How Kirk Du Plessis Built a 100,000+ Member Online Membership!
Jul 16, 2020
Kirk Du Plessis is not only a great friend but the founder of optionalpha.com, which is dedicated to helping its members understand investing in the stock market. Kirk has developed a mind-blowing membership with over 100,00 members!
In today’s episode we are going to discuss Kirk’s unique content strategy that lead to that exponential growth in his membership, how he uses tiers to maximize profit in his monthly recurring revenue, his plan for adding a SaaS product in his recurring revenue stream, and a bonus discussion on how he used YouTube to grow his audience.
What You’ll Learn:
- What the key component of a membership is. (10:50)
- How to make sure there’s something for every one. (13:30)
- Why you let people ‘use and abuse’ your content and training for free. (19:42)
- How to use tiers in your membership. (24:45)
- How to run your membership like a glacier. (29:30)
- Why you don’t need to spend money on advertising. (30:00)
- How to find your point of least resistance. (35:00)
- How to price your membership. (38:00)
- Why promotions may not be best for your membership. (39:14)
- How often you need to interact with your members? (46:00)
- How to price high-ticket memberships. (1:00:00)
- What value do your middle-tier products have? (1:05:20)
- How to get organic and direct traffic. (1:11:30)
Kirk used to work in New York where he was doing mergers and acquisitions (M&A) investment banking work. He also worked in Washington D.C. as a read analyst for a mid-Atlantic, southern regional bank.
Kirk began trading at home, investing at home. He wanted to do everything at home because he felt he just wasn’t fit for the corporate world.
That’s when Kirk began blogging about what he was doing. He simply wanted to get his thoughts out through journaling. Kirk knew that he wasn’t the fastest writer, but could type much quicker.
In 2008, his blog began taking off as people started asking questions when the market crashed. People were consistently emailing Kirk questions. Since he doesn’t like answering the same questions several times, he decided to create videos to answer questions and explain concepts. Then, people started emailing Kirk that they couldn’t find the specific video they were looking for and asked if he could turn then into a course.
Those were the origins of Option Alpha. Kirk never had any intentions of being the massive success it is today. His mindset throughout his journey has been that he can learn from the process, if he can teach other people he can become a better trader and investor himself. As he learns new things, he updates his content as his membership site evolves.
Over the last 10 years, Kirk is now up to 197,000 members in his community, living in nearly 50 countries. The best part is he is getting around 150-160 new members every day!
The key component of a membership.
The key component of a membership is a curated path that you take people through. That is the one thing that courses don’t always have.
Courses can answer one question for one day. Ex. if you have a course for how to start a podcast in one day. That will answer that question but it won’t expand out into a path, it just answers the question you have in that moment.
There is something magic when you open the door to a membership and there are paths for in several directions for all their needs like, “come this way if you want to do this.” Curating that path is what I have found draws people in because not only is it giving people a next step, but the next three or four steps for whenever they’re ready.
The biggest feedback Kirk gets back is the idea that his membership site has those paths that push you in the direction you need to go, that’s tailored to you. The people that come into his space with millions will not be on the path as those with thousands to invest.
Make sure there’s something for every one.
Kirk said this perfectly. Not every person learns the same way. Some people are more audio-based learners, some are visual, some people learn better through case studies, some people learn best through workshops.
Kirk’s whole goal with Option Alpha is to lay out the same content in different mediums. He has podcasts, videos, Q&As, PDF guides. Kirk’s idea is that a lot of the content should be the same, it should be delivered in different ways. He sets his entire membership up in tracks and courses. That way they can go down a rabbit hole or get exactly what they need right then. This allows everyone to pick their own path.
For us, our podcasts are our biggest medium. We have a lot of people that subscribe and download to the podcast in the car on their commutes to work or on a morning run.
Your membership is a museum. Today I may want to learn about ____. I will put my headphones in and the guide will tell me all about it and keep me on path so I don’t go down the wrong hallway.
This is just a great example of why you need to hit all the learning styles you can!
Why you let people ‘use and abuse’ your content and training for free.
How can you monetize free entry into your membership? Kirk does it!
What Kirk always hated when he was looking at what was out there for learning how to invest, was noticing that you always had to pay to get in there. He doesn’t mind paying to get into the right place but he would like to come in and kind of look around first to make sure it was what would fit his needs. Kirk imagines it as if you had to pay a million dollars to buy a house before you even got to step inside and take a look. Kirk’s thoughts are that he wants to make everything that he can free and available, as long as they want. This way people see the value in sticking around and getting deeper into the membership. For him education and training is the easiest way to do that.
Kirk sells tools and software to facilitate what is being taught in his membership. Kirk’s ideology is that nobody should pay for a course or learning. He believes the best memberships, the best software companies that are going to stay around for a long time, give people the tools to do everything more efficiently, easier, and faster.
