Despite all the negativity I have asserted in relation to the live and interactive online grinds business model, the company DID generate SOME money. In fact, we made the guts of €16,000. Not bad considering we invested €80,000……or……wait a minute……that’s a loss of €64,000……hmmmm……perhaps not so good after all.
One of our Junior Cert students could probably tell you that a business model such as ours was not sustainable. So, something drastic needed to be done. We needed a new plan. Rather than drawing up a plan as to how many hours I would work and how many I wouldn’t, I decided to come up with some new ideas for the company. These were as follows:
A – Review the model of live and interactive grinds – develop a freemium model
If you remember back to our free trial grinds, we got 70-80 students logging in to watch each class. This was partially due to some students logging in to extract the urine from their own teacher, the most eminent, stentorian doctor, but largely due to the fact that these grinds were free. Free grinds would work wonders. Why? (a) The mammy is not going to pay for them anyway and (b) the multitude of tech issues that will inevitably arise would be tolerated, as the service is free. So, if you have paid to watch a geography grind, and it cuts out half way, never to return, you can simply leave the site and go have much more fun on Xtube. Everything is hunky dory; there is no real worry, as the service was free in the first place.
So, if we could make all our classes free and monetise with advertising revenue, this could potentially work, in fact I was pretty sure it would work. If we started with 70-80 students logging in, we could potentially end up with thousands watching for free. But did we have the technical capability to develop something like this, tech-issue free? Even if we did have the capability, was our tech partner willing to put in anymore work? Both of these questions are rhetorical, obviously.
B – Set up meetings with broadband providers and do a deal along the lines of Eircom Study Hub
For those of you not familiar with Eircom Studyhub, it’s a service available to Eircom customers where exam students can access video tutorials as part of a bundle. The videos are provided by a company called Exam Support (hi John if you are reading, big hug) but they are recorded as opposed to live (the sensible approach). Students who are not with Eircom can pay a small fee to Exam Support to watch the videos.
Could we partner up with another broadband provider? The obvious partner at the time was UPC. They didn’t have anything education-related in their portfolio, they were the only provider of fibre power broadband (at the time), and most importantly, they wanted to be ahead of Eircom at every bend. And what better way to achieve this than to enter the education space with live online grinds where students could ask questions in real time, as opposed to recorded videos with no interactivity.
C – Focus on other disciplines – the grinds industry was limited to Ireland – TEFL online, adult learning, corporate training
No matter what we would do to try to make our business work, or what we would be restricted from doing technically, one thing was for sure: the grinds industry was a limited pot. It applied simply and uniquely to Ireland and was only worth €40m p.a. If we wanted to really make money, our business would have to reach further. Our focus needed to be global. But given the fact that BS had put a limit on his time commitment already, and was not willing to put in any more work, we were stuck with the IT infrastructure he had already developed. If we were to enter new global markets (such as TEFL online), we would need to use the website framework already in place for OnlineGrinds.ie. For those of you who have read the book The Lean Startup and who are familiar with the term Minimum Viable Product, we didn’t have an MVP.
D – Do away with the online element, go back to basics with a traditional grind school
Being acutely aware of the quantum of cash being generated by south Dublin bricks and mortar grind schools, and being equally aware of the Irish-dancing dwarves fucking our cash into the Ballymun bonfire, I decided that maybe online grinds wasn’t the way forward. Maybe we needed to go back to basics and start a traditional grind school, with human being teachers as opposed to computers. Could we start a traditional grind school and possibly broadcast the grinds online? This was an eminent possibility.
Possible Deal with UPC
Of all the above options, some seemed more feasible than others. B and D seemed to be the most doable. So, I began with option B. I approached all the major broadband providers single-handedly. I am not saying I did this alone because I want to blow my own trumpet, or because I am looking for praise, I simply want to point out that BS had no involvement in approaching these companies, or coming up with any ideas on how to further the company generally.
Having made contact with all the major providers, I heard back from one a day later. It was QSAT broadband, Niall Quinn’s company. We met with a guy from QSAT out in the Red Cow hotel and had a very interesting chat on how our two companies could work together and how we could potentially enter the North African market and bring online education to the folks down there. This was exciting. So, all QSAT needed were log in details so they could see how our system worked. We gave them a log in, but alas we never heard back from them. I wonder why. Could it be that there were tech issues? Your guess is as good as mine, but I distinctly remember around this time that there were major issues with our archive. The user kept getting the error message ‘Error Loading File’ and no video would play. Absolute disaster. To this day I wonder is this why we never heard back from QSAT.
A few weeks later, I was paying for a few shirts at the till in M&S on Grafton street and I heard a dog barking. It wasn’t a poodle shopping for slim fit shirts, it was the ring tone on my mobile. I answered the phone and there was a gent called Kevin from UPC on the other end. He wanted me to come in to UPC HQ to have a chat about a possible deal.
Despite much of an urge to pee in my pants with excitement, I managed to hold it in. However, I am sure the girl behind the counter thought I had just received a phone call saying that my lotto syndicate had just struck it lucky, or something along those lines. Such was the message the grin on my mug would have given off.
Kevin asked me to bring my tech partner along on the day, and as I don’t have a degree in email writing and feel much more comfortable relaying messages over the phone, I picked up the mobile and called BS. The appointment was entered into the diaries on my iPhone and BS’ Samsung Galaxy (he doesn’t do Apple – another reason why he was never a real developer).
On the morning of the appointment, suited and booted, BS collected me in his convertible Audi, roof down and all. We were men about town and we were going to do a deal with one of the biggest players in Irish broadband. We were invincible. And for a number of minutes, I was able to put the BS of BS to one side and concentrate on what lay ahead; riches beyond our wildest dreams.
We met with Kevin and showed him what we did. I spent the majority of the meeting worrying that he may not have been au fait with the vintage website movement that pervaded the industry at the time, and that he may have been unimpressed by the fact that our website looked like it had been designed back in 1992. However, he seemed to like the look of the site and the concept generally. Luckily he was aware of the new trend.
After about a 20 minute chat, Kevin announced that he would go and pretend to be a student for a while, watch a few live and archive grinds, and get back to us in a few days. With this declaration, something in the pit of my stomach began to feel very heavy. I began to feel quite unwell. The feeling of déjà-vu I experienced was so intense that I think I actually had a black out, with no drink taken. When I woke up from this momentary, hellish-nightmare-filled black out, the voice in my head was shouting at me (it normally spoke). The crux of the message was: “Remember what happened with QSAT???”. “Oh fuck”, I said (to myself).
Low and behold, a few days later, we received an email from Kevin in UPC. Below are his EXACT words along with the screen shot he sent via email:
I really wish I could say I was surprised and taken aback by his email. Unfortunately, I can’t. During my black out in the UPC offices, I had a premonition. In this premonition was a vivid vision of this email. The email I received from Kevin resembled the vision so closely, that I’d swear I have clairvoyant tendencies and am considering taking up a new career as Mystic Mike.
Premonitions, visions and hellish nightmares aside for a minute. For a student (the user) to get an error message like this, or worse again, their parents (the customer), with no reasonable explanation given, is catastrophic. But for a guy from one of the biggest broadband providers in Ireland getting this error message? The word doesn’t exist; at least I am not familiar with any word which would appropriately describe the gravity of this kind of fuck up.
Needless to say the deal with UPC never panned out.
Next Chapter – Chapter 11: Back to Basics