How to Prototype Your Digital Products

The method I've used to build online courses & toolkits that over-deliver on value

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Before starting Passive Profits, I spent 25 years working in tech.

Of all the lessons I learned about how to create super successful products, the most important was to treat everything like a prototype.

Every post in this newsletter is a prototype. The engagement metrics (e.g. open/click rates, polls, comments, replies) from last Sunday’s edition helped to make today’s better.

The last sales email you wrote to your prospective client is a prototype. The prospect ignored it, but then you iterated the subject line and your open and click rates improved.

The webinar you ran last month was a prototype. The attendees left feeling confused. But then you added a story with helpful context and the attendees in the next one were buzzing (that’s a good thing).

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first iteration or fiftieth.

When you treat everything you create as a prototype, you swap the goal from “Did I win?” to “Did I learn?”

From perfection to progress.

It’s our race to perfection, even from the first attempt, that keeps us stuck in inaction.

Prototypes disrupt our perfectionist habits. In doing so, it removes a ton of unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves.

Prototyping your digital products

I’ve been talking with more and more founders the past couple of weeks. I ask about their hopes and fears with growing their businesses in 2024.

About building flywheels.

About generating passive income.

About turning a core service into their first digital product.

Of the 33 founders I spoke with, the ones feeling stuck reported not knowing how to get started.

Guess what I helped them figure out? It starts with a “p” and ends in “type.”

Fucking prototype that shit.

(P.S. I’m prototyping my more authentic, New Jersey tone. We curse a lot. Must be all the people living on top of one another.)

But how do I prototype?

In a previous post, I shared a strategy for discovering your wedge product. A wedge is a prototype.

But let’s take it a step further today. Say you’re curious about launching an online, self-paced course in 2024.

How do you create your course prototype?

A live, cohort-based training workshop.

Here’s why:

1) You develop mastery

For an online course to be valuable and effective, it needs to teach the topic without you being there to fill in the gaps.

A live cohort gives you the required mastery to develop a bonafide course.

Live product training I offered through Maven

The market today is flooded with gurus, consultants, and hustlers who create a course based on scant knowledge. MANY course instructors are a half-step away from their students. Those are the courses you leave feeling buyer’s remorse.

These false creator-educators are damaging their personal and professional reputations, as well as the global perception of courses.

But by teaching live cohorts, you’ll deepen your proficiency and turn it into a course students rave about.

2) You iterate and refine

Likewise, a live cohort allows you to iterate your way to building the course your students need and want.

Here’s how:

  • Your cohort of students will ask questions, which you can respond to in real-time

  • Your cohort will request clarity about their specific context, which you can address with related stories and uses cases

  • Your cohort will get stuck with the theory and practical activities, which you can coach them through

These are all data points you’ll use in your course to:

  • Design your learner’s journey

  • Tell relevant and contextual stories

  • Create curriculum that’s easy to digest

  • Develop materials that make the learning practical and sticky

By prototyping with a live training cohort, you’ll build courses your students love and tell their friends about.

And guess what? There’s a prototype to your live training, too… It’s your free webinar. Where you test and refine your arc, lesson, materials, and stories.

The difference between your free webinar and paid live training? The webinar is the what, the training is the how.

Or as my pal Stephen puts it, “What for free. How for a fee.”

3) You pre-sell your course

Finally, as you begin running successful cohorts, you’re additionally building a queue of 3 important things:

  1. Loyal customers eager to buy future trainings (like your course)

  2. Loyal customers happy to promote your course to others

  3. Loyal customers happy to leave a course testimonial (social proof)

In time, you’ll have a small army of people, assets, and evidence that sell your course for you.

This is HUGE. Especially if you don’t love direct sales and marketing.

💡 Bonus: I created this simple checklist you can use to build your live training.

Wrapping up

Building your first digital product is no small feat.

Hopefully the notion of prototyping, along with the examples I provided got you over some mental and emotional hurdles.

By treating your products and services as prototypes, you take the pressure off of being perfect. You lower the bar to shift the objective from knowing to learning, and you dig in.

💡 FYI: I’m walking through my system for building a course during next Friday’s free webinar. Attendees receive a template to get started.

What else?

Use the comments 👇🏼 to ask a question.

Someone in the community has the same one and will appreciate you asking!

Otherwise, click reply and ask me privately.

Backoffice brief

Stuff I’m thinking about, working on, and happening in my life.

✉️ Newsletter growth lever

At the heart of the Passive Profits’ flywheel is this newsletter. It’s the starter motor that will (eventually) drive the rest of my stacked offers.

When it comes to learning how to build and operate newsletters, Matt McGarry is the gold standard.

He recently recommended using a LinkedIn newsletter to grow your email newsletter. By doing so, you build a bridge with your content: From renting on a discovery platform (e.g. LI, X, IG, etc) to owning on a relationship platform (e.g. email, podcast). The latter is where you want to build long-term connections and community.

To test this out, I’ve begun re-posting older Passive Profits posts on the LinkedIn newsletter. I include the first ~50% of the content and then add a link to continue reading over here.

The content isn’t gated here. So the goal is for them to subscribe after reading. And that only happens if my content is valuable.

The first LinkedIn edition went out on Friday. In the first day, it had 245 subscribers. That’s more than double the subscribers I’ve acquired here in 2 months! Matt is smart. Learn from him 👇🏼

🎨 We’re all creative

My friend Adam Roa’s Create Community content always puts a smile on my face. It reminds me how uniquely creative we all are.

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Jay Melone
Creator-Founder @
Passive Profits

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