People are going to pay for the community and the tools, those are also what he has found will keep members around forever! Because, theoretically they could learn everything else somewhere else!
How to use tiers in your membership.
Kirk uses both pro ($99/mo) and elite ($299/mo) tiers in his membership. While he does not make people for for content, their tiers come into play at the access to community, tools, and software.
Ex. In Kirk’s elite membership he offers office hours, Q&A calls. Extra levels of service that he can’t provide to hundreds of thousands of people that are in there for free.
The idea behind that is that there is a place in the community to have a room where people who are choosing to be at a different level are in a room together. That room is a safe space where they can start to develop deep connections. We do this in masterminds. You pay for who is not in the room.
You have to define that in your membership so that the people that are not in that space want to pay to be in there. You create value.
For Kirk, if is about breaking even to continue to generate that experience that keeps members. His revenue comes all from his software and tools he sells to make achieving massive success possible. After all, that’s why they are in his membership to begin with.
In the traditional online model there are things that draw people in through giving away lead magnets like first steps. You grow your email list there. You take people down a guided path to buy our products.
We draw a line that certain things cost more like those deep connections in a community.
I always say people stay in memberships for three things:
By making the content part outside of the pay wall Kirk’s lines are drawn at the community and tools. Then, they will be drawn at the SaaS products. By doing this Kirk has gotten an astronomical email list.
How to run your membership like a glacier.
Kirk says he has always run his business like a glacier. They are built over time and they become so big and so powerful they are immovable objects. And they just slowly grind away day towards their cause.
It has taken Kirk twelve years to get to this point. But he knows that he has not totally scaled his business and has a lot of room to grow. But he is at the point now where he is making consistent progress every single day without really having to do anything.
Why you don’t need to spend money on advertising.
Kirk does not spend any money on advertising. Last year he spent around $150-$160 on Facebook ads, that’s it!
I always meet people that do high-ticket course or coaching sales that spend $20K-$30K in ads a month.
I don’t spend any money unless I want to on ads, just to juice something up a little bit. Kirk and I have this ability because of the membership model.
Ads are not as big a part of the equation because of the built up reciprocity over time in your people that don’t pay anything yet. Then, as your membership grows with recurring revenue with monthly members, you build a floor up under your business. That floor is based on your data, how long each person stays. That floor allows you to not have to worry about getting ads because brick-by-brick you built the floor up to where it’s higher than everyone else’s ceiling.
Kirk says he believes he has not mastered taking care of his own people enough, their experiences and all those things. He willingly uses that money and uses it to better care of his people he has now, rather than to get more.
There’s nothing wrong with spending money on advertising, but you need to get the experience where it needs to be before shifting focus on getting massive amounts of new people.
Think of it like this: Facebook can shut you down at any point. Google can shut you down at any point. twitter can shut you down. There have been people that had their entire businesses collapse in hours because their platform got shut down. That to us is super scary.
The one thing my wife Jocelyn and I sought out when we got into entrepreneurship was able, predictable income. That is usually what people consider the trade-off.
Memberships and monthly recurring revenue fixes that!
I control my website and membership. I can lose all my social media tomorrow and I can still make the same about of money.
Don’t build your business on ads, use the ads to fuel the growth of the future part of your business.
Find your point of lead resistance.
I have found through our funnels that everyone has a point of least resistance and everyone’s is different.
There’s two points of least resistance:
The point that your avatar and your members join.
The point that causes you least the amount of problems.
Some memberships I’ve seen let people in for free up front and it crushed their community and killed their retention. It flooded people in and simply went too fast.
Kirk’s works though because he gains trust from people first!
Jason Brown (from The Brown Report) were talking a few years ago. He was talking about using join fees. Because he was having the same problem as Kirk but in reverse. He was letting all these people int his membership and they were shady, they were the ones causing all this mistrust in Jason and Kirk’s industry. He had to balance out this point of least resistance by adding a pretty hefty join fee, before that person could get into the community and membership.
If your community is right when trolls come in, your members will shut them down before you even know it, just like Kirk’s do!
How to price your membership.
Kirk has two tiers of membership:
Elite ($299/mo, about to change to $799/mo)
Kirk believes that if he keeps his pricing super competitive and value, and add more tools it will make his stick rate incredibly high.
Ex. Amazon Prime. When Amazon Prime launched they were $99/month. They really haven’t increased the price of Prime but they have added a ton of new features.
That type of philosophy is very attractive. It also works for a lot of people and makes the stick rate higher as time goes on.
Promotions may not be best for your membership.
I don’t care how much water you pour into a bucket. If it has holes in it, you won’t keep any of the water. Think of your membership that way. If your membership has holes in it you’re just going to keep draining it.
