There’s no profession that I respect more than those who teach. And it’s a shame that those who educate our children can barely make a living.
In stark contrast, the opportunities for entrepreneurs in the online education space are incredibly lucrative. And it makes sense that we’ll see people defect from traditional education to entrepreneurial education.
That’s what happened with Omar Zenhom of the $100 MBA. He not only left the world of traditional education to achieve more on his own, he advocates that entrepreneurs can get a better education outside of the traditional ivy-covered walls of academia.
Listen in to hear Omar’s journey from educator to educational entrepreneur. And discover how you can travel a similar path, regardless of your background.
The Show Notes
Why Teaching is the Key Entrepreneurial Opportunity of the 21st Century
Omar Zenhom: My name is Omar Zenhom. I'm a problem solver and an educator, and I am without a doubt unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our Free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Welcome back to Unemployable. I am your host, Brian Clark, CEO of Rainmaker Digital, and very happy to be talking to you today.
We are going to cover online education a bit, which is one of my favorite topics. As freelancers and other entrepreneurs transition into their first products, it's really hard to beat the online training approach.
I should mention that I'm teaching a course over at Digital Commerce Academy about building a business around online training. You can actually get the first four lessons of that paid course for free by going to digitalcommerce.com/register. You'll also get access to a bunch of other cool stuff to see if you like what's happening over there at Digital Commerce Academy. So, do check that out – – digitalcommerce.com/register.
Today, we're talking to someone else who is enjoying themselves quite a bit in the online education space, Omar Zenhom of The $100 MBA Podcast and Training. Omar is an actual former educator, which makes his story even more interesting.
You may recall a couple of weeks back with my chat with Jay Baer, we both kind of thought we might end up college professors because of our love for teaching. And instead, we were able to teach in a much more lucrative way. That's also true for Omar. Let's talk to him and see what his story is all about.
Omar, thanks so much for being here today. How are you?
Omar Zenhom: I'm doing great. How are you doing, Brian?
Brian Clark: I'm doing fine. I don't know what the weather's like, are you on the West Coast?
Omar Zenhom: I'm actually currently in Sydney. I live in San Diego though. I live close to Pacific Beach.
Brian Clark: How nice.
Omar Zenhom: But I'm in Sydney at the moment. My partner in life and in business is from Sydney, Nicole. And we spend some time here in the summertime for Sydney, but winter in California.
What Is Your Background?
Brian Clark: Excellent, not bad at all. Okay. You have, like everyone we talk to on the show, an interesting journey on the way to where you're currently at. Yours in particular prompted me to really want to take a deep dive about education and what does that mean today.
I think there are ramifications for traditional education across the board, but specifically when it comes to people who are going to enter the world of freelancing or they're looking to start another type of entrepreneurial business. It's just a very different world. And some might argue, maybe even you, that traditional education was never really the thing for getting someone ready to become an entrepreneur. So, we will touch on that for sure.
But take us back a little bit, because there are a lot of people out here teaching these days based on experience, but you have a background in education.
Omar Zenhom: Yeah, I'm actually somebody online that was trained to teach. I started as a teacher. Funny enough, my father was in sales and an entrepreneur for most of his adult life. Growing up, I saw the instability of business and thought I wanted something a little bit stable. I didn't want to be a doctor, so I decided to become a teacher.
I taught at the high school level at the beginning and then I moved on to teaching at the university level. I taught English as a Second Language, that was my specialty. But the last six years or so of my education career, I was in management. I was a head of department, I was a curriculum developer, I was a teacher trainer. My job was to train as well as to write curriculum, write courses, things like that.
That's kind of how I got started in education. I have a masters in education, I’ve got multiple certifications in training and assessment. Something you have to do as a teacher is constantly update your skills. But the funny thing is that some of the stuff that I was around as a kid with my father, probably just seeped in without even me noticing.
During my career in education, I started to, what they call, “side hustle.” I just started businesses on the side online to see if I can do this thing. Is this possible to make money on the Internet?
