Wes Kao: How to Create and Frame a Sustainable Movement

wes kao

Wes Kao was among the firsts to create mainstream cohort-based courses and build an entire career around this.

But besides that, Wes Kao is best known for frameworks like “Spicy point of view” or “The rigorous Thinkers” or “The eaten by the bear framework.” and other top through leaders are sourcing her work almost every time they got the chance. 

And yes, she is also a B2B creator with 215.000 subscribers to her LinkedIn and Twitter/X accounts and more than 16.000 newsletter subscribers who read her marketing, business, leadership insights and are familiar with her famous frameworks.

But let’s start this article before I “get eaten by the bear”.

Who is Wes Kao?

Wes Kao is a two time founder, a marketing executive, entrepreneur, advisor, and a B2B creator who writes a weekly newsletter.

Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Business Insider, Inc, Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, and The Information. In 2021, she was selected by Entrepreneur magazine on the 100 Women of Impact list.

In 2014, together with bestselling author Seth Godin, she co-founded altMBA, one of the first mainstream cohort-based courses. She grew the business from zero to thousands of students in 45 countries and more than 550 cities in less than three years.

After three years of altMBA, she built, launched, and grew courses that have reached 250,000 students on her website. As an adviser she built courses for Morning Brew, Outlier, Section, and more.

When she realized she could build an entire platform of cohort-based courses, she co-founded Maven in 2020 with the co-founder of Udemy and first engineer at Venmo.

Maven is an education company backed with $25M from First Round and Andreessen Horowitz.

It has more than 20.000 students and more than 400 online cohort-based courses taught live by experts in different fields, such as AI, product, business, marketing, design, writing, data, sales, and more.

In August 2023, Wes decided to leave Maven, take some time off, and come back with new ideas.

In 2010 she started writing on her blog to document her learnings, which has evolved into a newsletter.

She writes for operators, for leaders, and all the doers that want to sharpen their ability to execute and who know there is no limit to how good you can be in a certain domain.

She recently moved her newsletter on Substack and is read by more than 16.000 subscribers every week.

Plus, she writes on Twitter/X and LinkedIn where she has grown a cumulated audience of 215,000 followers.

So, what differentiates Wes Kao from all the other marketers and what makes her stand out as a B2B creator?

Why is Wes Kao a successful B2B creator?

Some of the things that define Wes Kao as a B2B creator based on her social accounts, newsletter, and blog issues are

  1. Has a builder mindset
  2. Creates focused content tailored to B2B space
  3. Knows the secret of naming frameworks

1. Has a builder mindset

When Wes and Seth Godin launched altMBA, they were among the firsts to start cohort-based courses.

She said in a Twitter/X post that in order to launch it, she and Godin studied a lot of different domains one would never think of and took that information into their courses.

Moving on to Maven, she saw a business opportunity when most of her clients were established instructors, so she found a way of transforming this into an actual business together with her former high school mate. 

When she was invited to Nathan Barry’s podcast she talked about the cohort-based courses.

She says that when people hear cohort-based courses, they assume that it’s an anti-video driven course, but that is not the case at Maven.

Even the Maven course accelerator that Wes teaches is video driven.

Now she and her team decided to move towards turning some workshops into pre-recorded videos because they realized that sometimes the teachers monologue for several minutes when teaching certain topics.

Plus, people could engage with those courses on their own time.

I am curious what Wes will do next now that she has left Maven.

I think she will focus more on her newsletter.

She already gained 16.000 followers who read her newsletter weekly so she can further grow this newsletter.

Her newsletter addresses those who believe in continually improving their skills and acknowledge that there is no upper limit to their potential in their domain.

Also the promise of practical frameworks tailored for organizational challenges positions the newsletter as a valuable resource for professionals seeking actionable insights and strategies to navigate and excel in their roles.

2. Creates focused content tailored to B2B space

Wes tasks about marketing, decision-making, leadership, personal development, and her frameworks on her blog and newsletter, and most recently she started to speak more on Twitter and LinkedIn as well.

  • About managing things as an employee and how important it is to “act like an owner”
  • About what it means to be a leader.

Wes Kao’s approach to B2B content creation is driven by a strategic focus on clear and effective communication. Her consultancy leverages deep market insights to enhance go-to-market and product launch strategies for B2B companies, enabling them to articulate their value proposition with precision. 

