We've been working on an online platform for college peer tutoring (WiseGuy.com). We have a solid team that has been talking to users, iterating, and pivoting for 2 years, but we're not getting nearly the growth or engagement we would need to create a sustainable business. We've gone the B2C route creating a university-specific marketplace where tutors set their own rates. We've added an on demand feature where students can be matched with a tutor at their university in minutes. We've tried licensing the platform to schools and have 5 B2B contracts with universities. We've tried a subscription model and focusing our marketing on parents. Nothing seems to yield promising engagement, growth, or signs of product-market fit. Everyone talks of the entrepreneur who never gives up but how do you know when your idea is flawed and it's time to start anew instead of spinning your wheels? Or if it perhaps really is a lack of product market fit and another pivot is in order.
There are so many possibilities that come to mind, without knowing a lot more about what has lead you to this point, it is hard to offer any actionable advice.
The first place I would start investigating is the top of your sales funnel. Are you getting students? Are they just not converting? Are schools just not interested (I don't see this as a viable avenue, but it would be good to know).
Are tutors signing up? Are they showing up?
You explained a couple different pricing models, none of that matters if no one is coming to the party.
I'd be happy to help investigate this and offer insights. If you'd like, schedule a call and we can get started.
All the best,
I don't know how recently you have added the B2B effort but if I had a product that five universities had signed up for, I would take that to every applicable university out there.
In the colleges, you've identified a smaller pool of much bigger clients by taking that route. It might be a good time to hire a B2B market strategist and make a big push on that front. I assume you're white-labeling the product in that environment and looking for related services that you could offer the students once they sign up. Textbooks related to the subject? DVD courses?
Be careful not to dilute your brand by trying to be too many things. That would run afoul of Rule #1 in Ries & Trout's book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Each brand (perhaps you have several) needs to have a singular, loud message in the marketplace. No confusion.
B2C is so hard because you have lots of competitors to deal with as well as a fickle consumer audience. If you have a good story going with the universities already in your portfolio, try doing a case study or two (if they will cooperate) and then market the heck out of those to the other universities.
If you decide to stay in the B2C market, take a look at Mark Schaefer's new book The Content Code to see if you are maximizing all your social media leverage.
Your site looks great and the product seems substantial and well thought out. However, as you indicated, finding out if there is a sweet spot for what you do is not always easy. Take a step back and, at a generic level, define what your company is really good at and what forms the backbone of how you deliver value. Is this the complete set of things that you need to be good at to win in the business as you have defined it?
Next, define your value proposition for each of your key constituents (schools, tutors, tutees) along with the criteria they use to evaluate the offering's attractiveness to them. Define personas and use cases within each constituent group to identify who you are best positioned to satisfy. For each constituent, list the positive, negative and puzzling things you have heard in their feedback or observed in their actions.
Doing this for each of your current and past target market initiatives (B2C and B2B) may help you develop new insights. What is different from your original hypotheses? When you look at key metrics or assumptions in your model, are there any in which small improvements could lead to significantly better performance (traffic, referrals, trial, conversion, time to fulfill, repeat usage, etc)? What else might you do to improve performance at the key leverage points? What questions should you be asking to gain further insight on how to move the needle?
Two-sided P2P marketplaces are fundamentally challenging. In your case, you need to generate enough supply and demand to satisfy both tutors and tutees. A B2B sponsorship model has the potential to address this quickly and effectively if they actively embrace it and feel compelled to make it work. Are your school customers being proactive in their support for your platform? Are they referring your solution or generating enough awareness to interest and engage a high proportion of potential tutors and tutees? Are you meeting the schools' expectations and are they seeing a positive ROI? If you are losing tutors and/or tutees to some form of direct or indirect competition, what are the implications for your business (features, pricing, promotion, awareness, expectations, reducing "friction," etc.)?
It would be helpful to know what feedback and insights you have received directly from participants. What has this told you about your (real or perceived) ability to meet expectations, overcome barriers to use, generate referrals and drive repeat/retention?
At the end of the day, if you feel you need to look for opportunities to "pivot" the business, start by referring back to the core strengths that I mentioned in the first paragraph. Are there other applications and markets where you could provide value by redeploying a version of your platform and leveraging these core strengths?
I'd be happy to talk through any and all of the above and would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your team and business.
I like your idea. As a matter of fact, I will go so far as say, it is a great idea. So...don't give up. But don't keep beating your head against the wall either. You have to get over the wall.
You have to quit focusing on marketing and sales tactics and focus on a strategy. How do you to this? You have to come up with a really solid USP. Why would a customer choose you over others similar companies? Find the answer to this before you continue with your marketing strategy.
Secondly, you need an irresistible offer.
Thirdly, you need to give an unbelievable guarantee. By doing this and following the directions below on pre-launch and launch you should be a lot closer to getting real solid customers.
Here is $10,000 worth of information for free and in a nutshell. (each of these proven concepts could actually be worth millions of dollars in the right hands.
I didn't come close to inventing the pre-launch or the launch. Concert goers are very familiar with winning concert tickets by calling into radio stations or winning vip treatment, or back stage passes, lunch with a star, the list goes on.
