Taylor Davidson · Why I teach financial modeling instead of Excel tricks

How I created a financial model for my course about financial modeling
by Taylor Davidson · 01 Dec 2015

I recently created a video course to teach people how to create financial models, and wrote about how I approached forecasting whether it was worth my time and effort to build it (guest post on Teachable).

What I didn’t talk about is how I teach financial modeling, and why I’ve struggled to find the right way to teach financial modeling for a number of years.

I learned how to build financial models in my first job in private equity, and when I went to work for my first startup (in 2000) I became the defacto finance / Excel person. Everything I learned, I learned by doing, and I essentially learned it on my own, as both of my first two companies were small companies without large staffs of people doing the same thing I did. So I spent hours, days, weeks in Excel learning how to take a business idea and use formulas and grids of numbers to create logical, insightful decisions about how a business worked.

And then I started helping friends build models for their companies, and things grew from there until I started building my own templates and products to help people build models (more about that here).

Along the way, I started to teach people how to build financial models, and started teaching classes at General Assembly in NYC (and then LA and Berlin), through Skillshare in NYC. What I quickly learned is that a) teaching is hard, and b) I teach financial modeling differently than most people.

I don’t teach Excel.

For investment bankers or financial analysts, learning how to use Excel efficiently is a necessary part of being able to do your job, and thus Excel shortcuts, add-ins, VBA and more advanced tools are critical things you need to learn.

But for most of us - people using Excel to help us figure out our own businesses - Excel isn’t the important thing. This isn’t something we do everyday, and most of what we’re using Excel to do doesn’t really require us to know all the keyboard shortcuts or use complicated add-ins.

I’ve always focused on using Excel as a way to outline how to think about a business. To me, Excel is merely a tool, a means to an end, and it’s the tool that’s likely the most available to us. I don’t like teaching Excel tips: to be honest, I don’t know all the formulas in Excel and I don’t know all the shortcuts. But what I do know - and by this point, I know very well - is how to take an idea for a business and use Excel to forecast, analyze, and understand how the business works. That’s not as easy to teach as Excel tricks, but for entrepreneurs and people like me, “how to think using Excel” is more valuable than Excel tricks.

Ok, so how should I create a course?

So when I recently considered putting together an online class, I sat down with a friend to discuss what it would look like and what it should focus on. The target audience, I knew: people that need to build financial models but don’t want to hire someone to build one for them, or want to upgrade their skills so that they can modify or work with other people’s models better.

But would it be worth it to create a course? How many sales would I need for it to make sense for me to invest time and money into creating the course? How much would it cost me to create it? How should I price it?

Naturally, I built a model to help me figure that out.

If you’re interested in the process I used to figure out my costs, pricing, revenues, and return on investment (of time and money), check out my recent guest post on Teachable, How to Forecast Your Online Course Earnings. I also included a nicer version of the model I used to figure out my course’s potential (download it on Teachable).

Building the model was helpful for me: and I hope it’s helpful for you.