That's where I kind of got started as a teacher, as an educator. I was very dedicated to my job and very much moving up in my career. I always say it's really hard to quit something that you're good at.
For me, when I made that transition from education to full-time entrepreneurship, it was more of a situation where my frustration outgrew my fear of entrepreneurship, and I was able to make that leap.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. In my mind, there are no more important people in the world than teachers, especially those who teach our children and us as we progress through life in something that's becoming a lifelong commitment at this point, yet we don't treat our teachers all that well.
What Role Did Frustration Play in Choosing Entrepreneurship?
Brian Clark: Was that the frustration or was it really just that influence where the entrepreneurial side of you was outweighing the environment you were in?
Omar Zenhom: I think it was a little bit of two different things.
One was that I was frustrated with the idea I was contributing to the organization I was working to. I was putting in policies, I was doing some incredible things to improve the institution. And I came to the realization, “I'm going to leave one day and I can't take it with me. I don't have a legacy. I don't have anything that I can point to and say, ‘That's mine.’” That bothered me a lot.
I ignored it for a while, and then I got to a point where I was a head of department at the university I was working at, and I was looking to become the dean. I was in a discussion with my supervisor, and at the time I realized in that discussion, “I'm not going to get the job, because it's earmarked for somebody else who does far less of a good job than I do.”
I just realized, “There are so many things out of my control. There's a ceiling to what I can do here. I think if I dedicated the same energy and time into building my own thing, I’d probably excel a lot faster.” And I felt a little bit trapped. I also kind of felt like my creativity and my potential was limited. So that was a big frustration.
I was also very frustrated with the world of education. A lot of people don't realize that education, especially higher education is a huge, huge business. Unfortunately, the interest of the student is not really the first priority. If anybody's going to tell you otherwise, he’s just straight up lying to you. Because at the end of the day, bums on seats means paychecks are paid.
People that are in the educational world know this. They know that there are certain dates on the calendar where you don't give anything lower than a C, because that discourages students and you don't want them to drop the course before a drop date and all that stuff. So it's not really about education and that's pretty universal.
That really bothered me and I thought, “I want to do something that changes things up and really offers something that is a little bit different.”
How Did You Go from an MBA Program to Full-Time Entrepreneur?
Brian Clark: Yeah, you definitely have that unemployable entrepreneurial streak, whether you realized it completely at the time.
It's interesting to me, because you're indicating this urge to go create your own legacy and start your own thing, yet something prompted you to seek a Wharton MBA, which to me is a very prestigious program. No doubt about it. But that's what you do to go get a very prestigious job, not necessarily to be an entrepreneur. What were you at the time where you said, “I'm doing the Wharton thing”?
Omar Zenhom: It's funny, because at the time I was around 30, so I'd already done my education in terms of becoming a teacher. I have my masters, I had all these other certifications. But I was making the transition to full time entrepreneurship. At the time, I had a few successful side businesses. I'd kind of proven to myself that I can do this full time.
But then, I was kind of saying, “Okay, my whole income is going to be based on how well I do as a business person.” And I had insecurities to be completely honest. I was insecure.
My first business as a full-time entrepreneur was a business consultancy business. I didn't think people would take me seriously if I didn't have an MBA or I didn't have some sort of credential. You remember, I'm coming from a world that is immersed in credentials. It was hard for me to shake that off so quickly.
I applied to Wharton, I got accepted, which I was very happy about. And I attended a semester there, I was actually surprised how easy it was. Maybe it was easy, because I'd kind of had my feet wet in business and I was 30, I wasn't 18 or 22, which was like the median of the class.
Towards the end of the semester, I got some really interesting advice from my marketing professor. He approached me and he said, “Omar, what are you doing here?” And I said, “What do you mean? I'm here to get my MBA.” He said, “No, why do you want an MBA?” I was like, “Well, I want an MBA, because I want to be a really good entrepreneur. I want to be a successful entrepreneur.”
