- Zac Gordon
- Course Access Manager
- How I Built It Patreon
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And now, on with the show.
Hey, everybody. Welcome to How I Built It, a podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” I am here with my guest, and very good friend, Zac Gordon. Zac, how are you doing today?
Zac Gordon: I’m doing great, man. Thanks for having me on.
Zac Gordon: Yeah, that sounds great.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. So can you tell us just a little bit about the course and how you came up with the idea?
Joe Casabona: And this is the… sorry, there’s the WordPress Rest API, right?
Zac Gordon: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: Neither of us mentioned that explicitly.
Zac Gordon: You know, the only API out there it’s for WordPress.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Of course.
So yeah, the course seems to be in line and going in the right, right way with all this.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, definitely. And are you classically trained in programming? Like, do you have a degree in coding or anything like that?
Zac Gordon: So I have taken some computer science courses. It was funny. I was actually kind of teaching at the college and high school level without an official CS degree, but part of no child left behind and a Federal Municipal’s like regulations, you have to have a degree in what you’re teaching. So I went back for one, but never ended up having to complete it cause I can just drag it on for a long time. But I actually went back to teach classes. And then the next semester I was teaching at the school where I went to take them. So it’s kind of funny how it all works out.
So I have some enough to understand it and teach things like Java, but I’m also definitely, you know, I learned more programming from just working with PHP and WordPress early on. Tweakin themes were kind of my early into it working practically so I could definitely relate to people coming from it, from that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. Cool. Very cool. Yeah. I think there’s a lot of, you know, especially in the WordPress community, people are self-taught and then tweak, and mess around and then kind of get formal, of the formal.
So I tried to teach myself a little bit, but most of my education came from college just because I know some of the teachers I had really helped me understand things. And I didn’t really get into hardcore programming until college anyway. So, but awesome. So I found it, the reason I started this podcast is I love talking to people, I love getting their perspective. I love bouncing ideas off of people. And I know that you put together a crack team of people to help out with the course. So aside from like the actual contents, did you talk to people about features, business advice, direction, things like that?
So those people were great and connecting with that and advice and how to approach things. Yeah, Tanya was huge because I was doing like, I was taking a day to like really manicure and make videos as short and concise as possible. But then I was putting day’s work, and getting like 25 minutes of content. I’m like, “Dude, I can’t keep this up. This is crazy.” And so I took her approach, which is a bit more of like, I’m just going to sit down and roll with it, which is what I used to do at Treehouse. Like I just, you know, have an outline and go. And so that’s making things richer, more content. So, you know, not all the students are keeping up, even with the content release schedule, which is like, that’s awesome for me. I’d rather be on that end than the other. But yeah. So that’s kind of marketing. How that is helped and some of the advisors and different areas. So yeah, hopefully.
Joe Casabona: Nice. I’m going to have to check out the way you do videos. Cause I’m the kind of the same way it takes me like four hours to produce like a five-minute video. And just it’s like something easy, like how to register your domain. But like if I mess up talking or if I miss a part, I’m like, I have to do it all over. It’s a lot of work. So, you know, getting that, getting that process, right. I imagine it helps a whole lot.
Zac Gordon: Oh, well, I can tell you actually there, I just have an editor and I just send all my ScreenFlow files, drop them into a plugin, then ether and drop them into Google drive. And then I get everything back edited from there. So I don’t worry about mistakes mix-ups. I can just be like, okay, starting over. And I’ll tell you like, and that’s like, if I had to edit all these and do that myself, it would probably be unsustainable. Like cry because I have so much content to still edit through and worry about that stuff. And I know some people just kind of do a bit more raw take, but it’s been worth it for me. And like trying to have that higher-end production has kind of had to incorporate into the price and all. But I know it makes such a huge difference. And, yeah. I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. I’ll have to hook you up with my person then.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, definitely. And actually, \this is great. Cause I mean, I think that this is like, we can just roll this into the next question, which is how did you build it? Because you know, something that I, myself included, a lot of people will go the, do it yourself route at first to try to save money, right. And with this podcast, I’ve learned, like I’m going to take my raw audio. I’m going to take your raw audio. I’m going to send it to, you know, a guy that I found on Fiverr. I’m not paying him five bucks. I’m paying him more than that to do it, right? Like to do it like his best. But if I was editing this, it would take forever. Like it wouldn’t be worth it. And paying 30 bucks for him to do it is well worth my time. So maybe we could touch on that in the, how did you build the course? So there’s like a lot of moving parts here. So maybe we could just start with what you think makes the most sense.