This is why kirk worries about throwing a bunch of money into ads. There are tons of things that he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know yet.
Ex. Kirk used to use a promotion at a certain interval for every person that hadn’t bought a product yet. He thought to himself how useless it was. Even though it did give a significant bump in his sale each month, he realized that it degraded the value of his membership itself.
In the months since he has made that decision he has increased his revenue. His stick rate has been higher.
I’m a big believer in not discounting your monthly membership.
Ex. If i have a monthly membership at $200/month and then I run a promotion that it’s $99/month, that is screwing every single person that ever paid $200/month.
I do however love commitment. If someone wants to pay quarterly I may bump them a month or if someone wants to pay annually I might bump them two or three months. Because for them to do that is saying, “I believe in you so much that I’m willing to give you my money up front.”
How often do you need to interact with your members?
Kirk says that one of things that he struggles with is knowing how much time to spend interacting with his members.
Kirk spent a lot of time in his email list last year and also has 4 other people that help him out with going through his emails. Last year, he says he spent so much time answering emails and questions in the community that he went down enough of a rabbit hole to where he did not release enough of the content that he needed to release.
Some of the reproach that he working on releasing this quarter is what could have answered 40% of those questions he ended up answering.
This is why we really heavily focused on our forums in the community when we first started. People love being part of a community. They just will not leave their friends! They can also answer questions for you and help take care of each other so that you can scale the service.
I no longer get into forums anymore either. The community members have each other, we have community leaders to guide each other, we have videos that will answer everyone’s questions. I had to stop being my own log jam!
How to price high-ticket memberships.
In Kirk’s business the higher-ticket levels are not a profit-center. He wants to serve those people, but the membership does not exist just to serve that audience. He believes it will be valuable to his business if he has insights from them and deep connections with them. He wants to draw those people into the room so he can talk to them.
He wants to be in a room with those people four times a year and figure out the next best thing he can possibly provide.
For Kirk, where he is moving his highest tier from $299/month to $799 /month, he figured out that he could put together events, more software, the right people tailored to supporting them. That would be at the level they could support without breaking the bank. It’s not going to be a big profit-center for Kirk. It will be at a high enough price to where it will get some people out. And, enough of a level to offer the best experience possible.
Kirk focuses on 10-star service with his high-ticket members. He thinks about every possible way he can make their experiences through his membership site 10 stars, that you can still afford of course.
What value do your middle-tier products have?
Kirk’s membership is free to enter. The minute that someone wants to cross the threshold and start utilizing the tools to coincide with the education he is giving, they become a monthly paying member. This is because everything that Kirk is offering costs data, money, and software to run.
You can write checks every month for all your bills. More than likely you are going to use an automatic bill paying service to do it for you.
It’s the same thing for trading. What Kirk built is software that can do it for you, instead of you doing it for yourself.
How does he take all these automations, strategies, all these things that his mid-level tier people know how to do and take it to the next level? He figures out how to improve everything for the next level. If you can improve it by half a percent, it pays for itself.
How to get organic and direct traffic.
You don’t write for search engines. However, you have to structure your data, posts, and content so that search engines can find it.
What Kirk has learned through his team helping him re-do the content on their site, their content is being buried by not properly using SEO or structures. Their strategy around content is to answer every single trading question on the internet.
Kirk’s team spends about 90% of their time on free content. Answering questions, writing articles, writing posts, creating videos, because it is valuable to consume and become the answer to their problems.
You have to be able to utilize SEO through your social media. Post valuable, trending content so that people do not simply scroll past your posts.
Be prolific. The value of any good brand is the consistent experience that you get. Showing up and being consistent is 90% of it. You have to have a mission and wake up every day committed to your people.
Let’s look at YouTube:
Kirk says the best way to utilize our Q&A videos to answer frequently searched topics.
Instead of simply posting our videos which would be a few minutes you want to string a bunch of answers together. That way you will be the default answer for that topic. YouTube likes when your videos keep people on the site longer.
Use one vide of ten 3 mint answers. Put them together into a collection with one title. Divide it up into the description.
Don’t have a ton of noise. You need to clean up your YouTube so that people stay on the right videos longer and go deeper into the right videos. Kirk deleted 500 videos and actually got more traffic.
It’s better to have someone watch one 50 minute video than five 2 minute videos!
You have to utilize use platform to its best ability and figure out the algorithms to each one.
If you would like to connect with Kirk Du Plessis you can do so:
- On all his social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram): @optionalpha + @kirkduplessis
- His website: https://optionalpha.com
Remember to subscribe and leave us a review to the Membership Masters Podcast here on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/membership-masters-podcast/id1519253634
You can also listen this week's full episode here on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/28WYzlvvWpAe2miPxip8Br