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In the second episode of the Learnetto podcast, I interviewed Imran Esmail of Escape Your Desk Job. Imran is an expert marketer who teaches people how to use social platforms like Quora and Slideshare as a way to grow your audience. He is the co-author of the Domination Series books Quora Domination and Slideshare Domination.

Imran also has a new course on Slideshare and is organising The Virtual Slideshare Summit 2016.

Let's hear Imran's story.


Imran Esmail (IE): How are you doing, Hrishi?

Hrishi Mittal (HM): Good, how are you doing? Thanks for the taking the call.

IE: Glad to be here.

HM: It’s good to have you on the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

IE: I’m Imran Esmail and I’m from Toronto. My website is escapeyourdeskjob.com where I teach people to write books and launch online courses. Right now, I’m just going through the process of launching my own, Slides that Sell. We’re inviting the top SlideShare users in the world to teach how everybody how to do it and then we are going to sell the course. 

HM: Wow, that sounds exciting, lots of new stuff going on. So, tell me a bit about your background, how did you get into this? 

IE: So I’ll take you back to when I had an actual job, and before I entered the entrepreneurship world. Originally, I was working in Deloitte which is an accountancy firm in Toronto and all over the world as well. I was working in the financial advisory group. During the ‘08 crisis, the whole group was broken up; the whole team was let go, including myself. At that point, I joined Grant Thornton as a productivity consultant. We would basically fly all around the world and be in charge of turning around companies. So we would visit a manufacturing facility and either increase their productivity or let people go, whatever it might be. Then at that point, I felt that that wasn’t the life I wanted to lead for the next 20 years or so, so I got out. I started getting into startups, then launched my first startup which is Revparmax. We are actually helping people, like hotels, look at their revenue and see where they can maximise it. I then got into teaching courses as well, which I really enjoyed, actually more so than the startup, so I went down that road. 

HM: What was the name of your startup?

IE: Revparmax. RevPar is a term for hotels; Revenue per available room. 

HM: So that was your first startup, how did you move into teaching from there?

IE: I guess I always enjoyed teaching and I started looking at Udemy when it first came out. So, I thought I’d put a course on there about productivity. I spent a month putting it together and got a lot of good feedback and probably around 5,000 students. I really enjoyed the process, kept going with it and did more. 

HM: And how did you get into growth marketing?
IE: So, I started answering questions on Quora, to spread my knowledge which is part of getting people to the courses and also just to see what people wanted in terms of different material. Funnily enough, I ended up growing my Quora account to a million people, or a million views in the course of 48 days. Then I thought that there’s something here. I’ve talked to so many startups and people I know and the biggest thing people struggle with is getting traffic, getting views, getting noticed. So, I put a book out about Quora since I was already writing books at this point. Then I thought I ought to know more about the growth part, so I started to get into growth marketing and that’s what I’m teaching now; merging courses with growth marketing.

HM: Well, if I’m not mistaken you are the most read person on Quora?

IE: I don’t know if I’m the most-read but I’m up there for sure.

HM: Why do you think Quora is so effective?

IE: I was talking to these guys on a podcast the other day and was just telling them that with Quora, you get the opportunity to connect with people one-on-one, which you don’t get to do with Twitter or Facebook - well you do with Facebook, but it’s much more intimate on Quora, because a lot of people will ask questions they are really struggling with and a lot of times it’s anonymous. So, when you leave a thought-out response, they’re much more likely to engage with you for years to come and then buy your stuff. People that visit my website are much more engaged than people that are visiting from Facebook or Twitter. That’s why I think it’s so powerful.

HM: Especially since I’ve discovered your book and your forum, I’ve been using it a bit as well. I have noticed that once startups or companies discover a trick, everyone tries to do it. Often, there will be a very specific business related question; how do I solve x? Then people will just start linking to their product, saying that this is how you solve it. When I read your stuff, I can see that’s definitely not how you approach Quora. 

IE: I think it comes down to authenticity. When you’re using Quora as a transactional place to get a sale, people can feel that right away. But if you’re authentic, over time that really shows because you care about the people you are answering questions for. Then, the product is just an afterthought for them. People visit my site mainly from my profile, not the content itself. So people have to learn about playing the long game and being authentic. Everyone is trying to get short-term value and forget that you’ll be doing this for the next 5-10 years of your life. So, be authentic and have a voice.

HM: Yeah, sure. Is that the kind of thing you talk about in your book?

