How Mike Hinckley Gained More Confidence as an Entrepreneur with His Growth Equity Interview Guide

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Who are you and what course have you created?

My name is Mike Hinckley, and I created a course to help folks prepare for interviews with growth equity and venture capital firms.  The course teaches all the major skills needed to not only be successful in the job but also to nail the interview questions they are likely to encounter.

The course sales page is here.

Mike Hinckley's siteWhat market does your online course serve?

The course is for people who have interviews (or are looking to get them) with growth equity and venture capital firms.  Primarily, the course caters to people who are early in their careers and are looking to get their first role in growth equity or venture capital investing.

There are three primary user personas:

  • Undergrad applicant – someone who is in college and applying for an internship or their first analyst role.
  • Pre-MBA professional –  typically, this is someone in their first job out of college (often, a role in investment banking or management consulting) and they are looking to transition into an investing role at a growth equity or venture capital firm.
  • MBA professional – usually, this is someone who has relevant roles in finance (e.g. traditional private equity), but is interviewing for the first time with a growth equity or venture capital fund for their MBA internship or full-time role.

What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?

I’d say there are two big benefits of the course.  First, it gives candidates a structured and digestible way to learn the skills and frameworks they need to succeed in their interviews.  And second, the course gives a huge confidence boost for candidates who are interviewing in this industry for the first time!  Having a guide, especially one like me who has experienced firsthand working in the growth equity industry, can really give you confidence that you’ve prepared well going into your conversations.

How did you get into the market?

I came up with the idea during business school when I had several classmates asking me for help with their preparation for interviews with growth equity and venture capital firms.  I’d previously worked at one of the largest firms, General Atlantic, and they were asking me for help, given my experience.  When I had worked in growth equity myself, it was a niche area.  But, with the rise of technology and growth companies, it has grown massively in popularity.  I was really surprised by the amount of interest my classmates had in interviewing at these firms.  And yet there wasn’t much out there in terms of how to prepare for the interviews.

Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?

At first, I was just helping my friends and classmates at business school to prepare for their interviews through one-on-one conversations.  When formal recruiting season rolled around, I started to find there was a significant amount of people who were interested in my help.

From this initial demand, I decided to run a test to see whether there were more people out who I’m not connected to already who might be interested in my interview advice.  That’s when I put up a very basic landing page to test whether people would sign up for a newsletter on the topic.  Because at the time there wasn’t much content out there for the growth equity audience, I found that I immediately ranked on Google for some good keywords and I started receiving signups.

Since this wasn’t going to be my full-time focus, I immediately started thinking of ways I could scale my time in building this into a business.  Rather than doing time-intensive consulting, naturally, I decided to start writing down and recording my lessons for a course.

Mike Hinckley's site

Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?

I’ve definitely had moments of doubt.  Before launching the site, I was really scared.  It’s scary to put your name on any product, but this one, in particular, is scary because so much of the positioning was oriented around me and my unique background as an instructor.  Further, my worst fear was that customers wouldn’t like my content or find it helpful.  The last thing I want to do is to make money from people who hated my product. Because of this fear, I procrastinated for a couple of weeks in finishing and publishing the first version of the site.

If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?

Two things got me through these doubts.  First, I spoke with previous friends and colleagues who I’d helped for free, and they reminded me just how much I’d helped them.  One woman in particular who I helped said my lessons were critical to her landing her dream job.  This gave me the confidence that my material was indeed good and could help others.  Second, I decided to offer a very generous money-back guarantee that allows customers to get a 100% refund if they don’t like the course for 30 days.  This helped me sleep better at night knowing if people hated it, they could just get their money back.  After these two things, I finally launched!  It was still scary, but I did it.

What’s your online course like?

Currently, the course is primarily me teaching concepts that are illuminated by visuals of PowerPoint slides or sample Excel worksheets.  Since many of my lessons are quite technical, it’s necessary to bring the examples to life through real Excel files.  During these sequences, I alternate between a testimonial-style narration shot of me teaching, with full screenshots of the Powerpoint or Excel.

How long did it take you to create your course?

The course has taken hundreds of hours to get where it is today.  Since I had another full-time job during most of its development, my process was to spend a couple of hours in the evening planning and writing the lesson for the next day, which I would shoot in the morning before work. (I find I’m much better at teaching in the morning.)

What enabled this factory-like production schedule was the fact that I sketched out an overall course outline at the start. - Mike Hinckley Click To Tweet

That way I knew what all the lessons would be and how they would tie together.   This was critical to then being able to put my head down a crank out the content later.

Do you have a lead magnet?

I haven’t experimented with this yet, but honestly, I probably should.  Currently, I get visitors to sign up for a newsletter.  After that, I attempt to convert them into doing the full course.  In the future, I’d like to test offering a lead magnet (e.g. course chapter, or other content) to entice more people to sign up.

What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?

By far, the best traffic channel for me is Google SEO.  Luckily, I happened to stumble upon a niche – growth equity — that was relatively open in terms of keyword SEO.  This meant that almost as soon as I put my initial landing page up, I started ranking for keywords that sent me traffic.  It’s gotten more competitive over time, but I’ve also improved my articles and content over time such that I can compete with the newcomers and sustain my position.

