I was prompted by a VC to write about a product I do not like and why it is working anyway, and then what changes I would make and why those changes would make the product better. Here is what I wrote:
I’ll write about MasterClass. I love the concept but I don’t love the product. In fact, I know more people with negative feelings about it than positive because MasterClass is expensive and people struggle to give enough time and attention to feel they are getting their money’s worth. Worse than the sentiment among those I know who have tried it is the fact that the vast majority of people I know have not tried it at all, and that too is because of price. $180 per year or $90 per class is not an easy commitment, especially if you are young or in debt like most people are, and those are the people we want to be empowering to learn the most.
Nonetheless, MasterClass is working anyway, to some degree at least. It has certainly raised a lot of money ($136.4M). It is working because of its teachers and content. MasterClass has an unparalleled lineup of world-class instructors, some of the best in their respective crafts. The content is excellent in terms of both instruction and production quality, but still, I do not believe MasterClass is doing nearly as well as it could be doing to compete for people’s time and attention against the likes of YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and alike. That is why I will propose changes I would make to remove all negative connotations and enable MasterClass to become a product that hundreds of millions of people love.
First off, make it free.
Making MasterClass a free product would enable it to build overall viewership as quickly as possible in terms of its number of users and hours of content watched. They say content is king but it is only king when it drives viewership. The king is powerless without enough people to serve. Give everyone access for free and anyone who would ever try it will, and there will be no reason ever to cancel.
To make this work, I believe MasterClass could support itself on an ad-based model, but I would be very thoughtful about its design. Podcasts present the best model to replicate. In podcasts, commercials are presented by the podcast host who listeners generally like and trust, and the host genuinely seems to recommend the products and services he or she promotes.
MasterClass should take a similar approach where teachers promote things they genuinely use and like. There are plenty of brands that will pay top dollar for premium ads with big name talent in video format.
There are other changes I would propose like expanding the offering beyond crafts to include important subjects such as the climate crisis, mindfulness, and bitcoin. I would also make it more interactive, similar to Peloton, possibly even copying the live concept where the classes are actually recorded somewhere with students engaging and asking questions.
In summary, MasterClass has launched an awesome product, but I still don’t like it. With a few small changes, I believe I would love it, and that the world would too.