Analysis of the Online Courses Economy of 2019

Recently, I came across an article on TechCrunch of Knowable, an audio course creator launching $100 for 8 hour audio courses. It was not the concept of an audio course but rather than the rate, $100 is quite steep for an audio course to help you sleep better. But do online courses or specialist podcasts or newsletters sell ? Teachingguide estimates an earning of $4.7M of Jose Portilla for her super-famous course ‘Complete Python Bootcamp’, while the top writer on paid newsletter platform Substack earns $500K a year from reader subscriptions. Masterclass charges $1300 annually for access to courses taught by Penn & Taylor, Natalie Portman, Gordon Ramsey, Hans Zimmer, well-known names in their particular field. Byjus (a $3.6B startup in India) is another big player in India offering courses for children but is mobile first and catering to students heavily.

Everyone must have heard about Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, EdX or dozen other MOOCs as they were something of a range back in 2015, which was declared as an year of MOOC. During its peak, LinkedIn (now part of Microsoft) acquired Lynda to offer renaming it as LinkedIn Learning offering their own courses. Now MOOCs are making a comeback after experimenting with multiple business models to find the right fit – Nano-degrees, university tie-ups, creator courses, job-seeking, certifications, audit fees, all-access monthly fees. Is it working ?

CompanyFY18 Revenue*
Udemy $140M
Khan Academy$44M
Estimate obtained from various sources

$330M by the 3 top players in video course creation fee is quite significant. But MOOCs are not the only way creators have to design and sell online courses, hundreds of smaller players have caught up which offer creators more flexibility in terms of designing the course as well as selling it on their own domain. Teachable, Teachery, Skillshare, Podia, Ruzuku, WizIQ and Thinkific are the niche players which do not target learners but target creators offering them more flexibility, more control, custom domains, custom videos, integrations and more. The business model for them involves charging a fixed monthly fee to creators allowing creators more freedom to set pricing, course structure, certification, quizzes, affiliate management etc.

CompanyAnnual Revenue*
CompanyMonthly charges
WizIQ $                                 25.00
Teachable $                                 29.00 + 5% transaction fees
Podia $                                 39.00
Teachery $                                 49.00
Thinkific $                                 49.00
Ruzuku $                                 75.00
Learnworlds $                                 80.00
Kajabi  $                              150.00
Academy of Mine  $                              500.00

Obviously, in all the companies listed above, I have not mentioned the 800 pound gorilla which commands the lion’s share in e-learning. YouTube. But it has discontinued support for paid subscriptions on it’s channels leaving a huge gap in the market which all the MOOCs and above companies are trying to fill. $50/month (INR 3500/month) is a decent price for the features and the exposure for any experienced out there creator. Depending upon how many learners you are expecting to sign up with amount you are charging, you can either go with Udemy or any of the dozen platforms I have listed.

Patreon is another player which deserves a special mention due to its considerable size and influence. Patreon caters to podcasts, writers, artists, coders, which lets anyone create membership programs as a way of supporting the artists. It’s very customizable targeted towards the creator to create a membership plan who will pay a monthly fee to support the artist and get access to special shows. Who is the highest earner in Patreon ? Chapo Trap House, a political comedy podcast has close to 21,400 patrons paying close to $1.1M annually. CreatorHype has listed the top earners on patreon with the different activities being undertaken.

Self Hosted Solutions: There are various other ways in which creators can deploy their own learning management systems. For example – LearnDash is a plugin based on the popular CMS WordPress which costs only $160 and lets creators deploy LMS on their own website. Open EdX is another option for universities to deploy their own LMS. There are various other open source learning management systems for creators who want more customizations.

Niche Courses: There are even niche offerings like which offers screencasts by web developers to web developers generating revenues close to $3.3M. They have built a complete custom platform to cater to their needs. Treehouse, Pluralsight, Codecademy are all companies with a very niche audience and market but have been very successful so far.

Audio Courses: Knowable is the only platform which I could find spearheading audio-only courses. Its currently invite only and could not find any data on revenue sharing between creators and the platform. But $100 is the average price to register for a course on Knowable. They have an impressive list of courses by recognized leaders in their space

Personalized Online Classes: Juni Learning, Outschool, Classgap, Walden, Codementor and a dozen others offer 1:1 mentorship and private virtual classes. It goes by many names – virtual tutor, personal coach, small group video classes but the premise remains the same. Walden is pretty interesting as it promises 24×7 chat with an expert for anything.

