Course Lab – Episode 85
Revenge of the Nerd (Steve Kamb) Transcript
Abe Crystal: I think that’s why he’s able to build a community where people really support each other is because there’s a culture around it. And it’s very different from what I see a lot of people trying to do with community, which is more just kind of adding community as like a functionality on top of content you’re providing.
Ari Iny: Hello and welcome to Course Lab, the show that teaches creators like you how to make better online courses. I’m Ari Iny, the Director of Growth at Mirasee, and I’m here with my co-host, Abe Crystal, the co-founder of Ruzuku. Hey, Abe!
Abe Crystal: Hey there, Ari!
Ari Iny: In each episode of Course Lab, we showcase a course and creator who is doing something really interesting, either with the architecture of their course, or the business model behind it or both. Today, we welcome Steve Kamb to the show. Steve Kamb is the founder of Nerd Fitness, a community of nerds and coaches dedicated to healthy living. We’re really glad to have you on the show, Steve.
Steve Kamb: Great to see you guys and super excited to be here.
Ari Iny: Awesome. So to kick us off, could you give us kind of a 30, 000 foot view of yourself and your business and kind of how you’ve come to the world of online courses?
Steve Kamb: Yeah, so, I was lovingly raised by two parents and a Nintendo Entertainment System, and spent the majority of my childhood escaping into games and books and movies, and also, just a big fan of running around outdoors and pretending like I was Link from The Legend of Zelda. I think I even wrote a sequel to a video game at some point because I thought that was very important to do.
So, this was the majority of my childhood and my upbringing, and spent most of that time also just assumed that I was always going to be the scrawny weak individual, and that was my genetics, and that was my identity, and that’s kind of the path I was on. And then I learned how to eat right and pick up heavy things and quickly learned that the story I had been telling myself was just factually inaccurate. So, I spent a few years getting healthier, getting stronger, building confidence. And realized there wasn’t really a home online for people like me, people that were interested in learning how to get fit, but felt super self-conscious about going to a big box gym.
So, I thought about this and I was like, well, how do I help beginners that are like me? And I Googled nerd and fitness, and nothing popped up. So I was like, all right, I guess we’ll do that. So I bought nerdfitness.com. This is way back in 2007 when I bought that domain. So this is like before being nerdy was cool and before Marvel blew up and before Disney acquired Star Wars, I think. So I wasn’t capitalizing on a trend. I’m just a huge dork that happens to love helping people not make all the mistakes I did.
So, I just started writing articles in my spare time. I wrote articles about how to do your first push up, and how to read a nutrition label. But also, like, life lessons from Harry Potter, or the lessons we can learn from Captain America, and managed to build an audience just by kind of nerding out about the things that I loved and helping people level up their lives, as I like to say at Nerd Fitness.
So, that kind of how it started and put my head down and wrote a whole bunch of articles for a long time and accidentally turned it into this large company with a bunch of employees and a big community and have gone to run the gambit of eBooks, to online courses, to now apps, and in-person events, and online coaching, and pretty much everything in between. So it’s been quite the journey. 15 years in internet land feels like a hundred. I’ve gone through multiple transformations for the business as the times have changed.
And also, I personally have gone through tons of transformations as well. I’m certainly not the same person I was 15 years ago that I am today and have learned so many lessons about, not only myself, but how to build a business and how to take care of a community and give them the tools and services they need to help themselves live better lives.
Ari Iny: Awesome. So is the main work that you do with people through coaching? Is it through online courses? You mentioned an app. Like how does everything integrate together?
Steve Kamb: Sure. So when I started, like many people, I very much had a starving artist mentality. I had written articles for probably two years. There was no ads on the site, so it was 100% free content, giving it away. And people just continually kept coming to me and saying like, “I just want you to tell me what to do.”
So eventually, I worked up the courage, and I made an e book, and I think I priced it at $29. And I was terrified that everybody was going to call me a sellout, and nobody was going to like me anymore, and that it was going to ruin this pure, creative thing that I had built. And the opposite happened, actually. I had tons of people who bought it who said something like, “I don’t even need this. There’s no other way for me to support what you’re doing, so I just bought your eBook.
