Ryan Moore is the co-founder of Uncanny Owl, a digital agency specializing in elearning solutions powered by WordPress. Our WordPress plugins and platforms power over 10,000 elearning websites.
Ryan helps small and medium-sized organizations deliver engaging and cost-effective elearning with WordPress. As an award-winning elearning expert with over 13 years of industry experience, I create compelling online training solutions that achieve measurable results.
Jonathan: Welcome back to the WP-Tonic show. It’s episode 492 and we’ve got a really great guest and I’ve been looking forward to this interview. We’ve got Ryan Moore from uncanny Owl out they are our agency that specializes is in building websites in the e-learning area with Learn-Dash. And I’ve also got my great cohost Adrian with us. So Ryan, would you like to give the listeners and viewers a quick introduction?
Ryan: Sure. I’m a Ryan Moore, I’m one of the founders of Uncanny Owl. We’re a Toronto based e-learning agency. We do a lot with e-learning platform development, specifically with Learn-Dash plugin and we have a number of free and paid plugins available for Learn-Dash as well as some other plugins.
Jonathan: And they’re great plugins I use some of them myself. Before we go into the main part of the interview, I just want to mention a couple of our great sponsors that really help us keep the show going so we can get great guests like Ryan. And our first sponsor is Kinster, I’ve been with Kinster for about three years now. They only specialize in WordPress hosting and I personally think they’re one of the best hosting providers on the market at the present moment. If you’ve got a Woo Commerce site, a e-learning site for yourself or for a client, you need some better hosting than the bulk average that is offered by a lot of other hosting providers. Also, I’ve noticed when I’ve gone to other sites for clients and they’re not using Kinster I think to myself, I just couldn’t go back to what they using.
Jonathan: I’ve gotten used to this really great interface and this really great support that I get from Kinster, which is the best. And they also use Google technology to provide the hosting so it’s some of the best in the world. And it’s really quick. So it’s a win win. So go over to Kinster tell him that you heard about them on the WP Tonic show and you’d be really helping the show. Our second sponsor is–I’ve gone blank. Who is our second sponsor Adrian?
Adrian: Well, there’s usually only two. It’s either Kinster or it’s LaunchFlows.Jonathan: LaunchFlows, thank you.Adrian: You can tell he’s been doing this for a really long time.
Jonathan: Don’t be cruel, I’ve had a morning I’m lucky I’m here. I’m having technical troubles and my eyesight has gone a bit listeners and viewers, so I’ve had multiple malfunctions. So tell me again, what was the second sponsor?Adrian: LaunchFlow?Jonathan: LaunchFlows. I’ve been using LaunchFlows myself. Now this gets precise what it does because you got to use LaunchFlows with WooCommerce and a Lemaitre, and with these two free additional products, you can build some really fantastic funnels. Sales funnels, not only for your WooCommerce sites, but for anything. And it just makes it really, really easy. And visually you can design anything. You’re not limited by a rather ugly library. You can basically produce whatever Jonathan: So go over there and use the coupon code. WPTonicrocks I repeat that WPTonicrocks and you’ll get 25% of their plugin. Well let’s go right into the main part of the interview. So Ryan, you spent almost 20 years in the e-learning online education area. So what made you think that there was a good living to be made or good opportunities in choosing open source and particularly adding functionality to Learn-Dash?
Ryan: Sure. So in terms of the history of Uncanny Owl we got started in 2013 originally we were going to go into building courses for people because that’s what my partner and I had experienced doing. So we started the first couple of months building up a portfolio and we needed a way to showcase it. Again at the time, we didn’t have much WordPress experience, so we built a WordPress site, use Learn-Dash, which was very new at the time to showcase the e-learning courses we were building. And nobody cared about our e-learning courses. They cared about how we were delivering them using this new Learn-Dash system.
Ryan: So Justin at Learn-Dash featured us a bit and started recommending that people use us. So in the beginning, like we wanted to do more with course development, but all of the interest in our company was around the platform. Because no one was doing much in that space at the time.
Ryan: So over the first couple of years, like 2014 to 2017 then we just started bringing on people who actually knew what they were doing, some developers. And using them to help us and collaborate with us on building custom platforms with Learn-Dash and e-learning. So as that kind of grew and we had more projects behind us, then we had this huge portfolio of code and some really strong ideas about did work and what didn’t work on, Learn-Dash sites. Where the gaps were and how we could fill them in.