By guiding teams through thoughtful planning and execution, she helps streamline brand growth and product rollouts. Kao also empowers executives through targeted coaching, refining their leadership skills for high-stakes environments. 

Her expertise in crafting impactful messaging and stories underpins her ability to develop comprehensive marketing strategies that resonate within the B2B sector. 

With a reputation for translating vision into tangible outcomes, Kao’s strategies are designed to foster robust implementation across various communication channels, from email marketing to social media.

3. Knows the secret of naming frameworks

Basically, a framework is a structure or a set of guidelines that helps individuals understand, analyze, and solve complex problems.

Wes Kao’s vast expertise in online learning, content creation, and digital marketing, made her a pro in creating and naming frameworks.

She has structural and problem-solving thinking, she knows how to express ideas in a simple and clear way, and thinks about different domains where the frameworks can be applied.

Some of her frameworks that she constantly applies are:

  • The spiky point of view
  • The rigorous Thinkers
  • The eaten by the bear framework.

a. What is the spiky point of view?

From Wes Kao’s perspective, we live in a world where everyone wants to be noticed, but unless you distinguish yourself, you won’t be able to show how different you are.

So you need to develop your spike of view.

A spiky point of view is a perspective others can disagree with. It’s a belief you feel strongly about and are willing to advocate for. It’s your thesis about topics in your realm of expertise.

A spiky point of view is deeply personal, it’s based on evidence, but it doesn’t have to be an universal truth so others could debate on it.

Joe Pulizzi talked about spiky POV in one of his podcast episodes, giving his own example. 

The term content marketing was a hill Joe Pulizzi stood on alone. Despite facing opposition and challenges from others who favored terms like branded content or custom publishing, Joe asserted that if you try to teach marketers to be publishers what he and his colleagues were doing must be called marketing.

What Joe was vehemently stating in his spiky POV eventually became used by all marketers.

He encourages others to find their spiky POV, as done right, it can be something you can build your business upon saying that

If you are going to create something like a Blazing Saddles, you better be willing to beat up the old lady, punch a horse, and annihilate the fourth wall.

How can B2B creators create spiky points of views?

Wes says you should start from thinking about your field of work and challenge the norms.

Is there something you believe in but others might disagree with? Or is it something that everyone thinks is the best practice but it did not work based on what you’ve experienced?

And it doesn’t mean it has to be something controversial just for the sake of it. It’s about your truth which you strongly believe in that you expose to others.

From here you can develop your spiky points.

Amanda Goetz is someone who also effectively creates spiky points of views based on what she writes on Twitter and LinkedIn because she’s not afraid of putting herself in a discomfort zone.

Amanda Natividad also uses this framework on Twitter/X when she talked about the Permissionless Co-marketing, teaching her audience something of value based on her experience.

How does Wes Kao use the spiky point of view?

If you think about it, Wes applied the spiky POV even when she built Maven.

When Kao decided to leave altMBA and become an independent creator and consultant she realized most of her clients were instructors who already had established brands.

At the same time, she said in an interview that there were a lot of creators who wanted to work with her.

There were a ton of smaller creators who were reaching out to me expressing interest in working together, but didn’t have the budget to hire consultants, and that felt like a shame.

So together with her highschool classmate, Gagan Biyani, and their technical founder Shreyans Bhansali, started Maven.

Where is the spiky POV? 

In the fact that they landed on the idea of bringing cohort based courses to the masses.

They’ve challenged the status quo in the online education space, offering an alternative vision for how education can be delivered and experienced .

This approach, emphasizing community learning, live interactions, and shared experiences that the cohort-based courses represent, can be a more effective and engaging way to educate a broad audience.

She also applied the spiky POV to become a B2B creator in her industry.

She wrote a post on LinkedIn and Twitter/X saying that public speaking is overrated since most people don’t do a lot of speeches in a year.

She said that to her mind it’s more important “to be persuasive in daily conversations than one-off presentations to a crowd.”

This post of hers generated a lot of comments around this topic which proves the point that a spiky point of view encourages others to debate what you’ve just stated.

b. What is rigorous thinking?

Kao thinks that rigorous thinking is about asking important questions about tactics, and having a systematic way of making decisions. 

It makes you deconstruct ideas to gain clarity and saves you time as a manager from telling everyone to execute an idea and then fix mistakes that could have been avoided from the start.