So my business has actually kind of evolved over the years. So the first iteration of Nerd Fitness or in nerd language, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that was phase one. Phase one of Nerd Fitness was eBooks. And those eBooks, when it was just me, I put out I think three of them. And after those, for a few years, I think technology started to get a little better and realizing how much of Nerd Fitness was visual, it wasn’t just reading words, but it was also watching videos of exercise demonstrations.
And so it’s maybe three, four years into the journey, we move into phase two of Nerd Fitness. And that was online courses. And in that instance, people seem to want more video. They want a more guided experience instead of just read this book from page 1 to page 200. It was, “Hey, I have these questions, or this is the equipment that I have.” So my brain started to formulate, like, what else could we do to help people and how does that change?
And that ultimately resulted in what we call the Nerd Fitness Academy. And that was our online course experience. And that was when things really changed that went from thousands of dollars a month. And that was for the eBooks that were just consistently selling. And because it was a brand new course, I was like; I don’t know if people are going to like this. We’ll open it up for a few days and we’ll close it. And then we’ll get everybody’s experiences and results and see how that goes.
And I think we ended up doing over six figures in that one week. And it was me and maybe one or two other employees at the time. And to say I was shocked and I guess head exploding was probably the best way to explain it. All of a sudden it was like, “Oh my gosh. This is actually now business. That’s a real business.” And we have thousands of customers now.
And for that next handful of years, it was the Nerd Fitness Academy, which was just basic health and wellness; here’s how to get started eating; here’s how to get started with exercise. If you have access to a gym, here’s a series of workouts. If you have access to just equipment at home or no equipment, here’s a completely different set of exercises. So it almost became like choose your own fitness adventure for this Nerd Fitness Academy.
That was like a good five, six years of Nerd Fitness. And I think we ended up, I want to say over 50, 000 customers have bought the Nerd Fitness Academy online course. And since then, we’ve switched into a more of a paid community model where we have what’s called now Nerd Fitness Prime. There is a yet access to all of those previous courses that we made, but we also have a superhero habit building app. There’s an online private community. And all of that is for a fairly inexpensive annual fee.
And then we also have a one-on-one online coaching and that has largely become the biggest part of Nerd Fitness as it exists today. This is probably phase three or phase four. I guess each one of these phases is a little hazy looking back, but each one of them has been transformative for us as a business and for me as a person, just being like, Oh, this unlocked a completely different level of business, but also just a completely different level of problems and expectations and challenges. So I am perpetually learning what works and what doesn’t and how I can best serve the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, which is what we call our community.
Ari Iny: Awesome. So tell us a little bit more about that decision shifting from only online courses to essentially more direct communication with your customers and creating community and all these additional pieces. Like what was the decision making process going from this lower touch offering to this higher touch piece?
Steve Kamb: Well, I think each evolution of Nerd Fitness, the business has evolved as my experience with the community and how we help people has evolved, too. The way I help people and the way that my personal philosophies around how to help people has certainly changed as well. So, for 15 years of continuing education, kind of realized that like, hey, not everybody is going to fit into one narrow bandwidth.
And at the time for me, it was, you should probably strength train. You should probably go low carb. And don’t run because you’re probably going to get injured. And that was like the prescriptive format that worked for people. And we got tons of success stories, but there was also tons of people that loved the Nerd Fitness that were like, yeah, but I kind of want to run a 5k. They were like, I’m a vegetarian for any number of reasons, but I love this website.
And realizing that we were helping people, but we were helping such a smaller band of people in a very narrow way, we were leaving people behind. And one of the rules of the rebellion at Nerd Fitness is we never leave our wingman; wingman or wingwoman or wingperson. So we were leaving people behind. And that evolution with the online courses was, hey, here’s an opportunity for us to create some more individualized help.
This could be, do you have access to a gym? Are you interested in running? What are your restrictions around food? And we created kind of pathways or almost like a syllabus for different types of people to move through these online courses. And even then, we still struggled with you can only do so much with a course. There is something, especially in health and fitness, and really everywhere in life, to be said about accountability, being a part of a community.
So our courses always had that online component. And like I said, 50,000 customers joined Nerd Fitness, paid for these courses. The challenge we ran into was twofold. There was one on the business side and one on just like the personal; I want to feel really good about myself and the work that I’m doing side. On that side, it was, we’re still leaving people behind and I want to be able to help the people that are not self-starters. You have people that, maybe they’re a single mom with three kids, or they’ve been on diets for the majority of their life because their mom brought them to Weight Watchers when they were 12.