Ryan: Originally we decided that we’d take some of that code, make it a bit more mature and reusable. And we released a free plugin, the Uncanny Learn-Dash Ryan: At the time it was still about 90% consulting, 10% sales from the product that we had and the product side just kept going. So again, we stopped doing instructional design work, we slowed down on the consulting side and just really focused on the product. So just given the growth of that, it’s more just like looking at where we were seeing the revenue, where we were seeing the interest and it was with Learn-Dash and with the products we were building.That’s kind of how the business evolved into what it is now based around Learn-Dash and some other plugins in the e-learning space.
Jonathan: Over to you Adrian.
Adrian: So you’ve obviously had quite a team over there, yourself and your developers and you have, an extensive list of products. I’m just curious, how come that never manifested itself in your own LMS tool and yet you stick with Learn-Dash with all of this expertise. Is there any particular reason you decided to stick with Ryan: There are a lot of reasons. First Learn-Dash has the market share and the dedicated team to kind of focus on that product. And like we don’t do much with marketing and we’re not very good at it, so we can kind of fill in the gaps with Learn-Dash and we can build things that are maybe more complex or niche than Learn-Dash could that or optional ad-ons.
Ryan: Whereas taking on the entire LMS, then we wouldn’t have the relationships because right now we have a really good relationship with Learn-Dash so it would kind of mess up our products, our current customers that depend on Learn-Dash. For us it’s just been a good fit, like having one company really focused on the core plugin and then we focused on these extras that will benefit some users but not all and can do these things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense in the core plugin itself.
Adrian: So you’ve just really found your niche and you’re happy there.
Ryan: Yeah. Although we have one product, the Uncanny automated product that is a bit different and then it’s not directly tied to Learn-Dash, it supports a number of different LMS plugins. So while we are kind of locked into Learn-Dash, which again in the LMS space does have the market share, does have the right audience for us, it still lets us diversify a bit and still do a lot more with the e-learning and other plugins.
Adrian: So I’m curious, you’ve seen a bunch of new companies coming in purchasing a product and e-learning is like booming right now. I was talking to Chris this morning, Chris, at Lifter LMS not Learn-Dash and he’s telling me that the last month or so has been ridiculously busy as people are trying to sort out their lives at home and figure out something to do. I’m curious, are you seeing any trends in new customers and what kinds of projects that they’re taking on in the e-learning space?
Ryan: Yeah, definitely. So there are a couple of things there. Certainly in terms of demand, it’s way up. Like we kind of have two channels there between consulting work and plugin development, the consulting work, I would say the demand is up, but actual revenues are down. Like there’s more people that that need things done but less capacity to do it and they don’t have the budgets either. At the same time, our product sales are up probably around 40% compared to normal. So definitely it’s a big increase there. The interest and demand for blended learning is also significantly higher.
Adrian: What’s blended learning for those who don’t know?
Ryan: Yeah, sure. So instead of delivering learning through just one channel, like online or in class it’s kind of bridging things together. So especially products like zoom and GoToWebinar, like integration with those to deliver live training online has really surged. We have seen some growth in that space. We’ve done some big integrations, but there’s definitely more opportunity there. Just how to mix self-directed learning with facilitated learning on right now is it’s a big thing that’s growing a lot at the moment.Adrian: So anybody who can really solve that, that integration problem is going to be very busy.
Ryan: Yes they are.
Adrian: I’m assuming you have something going on there right now, if not already.
Ryan: It’s tricky because like we’re not that big a team. There are seven of us full time and two part time. So we wish we were more agile, but at the same time we’ve had to do a lot with our Uncanny automator product over the last month and not as much as we’d like in other areas so we’ll see. There are some other integration products that we’re seeing from other vendors that are interesting, but there’s not much that we’re doing right now in that space.
Adrian: But that’s something that you’re very interested at looking at in the near future?