IE: Quora Domination, yes. We interviewed about 12 of the top authors to get their insights. They have some really good case studies at the end of the book which will give you insights into what people are thinking. But, in the book I think I was really going for how to get a lot of views in a short period of time, and that doesn’t mean you have to cheat the system or anything, it’s just telling you where to focus your attention. You can focus your attention on a lot of things, but if someone directs you to the right place, and you answer the questions in detail and really care, the view count comes naturally. So, my thinking for the book was to give people somewhere to focus so they don’t just answer willy-nilly. That way they can get their view count up and leave really good, important answers for people. 

HM: Right and how has the book been received?

IE: Funnily enough, it’s kind of picked up on its own. I answered lots of questions when the book was coming out and I started getting top authors on Quora messaging me saying: this person read your book and I heard you mention me. It’s being passed around organically which I like. In terms of the community itself, it’s fairly small so we don’t have a lot of writers that are regular writers. It’s a very niche product and niche book so I’m not expecting a huge amount of sales, but I am expecting some connections with people. 

HM: Cool. So are you going to do a Quora course?

IE: Not right now. If that’s something people want, I’ll look at it but again, that’s probably too niche. I’ll probably do a course on PR hacking; which is about getting noticed. What people don’t know is that a lot of Quora writers get published on Business Insider, Inc Magazine - all these big companies come to find Quora writers. So, it’s a natural extension to find a PR voice with Quora. 

HM: Great! So, I’m just curious about your writing style and how you write on Quora, blogs and newsletters? Do you have any tips? And is it different how you approach Quora to your own blog, for instance?

IE: Yeah, obviously the answers are much more aligned with the question, whatever it might be, on Quora. But the writing style is very similar to the way I blog; I try to make it very personal. I have learned a lot about copywriting in the last couple of years and it is important to make the content skimmable. So, for every two lines press return and make sure people can skim it. Bold, important points. Put images every 75 to 100 words. A lot of these things that people teach in copywriting apply to Quora as well. So that’s my style: skimmable, choppy and very frank with advice. 

HM: Do you recommend any courses or places to learn?

IE: There’s this guy Neville. Type in Neville and copywriting. I saw his course a long time ago on AppSumo; I never bought it myself but I’ve heard it’s very good and he’s a very good copywriter, so I trust his work. 

HM: Ok, great. So with your book and the courses you have online, you have a fair bit of teaching experience now. Could you tell us a bit about how this has been for you, and what challenges you have faced?

IE: Well, with Udemy specifically it’s been a challenge to get people engaged. A lot of people simply buy the course because it is always discounted then never carry through with the material. As an instructor this is very frustrating because you want people to get the value. If people don’t carry through with it and then complain about the course, it’s not really fair on either party. So what I’ve been doing recently is publishing more comprehensive courses and increasing the price to 200-300 dollars or more. I believe that people should invest in their own education and by investing in your own education, naturally you’re more likely to carry through with things. Then as an instructor as well, I’m much more engaged with the community because i know that they care enough to pay that much.

HM: Right, I can definitely relate to buying books or courses and never reading them.

IE: Yeah, nothing comes easy. People think that making money online and doing all this stuff is very simple, but it takes a lot of time and you have to fight through it. If the course teaches you anything, it’s that you have to go through it properly and do every step in the process. 

HM: So, on that point, do you have any recommendations for a student starting an online course?

IE: Yes, so as a student, choose the courses you are going to buy very carefully; do your research. But also, when you do buy a course, don’t spend 10 dollars or steal it from online, because the chances are that you’ll never actually follow through, especially if it is an important or long topic. So invest - put the money in - 300 or 400 dollars, I know it might hurt your pocket book, but when it comes down to it, the learning you might get from it is 10, 20, 30 times more important than what you paid for the course. 

HM: Yeah, I think that latter point - a lot of people struggle with understanding that. Many expect information to be free and content to be free, or expect crazy deals. 

IE: I mean how many times have you picked up an e-book for 10 dollars then never read it or for 2 dollars, or opt into a list and never actually use it. How many times are people going to do this  before they realise it’s not actually about the cost, it’s about their mentality going into it?

HM: Exactly, and when you do take a course, it’s important to complete all the exercises, to finish the whole thing and to make sure you acquire the skill that you actually set out to get. I’m thinking a lot about this stuff right now because for Learnetto our focus is very much on improving outcomes both for teachers and students. We don’t want to become just another marketplace that sells courses for cheap and doesn’t care about the students or the teachers. So in terms of increasing engagement for students, we are trying to make better communication tools for both of them so that teachers can ask them when they get stuck at certain points and whether they need help.

