Making It: How to Be a Successful Online Entrepreneur
“Making it” Means Owning the Process (Abe Crystal)
October 15, 2021
The process excites Abe Crystal, co-founder of Ruzuku, not necessarily the achievement itself. In this episode of Making It, the online course platform innovator shares that, to him, “making it” means being able to work on things that are meaningful, in a way that is satisfying.
Welcome to Making It!  This weekly show explores the lives and stories of entrepreneurs as they share their unique perspectives on their success and the path to making it. 

Episode summary: When computers were young, in the eighties and nineties, Abe Crystal, co-founder of Ruzuku, loved digging into things and trying to understand how they worked at every level. He refused to take things for granted. That curiosity led Abe to study how people actually use technology and what is now called “user experience.” In 2010, he co-founded the online course platform Ruzuku, which was built from the ground up with a focus on streamlining the course creation process. 

     Building and running a great online course can be challenging. But Ruzuku improves the user experience so authors, coaches, speakers, and other independent experts can create their own online courses and learning communities.

     In this episode of Making It, Abe also describes "making it" as having consistent access to the flow state. 

“What making it means to me is being able to work on things that are meaningful, in a way that is satisfying. So it's more about the process than the outcome. ” 
– Abe Crystal

Guest bio:  Abe Crystal is the CEO and co-founder of Ruzuku, an online course platform focused on student engagement. He’s also a strategic advisor to Mirasee
Abe helps authors, coaches, speakers, and other independent experts create their own online courses and learning communities. He and his team at Ruzuku are on a mission to usher in a new wave of independent, authentic teachers around the world and invest them with the tools and support to succeed--everything the clients need to create, sell, and teach amazing courses.

     Abe is also the author of The Business of Courses, about the process of adding online courses to your business’s product and services offerings.

     Abe is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  He specializes in learning design and user experience research and earned his Ph.D. in human-computer interaction at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Resources or websites mentioned in this episode:
  1. Mirasee
  2. Abe Crystal’s Ruzuku website
  3. Abe’s  LinkedIn
  4. Abe’s book


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Music and SFX credits: 

Artist Name(s): Sounds Like Sander
Writer Name: S.L.J. Kalmeijer

Artist Name(s): Rhythm Scott
Writer Name: Scott Roush

Artist Name(s): Brent Wood
Writer Name: Philip Barnes

Artist Name(s): Brent Wood
Writer Name: Philip Barnes

Episode transcript:

     I'm Abe Crystal and you're listening to making it, I run a business called rescue and we make it easy for passionate experts to create their own online courses and learning communities. 

     Okay, so what does making it mean to me? It's a concept that I kind of resist in some ways I think, but unpacking it a bit, I guess what making it means to me is... it's being able to work on things that are meaningful, you know, in a way that is satisfying. So it's more about the process then the outcome, you know? Even though I definitely wanted certain outcomes when I started, to kind of become less meaningful over time. And like this is something I've heard, for example, athletes talk about that they work so hard, you know, to win a championship or to break a record to achieve whatever successes in their particular athletic field they worked so, so hard to do that. And they, you know, in some cases they're fortunate enough to accomplish it. And then they kind of feel like, well, you know, I thought it would be the most amazing thing in the world to win the championship or to achieve this record and it's kind of not right, like the pursuit was engrossing, but actually having achieved it, it just feels kind of flat.

     The journey to making is more important than actually making it. The feeling of, you know, solving interesting challenges and that feeling of progress, right? But like yesterday I was on step one, but tomorrow I'm going to be on step two. Like that's kind of more exciting and motivating than just, you know, saying that you've achieve some, you know, some larger milestone. 

     So I grew up in the 80s and 90s and it was kind of still relatively early in the sort of personal computing era. So computers weren't fancy and polished like they are today where you just open up your gleaming Macbook Air from Apple and it's this smoothly integrated, you know, hardware and software that just works out of the box and the internals of it are completely hidden. Back then it was like, you research to understand, hey what CPU do I want for my computer and you know, what's the latest hard drive that'll be slightly faster than the previous generation and speaking out those parts. And then, you know, you set up the software yourself and it was pretty uh there were a lot of rough edges, right? It was reading the DOS manual to figure out what obscure commands you had to enter. You were you were a lot closer to the middle than you are today. And you know, that was frustrating at times. But it was also... you were forced to understand how computers actually work. There's definitely a sense in which that's true of starting products and companies as well, right? Like you have to really dig into things and try to understand how they work at every level and not take things for granted.
     Yes, I studied information science and you know it overlaps a lot with this kind of interdisciplinary field called human computer interaction which is honestly, sounds a bit dated these days. You know that turn based back to like the seventies probably an industry people don't really use that term anymore. They talk about like user experience and product design. Like that's more of what people talk about today. But the scientific foundation of the field is is the idea of studying how do people actually use technology. But if you grew up you know with the VCR In the eighties and ideas which was how you recorded tv shows and watch movies from Blockbuster. You know there were millions of these VCRs in people's houses and most of them were displaying a clock that was just blinking 12 o'clock all the time. Which was not what I was supposed to do, right? The way it was supposed to work is that you program the VCR to have the correct time and then you could use that to do things like record your favorite TV show at a given time based on the correctly programmed clock. 

