Born in 2020, Write of Passage quickly became one of the most successful online writing courses. Their team taught thousands of students to write online—and many of them are breakout success stories. In this session, course director and co-founder Will Mannon gives us the secret ingredient that made this success possible: a thriving community of students and mentors.
As the course director of Write of Passage, Will Mannon is building the future of writing education, one cohort at a time. Will is an expert at running cohort-based courses that put student outcomes and community first. Before Write of Passage, Will was the course manager of Building a Second Brain, the premier knowledge management course.
Will from Write of Passage, a thriving online educational platform, shares his insightful experiences, challenges, and victories in creating vibrant online learning communities.
The session emphasizes the pivotal role that community plays in online education. According to Will, a robust online community not only enhances the learning experience but also fosters personal and professional growth among students. He illustrates this by sharing Write of Passage’s journey, highlighting its growth from a small group to an international community with over 300 students from 41 countries.
The key takeaway from the session is the importance of designing an engaging curriculum, with clear steps and support for students at the onset of the course. This approach helps students overcome initial hurdles and build momentum. Another insight was the role that alumni ambassadors played in guiding new students’ progress and providing personalized support.
In the spirit of learning from experiences, the session also touches upon the mistakes made and lessons learned while building a course community. Will underscores the need for a balanced approach between top-down and bottom-up methods in course design. The Write of Passage model integrates both structured elements, like curriculum and live sessions, and bottom-up elements, such as mentor groups and one-on-one interactions, to nurture a dynamic community.
As one attendee aptly put it, “This session reaffirmed my belief in the power of community. The balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches in course design is truly like a dance. It’s about finding the rhythm and harmony between structure and freedom.”
In the words of Circle’s head of community Mathilde Leo, “Building a community is not just about numbers. It’s about creating a space where students feel supported, engaged, and excited to learn. That’s the real magic of online education.”
Mathilde Leo: Now time to welcome Will from Write of Passage. Hello Will, welcome to this Workshop. Thank you so much for joining us.
Will Mannon: Hey Matilde. Thank you for having me. Really really excited to be here. Hey, everybody good to see all of you until we met back in Second Brain. What like two and a half years ago?
Mathilde Leo: I know we go through courses back in the day, huh? No way. That’s exactly like the power of community power courses. You meet people in a course and then you stay connected afterwards. Love it. Look at that. Is that great?
Will Mannon: Yeah, really cool. It’s so cool. I was about to say how it comes full circle. That’s too much of a punch. I gotta not. This is great. I’m really gonna be here until the end. Hey everyone who’s here? I just want to see my show of hands who’s already if you’re already building you’ve already built some version of a course like it’s already up and running. Could you raise your hand? Great, and then if you’re thinking about building a course, it’s sort of on your mind something you might want to do. Can you raise your hand? Really great. And then is anyone here just to learn about Circle as a platform but is not interested in building courses at all. All right. We got a group of course Builders. That’s great. Just want to see the room and see what’s going on.
Will Mannon: Okay, so really excited to get into this today. My goal is to showcase what we’ve done it right of passage over the last three years. To give you all a look number one at what a course Community can look like after bits go after it’s been going for a while. Right? So we begin write a passage. There’s started back in 2019 and it was pretty small and pretty humble back. Then I think our first live session we had maybe 70 people on it towards the end. We run these five week courses towards the end of the course. We probably had about 15 20 people on that live session. So it started real small our current cohort. We’ve got over 300 people from 41 countries. We’ve served over a thousand students in the last three years, but I want to give you a look at what this looks like after a couple years and then number two. I’d like to yell to learn from our mistakes.
So we’ve made plenty of mistakes about how to build a community how to get people talking to each other meaning each other and achieving the outcome at the course. So I want you to learn from what we did wrong and then see a vision of what things can look like after you’ve had a lot of things go wrong and you finally start to get some things right. But before we get into any of that one more question is anybody A history buff. Does anybody like history? You’ve got a couple. Okay, great. I’m a history buff myself, so I have to start. Just a moment. I have to start with a short clip from US history. All right. Can we see the screen? excellent Pause right there. This is the key moment from this clip.
Alright, does anyone in the chat know what this is depicting buddy chance everybody know the movie it’s from Yeah, it’s a Tom Cruise movie Far and Away that what you were just watching was the Oklahoma Land restaurant 1892. There’s all this land in the western part of the US and the US government said, okay. Hey on this day at 12 noon. We’re gonna open up all this land for settlement and all those people rushed across the frontier all at the same moment. I’m sharing that because the world of online courses in 2022 is a lot like the world of Oklahoma in 1892. There’s infinite potential out there. We’re just getting started the next decade of two decades. People will be pushing the frontier constantly what’s possible with online education? So today is just a little Glimpse and what it looks like for us to be pushing the frontier in our corner of the internet.
Mathilde Leo: Love it. Love it with analogy to kick off a session.
Will Mannon: Well, no, you have the multimedia, you know just get started a little bit. Okay? so let’s jump in here. Yes. I’ll see that. Yeah. Great. Excellent. So again, I’m Wills matild said I have been working right past it for three years. This is a look at our course. We promise to transform your life through writing online and how that can accelerate your career. We’ll talk about our mission and all that in a moment as we just mentioned talked about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1892. This is the world of online courses and so excited for you all to be pushing the frontier alongside of us and as mentioned three goals for today number one wants you to learn from the mistakes we’ve made Draw insights from the successes that we’ve had and finally want to leave you some topics to ponder of your own.
So quick more context on write a passage. We’ve run nine cohorts of write a passage. So we are not in always on course. We’re not an asynchronous course. We’re a live cohort-based course that means it’s delivered over a five-week period there’s a start date in an end date during those five weeks. It’s real intense, right? We’ll get students from all around the world. They’re live on calls together. They’re writing together. They’re changing writing feedback. So we run two of these cohorts per year so we can see we do about 200 new students per year then we also get alumni coming back. So we’ve got 364 students in our current cohort nine, which is running right now. 60 countries 1500 plus students three commitments to write a passage will help all of our students publish quality ideas. We’re here to write. That’s the number one thing. But notice our second commitment is we help people find their people. If you join write a passage, you’ll find your people people who have similar interests, whether it’s in career personal interests writing interests. One of our Three core commitments to our students is oriented around community and helping people meet others.