He just shook his head in disappointment and confusion and said, “You don't get an MBA to be a great entrepreneur. You get an MBA to get a good stable middle management job at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. That's why these kids are here. You don't need that. You're doing fine. A lot of the exercises that we do you implement in your actual business that you're doing. You're actually in the real world.”
He said something that was very unique and was like a light bulb moment for me, where he just said, “Business schools don't have a monopoly on education. The information that we teach is available.”
I realized at that moment, “I don't need a permission slip. I don't need that piece of paper to tell me that I know business.” And I realized that I'm sure there are a lot of other people that feel the same way and that's why I started The $100 MBA.
Brian Clark: But before you started The $100 MBA, you dropped out of Wharton. And that conversation sounded like it had to be a catalyst.
Omar Zenhom: That was exactly it. I just basically, at that moment, I went home kind of in disarray, kind of like, “Well, maybe I really need to rethink this whole thing.” I took a look at my finances and said, “I can use the $100,000 in savings. I can use that in my business, I can use that in my life.” And I decided to say, “Yeah, you know what, this is not for me. I'm going to do it on my own.”
In the semester too, I started to realize, “This stuff is not really that revolutionary. I can learn this on my own. I can learn this through experiences.” There are plenty of books out there that I was already reading.
It’s funny, because my professor told me, “Listen, here's a list of books that you could read that can help you out, even if you don't decide to continue with us.” It was a list of 40 books. And at the time, I looked at that list, I had read already 20 of them or 22 of them to be exact. I was like, “Okay, maybe I don't need this,” and I just decided to drop out.
How Did You Handle Negative Reactions to Your Plans?
Brian Clark: As someone who quit the practice of law and faced the reaction to that, did you get the “What's wrong with you” thing from parents or friends or otherwise? Or did people kind of get that you didn't really need to be there?
Omar Zenhom: It’s a good question. I got a bit from my friends, not my family, because luckily enough my family's very supportive. My parents have always told me, “Whatever makes you happy, go for it.”
But I'll be honest with you, Brian, I made a conscious choice when I started, when I dropped out and really went head in and built my business. I really made a conscious choice to really isolate myself from anybody I thought was not supportive. Somebody that would not really help me excel. I needed to be around certain people that would really make me feel like I could do this and I can really make it happen, and I had what it takes to make it happen.
So, that's part of it. I made a conscious choice not to be around anybody that would say that to me.
When Lack of Traditional “Wisdom” Is an Asset
Brian Clark: Yeah, that's good advice. It's hard to take sometimes, especially when people close to you are not supportive. But I just kind of put my head down and worked and then was successful enough to where everyone got it eventually. That's one way to do it.
Reflecting on that time in my own life, I was a liberal arts major with a law degree. I practiced business law, but I never took a business course, I never read a marketing book until I actually quit, started publishing online and then I read Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing. It's direct marketing in the context of the Internet which was really kind of turned upside down.
I didn't know anything about marketing until I read that book and I said, “Okay, I'm already doing half of this correctly, I just need something to sell now.” And that's not only when I became an entrepreneur, but I started doing “content marketing,” which didn't get that name for a while until afterward.
I think I've heard you say something similar, which is your lack of traditional “wisdom” in business and marketing was an asset to you. Is that how you feel?
Omar Zenhom: I do. I do feel like it's an asset. It's funny, because it reminds me of Ryan Holiday's book Growth Hacker, where he kind of had this awakening of, “Marketing has changed with embedding certain things into your products, improving your product.” So it has that kind of embedded marketing effect. And he comes from more traditional marketing world where he was the director of American Apparel and all that stuff, director of marketing.
I felt that way too, because my real experience in my adult life was education. So all my goals, what means success to me equals making sure somebody understands, comprehends and retains information. That was my job. The students had to make sure they had that so they could pass their exams and move on to the next level.
To me, the whole idea of “What's the perfect business model?” and all that stuff, I was just not really concerned about that so much as much as, “If I can make sure that I can get a win from my customers, for my audience, I think I'll be all right.”
