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5 Successful Online Business Ideas That Caught Fire

Entrepreneurs who started from the bottom... (now they're here)

I'll be honest with you, folks. For the past few years, I've been scrambling my brains for genius business ideas to start something on my own. Well, you know the mantra - do what I want, when I want it and how I want it. The reality is, I haven't got much so far. No lightbulb moments, no Eurekas, no prophetic dreams. It's a little disappointing, to say the least. But it got me thinking: what makes a business idea good? Does it need to be super clever? Maybe simple is genius?

So here's the deal. I set out to chat with a handful of successful videopreneurs (entrepreneurs who are riding the video trend like they were born for it) to uncover their stories and collect some wisdom gems on how to make it in the business world.

Dig deep into these real stories to find out how far a video can take you. Once again, we're orbiting the same old truth: there's no need to chase genius business ideas - start from what you know best!


Sonic Academy followed the beats... ba dum tss

The famous dance music producer Deadmau5 once said that it takes two minutes to learn how to DJ. That's a little harsh and tells us more about his own approach to music than about the actual music production. Like any other art form, learning how to DJ can take a lifetime.

Having recognised the trend of people wanting to learn on their own time and at their own pace early on, Sonic Academy, an online video tutorial subscription website for electronic music enthusiasts, has drummed their way to digital business success.

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Bryan Spence, the co-founder of Sonic Academy, is adamant to stay true to his business philosophy, “Our customers range from complete beginners to established superstar DJs. If you want to further your knowledge in EDM music production or learn the basics, then we aim to be the one-stop-shop for that. We are passionate about music and technology and believe that the technology and skills needed to create music should be made available to anyone, anywhere in the world who wants to learn!”

Let's be honest, there's always that grave danger in trying to be everything for everyone. However, what makes Sonic Academy immune to this pain is their business model.

Our business relies entirely on video. Our users have 24/7/365 access to our entire video catalogue, so they can watch the videos whenever and wherever they want. And without the overheads of having to teach one-to-one, we can make the subscription price very cheap, which works out as a win-win for everyone.

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Bryan Co-founder of Sonic Academy

So whether you've been in the music business for years and still feel like you haven't drilled to the bottom of your art or you just ordered your first keyboard off Amazon and want to drop the beats like it's haaat, Sonic Academy is there for you 24/7/365, with tutorials on everything you could possibly need. So you can turn the tables and blast the bass like it's your Burning Man moment.

The catch? Well, when your business is totally reliant on video, you want to make sure they play smoothly.

Bryan elaborates, “Some of our videos can be 30 or 40 minutes long at a time, so it is essential that users can quickly load a video and skip to the relevant part without having to wait for it to buffer. Fast seek times and immediate access to the centre of a stream is crucial."

When you think about it, it's quite a niche market to dabble in. So I was fiercely curious to learn how Bryan managed to build such a vibrant community.

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“Engage with the users. Give them an outlet to ask questions / comment and interact with the video they are watching. When we have a course by a famous producer, we make sure they are available to reply to customers questions. As a way of advertising, we also provide free videos from our courses on our site and via Youtube – driving engagement and ultimately bringing new customers back to the site to find out more or to watch the rest of the course. We strive to provide something that contains a really interesting piece of information that will be appreciated by the music production community. If the video is not interesting, it can do more harm than good,” suggests the co-founder of Sonic Academy.

BRYAN'S TIP Make sure your site searching scales up – as you add more and more content it becomes harder and harder to present it to new users. Initially, it might not be a problem, but as you grow and add more content, it inevitably causes things to get hidden from view. A good search / tagging / rating system will help to keep the good content from being lost.
THEIR TOOLS Screenflow | Music Production Software: Ableton Live / Cubase / Logic Pro / FL Studio | Design: Photoshop / After Effects / Illustrator | Coffee :)

Dr Najeeb Lectures assembles the skeleton of an eLearning business

Dr Najeeb Lectures, the world's largest online video library on Basic Medical sciences, started as nothing more but a YouTube channel to help medical, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy students to sink their teeth into medical knowledge. Since its humble beginnings in 2009, it has grown to become a multi-million dollar eLearning business, trusted by 200k+ students around the world.

“Medical education is very vast and with so many things to remember you can't excel at it unless you truly understand it. Most medical students don't get the education they deserve and lack basic foundations. We specialize in providing medical education with hand-drawn illustrations. After seeing 20 Million+ views on our YouTube channel, we decided to make a website for a one-stop-shop for medical education,” says Zeeshan Najeeb, the CEO of Dr Najeeb Lectures.

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Having assembled a global audience in less than two years and tested the waters on YouTube, Dr Najeeb and his son Zeeshan decided to pin this opportunity and start an online business. While YouTube proved to be an exceptional marketing gateway that they continue to use to raise awareness with sample lectures, they realized that a new business model needed to be put in place in order to make profit. So they brought developers on board and set out to build a subscription video site, relying on a professional video hosting solution with premium features.