In the third one as Mathilde said is two extra potential whether it looks like growing an audience changing careers expressing yourself creatively. Finding friends. You’re going to two extra potential if you take Friday Passage. Just a bit more context. This is the team we have now, so we have 10 people full-time running this course. And our full team for a cohort expense of 38. So it’s the full-time staff plus teams have Mentor mentors. Who support students day to day with the implementation of our Concepts and team of editors who enter who edit every single piece of student writing?
So it’s a big team. But it started like this. Myself and David and a bunch of sticky notes. We believe in the power of sticky notes. I write a passage every piece of the course that I just showed you that I will show you began on a two by two slip of paper and some Sharpie and we got a team Retreat right now for the new high school product. We’re building. I was just with that team 10 minutes ago, and they got sticky notes and Sharpies going right now. So bringing it back to whatever stage you’re at. This is where we started to.
And it’s just shared those were our core commitment. So today there’s two things big picture things. I want to talk about the first part about 10-15 minutes. Just want to walk you through the core building blocks of our course. So just to give you a picture of what it looks like what we deliver for students. And as we’re delivering this think about which parts really resonate with you, you might say hey, that’s something I want to bring into my course then other things might not resonate at all and you might not want to do that for whatever you’re teaching but we’ll show you what we’ve got and then the second part we’re gonna talk about community and I’ve got the three s’s of community see turtles and say in scientist. I’ll show you what that means in just a little bit.
The first thing is the course building blocks. So I used to talk about write a passage. I would say these are the three core ingredients of read a passage the curriculum the live sessions and the community, you know, it’s the curriculum was on a platform called teachable, of course Zoom for live sessions and Community was uncircle we don’t use teachable anymore. We have shifted. All of our curriculum to Circle as well. So our three ingredients are: Circle for our course curriculum, Zoom for the live sessions, and Circle for our community.
So first, we’ll take a look at the curriculum variety of Passage. This is just a glance at our entire circle Community. I’ll go into some depth of the different pieces with students enroll and write a passage. They’re added to a start here section where we give them exact steps of what to do to get going in the course. So this is all housed in Circle. It’s the first place they go when they enroll in the course.
And we host all sorts of curriculum elements in the course. You’ll see the initiation survey before they start in our opening week of the course. We share a session called how to get crazy value. I’d write a passage students attend live and we put the recording up on Circle and then all of our live sessions so David Perel’s the instructor. He teaches 12 live sessions over five weeks. We put all the recordings on Circle again.
This used to be on a different platform. We’ve housed it all in our Circle Community. It’s just putting the videos on Wistia and that could be a private YouTube video that could be Vimeo we use Wistia and then embedding those videos into Circle. It’s a perfect video player. It’s really simple UI for our students.
When our students join before the first session we have them do what’s called build week, which means there’s certain writing infrastructure that needs to have ready on day one. So they set up websites. They build start here Pages. They set up info capture systems. So we have videos walking them through every step plus written instructions, which we also share on Circle. So we get students all ready to go.
And then we have our kickoff which is our first live session. So here’s an example of a live session looks like you know, we’ll have in the beginning in the old days. We’d have, you know down to I think one session we got down to 16 people, right? The course was really shrinking. And then things sort of turned around and now this is what a live session will look like.
So our kickoff live session we had I think this year is 277 people all around the world, which was thrilling. Our typical live session will be about 150 to 170 people. And these are Zoom calls but they’re not your typical boring lecture, right you picture in college. You just sit in a big room of 200 people and listen to your professor lecture and lecture and lecture they teach writing kind of like this.
Presume calls have a great variety of different topics that we cover we teach writing through the lens of novelists architecture pop culture athletes rappers actors poets. We keep things really engaged and it’s not just David teaching. There’s all sorts of ingredients. We use to make a life. Such Dynamic.
We use State changes where people are listening to David for the first few minutes and then they do a live writing exercise and then they jump in a breakout room for 10 minutes and discuss that exercise and then we do a group discussion for five minutes in front of the whole group. It’s really Dynamic 90 minutes where we’re never sharing a lecture style presentation for more than 10 minutes.
And you know in Circle we have the zoom chat lighting up now see there’s 18 comments in the zoom chat. Our Zoom chat is a lecture on these live sessions the community pours their ideas their thoughts their feedback to the session while Davis teaching so it’s a bi-directional two-way pattern of learning.
So what you see here, this slide is some screenshots from our live stocks and zoom chat. All these screenshots are from eight minutes of Zoom. So our sessions are 90 minutes, you can get a sense of how long and how engaged the zoom chat is.
Couple more things. I’ll talk about when you think about teaching an online course. Sometimes you think hey you just turn on Zoom you do your teaching and that’s that we’re meticulous about every single detail that we teach in our live sessions.
We have the same. We love it’s a great product. It’s subtlety compounded over time. So what that means is we have show runners. For every single session, this is a production. We keep a tight schedule down to the minute in notion. We have a countdown clock before the session starts. The session to deliver in a professional way, but we’re meticulous about every single moment.
We this back Channel WhatsApp. This is from last night. We’re nine of us on the team are texting each other saying hey David speed up a little bit here. Hey, we’re running long. Let’s cut this section and move down to the exercise. So we’re really thoughtful and then we have debriefed after every session.
Sometimes we’ll spend an hour after each and every session going through every single detail of what went right and what went in. So this is look at our debrief notes from some of our sessions from this cohort.
So the main takeaway for you all here is that teaching these sessions can seem like just turn on your zoom camera and start talking but to really engage the community to really make sure every minute counts that people are engaged. It’s this focus on details and subtlety over time that delivers really great sessions and we send some takeaways at the end until I want to pause here. Just I’ve been talking about myself any questions in the chat anything you wanted to jump into right now.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, thanks for this great overview first and foremost. It’s great to see like, you know the evolution from the small cohorts to the big one. Of course, we had a question from Jeffrey was asking if you’re using the courses feature on Circle just yet or a regular post space and your thoughts on that because of course, we just released and you the new space type of courses. So where you at with writer passage I ever said so write a passage started on October 5th, I think courses mounting on live on October 7th until you know, it was right after the course started.