Likewise, if you look at "professional wrestling," the whole fitting before the fight is just a pre-launch. PT Barnum was doing this for circus goers over 100 years earlier. And I can only imagine the pre-launch of the Romans for the Gladiator Fights.
In more recent history, every type of business from Retail Stores to Real Estate companies have used multiple pre-launch techniques. Believe me, tourists are bombarded with Condo deals when they visit Disney Land.
This is similar, but different from lead generation (I don't have the enough space to discuss this powerful technique here). But I use both of these techniques in my own businesses including offering a free information packed newsletter and encouraging my clients to move up my sales latter because it is best for them. Most do move up the sales latter as their ambition and drive increases. Some move all the way up from the very beginning. Both benefit from this, one just takes longer to receive the benefits. Others will never take a chance on becoming successful.
Okay, more to your pre-launch campaign for SaaS. Simply, come up with a taste of what you have, ask a serious question and answer it. At the end of the end of the first "answer and solution" set the potential client up with another problem that is very familiar to them. Tell them that you have the answer. Follow this technique several time. I believe most do this repetition 2 or 3 times, but a famous golfer has sent me literally dozens of how to videos in order for me to take the bait.
You might think that giving the answer to a solution makes your product less valuable and your opinion less valuable. If you think that, you would be wrong. Heck, look at what I have given out in this answer. My experience is if you give you will receive. That is if you know what to give, how much to give, and how to receive.
I am not trying to sell you on calling me. Most people frankly cannot afford it. Really, I am pretty busy with my businesses and consulting. However, I need more info before I could have a greater impact in helping you.
Most solutions involved this: Ask, Ask, Ask, then Ask again.
Concentrate on the 3 M's. There are actually 7, but 3 will do for now. These are Market, Message, and Media. They come in that order.
Who is your target market (customer, clients, buyers, users, etc.)?
Tailor your laser focused message for this target market.
What is the best media mix to get your message to that market?
Here's what you do...first, make it an offer that is so incredible that they cannot resist. Secondly, do all the work for them. Make it so easy to make the purchase now that they can do it virtually without effort. Thirdly, give them an incentive to act right now. Fourthly, offer an almost unbelievable guarantee. Fifth, offer a bonus for acting now. There are many other incredible steps, but these steps should help the novice to the professional sell anything.
Whether you are selling B2B or B2C, you have to focus on selling to only one person. You can actually sell to one person at a time while selling to millions at a time. They are one and the same. Don't get off track, what we call digital marketing selling is just selling in print. And that has not changed since Cluade Hopkins wrote "Scientific Advertising." Really long before he wrote the book.
The secret to success: I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with some of the biggest names in business, celebrities, actors, entrepreneurs, business people, and companies from startup to billion dollar operations. The number one reason for their success is doing what they know and love while doing it in new, creative, and innovative ways.
Ask, Ask, Ask. Have thick skin and learn from each "mistake." In a short while, the market will tell you what you need to do and who and what you need to ask. But get started now even if that just means asking a contact on LinkedIn.
While you are thinking, think big and think of something at least 1% better, newer, or different. And being cheaper is not a winning strategy.
Make decisions quickly and change decisions slowly..unless you are actually going off a cliff.
Remember these two 11 letter words...persistence and consistency. They are two of the most important tools ever invented.
Even better yet, remember my 411 Rule of Achievement – It consists of (4) eleven letter words for super achievement (also an 11 letter word). Here it is, my 411 Rule of Super Achievement:
Consistency can change even the smallest
Possibility into a big time
Persistence + Consistency =
By the way, I get a lot of people asking me if I can take phone calls for free (a free sample). Sorry, I can’t. I respect Clarity.fm and what they are trying to accomplish.
Treat everybody you talk to and everybody you meet (including yourself) like each is your number one million dollar customer.
Remember this for most people who really want to achieve a dream:
First: Your dreams are important and those who don’t support and believe in your dreams either don’t understand your desire and ambition or they have some other reason (many times reasons they themselves don’t understand) for not wanting you to spend the time and effort necessary to achieve your dreams.
Secondly: If you haven’t achieved your dreams and goals so far, it is not your fault. I know that this goes against what you usually hear, but it is true. Stop blaming yourself. You have a whole world of obstacles that are truly the blame. You only need to figure out how to go over, go under, go through, go around, or go with these obstacles in the direction of your dreams.
Thirdly: Fear is normal, but don’t give into it. Use it to motivate you and guide you.
Fourth: You are right; there are probably some people who don’t want you to succeed.
Fifth: Keep this in mind, there are people competing to get their first, do more, have more, invent what you are considering inventing, or simply trying to win. Believing in yourself and what you are doing is part of a strong recipe for winning over your competition.
I also always suggest that everybody at every stage work with a coach, mentor, or consultant. Heck, it works for Tiger Woods, every team in the NFL, the NBA, and etc. We all need guidance and support.
Best of luck,
Take massive action and never give up.
Michael Irvin, MBA, RN
PS – Many people have “Upvoted” my answers. Thanks to those who do this. I really appreciate it.