     But in fact most people who bought a VCR they were able to play things on it and in some cases they were able to record shows manually. But a large majority of people using VCRs did not understand that that the clock had to be programmed or how to program it. So this is a failure of usability or what's now called user experience. But you can also think about it in the context of things like 'hey, how should the control panel of the nuclear power plant be designed to minimize errors?' Or how should information be presented to engineers and decision makers to avoid mistakes like the Challenger Disaster, which some people argue was caused by by information being presented incorrectly. So that's, you know, these are the kind of questions that the field of human computer interaction like set out to address and solve and ultimately lead to the sort of, you know, industry application of user experience, which is critical to many of the websites and apps and services that we use every day now. 

     Well, I majored in economics, which I'd always been interested in the ideas of economics. I was very interested in markets like how is it that, you know, we can just have this amazing coordination of people and resources and businesses, all of the world without anyone planning it. And how do we have this amazing, you know, stock market that allocates capital to all these companies like that. All those just kind of classic economic questions were very interesting to me and I would just, you know read economics, you know, like history for, you know, for fun while I was in high school. 

     It would be nice if there was, you know, some cool story about how we had this, you know, we were featured in New York Times or, we were at this conference and things blew up like Twitter, at SXSW, but it wasn't really like that, it was more just a long, slow grind. It was, you know, reaching out to the three people and five people and then next five people. Like every customer at first was just a very manual process of find them and bring them on board and then it was starting to build momentum from there. But it was very slow, incremental linear movement for a while. So it was just kind of raw persistence of sticking with that in the hope that it would eventually compound.

     What I see is making it is being involved in the interesting activities, right? As opposed to the ultimate end outcome. Like, you know, there's this concept from psychology of flow that, that you're in this balance state between boredom and anxiety, right? So boredom is something that's too easy for you, right? Like you're a chef who's been assigned to cook a basic macaroni and cheese recipe, Whereas on the other end of the spectrum is like anxiety or stress or overwhelm that, you know, you're given something that's way too hard for you, right? And flow comes when you're in the balanced state, right? When things are, are challenging, you're being pushed to use your skills that you do have, but not overwhelming. So in a way, making it is really having consistent access to a flow state, which is genuinely hard to achieve. It can be elusive at times.

     Rather than thinking, you have to have this picture of what success is going to be for yourself. Instead think about just building in regular kind of self reflection as you go along, so that, you know, every year or even every quarter, as you're building your coaching practice or building your online course business or whatever it is that you're building, you know, stepping back on and reflecting on how is this actually going in comparison to what motivated you to start it? Right? How is it going financially? What aspects of the work are you enjoying and not enjoying and what do you want it to be more like or include more of or less of going forward? 

     There's a balance anything you create, whether it's of course software, a physical product, a new supplement, whatever. It has to be, something you're interested in building and working on because it's going to take a lot of work. But fundamentally it needs to be, you know, meet a real need for a person who's going to want to buy it and invest in it. I see a lot of people get excited about, OK, what can I create and build and not as much about like, how do I connect with people to understand what they need to make sure that I'm building something that's aligned with what they need? So finding, you know, a way of working that is really customer-centric or or balances your desires as a career with your understanding of who you're serving is probably the most fundamental thing you can do to avoid going off track. 

     So what was my biggest mistake all the way to making it? I mean I feel like we could be, they could be listening mistakes all day. Um you know, as most people who go through a starting company have experienced, just not understanding the fundamental importance of like speed of iteration, especially in technology. Like it's important to have good ideas and to talk to customers and those things came pretty naturally to me. But it's also really important to build those ideas quickly, get them out into the real world where people can use them and then start really rapidly making them better based on real world usage. And you know, I understood that conceptually... but it was much, much harder to move rapidly on executing ideas, building software products and getting real users for them, you know, than I anticipated. I didn't understand how critical it was to keep pushing forward that speed of iteration. It compounds dramatically over time, Right? Because if you have, you know, one the iteration a month, that's 12 and a year and they're sort of compounding on each other because you're learning more with each one, you know, versus one iteration a year. You know, you're talking about just this dramatic factor difference in how much you're learning, how much you're improving things for your customers.

     Learning is critical to contemporary society where practices and skills are changing all the time. If we want people to have opportunity, they need to be able to have opportunities to learn continuously contributing to making that better is, you know, what I need to do. Who are you excited about helping? Right? Like who are you motivated to really help and work really hard to build a product or of course or a service to help them. So, you know, just always be reflecting on your motivation and what's going to be satisfying for your work and like building the cycles of reflection and progress that we talked about into your work. So it's going to be a long journey, right? No one has overnight success. Even the overnight successes we hear about in the media, you know, typically had years and years of work leading up to them. So knowing that it's going to be a long journey like what can you build in that will make it meaningful for you and that will help keep you going over time. 

     I'm Abe Crystal and you've been listening to Making It! You can find me at