In this industry, content is king, however creating quality content is not enough - you must have a reliable platform to showcase your product to the world. Like any eLearning provider, our business is not possible without video. We offer video subscriptions to our members worldwide and vzaar offers us all the tools required to showcase our product in the best way possible. Quality content is the key to any subscription site. After that, running effective and timely promotions along with a reliable platform with a beautiful user interface.

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Zeeshan Najeeb CEO, Dr Najeeb Lectures

Dr Najeeb lectures is a wonderful example of the unlimited potential of online businesses. It's unbelievable how quickly a one-man-and-his-camera kind of YouTube project has developed into a global eLearning company. Zeeshan tells me that their dream is “to produce better health practitioners by making quality medical education accessible online, hence making this world a better place to live” and it seems that Dr Najeeb Lectures is on the right track to accomplish this vision.

When it comes to creating engaging content, their one and only philosophy is to produce videos that contain different material, add value and new insight in each lecture and publish fresh content every week. For those who are just starting out online, Zeeshan gives a simple advice:

Keep it simple. You don't need Hollywood style special effects to create a video that engages. Ours are just Dr. Najeeb and his whiteboard – and it works!

ZEESHAN'S TIP Always ask your customers for feedback. Hear them, so you can improve. This is the part where, I would say, most businesses fail. Let your users voice their opinion and continue to improve your product.
THEIR TOOLS Facebook | YouTube | vzaar

Code School cracks the code to generating customer love

How do you know if you're doing alrightie in the business world? Do you look at your social media following? Press coverage? Your bank account? Frankly, everything. It's a matter of crossing a certain milestone that signals a victorious accomplishment of the first stage of your never-ending growth journey. So the real question here is when can you start relaxing in your office chair?

Let's take a moment to think about it. Code School, an online learning destination for existing and aspiring developers that teaches through entertaining content, is a sweet example.

30,000+ Students. 1M+ Enrollments. 50+ Courses. Can we say they're doing alrightie?


We're probably safe to assume so. did they get to where they are now?

“Code School started as a side project of a Ruby on Rails consultancy called Envy Labs in Orlando, FL. The first 'course' the group published was called 'Rails for Zombies', a quirky, educational video series teaching the basics of Ruby on Rails within the web browser using zombies to propel the course's narrative — a departure from traditional book learning and other tutorial websites. The Rails for Zombies course series was a huge hit and inspired the format of Code School today — offbeat courses teaching web technologies like Ruby, HTML, and JavaScript using gamification to reward users for their progress,” remembers Nick Roberts, the PR guru of Code School.

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One of the perks of being a web-based platform is that you are, in fact, a global business. Students from all over the world flock to Code School's website to watch educational videos and use coding challenges to learn new skills. With the demand for highly-trained developers surging every day, the idea to profit from teaching coding skills online was simply bound to succeed.

Nick agrees, “Coding education is more important than ever, but up until a few years ago, there were very few avenues you could take to get involved in computer programming. Traditional computer science courses can be expensive and lengthy, but technology moves so quickly that new and existing developers needed an easy way to keep up with programming trends without 'going back to school'. Code School is able to produce quick, easily understood content that helps developers learn the skills they need quickly.”

Whether you've been programming for decades or have just started learning, Code School offers something for everyone. And what makes them stand out from the plethora of competitors is their approach to learner engagement and meticulous efforts to continue building playful, gamified learning experiences that captured developers' hearts in the first place.

Engaging video content is the lifeblood of our course production. Our fun-spirited instructors make it easy to learn new coding topics and without them on camera presenting our entertaining course narratives, we worry that we'd be too much like traditional computer science instruction. Video allows us break languages into digestible micro-topics so that we can reward more frequently and attach a human element to learning.

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Nick Roberts PR Manager at Code School

In the past year, the edtech sector has received an overwhelming amount of attention, venture money and praise. Educational strategies worldwide are finally getting the badly needed facelift, so it's logical to expect the world's appetite for innovative edtech tools to continue to grow.

Nick confirms that expanding their course portfolio is one of Code School's priorities, “Although we started teaching Ruby on Rails, we've since branched out to teach a number of other web technologies. By keeping an ear to the ground to stay up to date with changes in web-based languages and continually polling our users to find out what technologies they'd like to learn next, we're able to figure out what to produce.”

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He leaves us to ponder a simple truth, “Learning anything new can be taxing and if you get discouraged along the way, you're less likely to continue.”

NICK'S TIP Often, you'll find that a small portion of your library is generating the bulk of your business. Focus on making your introductory and most-completed content as good as it can be. You only get one chance to resonate with a new learner, so make sure they don't get frustrated on your platform and that their first experience with your content inspires them to continue learning.
THEIR TOOLS Slack | Basecamp | Meldium | Github

Reflexion Yoga bends the rules of grown-up life to find business zen

Meet Kyle, the founder of the online yoga training hub Reflexion Yoga. Kyle wasn't always as happy as he is now.