There’s these other scenarios in which these people then might not succeed in an online course scenario without a community or accountability and feel like they’re failing. And the reality is like, it’s probably just not the right method for them to learn. So from that aspect, we have these people in our community that are looking and craving and desperate for more higher touch opportunities.
Their lives are changing. They want to be able to ask questions directly to somebody else. They want somebody to be able to check their form on an exercise. They want somebody to keep them accountable with how they’re eating. They want to feel like they’re supported. And that’s where this idea for our online coaching program came together.
And interestingly, we launched the coaching program before we actually had the program built. We sent an email out to people that had bought our academy and said, “Hi, we have two coaches on our team, coach Jim and coach Stacy. And each of them are going to be taking 30 coaching clients for an online high touch, higher price experience. If this is something you’re interested in, please fill out this application, and we’ll get back to you.” And I think we had like hundreds of people fill out applications.
And it was like, oh, okay, this is going better than expected. So quick, we need to build this out. We need to get the technology up and running. We’ll get our guinea pigs. We need to identify which other employees or future coaches could be a part of this. So that was one thing.
And on the business side of things, our course is, you paid once, you got access to it for the rest of your life, which was a great model for building goodwill and karma. And the courses, we improved them multiple times. People got updated versions of them forever. At the same time, as a business model, people pay you once and they’ve have access forever, you then are essentially spending all of your time not serving your customers. You’re spending all of your time finding the next batch of 10, 000 customers. So the business model, it was all marketing and there was less effort that we could, as a very, very small team, could go into making the product better.
So the eventual shift to this recurring model, it’s like a hundred bucks for the year, gets you access to all of the courses, gets you access to this habit building app, the online community, et cetera. At least now, we have this recurring core group of people that we can improve the experience in certain areas or they get the chance to be a part of something that we’re continually adding to when it comes to the app or the experience.
And then, with our coaching program, that’s ongoing and monthly as well. So that way, people can stay for as little or as long as they want based on their experiences. We’ve been doing it now for years. There’s no cancellation fee. You can just cancel whenever you want. And I think our average client stays something like 11 months and something that we’re really, really proud of. And we’ve had some clients that have been with us literally since day one and are still with us 3, 4, 5 years later. So our coaching has really evolved with each client and it’s really high touch and individualized.
Ari Iny: Awesome.
Abe Crystal: Well, if we could talk a little bit more about the details, like some of the implementation, because I think people listening are familiar, for example, with the idea that it can be difficult for people to progress through a course or a curriculum in certain contexts. And so, some of the techniques that we talk about for dealing with that include community and accountability, which you mentioned. And so the challenge often, I think for course creators is not understanding that conceptually, it’s actually implementing those approaches and getting them to work. So how have you gotten accountability to work in practice and what has been your approach to community as well?
Steve Kamb: Sure. I mean, it’s challenging. I’ll also share off the bat that Nerd Fitness almost accidentally became a search engine optimized, driven coaching company with dozens of employees and 20 plus coaches. And I learned that that is not my strong suit, being a CEO of such an experience. So I essentially demoted myself last year to head of marketing. And I was in that role for about two months, and then I realized I sucked at that, too. So demoted myself out of that role as well.
I’ll say that my skill set is probably not in course development. It’s certainly in being, I guess, lack of a better term, almost like the fearful leader of Nerd Fitness or reluctant leader of Nerd Fitness. So, the thing that we found from a community perspective that has worked really well for us has been just a private Facebook group. We recently opened it up to people that are already in the Nerd Fitness community that are interested in learning more about it. We also do semi-regular challenges in that Facebook group to get people re-engaged if they’ve maybe dipped out.
With our habit building app, we have what are called Adventures in that app. And every handful of months, there will be an adventure that the entire community can start and go on together at the same time. We even had some community adventures where everybody’s working towards the same goal collectively. So we had this adventure where there was a hypothetical or a fictional asteroid about to hit Earth. And we had this giant laser that was going to shoot it out of the sky, but we needed everybody to go for a run every day to help charge up the battery to shoot this laser at the asteroid. Again, super nerdy for Nerd Fitness.
