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Launch HN: Virtually (YC S20) – Build live online trainings
122 points by ishbaid 53 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments
My name is Ish and I'm the founder of Virtually (https://tryvirtually.com/), a platform that allows anyone to build live online trainings with built-in support for payment processing, live classes, and student management.

The journey to starting Virtually began last year while I was trapped in a winter storm. I was playing around with some video conferencing software and was very impressed by how far it had come in recent years. With not much else to do, I started brainstorming about what could one day be possible with better conferencing technology.

An obvious use case seemed be education. I thought perhaps the best teacher for any niche topic might not actually be someone in the same city or state as you, but, instead, could be someone across the globe. Better video conferencing could lead to more accessible as well as more affordable education.

The thought was powerful enough that I decided to quit my job at Facebook to start working on Virtually the next month. My main mission was to enable infrastructure for live online education. The very first iteration of the product allowed for content creators to monetize their time by selling 1-on-1 appointments. I don't know if it was the product or the execution, but it didn't gain much traction. I was lucky to be invited to interview at YCombinator for the summer 2019 batch but didn't make it further in the process.

I started to explore other applications of the same technology. One place where it seemed a live component could have added more value was in the world of online courses. In 2019, almost all online courses were pre-recorded. There were a select few experimenting with the live format (Building a Second Brain for example) and it seemed like these courses were receiving significantly higher levels of engagement than traditional online courses. When I dug a bit deeper, I discovered that building live online courses was inherently difficult. Either you were a venture-backed startup and could afford to hire engineers to build out custom technology or you had to "duct-tape" Zoom, PayPal, Calendly, and a dozen different tools together. I pivoted the product to help make this easier.

Fast-forward to today- my team and I are working to build Virtually, a React web app (powered by Next.js) that allows individual to build live online courses with built-in support for conferencing, payment processing, and student management.

Current course hosting platforms (Teachable, Kajabi, Thinktific, etc.) primarily focus on pre-recorded content. We decided to focus on live online classes as our research showed that live classes generally have higher completion rates. In addition, we hypothesized that live learning would help drive higher content retention through virtual meet-ups, office hours, mastermind groups, etc.

We primarily use http://daily.co/ for video conferencing but allow users to substitute Zoom or any other conferencing link. We also integrate with Google Calendar to make it easier to schedule live sessions.

One notable feature is our "Live Room" which is an always-on conferencing room that is embedded within your Virtually classroom. With the tool, you're able to manage multiple concurrent live classes at the same the same time each with its own "Live Room."

If you or someone you know is trying to build a live online training program, we'd love to talk to you. Feel free to reach me at ish@tryvirtually.com.

I'd absolutely love to hear any feedback that you might have and will be around all day to answer questions!

timely as i’m about to figure out how to host online courses for my productivity coaching business. your explanation makes a lot of sense. from a podcast with austin alred of lambda school, i heard that live courses boosted engagement dramatically.

pre-recorded content is attractive because it’s one and done and doesn’t require management beyond occasionally updating. a bunch of creators are looking to decouple time from income. productivity youtuber with sub 1mil followers is making 1k+ per month from one course on skillshare.

since pre-recorded stuff is passive income vs live presentation is active, i think it would be helpful for you to communicate the monetary (hopefully positive) impact of doing live courses versus a pre-recorded ones.

What we’ve discovered that selling pre-recorded courses isn’t necessarily “passive Income.”

Yes, you don’t have to spend your time actively teaching, but do have to feed the sales funnel and create awareness for your product.

With live courses, while your time is spent more on actively teaching, you’re able to charge nearly 3x as much because you are providing real time support.

In addition, while students initially come for the content, they stick around for the community.

Congrats Ish on the launch.

Considering you are building on top of zoom et all, you can try making your bandwidth costs close zero by leveraging the data feed of Zoom or Google Meet itself by being a browser extension

We did they same and are able to enhance learning experience on top of zoom/meet quite a bit by tinkering with the video,audio feed being fed to them without putting a hole in the pocket(due to bandwidth costs), in turn gains being translated to the customers and being able to add enhancements super quickly.

Congratulations once again and Good luck, from India

Say a student misses a "live session" -- it's probably simple enough for them to go back and watch it? I mostly wonder about the videos, can I keep them and export them for archival purposes later? Can they be shared freely once a course is no longer offered, for example? Thanks it looks very nice and the interface is slick. The only rough edges I can detect are the "add your own image" headers and they are only a smidge away from full clean. I would like more imagery to explain what part of navigation I am currently in, but once I've read the titles it is clear where things sit.

Thanks for the feedback. We've created a place with the "Past Events" tab for you to store past recordings. You can certainly use/distribute these however you like.

Minor bug: The pricing link (https://tryvirtually.com/pricing) never stops loading.

More than a minor bug We'll get this fixed right away. Thanks for the flag!

Just fixed this! - Wesley, Eng at Virtually

Interesting idea, I don’t have a course yet but i’m working on it. what kind of support do you have for “income share agreements”? is that US based only?

We have a servicing partner that helps with ISA's. When our user's request it, we help kickoff that process. Not sure if they support international ISA's but I'll certainly ask.

In the future, this will be a much more integrated process with our existing software/tools.