Zac Gordon: So I can, yeah, I’m going to, I’ll walk you through it all. And for anybody that’s like wants to geek out on the specific, like plugins and tools and software, I’ll give you all those details.
So basically. It started with, I’m going to start with the recording aspect cause that’s kind of before I have the site got to have the stuff to put up there.
So originally I really wanted to do like Treehouse kind of videos and a nice recorded like me on camera. I felt it was very important for my branding and I wanted to continue that. So I tried several times in different ways and kind of learning some and asking other people to set up a home video studio. And that just really didn’t work in part because I couldn’t get the right lighting where I’m recording is very low ceiling. So that was tricky. And after like months and months of like, I had to eventually give that up just to focus on screencasting, which we’ll get to in a minute. But there was one area where I found that just plugging into the local photographer and like wedding videographer scene in the DC area was enough to find me some people that we could rent out a coworking space at night and like record some legit, like super high quality. We just both showed up for a couple of hours. And so like after I finish major sections, I’ll go back and just have like a, for every section of videos, I’ll have one overview video that has me in that. I haven’t done that cause I’ve just had to put it off with planning and prepping the costs. But that was one place for, you know, 1500 bucks can go a long way. And just getting something that somebody else is going to be way above the par. So that was kind of the video.
And then they actually, the editor drops them directly into Wistia for me. I use Wistia for the videos for a number of reasons. And one that is just kind of a side effect that she’s like, “Dude, this is so easy. I just like drag and drop, upload them. And can you like inline click to edit names and stuff for titles of videos? So we do that and then I could preview them, embed them into WordPress” And that kind of brings us in. can take a pause for a sec and then we can get into maybe more sites and have it, and that side of stuff. But that’s kind of the thing most of the tools and stuff I’m using on the backend for recording.
Joe Casabona: Cool. Very cool. And so you’re using Wistia. You have an editor, you hired out people to help you kind of record the Treehouse videos in a coworking space. I think that’s really great advice for anybody listening is that, you know, it might affect your bottom line a little bit. But Just think about your hourly rate in that regard, like if you’re going to charge a hundred bucks an hour or whatever, and it takes you four hours, it’s costing you 400 bucks as opposed to somebody who can do it in an hour and whatever you pay them. So that’s a lesson that I’ve kind of learned doing these things. And I’m glad to see it’s being reinforced by you. Because I mean, you’re a pro in this space, you know, you’ve recorded a ton of videos, audios, you’ve developed a bunch of courses. So I’m really glad to hear that.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. So, what about the tech side?
Zac Gordon: Yeah. So getting into kind of the front end and website, one thing I’ll say with Wistia that’s been a little tricky is Wistia has, and I love the company. Big fan have been since very early on when they launched. And, but their transcripts that are built in are a little bit expensive. It is nice that you can get them in the app. And I was doing that for all of them, but that price of transcripts, it’s like $5 a minute or something gasp. And we’ve got what, 14 hours of content already. So like, yeah. Do that math real quick. It gets freaking expensive. So found another site. Hold on. Yeah, I’ve not seen it. So I’ll just go on. But I kind of just put a poll out on Twitter and got folks’ feedback on a transcript company, rev.com. I think that’s them.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, I’ve heard of that. I think Chris Lema has tweeted about them and stuff like that. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.
Zac Gordon: Yeah, so solid. The only thing I recommend is that don’t by accident purchase transcripts when what you want is captions. Because I put in a bulk order in max. I did learn that lesson for a pretty penny and couldn’t get them really converted from one end to another.
So transcripts. Are converting into texts. Like you’re going to paste into the page and the captions have the minute-by-minute kind of sync up so that it goes in the video. They’re the same price, a dollar per minute. So, you know, I’m already saving $4 per minute, but I haven’t actually put back in and redone the transcripts in part just because that initial, like last enrollment period money went so far. And this is a pretty big investment.
I do want to stay committed to it. And I do have a number of international students that have said that it’s a really cool feature and noticed when the video stopped having it. So I feel bad in that regard, but it’s also like, you know, to be Frank kind of a business, You know, determination as well. And just, but, you know, stuff that will be added and as a final product, definitely getting there.