The next traffic channel that I want to perfect will be Google and Facebook Ads. Given I have a relatively high price course (~$200-300 depending on tier), I think I can support some paid acquisition.

What online course platform are you using?

Since programming is a side hobby, I mostly develop my own landing pages.  For the course itself, I’m currently experimenting with Thinkific.

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Do you like it?

I really like Thinkific so far.  In particular, what I enjoy is how easy they make it to manage user account provisioning, as well as payments (integration with Stripe).  Though I’m just getting started with them, I anticipate I will save a lot of time by using these features of the platform.

Mike Hinckley's site

Are there any features you wish it had?

I try to be very rigorous and quantitative in how I build my course sales page.  One area of Thinkific that could be better is I wish there was a capability to do A/B testing on the user interface and course page builder.  One reason why I’ve stuck with a landing page that I coded is it gives me complete control over the ability to run tests and measure results from changes.  If they made this kind of testing more possible, it’d be a big improvement for me.

What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?

Honestly, I created my account on Thinkific initially because they seemed like they had lower pricing but similar features to Teachable, the main platform I’d heard about previously.  I think over time, things equalized a bit and each platform now offers multiple plans, so my initial analysis may no longer be relevant.

What other tools do you use to run your online course business?

Since I create my own landing page, I may use different tools than most course creators.  Here are some of the main ones I use:  Mailchimp (forms & email), Sumo (email capture), HostGator (hosting), LaunchDeck (deploy), Thinkific (course), Stripe/Square (payments), Google Analytics (event tracking), AHrefs (SEO research).  I also keep a master Google Sheet to track my expenses and conversion funnel over time.

What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?

I found the book Work The System by Sam Carpenter to be really impactful.  It’s not specific to courses, but it really helped me think about ways I could automate and scale my business for the long term.  I’ve put a lot more focus on how I can automate repetitive tasks (like expense and metric reporting) over time.

Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?

Many of my SEO keywords are “long tail” since I operate in a niche market.  One of the biggest mistakes I made initially was putting too much credence into Google Keyword volume forecasts.  I’ve found that they underestimate the total interest in my topic.  I shouldn’t have put so much credence in them, since it delayed my eventual investment into content and SEO.

Please share some idea of revenue.

While it’s still an evolving picture, profits from this course have the potential to replace a significant portion of my full-time salary.

Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.

This biggest impact from the course has been that it gave me the confidence to quit my full-time job in technology.  I’m now working full-time on the course and a few other related projects.  This was a huge step for me personally since I’d always wanted to quit and become more entrepreneurial.  We’ll see how things evolve, but it’s a very exciting time, and the course was a big part of it.

Mike Hinckley's site

In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?

The one thing I did that increased my site traffic by 77% year-over-year

This one is painfully simple…I implemented a practice of spending 30 minutes writing each day for my blog and for others.  I was inspired by the book Atomic Habits, which talks about the power of compounding from doing small things a little bit every day.  So, I started writing each and every day at the same time for 30 minutes.  It was easier to stick with when I did the same time every day (for me, right after dinner).  Over time, this commitment compounded and resulted in a sharp uptick in the number of articles I wrote.  Ultimately, these articles drove a 77% increase in traffic to my site, which has been a game-changer for my business.

The one thing I did that overnight grew my site’s lead conversion by 61%

Click To Tweet

This is a pop-up, which opens over the hero section of my page.  It’s been insanely effective from day 1, and it now contributes 61% of the new leads I capture on my sales page.

What has creating your course done for you personally?

The course has definitely given me more confidence as an entrepreneur. To create something in the world that creates meaningful revenue and helps lots of customers is very rewarding. - Mike Hinckley Click To Tweet

This initial “win” has given me the confidence to explore other larger entrepreneurial opportunities, knowing that I’ve created something once before.

Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?

I mentioned one of my early clients gave me positive feedback that helped give me the confidence to launch a course in the first place.  Her story was so inspiring to me.  She started as an investment banking analyst out of college, and she came to me since her dream was to get a different job in growth equity investing.

She was SO motivated to prepare for her interviews and do what was needed, but she didn’t know what to do.  Through a series of interactions, we came up with a plan for her interview preparation.  Ultimately, she interviewed with the growth arm of her dream firm, and she got the job!  She credits our work together as a critical reason she got her job.  That’s super inspiring to me, and it makes me want to help more people.

What advice do you have for people just starting out?

The best advice in courses is “Done is better than perfect.” - Mike Hinckley Click To Tweet

When I first started creating my course, I found it to be a grueling process to write and film the actual course.  One piece of advice that really helped me from a friend was:  “Done is better than perfect.”

While I still keep a very high bar for the course, I acknowledge that building the course will be an iterative process over time, and it’s okay if every detail isn’t 1000% perfect in the first pass.

Learn more about Mike Hinckley of growthequityinterviewguide.com:

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