But all of a sudden it was, hey, everybody’s working on this goal together and everybody’s contribution, whether it was for five minutes or somebody that went for a walk or run every single day, they could feel like they were contributing towards this overall goal. So that’s something that has been really enjoyable for us. And the people that get into it really, really love it. And it’s the opportunity to be part of something and be part of something bigger than themselves and feel like they’re not alone on this journey.
I think that’s a part of Nerd Fitness that is fairly unique. And we hear it more often than not, people will say something like I feel like I found my new home. And that just warms my soul. So for community, helping them not feel alone and providing a place for them to get support.
We have very specific rules about what you can share; making sure that this community is protected. We’re here to help you and we’re here to create the experience so that you can have the obstacles that are in your way removed, so that you can start to build the habits around going for a walk every day or considering going to therapy, whatever it may be. Like all these avenues, we wanted a safe place for people to talk about them.
And then, from the other perspective, because we do these challenges regularly, and how we talk about things at Nerd Fitness, we call it like respawning. So in a video game, when you die, you respawn and you get to try again. We’ve kind of turned that into a battle cry or almost like words of courage where a lot of people, especially in the online space, I think it’s called the abstinence violation effect.
And that’s when somebody misses a day of maybe it’s a running club or a book club, they miss a day and they feel so badly about it that they then don’t come back the next day because they’re worried how people are going to treat them. And then that only compounds the problem. And then the next day, they skip again and they don’t come back. And then all of a sudden, it’s been a month and they’re like, there’s no way I could go back now. What will people think?
So at Nerd Fitness, we call it respawning. It happens all the time. It’s like, hey, I’m respawning again. Like, cool. Welcome back to the fight. What are we working on and how can we support you? So kind of removing that stigma from the, oh my god, I missed a day. So a lot of it has been around, how do we make people not feel left behind and how do we make them feel like they can jump back in without shame, guilt, without feeling badly about themselves because that can only really compound the problem.
Abe Crystal: So, yeah, that’s great on the community side. Any tips on accountability? What are strategies you found effective there? And how do you balance providing accountability with not being overbearing or come across as overly intrusive?
Steve Kamb: Yeah. I mean, there’s only so much we can do, obviously, for a hundred bucks for the year for a community of thousands and thousands and thousands. I can share that for our coaching clients, and those are the people that we might say, hey, look, if you’ve tried the online thing and it doesn’t seem to work for you, like that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. That just might mean that that method might not be what’s right for you. There was something to be said about having an expert curate a specific method to walk you through a journey. I think that’s unbelievably valuable.
So for Nerd Fitness and accountability, that opportunity for coaching is a way for some people who might want more accountability, but they want accountability their way. So for the accountability at Nerd Fitness, it truly is customized. Some people do need “tough love.” The majority of people are the toughest critics to themselves. So we provide what we like to call like non-judgmental accountability. We help people that need that nudge, but we do so in a way that is not guilt-tripping and not shame-inducing and not overbearing.
Abe Crystal: That’s great. Thank you.
Ari Iny: One quick question. So the membership, you kept mentioning that it’s an annual fee. So it’s only annual, there isn’t a monthly?
Steve Kamb: Oh, that’s a great question. I think there might be a quarterly option, but we priced it in such a way that the annual option is almost, like I said, a no brainer. I think the majority of people take us up on that offer.
Ari Iny: Interesting. Cool. Thank you. Any last tips or thoughts you want to share with our listeners before we wrap up?
Steve Kamb: My big thing is when we built our course, it was ugly. When we launched our coaching program, we used a shared Evernote folder and text messaging. Now we have like custom coaching software. Our app is a custom built app. But if you’re providing unbelievable experience, I think, especially if it’s like, hey, we’re trying this new thing and we want you to be a part of it. And you can get people in to be help and say like, we need your help shaping this thing, that goes a really, really, really long way to making people feel like they’re part of something and they want to support and be a part of it.
I think video games do this really, really well. They call it early access, or you can get the beta version of a game. And you pay a less rate and you get the game that is wonky and broken. But what they learn from you playing the game in that stage is what helps make the future version of it successful. So I think it’s really easy to say like, oh, I don’t have the right software, so I can’t launch it yet. We’ve certainly done things where you build a product or a service and you deck it out and you launch it. And then you learn that nobody actually wanted it.
