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+ How to use content and community to drive user growth
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Last year, a16z published an article about the future of solopreneurship, specifically the tools that will empower solopreneurs as they venture out on their own without the backing of a company.
There are three main types of functions a traditional firm has to support its business. The first one is operational support. In a traditional company, departments like legal and finance help people do their job. The second is demand generation. Departments like marketing, sales, and partnership teams are typically responsible for bringing in new customers. The final one is networks. Companies provide access to networks and communities, in which colleagues find a sense of belonging by sharing the highs and lows of their job with each other.
According to the article, the future tech stack for solopreneurs will offer a blend of all these key functions in four main components:
Software tools - calendar, video conferencing, CRM, and other tools that enable people to run their solo business
Demand generation tools - marketplaces or marketing tools that allow solopreneurs to get new leads
Online networks/community - professional networks and communities that help solopreneurs to find belonging and get help from others
Fintech products - working capital, benefits, and everything else that touches the financial part of a business
Since the needs of each solopreneur are so different, there will be more vertical-specific software that addresses those four components. Some might only focus on one area while others might verticalize and tackle all four.
For example, Substack started by building out a suite of software tools (e.g. content management, payment, analytics, etc) to help people easily launch a newsletter. Over time, it has expanded to tackle demand generation. One of the most powerful features they launched is the recommendation feature, which allows Substack writers to recommend other writers. This feature alone has contributed to more than 40% of Consumer Startups’ growth in the past 60 days.
Below is a chart that shows some other vertical providers for each category.
For today’s post, I am highlighting an emerging player in the coaching category - Practice. Practice helps coaches to better run their coaching business by consolidating different software tools into one simple place.
One of the most interesting things about Practice is its unique content-led growth strategy which I will touch on towards the end of the post. Keep reading to find out more.
The coaching universe
According to The International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching is defined as:
“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. - ICF
It’s different from mentorship or consulting - coaching doesn’t solve the issue for the client but rather helps clients identify the path themselves to realize their goals.
As a person in my 20s, I never really considered coaching a big thing since none of my friends, who are mostly also young professionals, have experienced coaching. It turns out that coaching is a lot bigger than I expected. ICF estimated the global market size for the coaching industry to be $2.8B in 2019, a 21% increase over the 2015 estimate. Most coaching clients are between the ages of 35-54. Some popular coaching areas include life coaching, executive coaching, and career coaching.
To validate the scale of the industry, I did a quick search on LinkedIn and found there are over 1.6M people in the world that are coaches of some kind. For each coaching segment, there are at least tens of thousands of them out there in the US alone 🤯.
Here are some numbers:
Coaches globally - 1.6M
Coaches in the US - 669K
Executive coach in the US - 28K
Career coach in the US - 15K
Life coach in the US - 56K
The founding story of Practice
For most people, coaching is an obscure concept. However, for Julien Smith, the founder of Practice, coaching is something he is very familiar with because his father was a silicon valley executive coach his entire life.
At its core, coaching is about empowerment. For over the past decade, it has also been Julien’s personal mission to empower people to work and start a business faster.
“It’s what we did at Breather when it launched, eventually raising over $150 million for it and growing it to 250 employees and millions of users. It’s what my first book, the New York Times bestselling Trust Agents did for social media in 2009.
It’s been my personal mission for a long time, and so it’s quite natural for me and my team to focus on this mission here at Practice, every single day. We want to help someone go from having no business to their first business success, and to help them build this business from what they already know.” - Julien Smith
Eventually, his familiarity with the industry led him to realize that the current coaching business is underserved. The biggest problem lies in the complexity of running a coaching business, which requires many tools.
Many coaching software tools in the market are outdated and poorly designed. As a result, most coaches today piece together 7-10 tools to do their job (e.g. Calendly for scheduling, Google Docs for client notes, and Square for payment just to name a few). Oftentimes, coaches have to dig through many documents and tools to figure out simple questions such as “when did my client pay me?”, “how many sessions this month did they have?”.
After leaving his last startup in 2019, Julien founded Practice to help coaches consolidate, simplify, and streamline their coaching business.
Some of the Practice’s features include:
Scheduler - create a scheduler to help clients book appointments, designed for individuals and groups
Client records - a central place for all client’s stuff, including important client details, documents, and more
Client portal - chat directly on the platform to ensure privacy
Forms and payments - create invoices, recurring subscriptions and packages, and get paid on time
Each feature by itself is not 10x better than a standalone tool like Calendly or Square, but by bundling those important features together, Practice has an opportunity to create a 10x product for coaches.
Founder as the first customer
To validate the usefulness of the tool, Julien decided to put up a coaching shingle himself and become the first customer of Practice.
Prior to founding Practice, he worked on multiple businesses, with the most recent one being Breather, a co-working startup in Canada that reached a 9-digit valuation at its peak. Therefore, for his coaching business, he decided to focus on helping other founders. Even though it was his first time coaching, he was able to make over $100K in 18 months working only 3 hours a week. It was a great win financially but more importantly, it gave Julien a unique insight into what features matter since he is the target user himself.
Read this article to learn more about his journey starting a coaching business.
Practice’s growth framework
Even though Practice is still early in its growth journey, it has built a couple of interesting growth engines around community and content.
The target customer personas for Practice are people that are either relatively new to the coaching business or are just thinking about launching their business today. As a beginner, it can be daunting and overwhelming. To reduce this fear, Practice built a coaching community, integrated on the website, for people to chat with other coaches and learn more about the coaching business or find relevant coaching resources from the community. It’s like a Reddit built into a SaaS platform. It helps to build trust for the brand and also serves as a lead generation tool for Practice since coaches don’t have to pay to sign up, and once they joined, it’s a lot more likely for them to convert and purchase Practice’s SaaS tools.
Another pillar of Practice’s growth framework is content, specifically creating educational content to attract coaches to the platform.
The secret sauce is quite simple - creating content that is actually useful for new coaches. Instead of creating cookie-cutter articles designed only for SEO, the Practice team spends a significant amount of time creating and sourcing content and educational resources that are helpful for coaches. For example, they created a coaching contract template for coaches to send to clients, which got downloaded 3000+ times within the first month.
“A common thing that every coach needs is a coaching contract which is sent to the client at the beginning of the work. To create the contract, they have to spend $1000 to talk to a lawyer. So instead, we just had a $5000 conversation with our lawyers to create a template and give it to people for free.” - Julien
Another example of this content strategy is an accounting template they provided for coaches. Taxes are incredibly painful, especially for solopreneurs. To solve this problem, Practice partnered with a CPA and created a simple guide on what coaches need to know about filing a tax along with an actional g-sheet that a coach can use right away during the tax season.
Creating a vibrant community and useful content are both effective long-term growth engines because they build trust with prospective customers by providing value upfront.
Practice raised a $10M seed at the end of last year, led by Andrew Chen of a16z and joined by other well-known angels like Tony Robbins.
The initial focus is on coaches, with the ultimate goal to serve more solopreneur segments, such as therapists and consultants, who similar to coaches, are constantly trying to help others and make a difference in the world. As a part-time solopreneur myself, I am definitely cheering them on from the sidelines.
That’s it for this week. See you soon 👋,
*Special shout out to Julien and Jeremy for chatting with me for this post!
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