Will Mannon: So yeah the courses feature for this course, but I’ve seen some really cool stuff that circles done there. I think it’s a particular really good for delivery of content for students to watch, you know, before live session just delivery of content seems really smooth. So we’re not on it just because of a funny timing but we’re taking a hard look at that for our next cohort which will be in February in March.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, great to hear we had the same thing with the bootcamp somebody with asking why not running the bootcamp in the course space well because of course courses it was so long. Yeah. We were trying to like, you know, Best face type for for the job as well. That’s right.
Will Mannon: Awesome. Yeah, I just think what you know, we’re not even using the courses feature and yet circles. So well designed for courses. I can’t wait to show you guys some more ways.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, because you were you were one of the first you’re one of the early adopters of circle, like two years ago very first customers and so before it’s because of thanks to people like you that we decided to build a full-fledged course feature seeing what hap powerful learning and Community can be that we were like we have to offer a better way for folks out there to host their content and facilitate those connections around the content. So yeah.
Will Mannon: Yeah, I’m laughing just because I later in the deck. I have some slides with the old old circle look like is January 2020 amazing. We’re Alpha tester had just launched. It was a mess large because of us and and then Platformers new so we’ve come a long way and you all come a really long way since then but yeah, it’s been great to be with you all since they won. So yeah, I love it. We can go down and relay for sure. Okay, let me jump back into things
Okay, so now that was just an overview. Our curriculum content and the live session to the real thing. We’re here to talk about today is community. Here to talk about community in the context of courses and and we believe in community at Rite of Passage. But why do we believe in community? Why is this such an important ingredient? For running great Great Courses, and it comes down to something Seth Godin has shared in the past a lot of you probably know Seth Godin. Seth is a great thinker on topics of community. marketing course building all of that and this is long quote.
But the main thing to focus on what Seth says here is that We’re all here to teach people something. We want our students to learn something. But every time you learn something by definition, you’re confronting something that you don’t know something new and that’s really hard. That’s scary. Right and so back in the day called sometimes online education 1.0. There’s these mooc courses. We have 10,000 people just watching content alone that was considered a course. But the thing is when you’re confronting something scary when you’re learning something. It’s really easy. Just to close your laptop. Right, especially when there’s no official degree at the end. So people just leave and so the thing that Community does is bring people together. And have them move through this journey together.
And so I’ll show you a whole bunch of different ways that we’ve bring our students together have each other have them support each other. And deliver great outcomes for our students. That’s where the official reason. It’s also just the heart of the course and we say write a Passages as a place for people their hearts on fire. And that is the essence of the right of Pastor Community people who love ideas who love writing who are excited to talk about others who feel the same way about ideas and writing. So hopefully we’ll give you a sense of that as we go through this next part of the presentation.
I want to show you guys how we build community. And has anyone been man? I think it’s I think it’s like Buenos Aires, Argentina has ever been there. They put in the chat or raise your hand. It also might be Spain. This is I don’t know where the Tango is the most popular dance if you know put it in the chat, but we think about course building in terms of dancing the Tango. What do I mean by this? How is building an online course like dancing the tango?
Well, in course building sometimes you do things top down you engineer a community you say hey, these students are gonna go do this. These people are gonna be grouped in this way your engineering things top down. But there’s this other way to build a course, which is where things can bottom up. You just put people in a group and say hey go create your own spaces. Go schedule your own Zoom calls. And you can’t have too much of either. If you go to top down, it’s suffocates the community, but if you’re too bottom up. Dissolved it’s like a gas. There’s not enough structure there. So it’s this fluid movement between the top down and the bottom-up design this Tango between these two elements that allows you to build a great course.
So I’m going to show you what I mean by top down and bottom up but I used to have this assumption. That is my responsibility. Running the course to design and deliver the perfect experience. That’s not true. There’s these different layers and some are designed by me and the team but a lot of others Bubble Up bottom up. And so to talk about Community, we’re gonna look through the lens of these three stories David C Turtles. sensei’s and scientists just a little teaser. Or start with my friends the baby sea turtles. So I used to watch these Nature Documentaries as a kid, maybe all the two but you know this Clips where there’s like a thousand baby sea turtle eggs, and they all hatch. And they’re all running for the ocean. But a lot of them don’t make it right like a lot of baby sea turtles. Either get too hot and get baked in the Sun or there’s seagulls that swoop down and and grab them. But some of the baby sea turtles make it to the ocean and they live for decades dozens of years. I view our 300 students who come in each Co or 200 returning. Like baby sea turtles right in the world of online courses. There’s a lot of gulls they’re gonna snatch up those baby sea turtles not let them get to the finish line. There’s a hot sun baking down on them the pressure of the time commitment and the fear of publishing online and so our goal as a team. It’s the design some elements top down that help those baby sea turtles get to the ocean.
Right? We have another metaphor you for you, but we talk about Write a passage is like Coachella for writing. There’s so many different things that we offer students. But he the key is to design certain elements in a way that ensures that students move through and have success in the course. So with these different sizes. Of the courses the live sessions. I spoke about those are almost entirely top down. We design every single minute. Of those experiences, but as you get smaller. You sort of release that top-down grip and down to these Mentor groups and one-on-one connections. It’s largely bottom up. Okay. But you get the sea turtles the ocean the top down stuff is like build week. Like I talked about the moment you join the course, there’s exact steps for what you need to do to get ready for a kickoff session. There’s videos from David videos for myself walking you through exactly what needs to be done. That’s not bottom up that is expressly top down. Because in that early stage students of the most shaky the most vulnerable we need to get them to exactly where they need to be. We all the welcome call with every single student who joins the course we used to do these 101 that was a bit crazy. So now we do this in groups of four. We have a whole team of alumni who are ambassadors who hold these calls with students.