I think you’re much better off getting to know your audience and not just saying like, hey, if we were to offer something like this, would you buy it? I, instead, would literally get the bare minimum version of it together and put it up for sale and say like, hey, we’re going to be starting this next month. We’re all going to be going through it together. And if not enough people buy it, then say like, no problem.
Like, hey, we decided to change things and we’re going to redo it at a future date and then refund everybody’s money. But the majority of things that I’ve launched that have been successful is because I almost launched it before it was ready. And then I went out of my way to over deliver, in every other way possible, so that any technical hiccups didn’t get in the way.
And one final thing I’ll share is you get really good at learning the people that are excited to be a part of it and understand that you can’t work miracles with a $100 online course. And it’s okay to tell the people that are literally expecting miracles and to solve all of their problems that this might not be the course for them. And it might not be the community for them. We are very quick with our version of Mjolnir, our version of the banhammer for people that are disruptive. We, as employees, take our mental health seriously.
Our community, that’s a really big, important thing for us. And we gladly refund people’s money who is not a great fit for what we do and what we offer. I think that’s something that we are proud of. We’re doing this to help our group of people.
Ari Iny: Awesome. I love those pieces and I feel like there’s a lot of really important stuff there. So thank you for those. So where can our listeners learn more about Nerd Fitness and about you?
Steve Kamb: Yeah, pretty easy. I mean, if you go to nerdfitness.com, there is tons and tons and tons of free resources. We also have an email list and I write our emails that come out every Monday that I’m really proud of. I explore a lot of stuff beyond just how to do a push up. And today’s post is about like my history with going to therapy and why mental health is so important. Next week, I think we’re talking about toxic positivity versus acceptance. So we really dive into a lot of the mental behavioral stuff alongside the nuts and bolts of getting fit.
So that’s all at nerdfitness.com. And then you can find me individually at Steve Kamb, S-T-E-V-E-K-A-M-B, on Instagram, Twitter, threads. We’re pretty much anywhere on the internet. I’m probably there at that username.
Ari Iny: Awesome. And for what it’s worth, I’ve been reading Steve’s emails for a very long time, and I highly recommend them. Thank you so, so much, Steve. This has been awesome.
Abe Crystal: Yeah, I really appreciate it.
Danny Iny: Now stick around for my favorite part of the show, where Abe and Ari will pull out the best takeaways for you to apply to your course.
Abe Crystal: All right, Ari, it is time for the debrief. It’s going to be tricky to compress this one down since Steve had so much to share.
Ari Iny: He did. I found there were a lot of really interesting pieces, but something that really stood out to me is kind of that understanding and that kind of taking into account ahead of time of the whole idea of respawning and just that people will fall off. And so them kind of making it part of their process, I mean, kind of calling it out, allowing people to jump back in, making it very easy for people to jump back in, I find that really interesting and I feel like in a lot of courses, it starts whenever it starts. And then if someone falls off, they fell off. They should have kept up and that’s it. As opposed to keeping in mind and thinking about how can I facilitate, how can I make sure that it’s easy for people to get back in and to actually complete the course and complete whatever outcomes or goals they have.
Abe Crystal: Yeah. He spoke about the importance of accountability and that’s one side of it, right? But the other side is making it easy to engage. If you have accountability, but people are just pushing up against these areas of friction, it’s difficult for them to do anything, right? Whether that’s just simple things, like getting access to content or more complex things like engaging in the community or accessing certain types of techniques, then the accountability is not going to be effective, right? It’s going to fizzle out, essentially.
I thought Steve’s perspective on accountability was helpful that it should be non-judgmental. And I think a lot of people have the connotation of accountability from traditional education that it is judgmental, right? It’s like either you’re getting the gold star or you’re getting chastised or you’re sent to summer school because you didn’t do well enough in your class. And so like accountability could be construed as it’s very aversive, right?
It’s like something that you don’t want to engage with because you don’t want the risk of that negative interaction that is psychologically painful or makes you feel unsafe. And so there’s an art to creating that container for accountability that is effective, but non-judgmental and doesn’t create the risk of harm, essentially. And that I think is an important aspect of accountability that is not often talked about, right? We often leave accountability as, it’s essentially, it’s a bullet point, right? It’s something that you should provide, but it’s more complex than that.