So that kind of plugs in with the Wistia and the video. And then, so how do you use WordPress, right? Of course. And that one of the guys for LearnDash, which is one of the LMS options for WordPress at WordCamp U.S. same weekend buddies at WP Valet had done some work with them. So, you know, like friends, and friends, and family, and all that. And I just like, I remember standing in off, of the bar, just be like, “Hey, so does it have this feature? Does it have this feature?” Okay. So like what were things I’m asking? I’m like, “Okay. So how do quizzes work? Do quizzes get assigned to a video or are they assigned to a section? Can you hook it up with badges? Can you get downloadable PDF certificates when they’re done? How does this work with profiles and profile-like facing pages? And can I reward points with it? And how do videos get marked as complete?” and these kinds of things. So It was like, boom, boom, boom, boom. All the way down the list. And I was pretty impressed. So it was like, “All right. Don’t go with LearnDash. And it was cool because I had a contact point there that I could just email when I had questions. And as you’re learning something new, like how freaking valuable is that, Justin over at LearnDash thank you a ton, because he definitely helped in that regard. But overall it’s pretty intuitive, way more powerful than I have even got to using. And so I recommend it in that regard.
But I’ve also used Sensei and some of the other ones. I haven’t checked out LiftLMS. Is that one of the new ones?
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s a…WP 101 I think is using that?
Zac Gordon: What? Okay.
Joe Casabona: I know. So I’m also using LearnDash. I talked to Justin and they’ve sponsored the show before. And, yeah. So, I’m a big fan of that. I was using Sensei at first and there were things that I wanted that I had to kind of custom code myself that LearnDash already had built-in. So I’m like a no-brainer. Like I’m used to, I’m going with this and I’m discovering new stuff every day as I develop more courses. So It’s a great tool, I think. But I’ve heard really good things about LifterLMS too.
Zac Gordon: Yeah. The one thing I’ll say about LearnDash that I learned is not to try to use a duplicate post plugin with quizzes and things. It was more with quizzes because they were tied in weird ways in the backend. And I was like hacking the database Like re-associate things. It was a hot mess and not worth the time. So take the time to learn their template structure. They have like quiz templates where they have a bazillion options when you’re working with a quiz. And you can save those course templates and things. And so make sure you take the time to do that because I tried to cut it, you know, shortcut and that was not worth it.
Joe Casabona: I’m really, I’m glad you told me that because I’m going to start on a new course and I was going to use a duplicate post.
Zac Gordon: Okay, cool. So let me just say I’m going to read through my little list here of plugins that I’ve installed, that kind of relate to it for those who are listening and interested. The BadgeOS from the folks at WebDevStudios is kind of the go-to badge plugin for WordPress. And it integrates with LearnDash. So anytime they do something, they can get a badge. It also lets you do points. So I have something setup, the points are a little bit weird, like, and they’re kind of tied to badges. So I found kind of a limitation in that. What I wanted to do is like, okay, if you finished a quiz, you’d get a badge. But what I was really after is anytime you finished a quiz, you got points. So the way you have to set that up is you have to say any time you earn a badge, you get this many points. But you still get the same badge. So it’s like, they have one badge, but then they get points too. Like some of that stuff was a little bit quirky and not as flexible as I would like. But it’s the main option and it’s pretty solid. So there’s a BadgeOS and LearnDash add-on integration. So we have that going. There are some LearnDash plugins, like course access manager, which is like four groups created. And I found that really helpful.
So a business we’ve got XWP, which is awesome, doing like internal training with their folks. So they have, you know, like the main business account and they can track the progress of all their employees taking it. And once this is done, that’s probably going to be one of my main targets because this course is just so rich. And just so taking it from beginning to end, then I’m like, “Wow,! You can kind of just sit someone down at this and be like, “Oh yeah. Here you go. Good to go.” on whatever now. So those were some bugginess with quizzes.
So there’s this little plugin called to delete specific data that I had to work with in order to like, if someone like a quiz is bugging out on them, you could delete that quiz attempt, and then they could keep going back to it that, “Oh, I’m sorry.” The course access manager, was different. The course access manager, there’s an integration between WooCommerce and LearnDash. And you know, you’ve probably already worked with this, but if you’re new to it, there are some plugins that help with that. So basically when somebody pays for a product, get access to the course as well. And so I should mention at this point that like, so we’re using LearnDash and WooCommerce, and then there was some integration with that. But I had some folks from Pango.org which is a web development company. And actually, some of them were Treehouse students and they’re based out of South Africa. And they reached out to me and they’re like, “Hey mate, we’d love to help with the site if you need anything.” And that was one area where I knew, man, if I have to do all this course and then build a site. You can’t build a site like this in a weekend, you know, it’s the thing that you and I would tell ourselves. Yeah, dude. I’ll just knock out the site that you’re like, “Dude, I want to tweak like one little custom woo-commerce thing for all weekend.” And like that is just not getting done. So again, like part of hiring people is just knowing yourself well enough and knowing the time it’s going to take you to definitely, you know, you’re not getting it done.