Building a team of rigorous thinkers means each member should advocate their idea and defend it presenting its benefits, acknowledging the drawbacks, and presenting data firmly grounded in reality while others can question various aspects.

As a comparison, the lazy thinkers make assumptions that they don’t even know are assumptions. They finger cross and hope things will work and bring in lots of customers for example.

Rigorous thinking is win-win because it prevents decision fatigue for managers and empowers team members to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.

Wes Kao strongly believes in this framework and often talks about it in her LinkedIn and Twitter/X posts.

She strongly believes in rigorous thinking.

She recently stated that she admires people who do the hard work executing it in the best way they can without expecting anything in return because great work should be the norm.

c. What is the Eaten by the bear framework?

In a nutshell, eaten by the bear refers to aiming for the minimum viable backstory and getting to the important part asap.

How many times did you happen to be in meetings where the speaker told you so much content that you’ve lost your focus? And you had to schedule another meeting to discuss the issues you should have spoken about in that meeting?

This eaten by the bear refers to giving only useful context in a short time.

Wes gives an example telling us how she prepares her meetings and how much times she allocates to everything

As a rule of thumb for myself, I aim for backstory to be roughly 10-20% of the conversation. This leaves 80-90% for what I actually wanted to talk about.

  • 30 minute call: 5 minutes of initial backstory, 25 minutes for the real topic
  • 60 minute call: 10 minutes of initial backstory, 50 minutes for the real topic.

This framework doesn’t only apply to business meetings, but it expands to sales calls, podcasts, party writing content, creating videos, webinars, interviews, and the list goes on and on.

So next time you have to create a backstory, challenge yourself to remove tangents, random details, and rabbit holes, and give only useful content before you get eaten by the bear.

Why is it important for a B2B Creator to create frameworks?

Creating a memorable concept ensures it remains ingrained in your mind each time you create content or take the stage. 

And a framework can serve as a versatile foundation, allowing you to expand it into various projects. 

It can be a catalyst helping you generate creative ideas and different content types.

For instance, you can write a blog post about it which can evolve into a compelling presentation, and then you can write an entire book based on your framework.

Just think about how crazy it would be if Wes would write a book about the science and art of spiky point of view!

In fact, everything I’m doing here with the B2B Creator Newsletter is my new framework and also my spiky point of view for the B2B Marketing industry. 

What B2B Creators can learn from Wes Kao? (find examples)

1. Clear over Clever

First and foremost, Kao emphasizes the significance of a “Clear over Clever” mindset through all the frameworks she created.

She’s stressing the importance of delivering a message that is easily remembered. 

So B2B creators should prioritize clarity in their communication to ensure their concepts are well-understood by their audience.

2. Naming and owning your framework

Another crucial takeaway is the art of creating and naming frameworks, a skill in which Wes Kao excels.

B2B creators should learn the power of crafting distinctive and memorable names for their frameworks, as Kao created  “the spiky point of view” and “the eaten by the bear framework.” 

These names capture the essence of the concept and make it more accessible and intriguing to Kao’s audience.

How can you create a framework?

  • Step 1: Start with defining the purpose and objectives of addressing a specific problem
  • Step 2: Research it, understand it, break it down into manageable elements,
  • Step 3: Write your solution to the problem
  • Step 4: Test it in real-world scenarios and see if it works.

And then, just like Wes did, redefine your framework based on your experience and on the feedback you receive about it, and keep updating the framework to make sure it remains effective.

Wes first outlined the eaten by the bear framework in 2019, but continues to update it.

I originally published a version of this essay on August 8, 2019. Since then, hundreds of you have shared the post, so I’ve expanded the article with new insights and examples.

3. Repeat your message

Consistency is key in building a strong brand and reinforcing core ideas, and Wes Kao definitely knows about this, talking about her frameworks and her learnings constantly on her newsletter, on Twitter/X, and LinkedIn.

So you should consistently convey your key messages across various platforms to ensure a cohesive and memorable brand identity, similar to what successful B2B creators like Sahil Bloom, Katelyn Bourgoin, Jonathan Bland, and others do.

Final Thoughts

From co-founding altMBA with Seth Godin, to co-founding Maven, and constantly innovating and challenging the norms, Kao definitely is a B2B creator.

She’s not afraid of trying new things, of analyzing them, and creating frameworks based on her experiences.

She’s a true inspiration for all B2B creators for her innovative thinking.

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