Ryan: Yeah, because we’ve done a lot of work in the past with GoToWebinar in particular and integration with Learn-Dash. Nothing public. But for some of the big consulting clients we have, that’s a big thing for them and for them right now, that’s kind of what’s keeping them afloat. Ones that depended previously on a lot of revenue from in person sessions and workshops that are now having to turn online. Just having that capability that we built is allowing them to still maintain a business where they could have been in trouble otherwise.Adrian: Before I throw it over back to Jonathan. I just want to talk about one more point on the blended learning thing. I’ve never heard it put that way before, that’s interesting. But for my own personal–I run a couple of courses. One of them is called My Certified Partner course and it’s blended learning. So there’s a prerequisite course that takes a few hours to go through and then we have a biweekly certified partner mastermind that comes after that, which is just a zoom call that everybody hops in.
Adrian: I’m curious to know if you have stats on the percentage of people that experience like the success rate of a customer going through kind of like your standard bare bones. Just like the self-taught education through the course or textbook or whatever versus the success rate of someone who has that blended learning incorporated. Have you seen a significant percentage increase by adding in that aspect?
Ryan: We don’t have numbers. I can’t put anything behind that in terms of metrics. I did actually have an interesting call with someone yesterday who is looking at improving engagement. And that’s a big part of their strategy going forward is, putting in more interventions where there are checks and live sessions just to kind of get the user more involved. But we don’t have data like we can’t do the AB comparison.
Adrian: I suppose it would be pretty difficult to, to to put that together. You’d need a very large sample size. But I was just curious if you’ve seen a trend maybe in your own courses. You don’t do much in that area though anymore.
Ryan: We don’t create our own courses. We’re always just using other people’s courses. Yeah.
Adrian: Okay. Jonathan?
Jonathan: Yeah, I feel I’ll go for a break. We’ll come back and we’re discussing with Ryan he’s got an amazing amount of experience in the e-learning area, so we’re going to delve in some great additional topics. We’ll be back in a few moments’ folks.Announcer: Are you a WordPress consultant, designer or small digital agency owner? Then you need WP-Tonic as your trusted white label developer partner for your next big e-learning or WooCommerce project. WP-Tonic has the knowledge to help you build out custom functionality that your clients need and Learn-Dash Lifter LMS and WooCommerce. WP-Tonic is well known and trusted in the WordPress community. They stand behind their work with a full no question asked 30 day money back guarantee. So don’t delay find out how WP-Tonic’s white label services can help your agency today. Go to wp-tonic.com homepage and book a free consultation with Jonathan. That’s wp-tonic. Just like the podcast
Jonathan: We’re coming back, it’s all about e-learning and WordPress. So Ryan what are some of the– you know you worked with her quite a few clients. What do you think are a couple of the fundamental mistakes that clients make that you’ve seen a general pattern when they’re looking at that building an e-learning course?Ryan: I don’t know about in the course level. Let me talk about at the business level though because we definitely see trends in terms of the success and viability of a business. We’ve done a few hundred projects with clients directly now consulting projects. The ones that tend to do well are the ones that have a very clear plan and proven track record. So we get a lot of people that come to us and say, I have this really great idea. I know this is going to work. I’m expecting 10,000 students. And as soon as I see that and just like they have the high level requirements but they have no data behind it. As soon as I see that, then I know the project is not going to work.
Ryan: Like, it’s not going to be someone that we take on. So like the best projects and the businesses that really do well they’ve identified this gap. They know the opportunities there. They’ve already talked to customers, they have a clear plan for implementation. They have the budget in place. Like they already know it’s going to work basically because they’ve done the research and they’ve talked to their customers. That’s the biggest thing that we see is that, they have this proven need. They’ve identify the problem and they know how to solve it. They come in with strong ideas.
Jonathan: So that’s interesting. So a realistic budget in 2020 I know it’s a difficult question, but what do you think, if you’re launching a course the first time, but you’ve got the signs that you know what you’re doing, what do you think is a realistic budget?Ryan: That is really broad because on our side too, we’re only looking at the platform. We’re not looking at course development, course development can be huge.
Jonathan: I’m looking for a very, very rough number. Ryan: Yeah. So like even in terms of rough numbers people are turning to a lot of times like a WordPress LMS or Learn-Dash or something in that space because they want something simpler and faster. Um, so the authoring, like if we’re talking about the authoring first, then maybe they can spend only 25 hours or something per hour of content getting something out. Whereas you’re authoring with something like captivate story-line like Torah, which are popular e-learning authoring tools and it can be, you know, 150 hours per hour of content.