Ari Iny: Yeah, and I feel like it’s a bullet point, like this is something you should provide, but it’s not thought through. And it often is the stick as opposed to the carrot. Another thing that I found interesting and just something good to keep in mind for anyone who’s been building courses and kind of selling courses is kind of that idea and the way that Steve was talking about is it can become a difficult business model if all your revenue is coming from sources that they pay once, and then that’s it, and doesn’t give you the space to grow necessarily or to kind of put in the thought to continue supporting and optimizing your product because you’re not incentivized to do so, essentially.
And so keeping that in mind, I think, is very interesting and something that a lot of course creators probably don’t think about because they feel like, oh, you know, I’ll just sell more. But that can be really hard. So how could you generate additional revenue from the programs you already have, from the clients you already have? Having that question in the back of your mind is, I think, very important.
Abe Crystal: Yeah. Would your business work better if you had people signing up for a recurring option at a lower price point, even though that might seem counterintuitive at first, right? But maybe you actually would be better off with the $100 a year membership rather than $300-course or the $500-course.
Ari Iny: Right. Something that also I was trying to dig at is the idea of it’s a recurring payment, but it is either yearly or quarterly versus monthly. I feel like people default to monthly because that’s how it’s usually done, but you want to be able to give the people participating enough time to really experience what you’re trying to do and possibly even give them an opportunity to fall off the wagon and climb back on before they make a decision that they don’t want to continue working with you. And so, having that be a longer term commitment might be valuable and kind of it might be worth thinking about, does it need to be a monthly thing or could it be quarterly or twice a year or yearly or something like that.
Abe Crystal: Yeah, exactly. The final piece is separate, but it relates to having a recurring model in terms of building an engaged community. It’s not easy to do and there’s a lot to it, but I think something that Steve really modeled and also shares some examples of is the importance of building a unique, essentially like a language and culture for your community. And so, if you look at how he talks, the language he uses and how the community is built, there’s very little generic language, right?
Everything is unique and named and it relates to gaming culture, nerd culture, and it’s distinctive, right? And I think that’s why he’s able to build a community where people really support each other is because there’s a culture around it. And it’s very different from what I see a lot of people try to do with community, which is more just kind of adding community as like a functionality, right? On top of content you’re providing.
Ari Iny: Yeah. I mean, community, in order for it to work well, there’s a lot of effort that needs to go into it and that effort of building that culture, which Steve has done amazingly. I mean, otherwise the Nerd Fitness wouldn’t have grown to where it is now. But I agree with you that, often, it’s like, would it be helpful to add a community to this course is a question that I hear often. It’s like, it’s not just something you add on, it’s something that you need to put a lot of thought and effort into on an ongoing basis to maintain.
And then if you do that, it can do a lot. It can really support the growth of your business beautifully. But if you don’t, it can actually harm the business because people in your community don’t feel supported because community isn’t really a community.
Abe Crystal: Yeah, for sure. Steve Kamb is the rebel leader and the founder of Nerd Fitness. You can learn more about him and his programs over at nerdfitness.com. That’s nerdfitness.com.
Thank you for listening to Course Lab. I’m Abe Crystal, co-founder and CEO of Ruzuku, here with my co-host Ari Iny. Course Lab is part of the Mirasee FM podcast network, which also includes such shows as Once Upon a Business and Making It. This episode of Course Lab was produced by Cynthia Lamb and Danny Iny is our executive producer.
If you don’t want to miss the excellent episodes coming up on Course Lab, make sure to follow us on YouTube or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And are you enjoying our show? If so, go ahead and leave us a starred review. It really does make a difference. Thank you and we’ll see you next time.
Abe Crystal: Okay, Ari, so who do we have for next time?
Ari Iny: We have Meg Cadoux, author of For Better or For Work.
Abe Crystal: As in Danny and Bhoomi’s Mirasee FM miniseries?
Ari Iny: That’s the one.
Abe Crystal: All right. Should we link it in the show notes?
Ari Iny: Probably.
Abe Crystal: What a strange teaser.
Ari Iny: Yeah, exactly. I hope I pronounced your name correctly. All right, cool.