymore, she was working part-time as a nurse and I was responsible for making most of the money. So, I had to do it as a side-gig until I was really confident that it could work as a full-time thing.
Honestly, if you’re trying to do it from the beginning and you have no other income source, it can be tough to get it to work. So, maybe you can do some consulting work as it takes time to see a really solid amount of revenue from your online course if you’re starting from scratch.
You don’t want to be coming from a place of desperation to sell. The main thing in your mind should be how you can most help this audience and based on that, develop your product.
If it takes you, say three months to develop a really good product, you don’t want to be like, oh I have to make money now and I’m just going to create something crappy and try to sell it.
If your only focus is on making short-term money, you will make poor long-term decisions.
So, having a stable source of income allows you to concentrate on your long-term success and it gives you more flexibility to be able to build something sustainable.
Now that we are nearing the end of this interview, what are your goals for Drone Launch Academy and your business in general for 2019 and beyond?
Yeah, our goal here is to continue growing our prep course because that had seen a lot of good success and I think there’s still room to grow there.
We’re also working on adding some new courses. So, a big goal of ours is to continue to add new courses as things develop and we see different problems in the industry that need people need help with.
We actually might expand into some enterprise sales as well. We found that there are businesses who are interested in using our course and buying it in bulk. So, we’re actually going to work on doing a little bit more direct outreach to some of these organizations.
We’re also going to be selling actual physical drones. We’re trying to do that on the enterprise side as well.
So, one of our main goals in 2019 is to expand more on the business to business side of things in addition to growing the core business that we’ve got.
I’m always interested in hearing what software other course creators use. So, what tools do you use to create, market and sell your online courses?
So, I use Teachable as my online course platform, I think I mentioned that earlier. I used MailChimp at first for my email stuff but then I switched to Active Campaign. So, I use ActiveCampaign for my email marketing. I’ve also heard good stuff about ConvertKit but it seems like AC has more options for automation.
For some of our landing pages and funnel setups, we use ClickFunnels. So, if I need to set up a landing page with a thank-you page and like a one-time offer, it’s really easy to do that on ClickFunnels.
I use ProProfs for integrating advanced quizzes are into the Teachable platform and I obviously use Facebook and Google for advertising. I also use you know a ton of different little things like Zendesk for support, Olark for live chat, Proof for social proofs. That’s the main list!
You have already shared a lot of useful advice but what would be that one kind of big advice that you would give people who are just getting started with creating and selling online courses?
Yeah, I would say I think most people never have success because they quit too early. So, my biggest piece of advice would just be don’t quit at it!
I’ve seen this picture, it floats around on Instagram all the time. It’s a picture of a guy and he’s like digging in the ground looking for a diamond. You can see the diamond and it’s like he’s so close to it but he’s then walking in the other direction. So, he’s digging-digging-digging and then he just gives up and walks away and he was like so close to getting it.
It’s kind of a cheesy image but I think it illustrates the point well. You know you have to push through a lot of crap before you get to something that really is going to break free for you.
So, I would say get something up as fast as you can, so you can get feedback and then just keep plowing forward. So, when it makes sense, pivot based on feedback you get from trying. Don’t just give up and switch altogether to something new just because you felt like it was getting too hard.
Finally, if someone were to learn more about you or reach out to you, how can they do that?
Yeah, so I have a website that I set up to kind of just try to document what I’m doing and keep track of stuff that’s working for me.
Right now, it’s just a landing page but eventually, there will be more, so, you can jump on the email list. Or, you can reach out to me directly at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to field any questions or help if I can.