Ryan: So you can speed up development that way. But still like a realistic time is it’s still pretty high. Like you can be looking at well over 50 hours per hour of online Adrian: You don’t have a business just by installing LMS?Ryan: No, you definitely do not. And then on our side when we’re looking at platforms like our audience, if we only take projects on that are extremely complex, so they tend to have big budgets anyway. Like generally when we’re looking, even if we’re looking at developers with maybe less experience, they’re offshore or something like that, we still still see kind of custom Learn-Dash or Lifter or whatever sites start at maybe around 5,000 USD is kind of the budget that we’d expect.
Jonathan: What I don’t understand is the amount of hours. And what’s a really red flag is when they want what I call, they want to build out these war and peace multi-courses and they want to put in there like 20 lessons and they want to do this because they think that provides value. But they have no conception of the amount of hours, they’re going to have to put in. So it’s best to look for small initial course, isn’t it?Ryan: It is, definitely. I think speed to market is really important too. So if you can get something live and get a course in there and start attracting customers, it’s going to help out compared to doing everything at once and having
Adrian: It’s also speed to results. If you have like as Jonathan mentioned, war and peace and your thing is like 25 lessons and each lesson is like three hours, then the total amount of times 150 hours or is it, I don’t know, 75 hours or whatever it is for the actual customer to actually experience any sort of transformative results. So if you’re spending all of that time on that course and all that content, if the customer doesn’t, especially in a B2C market, in a business to customer market, if the customer isn’t receiving the value within like the first like two or three lessons that you’ve already lost, like potential revenue going forward because they’re just going to abandon. Ryan: Yeah.
Jonathan: The other thing is unrealistic timelines. Let’s say your first course got one course with 12 lessons and it’s your first attempt at this. What would your advice be of a realistic timeline from initial conceptual idea to actually having a live website that can take revenue?
Ryan: Generally speaking, like if there’s an element of customization to the platform there is a developer behind it as well as say there’s a dedicated instructional designer or it’s the person offering the course themselves. Minimum time we’d see is still four weeks. But there are tons of projects we do that they’ve just gone on for years. We have a lot of customers where I would say they do underestimate what it’s going to take and they do, bite of more than they can chew. Because it’s very common with e-learning projects that we see for just for the platform to be ready way too soon for the content and then they get kind of out of sync.Ryan: Anyway, I think it’s hard for people that are just doing this for the first time to plan what it’s going to take and the time it’s going to take and it’s a lot. And, yeah we do see things go overboard.
Jonathan: I personally think if you’ve just got one course with 12 lessons and you got somebody like yourselves or you got WP-Tonic advising you. You know, three months it seem like a lot of time, but from beginning to end you’d be lucky to get it all done in three months. But I think that is achievable.
Ryan: It is. Like for non-consulting projects we do have another product called Uncanny LP, which is basically like a pre-built Learn-Dash platform that people can jump into. When we see people go into that, this is like taking the platform development outside, so excluding that since it’s already done except for some design work. Even then I think the minimum time we’ve had for people to take the site live and that’s with the platform being ready is four weeks.
Ryan: For us when we were still doing a fair bit of consulting, average project time was about three months. If it was any more than about four months, then we divided into multiple phases and try to go live after the first one and then tackle some of the more complex functionality later on. So that at least something was out there and they could do something with it.
Jonathan: Because even if you got in quite a bit of industry experience there’s nothing like getting those first group of students in to learn about the areas that you’ve got to really improve, is there?
Ryan: Yeah, definitely. And the testing is important. I think that’s overlooked too you kind of mentioned that. We don’t see enough e-learning sites that do significant user testing before they launch to the public. And it can be a hugely valuable source of information. Just getting feedback from people that can provide it and just making sure nothing’s broken. It makes sense it flows well, there’s enough engagement like facilitator intervention where there needs to be. So yeah, it’s not even just getting it out the door. It’s making sure that you launch with something that’s usable and that people find value in.
Jonathan: Over to you Adrian.