And it's proven to be true with our podcast or our courses or our software, where I basically just focused on the idea that I need to make sure that by the end of the time with the person I'm in front of, my audience, my client, that they leave a better person, better off. They have the tools and the information they need to do better at their business or whatever they're doing.
I think that was really a great advantage. I didn't see it at the time, because I thought, “Oh my gosh, I'm starting all over.” Because I was an educator for so long, I was in that world. But it was one of the best assets. And then just being away from that traditional business understanding and feeling there's only one way to do things, it really helped me a lot.
Also, I'd been a self-learner for a very long time when I was trying to figure out if I can build businesses online. I got started with my first online business back in 2000, which a lot of people don't realize that that was possible back then, even though there was no WordPress and there was none of all the great tools we have now. There was no PayPal for crying out loud. I had to get a merchant account. That was just crazy. But it was a good exercise of being resourceful.
I remember when I started to grow, one of the resources I really saw as a great example of content marketing, was Copyblogger. I remember looking at your site and like, “These guys are giving out some really good stuff to get people to subscribe to the newsletter. I mean, it's really valuable. It's not ‘Here's a free report.’”
So just being able to be resourceful with my own education and business was helpful.
Play to Your Strengths
Brian Clark: Yeah, the fascinating thing to me about your background is from a traditional perspective, you would seem the most ill-equipped person in the world to become an entrepreneur. Yet, nowadays, teaching is marketing. Teaching is a business model. And that's exactly what you've played to with your strengths, right? It's just funny.
The same thing with me. I thought I wanted to become a writer. Turned out I was an entrepreneur who could write, which was an underappreciated business asset as we came into the era of content and that being a marketing skill and all that kind of stuff.
It is interesting where people underestimate their capabilities and treat them as liabilities when they're not looking at it from the right perspective. But it can be hard. I mean, I'll be the first to admit that.
Omar Zenhom: The skill itself is not as important as recognizing you have the skill. For me, I wouldn't have any success if I didn't realize that I was good at teaching. Some people just neglect their skills. They think that, oh, they've been a programmer all their life and now they want to be a life coach. It's like, “Dude, you have a great skill here, you can utilize this thing.”
Brian Clark: It’s a big shift.
Omar Zenhom: Yeah, and you can utilize some of your experience in a different way, in a business model. You could still be an entrepreneur.
When we launched the podcast The $100 MBA, the reason why I knew it was going to be successful is because I was leveraging my skill of teaching. I was teaching every day – 10 minute business lessons is what we do. For me, I couldn't do an interview show, because that's not my skillset. That's not something I feel comfortable doing.
Also, to be honest, the business section is very, very competitive. If I'm going to have a fighting chance, I’ve got to do something that I feel like I can do well. And that's why I try to implement teaching and learning in everything we do.
Where Do You Think Education Is Headed?
Brian Clark: Yeah, smart. Let's talk about learning a little bit. I think even decades ago the concept of a university course on entrepreneurship is an oxymoron of the greatest… I mean, it's like you said. It's not something you learn from a textbook, even though reading and constant learning are part of the job, but it's about getting out there and trying things and probably failing a few times and then figuring things out.
In that context, but also in the broader context, because we are seeing, I think, some legitimate pressure on our traditional institutions of higher learning. But specifically within the entrepreneurial space where things are changing so quickly — technology, the economy, the population, it's almost in an upheaval.
Not only is the curriculum at any university behind, I mean, I've taken a look because I'm interested, and there's just no way. There's just no way they can keep up. Even if it were dead on, it was dead on for that moment in time. What are you going to do for the rest of your life?
What in your mind, with your background and what you're doing now, where are we going with what is essentially commercial education at this point?
Omar Zenhom: Well, you're 100% true about being behind, being in that world, being a part of a higher education institution. The best of the best are still five years behind.
The reason why is because there are so many stakeholders. It's not like the university does everything in-house. The assessment is outsourced and that's a contract with a different company and they have a contract for five years. They’re not going to change the assessment because the curriculum changes because the world changes. It's not going to happen.
