Course-market fit

How to figure out what to teach and find course-market fit using the outside-in, inside-out framework

Chelsea Wilson avatar
Written by Chelsea Wilson
Updated over a week ago

Summary

  • Course market fit is making sure you're the right person teaching the right topic to the right audience at the right price

  • Use the "outside-in, inside-out" framework to define your topic


“If you build it they will come."

This is a popular catchall meaning if you invest in building an amazing product, the customers will follow. But this is a myth in course-building.

Most people think they should start by building a comprehensive curriculum with thoughtfully designed projects, create beautiful decks, post it on LinkedIn—et voilà, students will buy your course and you'll make heaps of money.

Instead, what you'll likely get is crickets and tumbleweed. Because you haven't validated whether there's market demand for the topic and whether the target audience is willing to pay for it.

Course market fit is making sure you're the right person teaching the right topic to the right audience at the right price.

You don’t want to build out your whole course curriculum and then find out it’s a course no one wants. But you also don’t want to make yourself miserable slogging through building something you personally are not passionate about–even if it’s a topic the market is asking for.

Avoid these problems with a positioning framework called outside-in, inside-out.

Outside-in is looking at the market. You should choose a topic that’s overwhelmingly obvious based on your background and career track record. A course is not the time to explore something that you are just dabbling in yourself. You want to lean into where you already have existing credibility.

Inside-out is looking inward to what topics you care about. There might be a lot of market demand for a topic, and maybe it’s even something other people are telling you to teach. But you shouldn’t pick something if your heart isn’t into it.

When picking a topic, market demand matters more. That's why the outside-in circle is slightly larger. As you get started, you might think: "I can choose anything under the sun that I have some knowledge about." This is actually not true. If it were true, then you'd have analysis paralysis trying to boil the ocean. Creating a course is not about exploring new interest areas, but leaning into your credibility and years of experience.

✍️ Action: Outside-in/Inside-out Exercise

This exercise will help you find course topic alignment in the overlapping space of (a) what students want to learn from you and (b) what you would enjoy teaching.

For outside-in, ask yourself:

  • What are the questions that people ask you all the time?

  • Who are the people asking you these questions, and do you already have access to them (e.g., on social media, via communities, networks)?

  • What topic would you be asked to guest lecture on?

  • If a stranger looked up your track record, what topic would they think you’d teach on?

For inside-out, ask yourself:

  • Within your area of expertise, what’s a topic that fascinates you?

  • What topic do you enjoy explaining to others?

  • Where do you have a ton of content that you've already written about?

What topic overlaps in both your outside-in and inside-out circles? That’s a strong clue as to what you should teach. Here's a template to write your high level topic:

“How to [achieve outcome] for [ideal student]”

Examples:

  • How to beat decision paralysis and master a repeatable process for making better decisions in business/life for entrepreneurs & execs (Annie Duke)

  • How to how to evaluate, build, scale, and monetize network effects for founders and investors (Sameer Singh)

  • How to make better decisions by mastering budgeting, forecasting, analysis, and storytelling for founders and COOs (Chris Wattig and Taylor Davidson)

  • How to succeed in your next PM interview by practicing in a live setting for aspiring product managers and recent grads (Marily Nika)

  • How to separate the signal from the noise and evaluate if, how, and when Web3 can benefit your industry and career for those new to web3, developers, and designers (Dror Poleg)

How do I pick between two topics?

If you’re stuck between two topics, ask yourself these questions one by one:

  • Which topic do you have more existing assets for and confidence in teaching?

  • Which target student is easier for you to reach?

  • Which topic is more urgent for your target students? For example: your target students’ performance evaluation or career growth depends on knowing this skill.

You will eventually find a tipping point where one topic is the clear winner. If you’re still on the fence, that’s totally ok. It helps to talk it through with a friend to find what's practical for your first course. Remember that you can launch new courses down the road.


Additional resources

  • Watch Wes Kao explain the outside-in/inside-out framework, and how to narrow your target student & topic

  • Wes Kao explaining how to pick a course topic that solves a hairy, urgent problem (starts at 28:52)

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