Then over the five weeks the course as students moved through the course. These ambassadors track their students in a backend system. We’ve built an air table so you can see the green there. These are our top students from the current cohort. They’re doing great. This engagement score combination of are they joining sessions? Are they going to Mentor groups? Are they submitting their articles each week? Tells us if they’re performing well. And you’ll notice in this red box all the ambassadors have their subgroup. But some of the students aren’t doing well, I didn’t put the names in here. But these are some of our students for falling behind this course, you’ll see the yellows and the Reds. So what that means is if you’re an ambassador and your students are falling behind it’s like a baby suit turtle’s got to go swooping down. It’s getting real hot in the sun. It’s your job to jump in fend off that Gull hold a call with them. You message it. We’re doing that this week. The second week of the course of people are falling behind our ambassadors. Shoot the messages on Circle and say hey, I know she’s falling behind a bit. How’s everything going in the course? Can we support you? What can we do? Can we jump on a call? So that’s our top down responsibility to make sure students get to the course. And we also measure Circle engagement. So we’re actually using analytics to see who is active on Circle and who’s quieter.
So the first phase BBC Turtle, it’s completely top down helping those baby sea turtles get to the ocean. Continue attending all five weeks. Publish their articles all five weeks because if you don’t have really thoughtful top-down approach in this part a lot of students will stop a lot of students will drop off. Arm until I’m gonna pause there again. I’ve been talking a lot any questions from you any questions from the chat. Love to take a moment right now.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah for sure. I have a quick question on So you mentioned all the different levels of connection and you need for having you know, small groups bigger groups one-on-one connections. I love the fact that you’re doing follow-ups as well. What would you recommend to someone who is just getting started their team of one? They only have time for one or two touch points Community touch points as we call them. Do you have a sense of like would you have one that you would recommend in particular? Is it like doing 101 DMS? Is it having a You know coaching session every week with your with your group.
Will Mannon: Um, yeah, so it’s on that if you’re a team of one just getting started like what do you prioritize or how do you go about thinking of those touch points? Yeah, the mindset the good mindset here to have here’s doing things that don’t scale so many may have heard that it’s big thing in entrepreneurship somebody maybe some of you maybe haven’t heard that when I started with David day one. David’s whole thing was like we have to be able to scale. We’re gonna grow right pastors of the Moon and we found this video from Patrick Carlson at stripe like 13,000 views and this whole thing was like in the early days do things that don’t scale. So until that answer your question. I would look to have a way to have a one-on-one personal touchpoint with every student in your course in the early days for what that looked like for us is I had a 20 to 30 minute call with every single student in the first four cohorts one-on-one was a huge investment of time, but it really showed that we cared half of it was to help the student and talk about the substance. The other half was literally just a signal say hey, we’re the type. Of course that’s gonna book dozens. If not hundreds of one-on-one calls with their students to see how they’re doing and it helps the student but also helps use the course Builder because Have enough student conversations you pick up these intuitions about where students are at and what they need. It really serves you as you build the course.
The other quick thing I’ll say is I recommend not doing this alone, of course buildings really hard on the outside looking in. It’s like, oh you just stand up, of course to be a breeze and make a bunch of passive income. It’s really tough. There’s so many little details that pop up. So I really recommend say you’ve run so you’ve been running course for like even a month or two grab somebody who’s really into your stuff and bring them on even as a volunteer or pay them a little bit as a contractor and have some support. It’s really hard to do this alone.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah, and that’s why you’ve involved your Ambassador is really well over time. Right just like making sure that you get the support from the community from the course itself. Not just from from your team, which I I think is a really smart move quick question from the chat as well. We’ll have some proper time for Q&A at the end as well any of those air tables or resources available as templates somewhere who’s sitting is asking or you thinking of offering them a templates if they’re not already out there?
Will Mannon: They’re not we’re not. No, that’s just yeah, maybe one day but right now it’s just something we’ve built internally, but I will say I mean there’s A lot of people who have great public materials shared on this Julius Xena Andrew Berry come to mind. They’re both right a passage alums. They’ve gone into course building themselves. I mean Julia, I don’t know if we get this link in the chat or something, but Julia Saxena has like an entire notion Playbook.
Yes, all the things that it takes till I get a course started actually wouldn’t focus on the air table. So we’ve been doing for three years, we built that air table in August, right? Like that’s not the right thing to start with. The right thing to start with is anecdotal checking in with people watching your circle analytics. That’s like way down the line and I wouldn’t recommend starting with that.
Mathilde Leo: I love this. So as a first step and also going about your response from earlier. It’s kind of like doing things that don’t scale maybe optimizing your learning things that you’re gonna give you a lot of insight as a course creator versus the things that might look pretty you know, that might be like, you know, just comprehensive and give you a full picture of where your students are at.
Will Mannon: I love that in the early days date is way overrated. Like we basically didn’t look at data for two years quantitative data. That is we just there’s David and I were both right praying creatives. We had no systems really capturing data, like we collect these services and hardly even use them, but you can get so far just off your intuition data, it gets important to help supplement the decision-making process as you get bigger, but in the early days, it’s intuition. It’s conversations. We also have dozens of feedback calls with students after every cohort things like that are way more important than tracking all the stats starting again. This is just showing like the end product after three years and it’s not necessarily recommendation to do all this right away.
Mathilde Leo: I love it. Okay. Do you want to carry on we’ll we’ll definitely keep all the questions from the chat and and save them add them to the replay as well.
Will Mannon: So we can whatever we’ll press on to stage. Number two the Sensei I’ve never seen Karate Kid but I’m told this clip this photo comes from Karate Kid but Yeah, the second piece here is why it’s called Sensei. It’s just a word that means teacher that starts with s so it fits with my other two, but the reason we call it Sensei teacher is that We realize that. If it was just David and I running this course there’s way too many people for the value just to be flowing from the two of us. We realized early on we needed a team of people who we could train who could then go work with students and train the students.
So enter the mentor program. Right the alumni Mentor program. We have 14 mentors this cohort. They’ve all taken the course. Started writing online done really well, and then they apply and come back and serve as mentors for our students. So David’s been running online for five six seven years. He’s the main teacher in the live sessions. Some of his advice isn’t actually the most helpful advice right like the most helpful advice for somebody’s just starting out is often the person who just did the same thing four months before. They did and that’s why mentors are so valuable.
So each Mentor runs their own one hour live session each week for five weeks. So this coward that’s 70 additional hours of sessions. They’re not recorded. You got to be their life because the recording would just be too much. But each Mentor has a different Focus area. They have bios and videos students sift through find the mentor that most resonates with them and joins their sessions. So I’ll map out a typical week for right of passage student and why these teachers these trained teachers are so important to what we do. So the live sessions with David are twice a week and then the articles that you publish those are the heart of the course. Those are the most important pieces if you don’t have time for anything else we say do that. But we offer these 14 Mentor sessions all throughout the week one hour sessions.