There are different things that are out of their control where it's in their best interest to keep things a little bit delayed so they can be able to do business with other entities. A lot of people don't realize that's how it works. It's not a school house.
I really believe that just-in-time learning is really where it's going, especially in business. Later on, it will also be in other fields. You don't need to learn everything at one time, and you also don't need four years to learn it.
I always give this example, and I don't mean to knock on accountants, but you don't need four years to get an accounting degree. Four years to learn accounting? You don't need it. You may need the basics first and then you can move on when you go into advanced accounting and things like that.
But the point here is if I asked you at your senior year of university to tell me what you learned in your first class on your first day of your freshman year, you're going to be like, “I don't remember what I wore, I don't remember what I ate, I don't remember anything.”
The point here is that a lot of people think education is about information, but it's really about how well you can retain that information. And that's why we are going to move into a more of a bite-size, more of a just-in-time learning structure where it's just enough information for you to implement. And implementation will really have you retain that information for a longer period of time. It'll solidify it.
That's something that I really encourage anybody who's listening who is an entrepreneur that does any kind of content marketing, that does any kind of writing, blogging, podcasting, videos, webinars — longer is not always better. You have to remember that people need to retain the information. They need to be able to know it, learn it, retain it so they can go ahead and implement it and make it theirs.
I think we all have had that experience where we've been on a webinar, we've been on a show or whatever and are listening to a podcast. Like, “Wow, that was a great podcast. I heard so much about this topic, but I don't really remember the specifics, because there's so much information. It was like a dump of information, it was kind of hard to retain.” I really believe it's going to move to more of a bite-size structure where you learn things just in time for you to implement it.
This is actually rooted in education. One of the things that I used to train our teachers is this technique which is called “input-output.” A really good teacher does this where they don't really teach the whole lesson. They take their lesson and they break it up into 10 different pieces. I teach you the first 1/10th of it and I ask you to produce it.
I give you some input, but then I ask you to output. And that's really how learning is taking place, where you teach and you ask the actual person to produce that result or produce what you just taught. And then you go on to step two, step three.
The best example of this is if you remember how you learned long division. Remember long division where they actually show you the steps, carry the one, all that stuff? You had to learn each step of the way, and you had to remember step one, step two, step three, what to do with each along the way. And each step builds upon each other.
The teacher would ask you to do that step first, “Is everybody with us?” like back in grade school, and be like, “All right, yes, okay, let's move on to step two.” So that's definitely the way things are going to be moving. And I really think obviously it's going to move online and it's going to be very much a competitive space.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. Two interesting things there about what you just said. I use long division as an example of the difference between bad instructional design or none, and good instructional design, because it's: how do you make it relatable and chunkable to a young mind? As opposed to just the algorithmic steps, because that's what long division is.
The other thing is, yes, about output. People, when I'm talking in the context of content marketing, they're like, “I'm not an expert.” I'm like, “You read two books and you're an expert compared to most people.” And then as you go along and are forced to teach people what you've just learned, you're actually internalizing it and you become the expert step by step by step. But it's the act of teaching someone that ingrains it within you as opposed to reading it three times. So I love that. That's awesome.
What Is The $100 MBA?
Brian Clark: Okay, with your background, we could take your thoughts and opinions and kind of put you in the pundit corner or something, but that's not true because you are living this. Your business is based upon the ideas of how certain people, in this case, entrepreneurs, business people, need to learn, and the best way that they can go about that. So let's talk specifically about The $100 MBA.
Omar Zenhom: Yeah. Nicole and I, who is my partner in business and life, we decided to start this – we’re both former educators — because we wanted to be able to basically offer a business education that is affordable to anybody who's willing to make a short investment and small investment financially.
It's not a moneymaker, it's not something that we thought, “We’re going to make millions of dollars.” I would equate it to a bestselling book. Like you would put out a book so you can build trust with your audience and also give them a win.
I wanted to be able to prove to my audience, “Hey, I can help you out. I've been through this, I've built businesses, and I have the advantage of knowing how to teach properly, so I can make sure that you're able to comprehend the information and retain it.” On top of that, Nicole is a New York Film Academy graduate, so our videos are highly produced and well done. It's extreme value for $100.
