A new way to make six figures on the Web: teaching

Miguel Hernandez, the founder of a company specializing in explanatory videos for startups, said he spent about three hours a day for three weeks making an online video course explaining his craft. But, last year, that one video series earned him nearly six figures on the online course platform Udemy. This year, now that he’s created a second course for students (on “How to Create an Awesome Online Course,” of course), he said that if momentum keeps up, “I’ll be making more money selling online courses than through the studio.”

And he’s not the only one finding a new stream of income from Udemy. This morning, the San Fransciso-based startup released the salaries of the top 10 instructors on the 2-year-old platform. In total, the group earned $1.65 million in the last year, with all of them bringing in more than $50,000 on their own and the top individual making more than $200,000. All of the instructors’ top courses focus on Web development, programming and tech entrepreneurship – not a surprise given Udemy’s roots in those field and increasing interest in coding.

“We’ve just seen over the last couple of years, amazing success that teachers are starting to have teaching folks online,” said Dinesh Thirupuvanam, VP of marketing for Udemy. “We’re moving from an era where the best teachers were teaching just 50 people in a tiny classroom to where they can teach hundreds or thousands.” In the case of Salman Khan, of the online tutoring nonprofit Khan Academy, that number is in the millions, he added.

To meet the growing opportunity in online education, a handful of startups have rushed in, including 2tor, Lynda, Codecademy, Udacity and Pathwright. But Thirupuvanam said Udemy is unique in its model that allows anyone (not just instructors affiliated with educational institutions) to potentially earn money for teaching audiences across all kinds of categories (not just technical and vocational topics but the humanities and sciences as well). Thousands of instructors have joined the site to teach class for free or for between $20 and $250 a course, the company said. (For paid courses, Udemy takes a 30 percent cut.)

Udemy: Non-technical courses are gaining traction

Of those instructors, just a small percentage are earning money comparable to that of a full-time job and many of the top earners had already made names for themselves as industry experts and authors. But it does show the disruptive potential of an open platform for online education. Thirupuvanam said Udemy courses tend to attract students who would have otherwise spent money on a community class or “scrounged around” on YouTube or just read book. The benefit of the Udemy class is that students can take the classes on their own time and have the option to interact with the instructors online.

For now, Udemy’s top courses focus on technical training, but Thirupuvanam said the platform is seeing increased traction in lifestyle categories, such as yoga. He thinks those areas could grow to be as big as programming over time. In the past year, the company said it’s experienced 700 percent user growth, with instructors adding 7,000 lectures every month.

For the full list of Udemy’s top 1o instructors, take a look below:

  • 1. Infinite Skills instructors: $565,320 in total course sales; 10,505 subscribers (top course: “Microsoft Excel for Beginners”)
  • 2. Bess Ho: $218,935; 2,588 subscribers (top course: “Learn to Develop an iPhone or iPad App in 4 Weeks”)
  • 3. Victor Bastos: $175,168; 2,157 subscribers (top course: “Become a Web Developer from Scratch”)
  • 4. Mark Lassoff: $162,051; 4,033 subscribers (top course: “HTML and CSS for Beginners”)
  • 5. Zed Shaw: $126,585; 3,305 subscribers (top course: “Learn Python the Hard Way”)
  • 6. Miguel Hernandez: $96,508; 1,549 subscribers (top course: “How to Create an Awesome Demo Video for Your Business”)
  • 7. Huw Collingbourne: $88,285; 1,307 subscribers (top course: “Ruby Programming for Beginners”)
  • 8. Robin Nixon: $86,797; 1,814 subscribers (top course: “HTML5 Beginners Crash Course”)
  • 9. Chris Converse: $81,258; 1,327 subscribers (top course: “Creating Responsive Web Design”)
  • 10. Eric Ries: $53,573; 5,889 subscribers (top course: “The Lean Startup”)