Google Helpouts: Yay or Nay?

VivianaGoogle on Tuesday introduced Helpouts to connect customers to experts for one-on-one teaching sessions. The tool enables people to “get real help from real people in real time“.

What does that mean? You search for a topic you need help with and chose a “teacher” that can explain you whatever you need to know. For example, you can request a Wardrobe Stylist consultation, Spanish lesson or get support for home repair. The teacher sets a price for their time spent with you and Google gets chunk of that money, naturally.

Looks pretty cool, right? Many people think so, others not so much. Reactions from both camps have been quite strong.
Here is a snapshot of the main arguments:

New or Old?

While some declare the new marketplace for real-time help a game-changer…

And see Google as a leader in innovation…

SummiyahMalik

This is AWESOME. Google be the God of Internet innovation and initiation t.co/BHaXfJbqRP

Others accuse Google of copying their Startup idea…

And some are simply not sure what we can expect from it.

Community or Business?

Are Google Helpouts going to help people find useful advice or will the space will overloaded with “retail heavy-hitters” trying to gain more visibility?

It’s quite hard to say at this stage. Google Helpouts already offer some great expert tips for free.

At the same time, many small businesses will turn to this platform to promote their services and use it as yet another way to try and grab attention of their potential customers.

Awesome or Lame?

What do you think?

You can find the original Storify here.

Advertisements

How We Launched Our Startup For Just Over $1000

We’ve always talked and dreamt about starting our own business. Today is the day when our dreams are coming true, as we are officially launching the Alpha version of Knowinger in Australia and New Zealand!

The Origin of the Idea

Get an Idea

Image by Bookelï via Flickr

It all started about a year ago, when I decided to buy my partner Michal a piano for his birthday. I got him an electronic keyboard when he was away on a business trip – it’s a pretty big thing so it’s hard to smuggle it to the house unnoticed. And I also wanted to get him some private lessons, so he could get back to playing soon.

And that’s how the idea of an education marketplace started! As I was Googling around I found various options for him. The difficult part was to choose the right one. I knew I wanted something in the Inner West of Sydney, so he didn’t have to travel far. With the rest, I had no idea. I was flicking through tutor directories and private school pages and was getting a bit lost. I called a few teachers and asked them about their courses and methods but honestly, I didn’t have a clue how to distinguish a good teacher from a not-so-good one.

Although I successfully managed to get him a great teacher after about a week of research, it left me with a thought of a gap on the Australian market. “If I had to go through this lengthy selection process myself, there must be a lot of other people that face the same problem”, I thought. So I started asking my friends and colleagues and talked about my idea of the education marketplace with various people. I didn’t have any expectations as I was just at an idea stage at that moment. Most people said they’d welcome a platform where they could compare different courses in the town, see teachers’ reviews and book classes online. And that gave me the impulse to pursue my idea further.

From Idea To Execution

I was changing jobs at around this time last year and didn’t have a lot of time to further develop the initial concept. After work, I would be spending hours researching competitors, gathering information and reading about entrepreneurship and business. I slowly worked on putting a business plan together and the original idea started having more shape and structure.

I even gave it a name; Knowinger and bought a domain on GoDaddy. ($44)  In case you wonder, it means:

  • Evidencing the possession of inside information
  • Characterized by conscious design or purpose
  • Alert and fully informed
  • Highly educated; having extensive information or understanding

I am a digital marketer, which has given me a huge advantage in starting this purely online business. I could use my previous experience managing high-traffic websites and highly competitive campaigns for large corporations. Michal, on the other hand, is a versatile solution architect and developer with experience from various enterprise projects around the world. We are just a perfect team for this project, right 🙂

Viviana & Michal

After having a clearer idea on what exactly we want to do and how, we defined what features are crucial to to launch our MVP (Minimum Viable Product).Looking back now, I am convinced we could have made it even simpler, but I have to admit it is a hard battle for me being a perfectionist.

In among all the preparation and initial development happening, we were actually moving to Buenos Aires, where we currently reside. As you can imagine, the progress with Knowinger was quite slow and we could not concentrate on it as much as we wanted. In the meanwhile, I decided to leave my well-paid job in Australia, not to search for any job in Argentina, and fully dedicate myself to Knowinger.

After arriving to Argentina, we finally had more time to work on Knowinger. While Michal has still had his full-time job and can only work on the product development at nights and on the weekends, I can focus all my energy on our startup.

Getting It Out of the Door

We started by drawing use cases, business processes and categorizing features into priority quadrants.

