I’ve been hard at work on a new business idea which I’ll be unveiling here over the next few weeks to you on this blog as I track the launch, new features, marketing efforts, and of course the results.
I am following my own philosophy that I teach: when you come across a new business idea, find the cheapest and fastest way to test it and just get SOMETHING out there which people can see and give you feedback on. This is far better than what most people do which is either (1) have a great idea and think about it so long you never take any action on it or (2) spend way too much time and money on something that eventually turns out to not work. If this doesn’t work, I’m going to find out quickly and have lost very little other than my time.
Total investment to launch this business: $102.00 - 12 months of web hosting $8.88 - one domain name About 80 hours of my time.
The Idea As many of you know I’ve owned a tutoring business for 4 years now. The way it works currently is that people fill out the form on my website requesting a tutor, then someone like myself or someone who works for me calls them back and sets them up with a tutor. Typically, 3-4 phone calls and emails are involved with each new person who signs up from the time they first sign up to the time they are matched with a tutor and earning money.
One of the harder parts about growing the business is finding good people to match students with tutors. People who will approach it with as much enthusiasm as I do (hard to find, since to them it is a job and to me its my own business). And I can’t just do it all on my own, because that is being “self-employed”, not a true “business owner” who can disappear and the company continues to grow.
So anyway, a friend of mine came up with the idea. Yes you read that right, I didn’t even come up with this idea myself, remember that one of the keys to coming up with great business ideas is just to be around other people who have good ideas. (In case you’re wondering, we structured an agreement so that he’ll be compensated if it works.)
The idea is to let people browse tutor profiles on the website and pick their own tutors. All the tutors are college students at prestigious universities. Clients can view lots of information to help them make a decision (the tutor’s major, GPA, feedback and reviews from other clients, picture, resume, location, etc).
Instead of taking a percentage of each hour of tutoring, which is what I do now, this would be more hands off approach and we’d only charge a flat fee to contact tutors since they’d be doing much of it on their own.
The beauty of this idea is that is scales well (something I talk about in Breaking Free extensively). In other words, the amount of time required on my part to match 10 tutors vs. 10,000 tutors with this model is practically the same because the whole thing is automated through the website. So even though I’d make less per hour of tutoring, it could reach a much wider audience.
Sketching Out Ideas
So I couldn’t sleep one night and decided to sketch out how this website might look. I prefer to design on paper. Designing a website in Photoshop or by coding it as I go seems to provide too much friction in the creative process. Here are some early sketches. You can see how things progressed and changed a little bit along the way.
Also, my theory on make good webpages (especially when in the product launch phase here when you just want to get something done quickly and “good enough”) is to find a design you like on another page, and tailor it to your own needs. Don’t copy it outright, but pretty close is fine. No need to reinvent the wheel early on. Can you tell which site I borrowed liberally from? :)
One pretty neat feature I’ve already put in is auto completion. Basically, when you start to type a class subject it guesses what you might want to put there and helps you out by making suggestions below. You can see an example of what I’m talking about in the pictures. This helps people make better search queries and helps them get the spelling right so they don’t get frustrated and leave.
By the way I’m using a relatively new programming language called Ruby on Rails to develop this site, which makes doing things like this auto completion pretty easy.
Coming Up Next… Over the next few weeks I’ll be showing new features that come out and show you how I’m going to test out this idea and see if it works.
Site site is now live, you can visit it at: www.UniversityTutor.com
Stay tuned! Brian Armstrong