Right and then on top of that we have those ambassadors that I mentioned earlier run what we call writing gyms and feedback gyms every single day. So students can join and write silently for an hour every morning and get one-on-one feedback in breakout rooms with one of our ambassadors every afternoon. This is a ton of stuff. It’s sort of overwhelming, right? But we just tell students to make a plan. We have all these teachers. This whole team that we’ve trained to make the course great for you. Don’t do it all just go through the week pick one or two Mentor groups one or two gyms to attend and leave everything else out.
So these are our senses our teachers right as I mentioned our 14 mentors who’ve done really well and write a passage and come back to help teach students. On top of that article feedback. So students right drafts of Articles each week and then they get feedback and then they publish but the feedback process used to be broken.
There’s another mistake we made right like students would do peer feedback. But a lot of Articles just wouldn’t get any feedback at all. So if your student in a writing course, you’re not getting any feedback. It’s pretty bad experience. So we said hey, we need some more sensei’s. So we hired. 10 editors trained them with our editor-in-chief who’s absolute wizard of giving feedback trained them how to give great article feedback. So they give feedback to every single article that’s published each week. I think we had. 225 to 250 articles drafted the first week of our course here in October. These editors get feedback to every single one again fancy Airtable.Will Mannon: We had this for the last six months. We did not have this for the first two and a half years, but this is the system using the back end to make sure every single students gets feedback. And this is what article feedback looks like. It’s in a Google doc. It’s specific thoughtful comments about how the article would be stronger and what you’re already doing. Well, And again just a glance at all the Articles a bit blurry, but in a given week all the article feedback that these senses these editors. Are delivering our students? Oh, it moves apparently so there’s it.
Mathilde Leo: Quick question will before you move on. Some people are asking in the chat if you’re if you’re compensating your mentors, or is it a voluntary thing?
Will Mannon: Yeah, we pay. Um. We pay Everyone by we’ll say again like they started out unpaid. Our first time we had mentors that he was our fourth cohort and they didn’t even run a one-hour session. It was just they were there to support on Circle and they were unpaid their volunteer. But those mentors then you know that that initial seed grew into the mentor program we have today where we bring them in two months early. We do like six or seven hours of training and they’re all paid their contractors. So we pay our mentors and we pay our editors, but just keep in mind.
It started really small it started with seven people. All volunteer based and Julie and Andrew I mentioned earlier they’re now building their own courses. They started as mentors in that first cohort. Yeah. I guess we’ll give a quick note. This is not my deck too, but I I think a mistake a lot of course builders make is not charging enough. Our course is not cheap. It’s $4,000 for five weeks or $7,000 you get lifetime access. But we don’t compete on price we compete on value. We deliver a tremendous amount of features, but the real thing we deliver is outcomes value results students take our course, they build writing habits. They two x their potential they find their people they publish quality ideas.
And so we just decided from the start. You know, there’s so many course there say, hey, I’m 1999 all free, you know all acing content. We said that we’re gonna build an exceptional product and we’re gonna charge a lot because we’re competing on value not price and that’s what allows us to hire this team of mentors this team of editors. It’s not the right approach for everyone. A lot of people the more inexpensive course is a great option. It depends what you’re trying to do, right? If you’re trying to build a course as a part-time thing good chance that we’ll be the right option. But if you want to be a teacher if you want to be an educator, I competing on value over price can be a really helpful framework to think about.
Mathilde Leo: We have so many questions from the chat, but we can maybe take them at the end will unless you want to you. Let me know when you want to pause and take questions without. Um.
Will Mannon: Yeah, let’s talk about no, let’s take a question. This section is kind of my longest one. So let’s take a question now and then we can jump to the third third piece.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah. So on the business model front and again is asking what’s the difference between the court and then a lifetime lifetime plan? Sorry. You’ll want differences. You can come back as a student in future cohorts. There’s a bit of content you get some bonus async material, but the real values that you get to come back and be a student in future cohorts. So yeah. Great. Um, what else do we have? How long between planning the course is setting the first cohort. So when you go back in time when you and David were planning the first planning the first cohort, how long did you? How long does that take you if I understand the question correctly? Yeah.
Will Mannon: So I’m just a quick history. So I met David just to Twitter in 2018. We got dinner in La we read some of the same books. At the dinner David said hey, I’ve got this idea. I want to teach a dozen people to write online. That’s pretty cool. I do like a little writing Fellowship two weeks later. He fired off a tweeter’s audience. He said I want to teach a thousand people to write online. I don’t happen those two weeks for the Ambitions really grew and so from that tweet to the first cohort was about five months. I actually started I was a student in that first cohort at the end of the course. I just said David the course is great, but he was so much better. Here’s some ideas and I started with David at that point and it was real small at that point, but it’s about five months from idea to First cohort and then we used to do like a month or two between fast iterations Cycles now, we’re about four or five months in between. Got it, and it’s a nice segue to John’s question.
Mathilde Leo: And then we’ll we’ll go back to the presentation for now. Right John is asking how much feedback from your community had implemented in your coursework. So you mentioned that the first cohort kind of like you share some feedback with, you know, I would David and then that was implemented and so moving forward how much of the courses evolved directly. You to feedback that you got from the community.
Will Mannon: Yeah, I mean a tremendous amount. The entire course is based on feedback. And we we teach feedback in the writing process that we also follow that in the course building process, you know an examples when I first started with David after that first cohort I had calls probably 35 or 40 students 30 minutes each just to see hey would you like about the course what could be better and that directly led to us teaching this thing called information capture that wasn’t in the course before and we have those calls it for every round. We do surveys until I can share something really quick here. I think will be interesting. and then we can get back to the presentation, but this is These are our version notes.
We basically treat course building like software. I can put this in the chat too, but going all the way back to that second cohort. Like here’s just all the changes we made in each version of the course. And so you’ll see like it’s just almost all of these some of these came from David and I like being in the course me like, hey, we could add this we could add that. I say 75 80% of this were ideas from our community about how to make the course better that we then took an implemented like there your own GitHub your own version control for your course.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. That’s good. We are we are on a basically liberal arts folks. We’re not hackers or programmers. But if this is the liberal arts version of GitHub, I’ll take it you are well. It sounds like you are you’re boring from from Tech. Probably not you just doing it.