I think the timing might be right considering the massive shift that has occured in remote learning and work.

I had a startup that did something very similar about 6 years ago. The execution and timing were both wrong.but the idea had a lot of promise to not just be another lms no one cares about.

I think the concept is fantastic and I wish you the best of luck.

Thank you!

disclaimer: I run a business in Online Learning space where we provide a more traditional style LMS platform mostly to B2B.

At first, I thought you guys were building the actual virtual training tool but after checking out your landing page, it seems like the problem you are solving is to provide a simpler way for people to manage their entire Live trainings including user management, ecommerce/memberships, payments etc BUT the actual tool is 3rd party like daily.co, zoom etc, correct ?

I am asking because we get a lot of clients asking for similar stuff but they specifically are also interested in the tool itself which is a really hard technical challenge to solve. But what you guys are solving also has a huge need for sure, so great job launching this.

Also curious as to why you chose daily.co as the default virtual tool ?

Thank you! Ultimately, we didn't want to reinvent the wheel.

We're never going to create a better conferencing solution than Zoom or a better community platform than Slack.

What we're trying to do is act as a layer on top of these tools that brings everything together for an educational use case.

We decided to go with Daily because it was the quickest to integrate with and allowed us to create an in-browser experience that we could customize in the long-term.

But we're realizing now as we expand internationally that nothing is more reliable as Zoom. As such, we're building zoom integration right now.

what makes you say that Zoom is most reliable? Did you evaluate google meet, etc.?

As someone who sells Online Learning Platforms, I can confirm that zoom is the most reliable and popular right now. Initially I hated zoom but I have personally tested at least 10 different tools and zoom beats them overall with a perfect balance between usability, performance and most importantly: cost.

what are your thoughts on Adobe Connect?

I've delivered some sessions with Connect. It has a very very nice implementation of dynamic rooms, but both it's UX and user interface are outdated.

The presenter ability for arranging the interface options for the session may look like a good idea when you think about it until you realize everybody wants to take their approach for it (different styles, different monitors, or even different priorities depending if the chat is being used or the interaction is done with the cameras).

Overall, I prefer any other tool (and I've also used zoom, teams, chime, and jitsi).

Thanks, I'm exploring twilio right now and it doesn't seem too bad to work with but that is just me playing around with it. How it handles in the real world could be a different story.

We've tested dozens of video conferencing tools and while many are quite good, we haven't found one that's as good and consistently reliable across the globe as Zoom.

We'll continue to evaluate new tools and integrate with whichever our users tell us they want. At the moment, they tell us that they want Zoom.

[codounder of Daily, here]

Hi Ish, thank you for choosing Daily. We really appreciate it. We monitor our own call quality and reliability, that of all the other API services, and that of Zoom. We think we're making progress towards getting to Zoom's gold standard of call quality and reliability everywhere in the world except China.

We currently have server clusters in seven global locations and are adding three more this month. We're moving all of our calls over to web socket signaling that terminates in the cluster nearest to each user (rather than terminating to AWS US-West-2).

And, most importantly, we're about to ship a public version of our call logging and telemetry tools. This will allow you to look at each of your calls and, if anything impacted the user experience, understand exactly what happened and why.

(China, The Great Firewall, and what you have to do in order not to be blocked some of the time in China is a big topic.)

Thanks for your support, Kwin! We still plan on using Daily as our primary conferencing solution with Zoom as an additional option for users.

Big fan of the product that you and the team are building.

honestly I've been thinking about the necessity for something like this for a while now, especially since the pandemic hit. solid product, solving a real problem in the community rn and really good timing. extremely optimistic about the future. best of wishes guys!

Thanks for the kind words!

Could this type of service be extended to helping musicians? To give music lessons, 1x1 or 1:many?

1:man- certainly. For 1x1, you might be better off using a tool like Calendly

Very good job, I signed up and will try it on a new course I am currently working on :)

Yay :)

The idea is great but the customization that comes with Wordpress is too valuable for many course creators.

A hosted LMS like this with a Wordpress integration to allow best of both worlds is what the industry needs.

Totally. For creators that want the ability to fine tune the experience, a plugin is probably better.

The problem arises when you start to duct-tape too many solutions together. This creates a very fragmented experiences for students and a large amount of admin overhead of course creators.

When this happens, we almost always see creators drop the wordpress plugin in favor of an existing platform.

I am fine with having a lot of options for online education. The biggest question for me is how do you make your child sit in front of the screen at home and pay attention to the class?

Inherently it’s up to the teacher to make the class interactive. We as humans don’t learn by passively consuming content as studies have shown over and over.

Do you have any examples yet of companies using this for user training classes? Would be an interesting way to do scalable group onboarding.

We've had a few companies are setting something like this up. It wasn't the intended use case but could certainly work

I'm still searching for a platform in this space, where I as a learner can pick and choose classes from various hosts.

We're not quite the best solution for that as we're inherently not a marketplace, but I'm certain a player will emerge in that space shortly.

Really well executed idea. Great timing too.

Thank you!

This could be perfect for us. I've just scheduled a demo for later today.

Well executed Best of Luck

I've personally worked with ish and I can say this team is really trying hard to get everything right. The platform has gone through incredible changes! hats off, keep it going. much needed product in this current environment and beyond

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