So this was a God-sent and thank you a ton to the folks at Pango world for helping because they set up most of this integration and stuff. I kind of knew I wanted to LearnDash. And so I’d like installed that in a few like modules, put in just to test it out, but they helped with so much of this stuff. And part of it was them researching these integrations. And part of it was me like, just asking. But their help was instrumental. So again, I mean, now we’re talking kind of getting into a $3,000 budget or so hiring all these people to do these parts, but also this was like my main income and gig for the year. So it made sense. But also they were donating their time, which I know not anybody can get. And it was a very cool and huge thing. And part of it was, you know, they learned a lot of their chops doing the Treehouse WordPress courses and wanted to help. Man, I put them to the task. I’ve worked with those boys. So thank you again. So they did that.
So, folks at Pango world made the decision and really pushed to do it as one solid thing. They’re like, well, we’ll theme the front end. We’ll use this theme. We’ll get the back end, looking nice with this. And we’ll just take that approach. Then it’s only one WooCommerce install. It’s on one domain. If you have profiles, you can control them that way. So all of that. Oh also, that got a little icky because ah, geez. I don’t even want to get into that. Yeah. I had originally used woo-commerce, not hooked up to LearnDash. So there were some corks and importing people. We had to, you know, use some WordPress importers and then make sure that they had access. But then the usernames kinda got messed up. So we had to override usernames cause they were like email addresses, which was not good. And like, yeah. Just so weirdness kind of sucked. And we needed some plugins to hide, or we wanted to hide the profiles. But we also wanted to show them, but we didn’t want everybody to see everybody enlisting. But it was just kind of weird.
So I came across some issues there. But pretty much once everything was set up, you know, it was pretty much, my boy who does the ProsPress, who does the single page checkout for WooCommerce, really that. So how did that end? You basically just sign up, you get access to the course and you get going. We’ve got a bbPress form that I’m using on the backend for all support.
You know, some people email me, but, try to do it through there. And it’s been pretty, pretty good. And so that’s pretty much the full stack, you know, that Wistia embed gets going in every page. So I check on my stats from Wistia, because with LearnDash you could check how many people have completed quizzes or completed sections. But I couldn’t really get a nice, pretty tabbed or like report of how I was really hoping to be able to just view in a graph out of all my population, how far are all the students? Who’s where, and I couldn’t really get that. So I kind of use Wistia for that. It’s not a really good gauge, but it shows the reason I use Wistia is because they have such amazing stats among other things. And so I can see heat maps of how far into videos people have gone. And if you haven’t checked out wistia.com for video, they’re pretty great.
And so I can go there and see, “Oh, this many people have watched this video, these many videos.” And I could get a rough percentage of, “Okay. If only five people have watched this out of 400 students, I kind of have a good gauge of, All right. People haven’t quite caught up to where we are yet. Let’s keep pumping out content” and that sort of thing.
Joe Casabona: Awesome, man. Well, That is a lot, like if you’re looking to set up like an online course, just like grab this podcast and hang on to it because I was taking note.
Zac Gordon: Yeah. Sorry, I just ratted it off. Cause I know if I was on the other end, like Sean from WP 101 has this great blog post on a home podcasting setup with the best equipment and what he’s learned, and that was super helpful. I don’t have all of that stuff may be, yet. But, so in that honor, hopefully, if you’re trying to do the core stuff, this information could be helpful in kind of a dump of everything.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Absolutely. And, the show notes will be full for this. Awesome. We are banging up against time. So, I know we hit on a little bit of the transformation, and a little bit about the future. But I really want to ask you what trade secrets do you have for us? You know, you’ve been developing courses for a while for a bunch of different places. And so, you know, what advice do you have for the listeners?
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Thank you. Well, I really appreciate that. That’s excellent. Zac, this is a great conversation. I could talk to you all day just about everything.
Zac Gordon: Sure. good to know that.
Joe Casabona: Zac, Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you so much to our sponsors BrandBucket and Sucuri.
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And until next time. Get out there, and build something.