Will Mannon: Yeah. Yeah exactly, you know, it is inspired by that no doubt, but it’s already like liberal arts spin on the whole hacker ethos. Yeah. I love it. I love it. Welcome back to your present then. We’ll take more questions in the time that we have onward.
Mathilde Leo: Okay, excellent. Thanks everyone by the way, there’s a great question. I mean, I’m just like I wish we had more time to cover them all but we’ll cover a bunch.
Will Mannon: Okay, so this is scientist mode number three. So remember we started with a sea turtles, which was completely top down. Sensei is this mix of top-down and bottom up the final part of this Tango is scientist mode, which means for the smallest units of community, which is 101 in small groups. You cannot design those top down in my experience. They have to emerge bottom up, but it’s not completely bottom up. It’s not a gas. It’s more of a liquid. We put certain bearish and certain containers in place and then have You know, try these experiments and then watch the community flourish. So we’ve got a lot of things wrong and lately we think we’ve got a few things right? So I’m excited excited to share this with your whole goal with this bottom-up community is increasing students Serendipity surface area, particularly the first week. Right because the whole thing about Community is people need to meet others for it to be sticky for them to not leave when things get tough. It’s our whole thing with bottom of community is how can we design an experience where others can meet each other make friends and then they don’t want to leave but we got this really wrong. So in cohort four you can see this in the version notes. We said man. We need some way. For students to have these smaller group units, you know what we need. Feedback groups. We said article feedback won’t be a big post and circle for everyone. They’ll be these separate groups. This is my big Grand idea. I thought it’s brilliant. I took a spreadsheet of all of our students. I think with 15 students that cohort I broke them into these groups and let me tell you something these groups were 100% arbitrary. There was no Rhyme or Reason to how we created these groups other than did a random sort and put people into groups. You’ll get a little peek at the old Circle UI here. We put these students in the groups and you’ll notice there are no comments on any of these posts. We could not pay people to post in these groups. It was a nightmare. Now, why was that? Well, there’s no Common Thread with people in the groups. There’s no common interests. There’s no common geographic location. It was absolutely entirely arbitrary and we’re trying to force people into Community by designing it top down like this spreadsheet. This is the definition of like Soviet era top-down planting did not work did not work. It’s very low free market. Our turning point was flipping these groups from opt out where you’re forced in to opt in where you got to choose. Your own Mentor group, right? You got to choose your own Mentor group.
Those are our old feedback groups metric groups for top down instead. We said, hey, we got a bunch of mentors you decide. You know how busy you are. If you’re busy these Mentor groups these one hour weekly sessions are totally supplementary. You don’t have to go to any if you love this course, if you feel some of you can go to 14 hours of Mentor groups. It’s up to you.
And what happens is students start saying? I noticed they’d say like hey, I’m in love’s group. I’m in Jackie’s group. I’m in Shelby’s group. They started identify with a script because they chose the time slots and the mentors and the interest that appeal to them most and so we end up having this extremely vibrant part of the course. The mentary program is the most vibrant part of the right of passage of community. It’s the heart of the whole course.
The key flip was not trying to design it top down. It was flipping around the tango. And having to be a science experiment that bubbled up from bottom up. two other things I want to talk about with bottom-up Community, then I’ll pause and jump to the chat so or jump to the question, so the first thing is interest group so in circle You’ll see when our students join Circle they’re able to have a space where they can create their own posts of common interests. So you’ll see here. I mean there’s there’s absolutely dozens of these on our community right now people like Fitness and weight training people who like, you know, you’re interested in AI a women’s group podcasters, there’s dozens of these groups in our community.
So we don’t design any of these. This is a container we create and then people fill this with things they’re most interested in. And really cool thing we do here. We’ve added this recently remember in your University days. At least I went to University of Virginia. We had something called Club day your first day as a freshman. There’s tables on the lawn with 800 different clubs. You could join as most exciting thing to me is an 18 year old starting college.
So we recreated Club day on Zoom. So we look at all the interest groups on Circle and we do a special Zoom call called Club day where we just have 20 breakout rooms all these different topics and students get to choose which breakout rooms. They join we do three rounds of 20 minutes each so students get to jump into these groups and meet others, right? So they tell us which groups to make it’s not up to us. What’s that? Whatever the circle or the groups we make and then they have the agency. They have the autonomy to hop into groups. They want they can jump between groups on this call and they meet others and after this call Circle lights up. It’s so popular. We’re running two more of these as cohort. We hadn’t planned that but people love Club day. So again all we did we didn’t design it from the top down. We created a container and let this experiment Bubble Up bottom up.
The last thing is location groups. So these are groups where you know, it’s pretty self-expenser. Where are you in the world? You know, you have all sorts of different posts here. You can see stuff, you know, placing the US southeast Asia, Australia India, Montana, Montenegro Taiwan. Just last night. I live in LA but I’m here in Austin for a few weeks. We had an Austin meet up about 25 people at a restaurant. There’s absolute blast. So we have people We allow this experiment to Bubble Up bottom up as well. People meet each other in person, too. There’s a lot of fun.
A future Frontiers. This is sort of the end of the presentation. Here. We Let’s see, we are building Write of Passage for high schoolers. That’s our next Frontier. We’re all just looking to make the course better and better we proud we’re proud of where the course is now but there’s so many places to make it better and I just love this process of feedback collecting feedback making better each time. We do retrospectives. We do team Retreats. There’s so many different ways to make this course better can only cover so much in an hour, but I want to end with this. It’s so exciting. He’s everyone a mute yourself or you want to end with somebody if you have one final thought I want to automatic until the way I didn’t tell you about this.
I can see the gallery right now so I can see almost all you. Who grew up in a place where it was really cold? Like where it snowed in the winter? I did Virginia. Okay, great. So think about that first snow the year, what do you do when it snows for the first time you run outside? You make a little snowball and sometimes that’s it and that snowball just melts, but other times you start pushing that snowball down a hill and it goes bigger and bigger and bigger.