IE: That’s so important. I think progress and accountability are super important these days. 

HM: I’m glad you agree on that because it’s part of our value proposition. Ok, so I want to know more about the latest stuff you are working on?

IE: Yeah, so I wanted to extend to different platforms and do it bigger this time. So we put the book on slideshare but we are going to have an accompanying virtual summit and video course as well. So, I reached out to one of the top keynote authors on SlideShare, Eugene Cheng, who has about 2 million views on his 16 presentations. On one of those presentations, he actually gets about 400 email opt-ins per month for the last two years - if you can imagine that! There is a lot of power if you use it properly. We brought all of the top authors together for this virtual summit on March 9-14th. We’ll be teaching everything from how to design a beautiful presentation to how to get a job with SlideShare to what is the future of visual marketing. It’s a really comprehensive look at how the way visual marketing presentations and infographics are all going to go in the next 5 years or so. At the end we are going to sell the course which is taught by Eugene himself. Eugene typically charges around 5000 dollars to do one presentation, so it’s a ton of value; we are taking all his knowledge and just packing it into this course - all the way from developing a storyline to creating a presentation, everything is being taught! I’m really excited to see how this works out. 

HM: Yeah, this sounds really exciting. So, I want to go back a little bit and find out why Slideshare as opposed to other platforms?

IE: I had quite a lot of success with SlideShare, so that’s why I looked at it initially. Then there were certain people on it who were doing excessively well. It was an untapped market so far; everything was talking about Facebook and Twitter and rightfully so - they are very big - but SlideShare was left of the map. I wanted to find out more about it myself and I decided to teach a course and write a book about it myself too. It came from my learning, I wanted to find out more. It’s part of the whole Quora, SlideShare, growth hacking series I’m working on. 

HM: So without giving away the content of your summit, can you tell us briefly about the main points?

IE: Visual marketing is extremely viral; humans process visuals about 6000 times faster than text. By its nature, it’s easier to share and spread. Our last presentation did about 20,000 views in the first week and 300 social shares in the first week. People love to share this stuff and that’s what you want - growth. I think that’s one of the reasons I got into it, I wanted to learn more about visual marketing and I think it’s important for people to learn about that. I saw the power of Quora from the people I talked to. We talked to a guy called Conrad Wadowski who used to work for Teachable. He did about 12,000 dollars worth of sales through SlideShare, then we talked to a gentleman who did about a quarter of million dollars in sales from leads that came directly from SlideShare. Ross Simmons, one of our keynote speakers, spent about 20,000 dollars in creating presentations, and then booked two speaking engagements which paid him back within a month of him putting those presentations out. It is a great branding techniques, a great sales channel, a great lead channel and I think everyone should be using it. 

HM: Yeah, it sounds very powerful. 

IE: Most people aren’t very good at visual marketing, it’s very difficult to create beautiful presentations if you don’t know the skills right? So hopefully our course will teach you that, and beyond that all visual marketing in terms of graphics for your website, for your pinterest, they all have the same fundamentals, so i think it is a really important avenue. 

HM: Sure. So what’s the format of your event?

IE: It’s going to be a four day event: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and then the following Monday. We have about 6 speakers so far. It’s a live, online event and we’re hosting on CrowdCast, a really cool webinar platform so people can ask questions. There are polls and chats; it’s pretty cool actually!

HM: Cool, we’ll definitely include all of the links in the show notes! I think that’s all the main questions I have for you today. Do you have any final tips or advice?

IE: I would just say, even though I teach growth hacking, it comes down to making personal connections through whatever you put out. I show the best way to growth hack and build your business really fast, but at the same time, you have to put out good content to fill out those gaps. It’s important that people understand it’s not all about you, you, you; it’s about the other person and giving a ton of value before you get anything. 

HM: I absolutely agree. Do you have any links you want people to follow?

IE: My personal website where I talk about building online businesses, passive income and all that stuff is escapeyourdeskjob.com. I just show people behind the scenes of when I build the courses and books so you can understand how the magic happens. If you want to learn more about the SlideShare course, it’s slidesthatsell.co is the course and slidesthatsell.summit is the virtual summit we are running. 

HM: Ok great. Well thanks for coming; that was a good learning experience for me. Thank you, bye!

IE: Bye!


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