Passion Economy or the Creator Creator Economy as I like to call it has been seen increasing investor funding and interest. It is one of the driving forces behind freelancing and monetizing your unique skills in multiple ways. One of the best ways to capitalize your creativity is through creating courses but as with most online businesses, the top 5% will make celebrity money, rest 20% will make decent while the rest 75% will only have scraps.

Unacademy is the Indian challenger in the race with an educator app for creating courses but it heavily caters to Entrance Exams. There are a dozen smaller startups in India catering to smaller niche segments. But a massive opportunity still exists in India as very few platforms exists uniquely catering here.

The Creator Creator Ecosystem for different types. Sourced from a16z

Interesting time to be creator with so many companies trying to get their attention 🙂


Failure of Open Salaries


The annual reports published by public companies are a treasure trove of information: financial statements, auditor’s notes, future guidance, major risks, but the thing that will interest many the most is salary disclosures. The current SEBI norms state that Under the new rules, companies will only have to disclose salaries of 10 top paid employees in the director’s report or to the registrar of companies and those earning in excess of 1.02 crore. In 2017, SEBI also made it mandatory to disclose to investors remuneration of employees earning above Rs 1 crore per year.

Is government regulation the only way to obtain salary data ?

No, this is the only mandatory requirement to do so, but there are a couple of different ways – If you know someone working at a similar position in the company, via Glassdoor, social experiments like when techies publish their salary data online or someone collates salary data for techies, you have worked in HR or a higher position or finally open salaries

In this article, I have done my best to analyse whether publishing your company’s financial data – revenues and salaries gives a boost to the business. The usual answer is that it depends, but on what factors ? Buffer (Link to spreadsheet) , Whole Foods, and SumAll are the few companies who have tried open salary data all to a different extent. Lumarow & RethinkDB is one of the few companies which experimented with open salary culture, but quickly reverted back due to its high organizational impact.

There are a number of news articles in Business Line and Business Standard written on open salaries and financials of companies, but very conversely, very few companies have stepped up to implement them

Where has open salaries worked ?

1. Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey introduced the policy in 1986, just six years after he co-founded the company. He explains that his initial goal was to help employees understand why some people were paid more than others. (Don’t know status after Amazon’s acquisition)

2. Buffer: In late 2013, Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne listed staff salaries on the company website – including his own six-figure paycheck and the formula used to calculate those salaries. Buffer has been very successful so far with publishing its revenues, equity, diversity, code, product roadmap right on its website for everyone to see

3. SumAll has published its salary figures internally, and according to their blog posts written by them, it has been very successful so far. The company’s founder Dane Atkinson does admit that this unconventional policy does trip people up sometimes when they are expecting a salary negotiation. (Data only available to internal employees)

4. Netflix: The video streaming giant which we all love implemented an open salary for its top executives and directors. It did raise a lot of furor over social media over the sky high salaries offered to top level executives.

5. Mish Guru: A small startup which helps you create instagram and snapchat stories easily. The New York based startup implemented open salary to address the pay gap in the US by making salaries of every employee known to every employee

6. Logic Supply: A small company (70 employees) makes computer systems for rugged environments like mining rigs, underground coal quarries or industrial environment. They implemented an open salary which has been successful for them, although with some compliants

7. ThreatCare: Cybersecurity startup that published their formula for open salaries inspired by Buffer. I could not find the public list of salaries although they have mentioned in 2017, that they will be publishing it soon

8. Vincit: A Finnish IT Contractor launched in 2007 which implemented the policy. Finnish law prohibits to open employees’ salary without their permission. Every six months Vincit asks employees for the permission. About 80% have already said “yes” and their salary information is available within the company

In conclusion, only Buffer & Whole Foods has been able to implement completely open salary information just available on the net with the formula while the rest only has made salary information available within the company. Out of the tens of thousands of startups and companies, why is the number of companies adopting this policy so low ?Is this failure of open salary ?

Yes, definitely.

Why – Salary Data is private information of the individual and not the company (although its a stakeholder) and being transparent can usually open up a huge can of worms. Its detrimental to both the stakeholders: for individuals, it creates a lack of privacy and can lead to jealously & resentment, for companies, as it leads uncomfortable discussions and higher chances of employees getting poached.