So all the things you just saw. They’re the Snowballs that didn’t melt that made into the bottom of the hill in course building. There’s just principle you just have these little bets each cohort. They’re just little snowballs and some fail. We tried something called feedback pods. Once I didn’t learn my lesson that top down I try to put every student in groups of five failure. They were totally dead. That’s no ball melted. But the mentor program this program with trainings and teachers and payments started with the zoom call with eight people the day before our fourth cohort started this editor program with dashboards and tables. It started as a WhatsApp group with five people. So think about the Snowballs you want to make now and start rolling down the hill some will melt but the ones that don’t will get bigger and bigger and bigger until they’re the foundation of your course.
Mathilde Leo: So thanks a lot guys. I’ll pause there until that’s any questions and that is the cue for clapping for will. Awesome. Oh my God, will amazing. I’m not gonna speak too much because I want to make time for live questions. But that was amazing. You were the king of analogies. I think they were tons in there that people would start using moving forward. Let’s let’s take some live questions. So to ask a question. Just raise your Zoom hand keep it short and sweet very short one question at a time. So we make space for for everyone.
Mathilde Leo (Taking question from Sarah): All right, Sarah you are you up. What’s your question? What do you want to know more about?
Sarah: Okay, thank you so much. Well, it was amazing. My question would be when it’s the beginning of the like the launch by the launch period what would you advise us to focus on like to create that amazing momentum because I tried it once it was a total Veil. So I’m trying to find this like hype to create like the court we did. So yeah, I’m wondering how to do it.
Will Mannon: Yeah a big thing for us. We have our kickoff session. That’s the first live session. When you enroll in the course, that’s still like 10 days away in the early days. We would sell sell to that. We had this watch windows we sell for like two weeks and then the course runs. I mean, you can’t buy before that. So the launch window used to go up till Tuesday. And then of course we start on Wednesday and then we moved back to Monday and then we added a whole week. So basically students get in lives all this time to prepare. But all of our messaging is pointing people towards this kickoff session and that kickoff session is electric like people join that we say, it’s Zoom like you’ve never seen it before if we get them that first session. They really get a taste of it then they’ll go to our bonus sessions the first week, they’ll join some enter groups and then they start meeting people and you’ve got them. So I think it’s just having a big kick off event where people really see the power of your community. Just think about one thing you can do it gives people taste of what’s the common that’s my biggest advice.
Mathilde Leo: Awesome the power of the kickoff anyone else’s life question go ahead and mute raise your hands so we can see how many people they are with questions and then The chat was on Fires. They’re gonna go so.
Mathilde Leo (Taking question from John): John over to you
John: Hi. Okay. Well great a presentation. Awesome. Thank you material. Um, how do you pick your your mentors? I have a I use Mastermind groups of mine and my cohort and you know, we have separate subjects for each one and sounds very similar to what you do with it with a mentors. How do you pick them? What what’s your criteria for that and what you know, how do you keep them engaged? And what what do you look for from them to inspire thinking?
Will Mannon: Yeah 100% Um, we do an application. The number one criteria is that they’re writing between cohorts right? Because the whole thing is that it’s somebody who took the course learn the lessons and they can turn around and help the next group. And so we’ve had people who really like who didn’t keep writing and didn’t have them back as a mentor. That’s the number one thing beyond that. We have an application with a few questions, like written responses hundred words or so the thoughtfulness of the responses this big signal it’s as simple as that like some people just It off and some people really pour their heart into it. And that was it in the first few rounds. We didn’t have that much man. Now there’s more demand and so we really look at okay, how can we compile the perfect group people who focus on Craft tactics perspective, but in the early days was are you writing and do care enough to fill out a good application really that simple?
John: Yeah. Awesome. Thanks.
Mathilde Leo (Taking question from Eva): Amazing Eva. Would you like to go next?
Eva: Sure. So my question is about after the community or after the course is over. Is there any like continuation of community do the students? Keep connecting? How does that all work?
Will Mannon: Yeah. Yeah. I have this in the presentation I end up cutting it for time but I can talk about it now a bit we’ve tried so many different things here like after a third cohort believe or not. I try to Facebook group. I feel so integrated these days but we try to Facebook group. It’s just dead nobody’s dead. So we used to have this thing between co-works called the right of passage winter and be so vibrant for five weeks. They would go completely quiet. We solve this a couple co-works ago until the cover of years, but we had another tool called Geneva which had really good real time chat and have these live video rooms and sure we didn’t unpaid thing where we built this community in Geneva and people jumped in there afterwards.Will Mannon: There’s probably 50 people are most Die Hard students and they will continue doing feedback and chatting and stuff. So we just created that container again bottom up circle now has real time chat. So I bet our one after this course gonna be in circle, but the real principle there is that I it was unpaid so it was mostly just creating container and let the real diehards run with it rather than like building a whole second thing and I think it’s okay. Like I think there’s this narrative like oh you have a 12-month always on community. You totally don’t the first two years write a passage was absolutely on for five weeks times two. So 10 weeks an absolutely dead for 40 weeks. And here we are, right. So yeah, that would I’ll leave it there, but that’s that’s what we do.
Audience member: Awesome hosting would you like to go next? Sure. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. And these fantastic presentation. Thank you. Fantastic camera, by the way, like the little faded in the background. So my three questions revolve. Oh my questions revolve around the mentorship the first cohort my understanding is there was no mentorship. Correct. It’s it was after the first one and then so that was question number one. How long does do the mentor stay for is it like a cohort or they have an opportunity to stay on longer? What’s that look like really?
Will Mannon: So first question. There was no mentors in the first three cohorts. We were just trying to get the course over the line. Like there’s really just getting the basics down on the curriculum and all that the fourth cover. We had mentors they didn’t teach on session. There’s just you sort of async and didn’t go very well our fifth cohort honest. We found product Market fit when we introduce mentors in our fifth cohort. That was the Tipping Point for this whole thing with seven people and they ran one hour sessions each and we train them for like two weeks now we do. Second party question mentors are only there for one cohort you reapply to be a mentor again. A lot of people come back. It’s usually half our returning half for new but keeps things fresh. So we just do it covered by color and then the final thing we now have this, you know big team of W-2 full-time people, but in the early days, I we would I really recommend like somebody who really loves the community make them the lead Mentor we would pay them, you know a couple thousand bucks not like a big salary and they would just really run that Mentor programs. You became too much for me to try to do that with everything else. So a couple thoughts there.