We built this small community, and when we did that, we started getting some members, it was starting to grow. And I felt like I needed a more of a reach with my audience. I also felt like I needed to show people that business is not rocket science and you could do it. You don't need a degree, you could start small, you could start with a very minimal viable idea and concept and implement.
That's when The $100 MBA Show Podcast was born. That started August of 2014. For me, that was probably my best success in education. Period. Because I got to do whatever I wanted to do. I got to teach the way I wanted to teach. I just did everything that I wanted.
At the same time, it is very, very different from the traditional podcast show, because there are no interviews. It's not a discussion, it's not three guys on a panel having a whole bunch of banter and things like that. It's a very concise show. It's about 10 to 15 minutes long.
The lesson itself is 10 minutes. I teach a business concept — anything from finance to Facebook marketing to running a webinar or whatever it is — every single day, seven days a week. I get to do this every day which is great, because I love to teach and at the same time, I get to do it my way.
Within I would say four and a half months, so December of 2014, so from August to December, we had tremendous success. It was really good, a good momentum that we built. And we were fortunate enough to win Best of iTunes in 2014, which has really helped us propel and get a larger audience.
I realized that I needed that piece of the puzzle in terms of the content marketing where people can get to know me on a free level. They can get to know my teaching style, they can get to know how to build a business. There are people that write us reviews on iTunes and say, “I've built a business just listening to the show.” And to me, that's great. Because in all honesty, you can do that, but if you want to take it a little bit of a deeper dive, they would go on to The $100 MBA.
From there, we built other products, especially our software, which is our webinar software, WebinarNinja.
So that's kind of a nutshell how we built it out. We started out with a few courses and now we have over 180 business lessons.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's an amazing concept, it's an amazing brand. And you have gone on to the next level with WebinarNinja. So, keep on keeping going on.
What's up next for you?
Omar Zenhom: Well, you're in the software business, so you know it's a monster, it's a beast. It's been the biggest challenge of my life, to be honest with you, because it's really allowing me to do the things I want to do in terms of creating the software that I think is going to be able to help entrepreneurs. But at the same time it's a challenge, because you're constantly trying to improve with the right vision in mind.
That really gets me excited, the future of WebinarNinja. We're actually releasing on February 11th a huge update, which is going to change the way we do all our webinars. We're moving to a new technology called Web RTC, which is real time video with zero delay. It's not Google Hangout-based. It’s actually completely live video, and it's going to be pretty incredible with our new chat and the question features, polls, offers, things like that.
We've been building this for about two and a half years now. It's something that was our little baby for a while and then it grew. We actually built out of frustration, because we didn't like the platforms that are out there for webinars and built our own and started using it. The audience in The $100 MBA that was on these webinars was like, “Well, what are you using for this?” I was like, “Just something I put together, I slapped together.” And they asked me, “Can I buy it?” I was like, “I guess you can. Let me put up a sales page.”
That's how it was born. It’s been something really that is exciting for me, because I've seen it grow, I've seen it improve, I've seen it do incredible things. And being on the back end of it, knowing what's coming up in the next couple of months and the next few days actually, it just gets me excited, because I know it's going to be game changing.
Brian Clark: Excellent. Well, best of luck to you in all future endeavors and thank you for joining me. This is one of my favorite topics to geek out about, and you really were the perfect person to do that. This has been fun, thanks.
Omar Zenhom: Well, thank you, Brian. I really appreciate it. And thank you for being an inspiration yourself, and what you do with Copyblogger and Rainmaker and all that stuff. I think what you've done over the years has really paved the way for a lot of people, including myself. I think if there was no Copyblogger, if there was none of the things that you've done, there wouldn’t be a lot of the big brands and businesses we see out there today.
Brian Clark: Thank you, sir. I much appreciate that.
Okay, everyone, I hope you got some great inspiration from this episode. We will be back again with another in no time at all. In the meantime, keep going.