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Kyle had a corporate job and used to work 70 hours a week behind a desk. His mind was poisoned with work stress and his soul yearned for something more meaningful. So he quit the office job and started a yoga business online. And just like that, all his old worries were replaced with new ones were gone.

Remembering the start of his venture, Kyle reflects, “I had been passionate about yoga for a long time, and when I turned 30, I hit this 'now or never' moment and realized that it was time to start my own business. I didn't know much about video, but I knew I had the capacity to learn.”

Failure is inevitable. Frustration is certain. It's what you do in these situations that define your business. In the early days, I'd freak out over the smallest things. Nowadays, though, I just smile and know that for every moment of struggle, I'm just adding to my capacity to celebrate big success in the long term.

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Kyle Weiger Founder of Reflexion Yoga

Joining a yoga practice for the first time can be a little uncomfortable if not intimidating, and Kyle knew it. It was the reason that prompted him to build an online platform and help people (anywhere in the world) master yoga from the comfort of their home and at a fraction of the cost.

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Kyle believes that audience segmentation is the way to go if you want to achieve organic growth for your business and keep the customers happy. Because you must give them exactly what they need. Reflexion Yoga caters to three different audiences - yoga beginners, the “Fit but Busy” yogis and the supplemental yogis. Everyone has their own path to zen.

In terms of content creation, Kyle is confident that “video is everything. The value of my site sits with the power of video as our medium. You get to see the Instructor, the Students, the poses, and the progression of the flow. Without video, there would be no Reflexion Yoga and I'd still be wishing I started my own business back when I had the chance.” He insists, “Our overall 'strategy' is to continue to build a quality product by bringing on fun, light-hearted instructors that offer accessible and relatable yoga classes. There are a lot of different types of yoga out there, so rather than try to be all things to all people, we've put our flag in the sand for the kinds of members we serve.”

As someone who's not afraid to delve into deeper topics, Kyle offers some hard-earned advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, “If you're going at your business by yourself, you are the Producer, Editor, Accountant, Janitor, Security Guard, and CEO. Look at what needs to be done, then move the most important stuff to the top of the list. Manage your time by not getting caught up in the little things. In fact, leave the little things for outsourced project-based labor. It's easy to get caught up on things like 'What color should I make the Play button?' and you spend the next 3 hours Googling color research. Those type of things are definitely NOT big-picture items. It's like picking out the tile pattern before you've even built your house.”

May peace be with you, ambitious people. Take it easy.

KYLE'S TIP You do you. No matter what. If you're passionate about what you're going to be doing, go with your gut. There are going to be times where you feel like giving up, probably a handful of them. Continue to press forward and greet each obstacle with an open mind. Also, study. A lot. It's your depth of knowledge around your subject, combined with your personality, that will attract and keep members. If you ever get so busy with the business that you start to neglect your actual passion, get up and step away from the computer, take a deep breath, and remind yourself why you started this whole thing in the first place.

How Dance Vision waltzed their way into online business

Does your biggest nightmare feature dancing in the spotlight, with bright lights beaming straight into your eyes, making you stumble, and crowds of smirking faces following your every step? Then you're one of us, the wooden-limbed bunch. But shockingly, there are thousands of people around the world for whom the real nightmare is to miss out on some wicked cha cha moves. Yeh, you read that right.

So no matter what the goal is - to perfect that wedding dance or dazzle an audience with sassy tango maneuvers - Dance Vision, the world leader in production and distribution of instructional Ballroom and Social dance media, has taken it upon themselves to help the world learn how to dance.

It's never too late, you know.

The love for ballroom dancing isn't limited to one geographic region. There are dance lovers in just about every city on the map. Technology has evolved to the point where we're now able to offer our entire catalog online. Online streaming allows ballroom enthusiasts everywhere to learn the techniques that they desire whenever they're connected to the Internet.

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Wayne Eng Founder of Dance Vision

Dance Vision has been around since 1992, teaching the world to dance on a variety of platforms. Initially, they were offering their instructional content on VHS and DVD (remember those?!), but in recent years have successfully adapted to the 21st century technologies and moved online.

Wayne continues, “Dance Vision was created around the premise of taking the top professionals in Dancesport and making them accessible to everyone through instructional dance videos. The concept remains the same, but online streaming takes it one step further. Now, it's easier and more convenient than ever to gain knowledge and insight from high quality videos featuring professional instructors.”

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It's an unusual, unexpected and most importantly - a really successful business idea. So how did they make it work?

“The first step for Dance Vision has always been to produce high quality content featuring professional instructors. We actively engage with our existing customers online and keep them informed of the most popular content, special promotions, and upcoming events in the world of dance. We also rely on those same customers to help spread the word about the exciting things that Dance Vision has to offer. The feedback and word of mouth that we receive is priceless. Opening up the channels of communication has been instrumental in developing our engaging community. We have a dedicated staff that provides excellent customer service and support to Dance Vision customers,” advocates Wayne Eng.

WAYNE'S TIP Quality videos and engaging content. Those are the two key elements that consumers seek when deciding whether or not to invest time and money into your product. It's very hard to succeed without them.