Audience member: So then you and my last thing is yes. So is there a guy take it then there would be an onboarding session for the the mentorship which is your program. It’s almost like a cover within the cohort.
Will Mannon: I started again with a zoom call and then like a two week training. Now, we do applications like nine weeks out. We bring them all on like seven weeks out. We do fives weeks of training like the trainers 90 minutes, but it’s a whole training and everything. But again, it started like snowball started just zoom call maybe one or two trainings and now it’s a whole program within itself.
Mathilde Leo (Taking question from Jordan): All right over to you Jordan. It’s your turn to ask a question.
Jordan: Right? Hey, well, how’s it going? I’m actually going through the cohort right now. So it’s been oh man experience to say great having the court. Yeah, really really impressive. So my question is I think you said you’re running two cohorts per year right now. Is that right? Currently. Yep. Yeah, okay and that’s changed over time. It sounded like in the beginning you were doing them much more rapid-fire kind of back to back and now you’ve spaced them out a whole lot more.
Will Mannon: And so if you have this much bigger team, you said you have a bunch of W-2 people. What does it look like in the off season when you’re not running these cohorts? Like are you guys busy are you taking breaks and vacation? Like are you working on this thing steady all year long and what are the kind of things that you’re doing? And do you think you’ll run more than two per year? Is that kind of The Sweet Spot? So the first two years we did too per year because we were partnered with another program called building a second brain. And so that’s where Matilda and I’m at so we would run four co-work per year is basically myself Dave and Tiago I run right a passage for cohort then do second brain then right past the check, right? Thank you very much bigger. It was like 1600 people but we learn so
Will Mannon: Much by it was intense, but it’s during covid. So we just learned a ton like Co or Co or Co or cohort we just when our amicable what our separate ways like a year ago, so this year we did too, but we’re probably gonna do three because we didn’t Team the beginning this year. We were three employees number 16 where we have a high school team. So our capabilities are really expanded. So I think in the future we’ll do probably three next year plus the high school stuff, but when we didn’t have the team to per year was sort of what was possible given that we were partner with this other program.
Jordan: Yeah. So what do you guys focusing on a lot during the off season when you’re not running the cohorts?
Will Mannon: Yeah. Well, it’s just we haven’t really had that yet in the past. It was second brain right of passage now like we just built this team before this last cohort so we actually haven’t had that yet because next time we’re gonna do three in the say next time next year. They’ll be maybe three or four weeks between cohorts and you’re maybe a bit more than that, but you’re collecting feedback. We do an impression Retreat or remote. We didn’t impersonator Retreat to synthesize all the feedback do the planning for the next cohort and then build that that’s sort of what happens in between gotcha. So the new team is to prepare for this new more intense schedule of running multiple cohorts. That’s right. It was also just two taxing for just a couple people to run this. So it’s so we caught up and now we’ve expanded more to run multiple. Yeah, cool. Thanks man. Love it. See you on Monday.
Mathilde Leo: Yeah. #meta, I hate to be the timekeeper because it’s so many great questions and we have only so much time but just know folks that we will post the replay first of all in the video library of this session to be able to be right we watch it if you like and then we’ll I don’t know if you if you Keen we haven’t discussed this but maybe the top questions the themes when I’m able to address we could have, you know, some some sort of asynchronous discussion or your thoughts bringing you putting you on this spot here for me.
Will Mannon: Yeah.
Mathilde Leo: Awesome. I want to show a couple of notes about the boot camp just to finish a session and then we’ll say goodbye. We’ll see you later. Bear with me as I as I share my screen. um There you go. What an awesome session. First of all, I just want to say that this was incredibly inspiring. This was awesome to see the evolution as well. And I think will you You put it really well, like you don’t have to start with all those touchpoints all those things from the start like it Cannibal and in this way if you have if that’s your goal, but it doesn’t this it definitely doesn’t have to be this way right in terms of what’s next.
Mathilde Leo: Can you see my screen? Well good. All right. So next week we are in the last week of the boo camp. You will learn. all about this topic right here how to invite your students into your course Community if you haven’t done so yet you’ll be able to learn strategies to to engage your students who have them join your circle Community or your course, of course today, we learn all about creating and for and forget about Community experience and I think that with Wills presentation and experience you’ve got tons of ideas that you can use to to inspire your own setup. So it’s gonna be really exciting.
We will drop the lesson on Monday the last lesson of the bootcamp on Monday. Emma has worked on it. It’s gonna be awesome. Then we have Tuesday as usual office hours. So it is any question anything that you’re not sure how to achieve like something that has to do with how Circle Works setting up your course inviting your members or any questions that you have around Circle where you just general office hours and we’ll and we’ll answer those live together. We’ll finish with our last Workshop of the boot camp next Thursday all about kind of like minimal viable launch strategies and how you can be launch your your course without the heydays and without doing all the things that you might think that you need to do and again at any point you can share your progress and get feedback from the group.
But now the last thing I want to share with you is we have a special celebration for the end of the bootcamp. That’s gonna happen on November 4th. Let me know in the chat. If you already rsvp’d who here has seen the CPC suaree and I’m gonna use my best French accents to to say a couple of you a few of you amazing if you haven’t done so yet we’ll drop the link in the chat do RSVP because that’s gonna be a really fun event where we’re gonna celebrate all your progress all the things that you’ve learned that you’ve built in this boot camp. We’re gonna have an hour ceremony as well. You’re gonna be able to showcase for those of you who want some of the the courses that you’ve built some of the Milestones that you you reached and so that’s gonna be a really awesome celebration. Make sure you are SVP and save the dates.
All right. Will how can people find you again? People stay connected? Where are you online?
Will Mannon: Yeah, I’m on Twitter. Just dma on Twitter. Yeah, that’s that’s the main spot. I’ve got my personal website and I have all separate side of my life where I study Chinese and I’ve been podcasts in Chinese if everybody speaks Chinese yummy, and I love to interview. So yeah amazing.
Mathilde Leo: Thank you so much everyone for joining for all your great questions for real. Thank you. Will it was an awesome session. Bye everyone.
Form capture for main CTA