Viviana sticking post-ads

By the end of this process, we had a pretty good idea of what we need to do in order to create a functional MVP with the crucial features.  I took a great free course on Coursera which helped me with user experience design for our web application. To design wireframes (a skeletal framework of a website) I used Balsamiq Mockups ($79), a great tool to sketch your design and quickly iterate without loosing time and money.

The next stage, and for me the most dreaded one, was the design. We knew we don’t have the skills, but were a bit nervous about having someone we don’t know design Knowinger for us. We started with the logo and posted a contest on Design Crowd. To be honest, the quality of the submission was very low, so I did not choose any of the proposed design. (Lost approx $70 on fees) You can post “non-guaranteed” project where you don’t have to select any design.
Knowinger LogoOn the other hand, you probably get a lower quality submissions than if you guarantee you will select and pay one. I asked my friend Zuza, a graphic designer, to help me with some logo ideas. She came up with a concept of the current logo. We then worked together on further developing it to the current look and feel. ($0)

After getting several quotes from different designers, we decided to take an alternative route and use Flat UI Pro Web User Interface Kit ($69) to keep the budget low. Luckily, we already had Adobe Photoshop License so I am not counting that into our expenses. I bought the header illustration on Veer and got some bonus credits as a new customer so it turned out to be free.

The Flat UI design framework is based on responsive layout and contains a huge number of components. It is an amazingly easy tool to use and I have to say I am quite happy with the result 🙂 Let’s see what you think! I was actually thinking it was a good exercise for me as I discovered a few holes in my wire-frame designs that would have otherwise been missed. Oops!

By this time, I would have set up Knowinger social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest and Google +. I started interacting with our potential customers and engaging with a community of people interested in learning and personal development. I also started this blog on WordPress which didn’t cost me anything, as I already had my domain.

I created a video explainer using GoAnimate Business account ($79):

It’s a pretty simple animated video that shows the overall idea of Knowinger. I created the voice-over myself as I have some radio presenting background, which made the job little easier 🙂

I also created a pre-launch page on Launchrock ($0) where I collected email addresses of anyone interested in Knowinger. I later imported those emails into MailChimp ($0), an awesome free tool for your Customer Relationship Management.

Launch or Die

After I finished the Flat UI designs in Pohotoshop, Michal posted a project on Freelancer to find a front-end developer who would translate my designs into HTML ($780). I have to say we were lucky to work with Anton who is a patient and knowledgeable developer. Michal developed the back end of the entire web application by himself, so kudos for that!

In the meanwhile, I registered the trademark with IP Australia ($120). I already had an Australian Business Number, which made things slightly easier and cheaper.

All together, the total cost of Knowinger launch was $1257. I consider that a decent bootstrapping effort from our side!

Knowinger Cost Analysis

We spent the last few weeks frenetically putting everything together, testing the site and fixing bugs. It has been quite an intense time of not-enough sleep, movement or quality food. But it’s part of it, I guess. It never goes as you predicted and things just take longer than you expected. What matters is that from today onward, anyone can create a course on Knowinger and acquire new students completely free!

Knowinger banner

I wish you all good luck with your ventures and hope you found some of the tools and information useful for your own startup projects!

Developing Something Nonexistent Does Not Happen Overnight

Marcos Galperín is considered one of the top Latin America’s entrepreneurs. We had the privilege to meet him yesterday at Startup Grind Buenos Aires, where he informally talked about his successes, failures and ambitions.

Failure, failure, failure

Image representing Marcos Galperin as depicted...

Image by MercadoLibre.com via CrunchBase

One of the most often mentioned words in the Startup world. The question is not about IF, the problem is WHEN. So you have to be ready! It took Marcos and his company Mercado Libre full 7 years to become profitable; they had to make their mistakes to get where they are now. This sounds like a really long time, but he made a truly valid point in this sense – It takes time to create something non-existent.

It filled me with hope and relief hearing this from someone like Marcos. Media is generally full of overnight success startup stories that make you feel like you´re dead if don’t grow 1000% in the first month. Sustainable business is indeed a long-term commitment.

The best product wins

Marcos made an analogy between professional sport and the process of building a business. If you work hard and train every day, you will shine. If your product is the best and you provide user with the best experience, you´ll win the battle. Quite interestingly, I recently read an opposite thought saying that adding value is more important than user experience when launching your startup.

I feel like the two are actually complimentary. If your product does not add any value, people won´t start using it. If you have an awesome product with poor user experience, people will stop using it.

LatAm setting

Español: Ubicación de América Latina

Español: Ubicación de América Latina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latin American market presents unlimited business opportunities, according to Marcos. On the other hand, he believes one needs to look at Latin America as a region of diverse countries with different socio-economic conditions and problems.