Adrian: Just before we start talking about the– you mentioned that you don’t work with anybody who comes in and says, I’m expecting 10,000 students and I want this up by the end of the week and I have this great idea. Do you think that COVID has kind of brought those people out of the woodwork and that’s where a lot of the surge is coming from? Because all of the dreamers are essentially getting online because they have nothing better to do is that the surge?Ryan: Yeah, they are. At the same time we are a bit of an anomaly because even though we have contact forms on our site, we have like big warning saying we are not taking on new projects, please do not contact us. People still do. We still get like one or two a day. But from what I’m seeing, like Learn-Dash has a very active Facebook group. So what I’m seeing there as well as from the inquiries that do come in is that yes, there’s way more interest in people thinking they can do something now they have the time.
Ryan: At the same time, like people that are actually doing development, so Competent Learn-Dash, Lifter and other developers that are really strained right now. So typically, even when we weren’t taking on projects, we would refer them out. But then I’m seeing like from those people, please don’t refer anything else out, we don’t have capacity. So it’s just like there are too many people that want to do this and like a lot of them do have really great ideas and a vision for it, but there aren’t enough developers right now. So yeah, the demand is way up and the capacity is just not there right now either.
Adrian: So is there an opportunity or a solution or are we just going to have to wait it out?
Ryan: Right now we are waiting it out. Back when we started doing a lot of work with Learn-Dash, we were one of the only ones in the space. There was us and really a company in India called wisdom labs that were kind of the bigger players in Learn-Dash consulting. Whereas now there are hundreds that are
Ryan: So it’s still growing and I think the growth is good. It’s there to meet demand. It’s definitely harder to assess how to find a good developer right now. And the ones that we know that are good their time is very limited.
Adrian: Is the search temporary?
Ryan: I think it might be. I don’t know we’ll see if there’s a general shift. It’s hard to say like everyone’s clamoring for a right now, but if things change like in August, September, I think demand will go down a bit. Yes.
Adrian: All the dreamers will go back to doing whatever they were doing before.
Ryan: I think a lot of them are going to be disappointed and disheartened right now just because it’s hard to find the support that they need. So I think that is going to turn some people away. I think again, capacity will grow, but I don’t know if it’ll be enough. And yeah, once things do return a bit more to normal, I think it’ll go down. Like I’m not expecting our sales in particular to be this high through the summer, through September. But we’ll see.
Adrian: We’ll see.
Jonathan: Yeah, we will. So we’re about 25 minutes into the interview. I think we’re wrapping up and we’ll go on to bonus content. You’re all right for staying on for
Ryan: Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll do anything you want.
Jonathan: So Ryan what’s the best way for people to contact you and find out more about you, your company and your services?
Ryan: Sure. If anyone wants to find out more about our plugins or products, the best way to contact us is you can visit our websites on uncannyowl.com and automaterplugin.com or send an email to [email protected]
Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. And Adrian, how can people find out more about you? What you’re up to? I think you’ve got a new version coming up as well, of Groundhogg, haven’t you?
Adrian: Yeah, I do. 2.2 is on its way and we’ve completely overhauled our reporting dashboard that will rival even the most comprehensive of software to service platforms.
Jonathan: Yeah you’ve done it I saw you on Facebook.
Adrian: So we’re really excited for that. Lots of data to look at and some serious actionable insight into the way that your email marketing performs. Which can seriously help you if you are in the process of building a learning management platform and you’re trying to keep people engaged with your content as well as get new people engage with your content. We can certainly help with that. Go to Groundhog with two g’s.io (groundhogg.io) We actually have a course dedicated to marketing strategies for learning management companies and that’s available at academy.groundhogg.io with two g’s.io.
Jonathan: I’m going to be asking Ryan what he thinks of the SAS competition like Kajabi and a couple of the others. Are they trying to sell themselves as being a lot easier than WordPress? And also going to be asking him in the next year, what does he see as some leading trends in the learning area? I’ve got some opinions, so they’re a couple of questions that I’m going to be asking Ryan. We’ll be back next week with a healthier version of me and hopefully less technical trouble. Thanks for my cohost Adrian. He’s been a blast. He’s helped me out this morning. Ryan’s been forgivable. But I think we’ve covered some interesting topics. We’ll be back next week with another fantastic guest. We’ll see you soon folks. Bye.
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