Masterclass.com: Learning from the celebrities

The fashion billionaire Diane von Furstenberg sits in her perfectly lit loft and brushes henna-colored curls from her face. Softly strum their bangles. In the background are a cream-colored couch with zebra print pillows, a huge self-portrait hangs on the wall. “Instagram gives your brand a visible voice,” she says. “You can use this voice for your brand as often as you want and where you want to go – it’s fun, take this chance, develop an online personality, it’s about visual discipline, day after day, post for mail, here you can show your creativity, it’s your business card and your window to the world, use it, the more authentic you are, the better. ”

In 16 lessons, the 71-year-old entrepreneur teaches on masterclass.com how to build a fashion brand – through product development, market research, brand DNA, brand loyalty, how to network with their customers, how to get social media – especially Instagram – right uses, and how to deal with failures. Later in the class, two young fashion designers, Catherine and Danny, present their first portfolios, some of them sobbing with excitement and receiving a portfolio review from their famous teacher in front of the camera.

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Prominent teachers and high-quality content produced

Diane von Furstenberg is one of over 30 mostly American superstars who pass on their skills in online classes on masterclass.com. For 100 euros you get a lifetime access to a class. For 210 euros, customers can view all classes for a year by subscription, download course books and interact with students worldwide. A young handbag designer from Jakarta, for example, reflects on her entrepreneurial intentions in the “Student Community” of the Fürstenberg course and introduces her “Da’poza” brand to classmates.

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Lesson 6 from Diane von Furstenberg’s Masterclass: “Building Your Brand DNA” (Image: masterclass.com)

Many students ask teachers questions in Q & A sessions. And the concept apparently works: Although a direct interaction with the teachers is not possible. But her lessons are inspirational, fun and high-quality; to the German subtitles, which are useful in Fürstenberg’s tailor-made terms such as “stitching”, “Hemming” and “Duchesse-Satin”.

The Masterclass founder is an investment professional

What makes the company better than other e-learning start-ups? The CEO and co-founder of Masterclass, 35-year-old David Rogier, is a full-time founder: He started and sold his first company, a search engine, as a student. Then he opened supermarkets in the US for British retailer Tesco. After his Stanford MBA, he worked for a VC as an investor. And when he wanted to start something, but did not know what exactly, gave him his ex-chief half a million dollars in the hand and let him do.

Rogier entered the digital learning market and often tells why. His grandmother had fled from the Nazis in 1939 from Poland, emigrated to the United States and unsuccessfully applied to 50 universities before she was finally taken to one, studied medicine and became a pediatrician. She told him: Education is something nobody can take away from you.

Equal pay for all stars

Rogier talks a lot about Masterclass marketing strategies; for example, pricing on both the supply and demand side. To get the stars to teach a master class, Rogier hired a lawyer from the entertainment industry. He explained what superstar agents supposedly valued: not the highest possible fee, but a fair deal. And that’s why before the launch in May 2015, Masterclass set an equal fee for all teachers, consisting of an advance and a revenue share.

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The home page of masterclass.com with NBA star Stephen Curry as testimonial (Image: masterclass.com)

Although David Rogier publicly does not give precise figures, according to industry services, celebrities receive $ 100,000 in fees (around € 86,000) and an additional 30 percent of their class’s revenue. In addition, Rogier says they retain control over their course content, coursework, public relations and marketing. “The stars really want to teach and share their knowledge,” said Rogier in a conversation with podcaster Natha Latka. “They could earn a lot more money in other ways.”

The world-famous teachers are now recruiting each other

The first three teachers were actor Dustin Hoffman, bestselling author James Patterson and tennis player Serena Williams. Rogier, who grew up in Los Angeles, is silent about how he lured the first superstars. “Honestly, we’ve been persistent, called many people, had good advisors, a few connections and happiness,” he says in an early interview. He also knew the daughter of Dustin Hoffman.

It is clear that masterclass.com was successful from scratch. Since then, the teachers even recruited each other. When British star and television chef Gordon Ramsay had finished his classes, he sent a thank-you note to Rogier and immediately set his friend David in CC, who now urgently wanted to appear in such an e-learning class – to Rogier’s delight David Beckham. In the meantime, the famous teachers also market their own courses, they talk about it in interviews and talk shows, they tweet and post the trailers to their courses.

User interviews, surveys, test sites and ongoing data analysis

Also the price determination on demand side, with the pupils, went the start-up according to own data thoroughly. Rogier: “We tested so much.” Because the launch cost of the first courses was so high, they could not have blundered. Which teachers should you choose? What should those who teach what learning content teach? Masterclass has integrated data analysis into the creative process of the class content and works like two companies: on the one hand like a Silicon Valley start-up with its quantitative analyzes, on the other hand like a Hollywood dream factory that entertainingly sells a “democratic approach to genius” and I want everyone to learn from the best.

According to Rogier, the biggest difference between a tech company and a content company is how it achieves product quality. Tech start-ups tried to work as lean as they could, following the motto “move fast and break things” and gradually improving their products after the launch, depending on the market’s response. For a creative production company in the film world who values ​​its brand, such an approach would be too risky. She produces a film every two years without a second chance to improve the product. Everything should be perfect when the film starts. Masterclass works like a movie production company, but according to digital premises: “We’re pushing tech on it,” says David Rogier.

Low customer acquisition costs of masterclass.com

Masterclass relies on user interviews, surveys and ongoing data analysis, set up a large number of test pages in advance and tried social media test ads. The first day after the launch of masterclass.com in May 2015, he had cried in disappointment at the sales, Rogier told an investor. He had hoped for much higher sales because he had assumed daily falling numbers of new customers.

His marketing chief, who previously led the paid advertising department at Netflix, was delighted. “Have you seen how low the customer acquisition costs are on all courses? It’s going to be a giant business!” He shouted to Rogier. The company would have spent less than $ 100,000 on the launch day – equivalent to about € 86,000 – for paid ads. All channels worked well and the sales figures remained stable in the days following the launch. An obvious reason for the success of masterclass.com with Paid Advertising: The prominent teachers serve as driving forces, increase the interest and drive up the performance and the commitment. A Facebook ad featuring a short clip by Stephen Curry, who promises to improve “shooting, ball-handling and scoring,” had nearly five million views, 6,500 shares, and 29,000 likes at the beginning of the year. The success of such ads should also pay since the beginning of the growth of the Facebook page (currently almost two million fans).

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A Facebook video ad from masterclass.com starring NBA star Stephen Curry (Image: masterclass.com)

Is masterclass.com planning an exit?

“Masterclass.com is the first mover in the market for premium online courses, and I want to defend that position,” says Rogier. A total of 56 million US dollars, just over 50 million euros, the company has collected in three investment rounds so far. It has just launched an iOS app and digital gift certificates. The company publishes customer numbers as well as sales, profits and losses. Also on its reputation Masterclass is considered: The critically acclaimed acting classes by Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey removed the company after the long-standing harassment reproaches of the two noiselessly from the program. David Rogier imagines that one day, when online and offline learning have long since merged, masterclass.com is inspirational education. When asked if he would sell the company for $ 300 million (about 257 million euros), he just says, “No way.”

This article first appeared on the Online Marketing Rockstars.

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