This 24-Year-Old Founded an Online Learning Platform That Now Has Over 21,000 Paying Students
Some 4.5 million Filipinos lost their jobs in 2020, leading to an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent, the highest in 15 years. Many people were rendered jobless because of the effects of the pandemic.
It was this scenario that inspired Rene Paolo Isyasa to establish Course Belt, an online learning platform that provides specialized learning course programs to students looking to improve their skills in order to make them more likely to be hired, particularly by international businesses. The idea is similar to the American open online course provider Udemy, but with more localized courses and much more affordable rates.
Rene Paolo Isyasa is a graduate of the University of Makati and founded Course Belt in 2020
Isyasa, who has worked a marketing supervisor for a local B2B startup and has also done online freelance work since he was 16 years old, says the startup really began as a way to help his friends who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“Since I knew I couldn't help them financially, I figured teaching them skills I already know would allow them to be employed by international businesses doing freelance works,” the now 24-year-old founder tells Esquire Philippines. “I thought to myself, why can't we have a local version of (Udemy) with local instructors?”
Beginnings of Course Belt
Course Belt began as a simple one-page website where Isyasa, offered the company’s first online course on WordPress and Marketing. He says he spent a grand total of P1,000 to start the company.
“I used it to buy the domain name and run paid ads. I then used all the revenues I got at the beginning to reinvest in the business and allot more budget on marketing to scale the business faster.”
Isyasa started selling the program without having created the course itself first. He says he wanted to check if the subject was something people would be interested in.
The gamble paid off, so to speak. After a month of pre-selling, he was able to attract 1,000 students who paid for the course.
“That's where I realized that Course Belt has the potential to help a lot more Filipinos and be the first e-learning platform made in the Philippines,” he says.
It probably helped that the courses were ridiculously affordable.
“We priced it from as low as P199 because we wanted to help a lot of Filipinos,” Isyasa says. “For some, P199 might be too little, but for others who were severely impacted by the pandemic, this might be a one-day meal for them.”
The founder had to contend with a typical startup problem in the beginning—how to promote the business on a practically nonexistent budget. He turned to social media to reach their market. Having worked as a freelancer for eight years, Isyasa knew what skills were in demand in various industries and so he developed courses around them.
And because he himself was one of the first instructors on the platform, helped create the training manuals that made it easy for people to follow and apply.
The process is simple: you pick a course that interests you, you pay through any of a variety of channels (GCash, Paypal, credit card, even GrabPay), and you are granted access to the pre-recorded course. The company currently offers five courses: WordPress and Marketing, Graphic Design, SEO (Search engine optimization), Copywriting, and Facebook Ads, which is the most expensive at P499.
A community of learners
Less than a year after launch, Course Belt has racked up 21,000 paying students, many of whom are part of community where they get to interact with one another and ask questions about the courses. The company has also begun attracting investors, primarily the Quezon City-based CIIT College of Arts and Technology, which helped fund Course Belt’s initial budget of P2 million that will go to operations, marketing, and other necessities to set-up the business.
“I started this as a one-man team, and slowly, I had to hire people to help me do the operations,” the founder says.” The hardest part was not knowing how to properly set up a company. I'm blessed to have caught CIIT College of Arts and Technology's interest to invest in the business so they helped me with all the legalities.”
Isyasa, who attended the University of Makati as a scholar, says his work ethic is heavily influenced by his parents. His father was a technical support representative while his mother is a full-time housewife. “Growing up, they always taught me the value of education, having a business, and application of what I learn. I'm really blessed to have them as parents in my life.”
“Today, Course Belt evolved into a platform not just for learning new skills online, but also a platform that enables Filipino instructors to teach online,” he adds. “I'm seeing that it will be a common household name when it comes to professional informal education. We're looking to disrupt the e-learning industry by providing accessible and quality education to Filipinos, and eventually the whole Southeast Asia.”