From the early days of my high school period, I wanted to start my own venture. In what industry did not matter. To me, it was all about innovation, changing the way things work. With great innovators; such as Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh and Elon Musk in my mind, I started to come up with ideas. Hundreds of too ambitious, but unrealistic ideas passed. Finally in my last year of high school, after multiple failed ideas, BijlesMatch was born: an online platform on which tutors and students could find each other (hence the name bijlesMATCH, bijles is dutch of tutoring). We wanted to add value by checking all tutors on quality (teaching and social skills) before allowing them on our platform. After hours of fruitful discussions with a classmate, I knew how to execute this idea. I was determined to make something out of it, instead of making it another failed idea. My classmate wanted to join, I needed help, so we started this adventure together. An adventure that would still last 6 years later…
Platform blueprint and development
Knowing what to build, we still did not knew how to. We started off with making a list of users-types and functions needed. In the end we constructed a flowchart in Microsoft Visio. The core of the platform became a database with introduction movies per tutor and a filter-function for customers to find the perfect match. We determined to do the designing ourselves and out-source the complex coding. Weeks of developing, a couple of thousand euros (for the complex coding) and five weeks of testing further, we finally had the result:
Pilot and kick-off time
We determined to start in Groningen, The Netherlands (our home city). Our personal network was large in that city and knew where to go if we needed any help. The perfect place for us to realize our first venture. The first step was to recruit tutors via social media and word-to-mouth campaigns. It was our strategy to delay our kick-off until we could cover all high school courses with our tutors. Within one week, we received tens of applications; a positive sign of the abundance of students willing to tutor. After many interviews, we added the best 18 to our database. Now, it was kick-off time!
For the first months, we received nothing but visitors. Our conversion rate was a disappointing 0.00%. We promoted our platform via Facebook, Google Adwords and flyers/posters on high schools. After thorough analysis of our user-data, we recognized that our sign-up page was too complex (exit-rate of 85% after 2 min. of visiting). In conjunction with our developer, we redesigned the sign-up page. It helped a bit, we managed to get a conversion rate of 0.7%, which we still considered to be extremely low. Hence, we lifted the improvement process a level higher: user-interviews. After multiple interactive reviews with customers, test-users and tutorsl we found three major issues:
- Visitors dislike paying prior to received the contact-details of the tutor.
- We hided contact information somewhere in the great depths of our website. Customers hate this.
- People did not want to choose their own tutor, they wanted someone with experience to do this for them.
It became evident that if we wanted to turn BijlesMatch into a success, we really had to shift our focus: so we did.
Major Strategic Turnaround: customer-centric approach
The idea of a controlled platform on which students and tutors could find each other sounded great, but did not convert (at least not ours). Hence, we re-engineered our entire platform based on the three major issues mentioned above. We determined to put the customer central and do everything he/she wishes for:
- We deleted our core: the entire database and filter-system
The idea of people selecting their own tutor sounded nice, but people did not utilized it. Instead, we solely placed a simple form to place a tutoring request. We promised it was entire free to place this request and that we would contact the potential customer within 24 hours.
- The prior register and payment steps were deleted.
On the front-page our contact details were added. People could contact us at any time for a tutoring request. Moreover, we added a free trial tutoring session of an hour for new customers.
The result and what’s next?
In 28th of December 2014, the strategic turnaround was applied on our platform. Above our imaginations, we managed to increase our conversion rate with 357% to 5.1% in January 2015. The latter, in combination with a 200% increase of visitors, resulted in a profitable business model. Currently, we are in May 2015 and we already expanded to Rotterdam. Our conversions rates are going stable around 5% and have more than 70 tutors and 3 regional manager employed. BijlesMatch is currently recruiting tutors in Utrecht and Amsterdam for further expansion.
The journey through idea-creation, execution, failing, redeveloping and succeeding taught us a lot. For us, the largest factors for a successful platform is: simplicity, customer-convenience, adaptability and constant (peer-) reviewing. Idea in theory and in practice differ a lot. We thought we put our customer central from the beginning, but actually we did the opposite. The main lessons we learned is:
“Stay open for failure and constant change!”
One of our introduction movies used on our initial platform:
1) Original webpage of BijlesMatch: http://www.bijlesmatch.com
2) Google Analytics: https://www.google.com/analytics/
3) Click! Verleiding op het Internet, Aartjan van Erkel, 2015
4) Don’t make me think, Steve Krug, Second Edition.