John Connor is the CEO of HelpWith.co, a company inspired by his own journey and challenges, which looks to change the way we learn by leveraging the skills of experienced people in the community.
How Did You Get Started?
Q: How did you make your first sale?
Before we built a full fledged platform, I manually set up a landing page and teacher profiles on a wordpress site. I posted the profiles to various classifieds and was able to find freelance consulting for myself and several friends.
Q: How did you get credibility quickly?
Since launching, we’ve continuously aided new features and modified our UI based on user feedback. Our users know their voice will be heard, which has really helped our credibility.
Q: How did you develop key partnerships?
We built a simple referral program and tracking system early on, which has allowed us to tap key influencers and get them to promote our platform for us. We’re still in the early stages of developing key partnerships, but so far it looks like we have a very scalable strategy.
Q: How did you get funded or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
So far, we’ve raised a small amount of money from our network, but have been mostly self funded. We’ve stayed lean by writing efficient, modular and reusable code while picking marketing channels that are free or intrinsic to our platform, such as referrals and invites.
Q: What habits helped make you successful?
Learn from everyone. Every user has a perspective worth hearing, every fellow entrepreneur has a strategy worth reflecting on. We try to stay as humble as possible while also being incredibly focused on our overarching goals for HelpWith. We also do a great job at maintaining clear and consistent communication with all parts of our team, ensuring that we waste less time getting confused over details and can understand how the pieces we all produce can fit together most elegantly.
Q: What mindsets helped make your successful?
Always be iterating. It’s a concept that doesn’t just apply to the product itself, or our marketing strategy, but to the way we look at every part of this project.
“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”-Bruce Lee
Q: How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Our competitors are either too formal (traditional tutoring sites) or too loose and impersonal (craigslist). We’ve found the sweet spot by focussing on community as our engine for both creating value within the platform and driving recruitment. Our members want other people to be involved, because they then get more out of HelpWith.
Q: What was your biggest mistake?
We didn’t capture the right data early enough. If we had thought through our analytics strategy more thoroughly, we would have saved a lot of time and had much better conversion early on. You live, you learn.
Q: How did you deal with failure?
Well, my first cofounder left this project for a well paying job, after over a year of working together. I believe in the vision we’re working on as much as I believe in gravity. I took the progress we had made and used it to recruit two top tier developers as cofounders.
Q: How did you learn from failure?
Early on, we attempted to broaden our platform to include any services people could offer. We were too ambitious, so our messaging, and thus conversions suffered dramatically. Since we were still in beta, and only had 1,200 users, the impact wasn’t too dramatic and we were able to learn a lot from our users.
Q: What was unexpected?
Well, we definitely expected to see more traction on HelpWith at launch. Instead, we had to “prime the pump” and were very hands on with getting people to understand and use our platform.
Q: What did you learn?
We learned to focus on specific problems, to listen to our users without projecting our own hypothesis, and to constantly challenge our assumptions.
Q: What would you have done differently?
If I could go back, I would put more effort into detailed feature planning. It’s easy to assume you can figure out the details of a feature as you build it, but often enough, the details and what matters the most and are really key to properly building meaningful features.
Q: How did you test your assumptions?
We use extensive data gathering and anecdotal feedback to constantly test our assumptions. Every day I meet with users and gain new insight from their diverse perspectives.
Q: How can you minimize the unknowns?
We minimize the unknowns by trying to keep our features simple, and measuring every meaningful metric we can. From the time it takes for a user to sign up, to how many friends they invite, we’re driven to learn more about our users and what they want from our platform. This helps keep things predictable and improvable.
Q: What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
I surround myself with positive people that support my goals. I’m incredibly lucky that I have a partner who is okay with me staying up til 3am to write code and emails. Exercise is also integral to staying productive. If I find myself not taking the time to work out, I make sure I fit push-ups and stretching into my work life. Stepping away from the keyboard and getting my blood flowing usually cures whatever ails me.
Q: What is the best advice you received recently, and that you still follow?
The best advice I’ve received in recent memory is to focus on building a movement, not just a product. For HelpWith to be truly successful, it’s not enough to connect teachers and students, we want to build a new way of learning, and that takes getting people to fall in love with our mission and vision for a better society.
For more about John’s work, please check out: www.helpwith.co