The same companies keep coming up always in – Buffer and Whole Foods since the past 6 years. No other significant company has implemented the same open policy. Not startups or large companies or any company outside US have gone ahead with it

You only need to see the discomfort apparent when salary topic comes up in a societal situation .

Important Reasons for Failure of Open Salaries:

  1. Hard to break free from tradition norms which involves salary negotiations behind closed doors.
  2. Products, Brands and companies succeed because of teamwork, be it within the department or between different departments
  3. Reduced job satisfaction among lower paid workers – pretty obvious but a depending upon the type & size of company it can have a huge effect
  4. A huge unknown dependent variable – performance (including past performance), which makes it difficult to compare income levels of individuals
  5. Past Credentials – A major factor if your current compensation depends on your past compensation and your past college, which would be very difficult to standardize across the industry
  6. Confidentiality – Any employee now has access to what every other employee makes, which is a big cause of concern whenever the employee leaves.
  7. Legal Hurdles – Finland currently prohibits the publication of employee’s salary without their explicit permission. Not sure about other regulations on this

A Better Approach than Open Salaries

One Phrase – Open-Book management. Open Book management is about empowering every single employee in your business with the tools, education and data they need to act (and take responsibility) like owners. In simple words, sharing all financial information with everyone who works within the organization. Zingerman is the best known examples which employs open-book management.

According to an article written in Forbes, companies register 30% increase in profitability and productivity in first year alone, if they implement the approach properly

How is Open Book Management effective ?

  • Bigger Picture – Front-line employees feel confident as to why a particular change was made and how it affects the company’s bottomline. A huge shift in ownership takes place for the particular employee as he also starts to think of the bigger picture
  • Decision-Making – An interesting case study on how a dishwasher give a recommendation that completely turned the fortunes of a company. He suggested to cut quantity in French Fries to half with free refills as French Fries are the biggest thrown items due to their large portion. Simple to implement, saved thousands of dollars in any store, plus the additional value for the customer to get free refills.
  • Higher Engagement – Open book management does leads to more commitment among employees, which is the primary factor now on what makes or breaks companies
  • Faster and more agile – All employees can keep an eye out for bigger level changes happening across their own company. Based upon solid data, they can course correct or stop bad investments or invent entirely new ideas to tackle existing problems

Besides, it introduces a fundamental transparency in the company where every decision is based on financial data.

GlassDoor (&PayScale) collect company reviews and real salaries of large companies and displays them anonymously for everyone to see. It has grown massively in size, which shows 41 million unique users and 5800 paying companies. Recruit Holdings which owns announced its intention to buy GlassDoor for $1.2B. (Note: LinkedIn has also moved in the space and can be more successful due to their wide reach)


Do you agree with what you have read over here, do let me know in the comments.
Shoutout to my good friend Shreyas Kulkarni for reviewing

Note 1 – Republished on Medium

Sources for Good Articles.

I love reading.period.Normally I prefer to read on my Kindle for articles or a rusty old novel suits me as well.
I have compiled a list of websites for your daily dose of good well written articles.


This is my top priority for good source of articles.It lists all top reads that people are sharing on readability.
You can be sure that the articles over here will be awesome to read.

This features all the long articles or mini stories that will be good to read on a bus ride.
Its should be your top priority if you love mini-thrillers or in-depth reviews and articles.
If you are on a reading spree do check out their best of lists. These are the Absolute nuggets of gold for reading .

Medium is the third on my list.You should be on the lookout for small, funny ,hilarious , jaw-breaking , mind-bending (insert adjectives) articles.If you are on the lookout for

Their monthly top 100 list is also great list of small useful articles.

Hint : You can even use this browser extension from amazon for sending articles to your Kindle.A true life-save for those who love to read on Kindles.

What do you think ? Have I missed an important articles aggregation website somewhere ?
Do let me know in the comments below.

Web Design Workshop

I had taken a basic Web Design workshop in my college organized via IEEE Vishwakarma Student Chapter.

The Workshop was divided in two phases;the first phase had html and css while the second taught js and bootstrap.
The objective was that the Student has to be able to make simple and basic websites and know how html,css and js works and have upload his own website on

Day 1

Day 2