With the middle class growing every day, Brazil is seen by many as the gold mine of South America. Many Argentine startups focus on Brazil and try to penetrate this very promising market. At the same time, the competition is becoming quite fierce with ever increasing number of consumer focused startups.

Towards the end of the talk, Marcos emphasized the need of focusing on results. In Mercado Libre, they provide flexible working conditions with strong result-oriented culture where people are measured on what they deliver. He also mentioned that contracting people who are not only good but also passionate is crucial for your success. One of his last points, that I personally identify with, was the significance of having a clear focus of growth. There are so many innovations in the technology world that you can be trying something new every day. It is, however, important to always go back your business strategy and say NO to activities that do not correspond to your overall goal.

The views expressed here are our own.

Free Australia: Defining Our Strategy

Last week was full of tough decisions and changes for us here at Knowinger.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Light (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

I guess one has to get used to this turmoil working in a startup environment, where the rules are not yet written. In one way, I look at chaos as an initial and somehow unavoidable part of growth. It is a stage when you question your decisions on a daily basis, look for new ways of doing things and re-think what you already considered being solved. It can be depressing and tiring, but exciting at the same time. There is a light at the end of every tunnel and the longer the tunnel, the brighter the light when you finally get out.

Yes, I would call myself an optimist 🙂

Back to the two points I wanted to share with you, because they are extremely important for us and the way we will be developing our product further.

Free

We decided to offer our product completely free. Obviously, we have plans how to monetize Knowinger, but the basic product will be free for everyone. We are therefore moving to a freeminum category of products where most of the users enjoy the advantages of the platform without paying any fees. We have been discussing this option for some time but were inclined more towards a pay-per-student model we originally planned to launch with. What led us to change this decision? Well, few things actually.

  1. We are honestly committed to broaden access to education for everyone.
  2. We need to attract as many people as possible to get the right traction.
  3. Our long term plans are to head towards SaaS model with additional features for both students and teachers – the basic marketplace product thus needs to be free to remove any potential barriers for people to use it.
  4. Andreas, our dear friend and advisor, who has been suggesting this for some time.

Free

Australia

Again, a tough decision to be made, but one that has been on the table since we started working on Knowinger. “Do we launch globally, do we only hand-pick few cities or do we focus ourselves on one country?” These were the questions we were discussing and all of them have their pros and cons. We finally made our decision and will only be launching our Beta education marketplace in Australia (and New Zealand). We are definitely committed to expand as soon as we will have the resources to do so, but at this point of time, this seems to be the most feasible option.

We are making progress every day and although everything takes a bit longer than we expected (yes, I know, it’s normal), we are getting closer to our goal. So wish us luck!

The Official First Step

2 days ago, I made my startup project officially official…

It’s a strange mix of feelings ranging form excitement, nervousness, sense of responsibility and many others. To make it clear, I did not launch it yet, I just made the idea public.

What do I mean by that?

  1. I published my “how it works” video on Youtube. Check it out!
    It’s a pretty simple animated video that shows the overall idea of Knowinger. I used GoAnimate Pro account to produce the the video and created the voice-over myself. I have some radio presenting background, which made the job little easier 🙂
  2. With this video, I entered EYE 50 Contest on C2-MTL, a global conference that explores the relationship between commerce and creativity. They are searching for your innovators with ideas that are solving problems in an innovative manner. Selected 20 innovators will be invited to the actual conference in Montreal! So I’m really hoping my idea is strong enough to make the top 20. Please support Knowinger in the contest by “recommending” the project above the video!
  3. I launched a signup landing page: www.knowinger.com, where I showcase the same video and ask people to sign up with their email address to stay in touch with the Knowinger community. I am planning to send those people updates on the development of the project. I also intend to give them a special launch offer once we go live. I launched the page with Launchrock, a very simple tool created for exactly this purpose: pre-launch landing pages to create some initial interest and build your email database. And it’s completely free!
  4. I set up the start up Facebook page and invited my friends to “like” the page. An obvious thing to do, yes. I do not feel I am currently ready for it as I don’t really have any content strategy, but I cannot afford not to do it I guess.
  5. Also, I set up Knowinger Twitter account and started tweeting, but am honestly struggling a bit in that space.
  6. And last but not least, I started this blog to write about my progress as an entrepreneur.  Let’s see how we go here 🙂

It’s not a rocket science and I have’t done anything big (yet), as I didn’t really get my ducks in a row yet. But I still feel this was an important first step in launching my new project, a community marketplace for people to find and book face-to-face classes around the world and teachers to offer their knowledge.

I am seeking for any insights, comments, recommendation, connections or thoughts so please do not hesitate to comment here or contact me at hello(ad)knowinger.com.