I recently traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, to meet with a Business Development representative from Hotmart, the largest online learning platform in Brazil and one of the largest in the world.
Hotmart was founded in 2011 and has grown explosively since then to over 1,000 employees, serving over 30 million customers in 18 countries with more than 500,000 digital products, including online courses, ebooks, podcasts, communities, and other format,. The company acquired Teachable in 2020 to expand from its home base in Brazil, Spanish-speaking Latin America, and Europe to the English-speaking world.
It’s become clear to me that the online education market in Brazil is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
It’s extremely rare for any Brazilian company to acquire an American one, and in the tech sector, it’s virtually unheard of. This acquisition speaks to the massive size of the Brazilian online ed market, which isn’t fully captured in statistics because it doesn’t fall within traditional educational categories. It’s largely indie freelancer and independent creator types, offering education in many forms and through diverse mediums.
As we’ve discussed expanding Building a Second Brain “to the world,” there’s an issue that’s been nagging at me for some time. It’s that you can’t really take something “to the world.” That’s far too broad of a market to enter in a focused, strategic way.
The way most specialized training in professional development or self-improvement from the U.S. enters other countries is through a broad effort at translating the core content into other languages, prioritizing the most spoken languages and largest countries. But without a particular strategy for any specific country, these efforts usually end up reaching only the most educated, wealthiest, elite people in major cities, who have access to these kinds of ideas anyway.
I’ve seen this play out time and again in Brazil. A speaker flies in for a few days, sees the sights in Rio, does a few speeches and events, aggressively promotes their book and other programs, and maybe sells a license to a local firm which does the most minimal marketing and can’t really support the program. Little effort is made to adapt the content to the local context, to support it in the native language, to test and iterate on how it’s delivered, and to find the promises and benefits that resonate with local people.
We have an opportunity to approach the Brazilian market in a very different way. We could enter the country much more purposefully, craft a customized strategy that reaches a wide range of Brazilians, and then use that model as a template to enter other countries in the future. Here are four rationale for Forte Labs to make such a move.
1. The size of the market
First, there is the sheer size of the market opportunity.
Brazil is a massive, quickly growing online education market. Brazilians use online learning to access programs that don’t exist locally, to get around geographic barriers, to advance their careers, and to find more time for family and leisure. The market is a blue ocean, with few existing competitors, especially on our topic of Personal Knowledge Management. People are very open to new ways of learning and have high levels of Internet access and familiarity with innovative forms of media.
Brazilians are one of the most “digitally native” populations on the planet. In some ways, they’ve leapfrogged industrialization and traditional college education and jumped straight to online learning and social media as their main sources of information, education, and community. Brazil has among the highest rates of Internet penetration (estimated at 75%) and social media usage.
But Brazil also has a low level of English language fluency for its size and level of development, with only 5% of Brazilians stating they have some knowledge of English. This is a huge population of active Internet users who largely don’t speak English, which has fueled the rise of a Brazil-specific online education landscape with little overlap with other countries. Instructors and creators like Geronimo Theml, Seiiti Arata, Rocky Vega, Mario Cortella, Leandro Karnal, Clóvis de Barros Filho, André Cia, and Erico Rocha are building media empires through serving those needs just in Brazil.
85% of Brazilians make less than $400 USD per month. Another 12% make $400-1,000 USD per month. Only 3% make more than $1,000 USD per month. But this is a country of 200 million people, which means that 3% gives us a ready audience of 6 million individuals as a starting point, with much more room to grow beyond that. This is a country with a lot of poverty, but also a lot of demand for upward mobility through education.
Reaching that 12% and especially the remaining 85% will require a dedicated, focused effort to translate not just the content, but the format and delivery methods. The most successful courses on Hotmart in Brazil cost between 1,500-3,000 reais, which is about $290-580 USD at today’s exchange rates. Coincidentally, this is about the price we would charge for a self-paced version, giving us a reason to pursue such a product.
2. Access to the Hotmark network
Second, Hotmart gives us a unique entry point.
Teachable was their biggest acquisition to date, and they are seeking to bring the top creators on Teachable to a global audience. We are a proven brand in the U.S., and would be the perfect candidate to expand through the Hotmart network. I’m already in touch with their U.S. team who have expressed a strong interest in helping us with this.
We could work with them directly and create a self-paced course precisely tailored to what works on their platform, drawing on all their best practices. We would have access to 30 million potential customers who already take online courses and understand their value.
3. Tiago’s connection to Brazil
Third, my background makes me uniquely qualified to make this leap.
There are few U.S. creators with deep roots in Brazil, who speak Portuguese fluently, have spent much of their lives there, and can credibly act as a representative from the tech space in the U.S. to the Brazilian public. Not to mention, Lauren and I want to live in Brazil for a long period in the near future so our kids learn Portuguese and have exposure to Brazilian culture.
We could establish a home base in Brazil, and use it to hire a team of local collaborators to create localized content. We could immerse ourselves in the self-improvement and online ed field, and develop workshops and other formats ideally suited to Brazilian values, priorities, budgetary needs, and educational venues. We’d have the opportunity to start something new, while also leveraging all the assets, resources, network, and content of our U.S. business.
4. Developing a go-to-market model
Fourth, by focusing our efforts on one country where we have high odds of success, we can develop a go-to-market template that could be repeated elsewhere.
Instead of following the previous generation’s playbook of exclusively licensing our content in foreign countries with no control over how it’s presented or used, we could develop direct relationships in our most important markets and understand what it takes to succeed on the ground.
If and when we eventually do decide to license, we’ll have a much better understanding of what that should look like and what is required to make our product reliable. We can play a major part in spreading the idea that anyone can become a knowledge worker, anyone can be a creator or freelancer, anyone can build a career out of what they know, anyone can access the benefits of the Internet, and provide them the practical means of doing so. A Second Brain is an essential piece of infrastructure that few aspiring professionals and creators even know they’re missing.
Around 50 million people around the world consider themselves digital content creators, according to SignalFire. But only about 2 million (or 4%) are professional creators who are dedicated full time to their business. We could play a major part in transitioning the other 96% to a creator-friendly economy that allows more people to make a living from their knowledge and expertise.
The shift to online learning has had a major impact that I think few appreciate. The old model of “distributing content” through local vendors is no longer the only way to gain access to new audiences. Now we can translate our content to other languages ourselves, develop our own social media followings in those countries, and then serve them directly through platforms like Hotmart. That means higher margins, more direct impact, and better feedback loops, with licensing as a complementary option for the places we can’t or don’t want to enter ourselves.
The Hotmart representative I met with impressed upon me just how hungry Brazilians are for new ways of thinking, learning, creating, and working. Every metric I’ve seen – for the number of students enrolled, to sales figures for launches, to the growth rates of the most popular courses – surpasses anything I’ve seen in the U.S. They have a lot of respect for the U.S. and ideas that originate there, and are very grateful for anyone who bridges the gap for them. There’s a unique opportunity here to expand our reach and impact in a highly directed way while also laying the groundwork for future expansion.
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