#36 – Wes Kao – Cohort Based Courses, Maven, Being a Generalist, Rigorous Thinking, and more

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“One of my big lessons is that, if there is something you are very afraid of, that you’re very bad at, you can spend your entire life trying to avoid that or you can get good enough at it, then it stops being a blocker for you.”

Wes Kao

Wes Kao, is a thought leader in different areas. Over the years, she mastered and intersected multiple zones like marketing, leadership, brand identity, culture, storytelling, and more.

She worked with Brands like Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Loreal before becoming the co-founder of the altMBA with Seth Godin in 2014.

She is the Co-Founder of Maven, the first cohort-based course platform that helps creators build a cohort-based system and deliver an excellent student learning experience. Maven was born in Wes’s personal experiences; when she was younger, back at college, she got a C in one of her classes, and some years later, this grade hunted her to one of her job interviews where she was suggested to re-take that class to prove she was good with numbers so she could be a good fit for the job position she was applying to. The spin-off that lit up the birth of Maven came when she got an A in that class and realized that it was possible that she wasn’t bad at it, probably because the learning environment where she learned wasn’t conducted properly. 

After that, Wes became a marketing expert who advised consumer brands to boost their product launches. She helps clients to build high-performing teams and create marketing tools that lead them to an effective and higher reach. Before this, Wes was the founding Executive Director of Seth Godin’s altMBA, a leadership and management program for innovators, entrepreneurs, executives, and change agents. Under Wes’ leadership, the altMBA program grew from zero to 550 cities in 45 countries in 3 years of high growth. 

When Maven was created, Wes believed that the new way of learning is bidirectional, meaning the student learns from the instructor, but the instructor also learns from the student, and students learn from each other. So it’s learning more dynamically. The idea of Maven is based on expert-led, peer-motivated education. Wes claims that it doesn’t matter wherever anyone is in the scope of knowledge; some people are a couple of steps behind you and can benefit from your learning. In terms of being a good teacher, she would say that if you’re debating if you have enough knowledge to teach, that is already a good sign because you’re being mindful about wanting to deliver a great experience to your students, about not wanting to over-promise. It is relative to the student’s experiences, so if you’re a couple of steps ahead of your students, you have something to teach them. 

She motivates people to think about building their skill set to offer value to the kind of people they want to work with. Many people focus too much on trying to market themselves or grow their audience, focusing on some critical things but might be a little downstream, where the upstream area they should focus on is being able to deliver. People don’t want to focus on growing their audience at the expense of being good at their craft. So people want to make sure they have a strong foundation of values that they can provide, that they can come in and drive results for whoever they’re going to work with.

Wes encourages the perspective that if there is something you are terrified of, that you’re terrible at, you can spend your entire life trying to avoid that, or you can get good enough at it that it stops being a blocker for you since it’s helpful to have it not be something that prevents you from advancing in your career. She also believes in challenging and constantly reflecting to ensure conviction about your plan and that you’re not just going through the motions. One message she leaves for the people is related to finding the things in your work that makes your eyes light up, those things that you’re naturally gravitating toward, that you’re naturally excited by, and how you can craft a career that allows you to do more and more of the things that you’re inherently good at, that you can add a lot of value from, that you’re excited by, and that makes your eyes light up.

In this conversation, you will learn:

  • How to Create your own Cohort Based Course
  • The power of working on your strengths
  • Making your less developed skills work in your favor
  • Culture creating hacks
  • Useful mental models
  • …and more!

Enjoy the interview!


  • Connect with Wes Kao on:

Website | Twitter | Maven | Maven’s Twitter 

Let me know what you think about this interview in the comments below!

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