We’ve all been there. We’ve all had doubts about the career we were choosing, whether it’s actually the right path for us. Our team at AlgoWork aims to get rid of that uncertainty for people, to make sure no one ends up in a career that they won’t enjoy. My classmates and I worked for three months building this idea up the lean startup way. During this process, we uploaded our weekly presentations onto SlideShare and wrote reflections about our learnings on Medium.
Every week our group learned something new each week and worked on applying it to our startup idea. Some of our tasks included:
- Conducting scheduled and intercepted interviews
- Sending out surveys to working professionals and students
- Going through several design sprints
- Creating storyboards and wireframes to pitch our idea to potential customers
- Creating a business model canvas and a business molecule
- Conducting some market research
- Doing a competitive analysis on existing companies
- Figuring out our cost and revenue streams
- Creating a landing page for customer validation and acquisition
- Creating a prototype of our app
- Shooting a demo video
- Presenting everything we did to a panel of judges
Jennifer Kim (CEO)
Ola Micek (CFO)
Skylar Dann (CTO)
Ridwan Pothigara (CMO)
Our team consisted of myself (CEO), Ola Micek (CFO), Skylar Dann (CTO), and Ridwan Pothigara (CMO). Due to each of our own past experiences and the stories from others we heard around us, the idea for our startup was born. We aimed to alleviate any concerns college students may have about their future by having them go through a one-day shadowing session in the field of study that they are interested in, as there are usually gaps between what people learn in school and what is expected in the workplace.
The team actually started off with three people; Ola, Skylar, and myself. We started the whole process with ideas or topics that we were interested or passionate about and organizing them into a venn diagram of reachable, viable, and obsessable.
Our team also named ourselves as JOS-H (Jennifer, Ola, Skylar - Hello). We knew the name would change later, but we wanted something we could identify ourselves by.
The four ideas we explored included addressing the uncertainty students face when choosing college majors, improving senior living conditions, helping millennials learn important life skills before they go off on their own, and finding an easy way for campers to know if the place they want to set up in is a private or public area.
When we did some research on the market size for each idea, people who have trouble choosing college majors was something we wanted to address because we each went through a similar period of uncertainty, so we could relate to the stress of a decision like that.
Talking to People
We talked to students and faculty at our school, as well as other colleges nearby, asking them about the apprehension that they faced (or are still facing) during that decision-making process. We were curious about some of the methods they used to find a major that was right for them, such as doing a lot of online research, talking to family friends, or experiencing something in their life that garnered enough interest towards that field. Our main goal was to figure out what factors they consider when they were choosing a major.
After we had talked to as many students as possible, we started to synthesize the information that was gathered. We created an empathy map to see if we could validate our hypothesis; that watching people working in their field can ignite a passion within others that they weren’t aware of. A value proposition canvas also helped us to realize some of the pains and gains people might go through and to prioritize which ones we wanted to address.
In class, our professors led us through the process of holding a design charette, where we would do a series of quick exercises ranging from one minute to five, working both individually and as a group to come up with possible product directions for our ideas. We conducted two charettes, one of them involving an algorithm. The algorithm idea was popular among the people we talked to, which brought about our team name “AlgoWork”.
One idea revolved around a website where you could input your grades, interests, personality, search history about jobs, as well as other information that the algorithm would analyze and then generate a list of suggested majors that would be right for you. The other idea involved having investors loan money to students. Once the student was making money on their own after they graduate, they would pay the investors back in as many installments as they would need.
An Addition to the Team
At this point in the class, everyone was given the opportunity to switch teams if they wished to do so. The three of us were happy with the progress we had been making and felt content with where we were. One of our classmates approached us asking to join the group, so we decided to hold an interview. We asked to him why he wanted to be a part of our team, what he could bring to the table, if there were any changes he might suggest for us, and if he would be okay with our established meeting times. After discussing as a team, we decided to bring him on as an official member. Our name went from JOS-H to JOS-R.
Business Model Canvas
As soon as our new team was settled, we started to look at potential competitors to our startup and created a business model canvas for each one. Each person on the team tackled one competitor and BMC, then came together to analyze what we had done. We then created a BMC for our own company and presented it to the class. Some of the feedback we got was to focus the customer segments on one specific type of user, instead of trying to tackle both high school and college students part of our toehold (SOM) market.
Part of the BMC called for a final value proposition that our startup would form our ideals around. With this in mind, we did some more design charettes and came up with a few concepts that were developed into storyboards that we could show to potential customers.
One of the concepts revolved around the idea of inputting interests, grades, and hobbies into a chatbot, which would then chat with the user to figure out what major might interest them. The other concept was a website that would generate results that seemed to fit best for you based on information that the user would input.
When we synthesized the information using Mural (since one of our teammates had caught the flu) we realized that a lot of data would be needed to generate an accurate algorithm for our idea, and some people were concerned about privacy. However, a big insight we found was that talking to others who worked in the field of your interest was a helpful factor in the decision-making.
Our First Big Issue...
After talking to many students and having no luck finding people who were in the process of choosing a major, we realized that our idea solved a problem, but it was hard to find someone who was currently in that situation. Taking another look at our business molecule, we realized the problem we were trying to address had too many unpredictable factors that would make it difficult to try and cater the service to each individual person.
So we decided to make a little pivot. We looked back on some of the conversations we had and realized many students were already happy with the major they were in––the problem is they weren’t sure what to do once they graduate. There were some students we talked to who graduated and realized there were still many skills that they were lacking in the workforce that they never learned in school. Our new goal was to focus on that gap between school and work by providing opportunities for students to experience their chosen field and determine if they will be happy to continue on the path they were on.
We also decided on the roles each of us would have for the startup. Each of us talked about what skills we were comfortable and what we would like to improve about ourselves, then made suggestions about who should get which position. I had mentioned at the start of the project that I wanted to work on my confidence and get to a point where I could make hard decisions. The rest of my group encouraged me to take the role of CEO, so I agreed.
Sending out Surveys
Our hypothesis for our new value proposition was that mentors would be willing to meet with students and answer any questions for them if the mentors received compensation from AlgoWork. AlgoWork in turn would receive money from students who would pay to have a mentoring session. With this theory in mind, we created surveys that were sent out to working professionals, asking them how much they would like to be compensated for a coffee meetup, a tour of the workplace, or a shadowing session
About 85% of our responses all said they had no need for compensation because they would be more than happy to help out students, as long as they knew the student would be worth their time.
Learning from my Mistakes
During this stage, I made a mistake that I learned a lot from. Although we all helped out with the survey, one of our team members was really in charge of that process. I received some feedback directly from one of our respondents which caused me to think the survey did not make sense, and made some changes to the questions. This caused my team member to call me out on it, that I was micromanaging. I realized that what I did was wrong, that I should have consulted with the group first and I quickly changed it back after I apologized. That experience made me realize that I had to loosen the reigns a little and trust my teammates more. When I took a look at the responses we had already gotten for the initial survey, I realized that it was just fine and we were receiving a lot of good data to work with.
We had some trouble trying to think about our revenue streams. A majority of it would come from students, but we fluctuated on a good amount that was not too expensive, but would still generate enough revenue for us to survive.
The cost of monthly student subscriptions ranged from five dollars to 200. We thought about partnering with schools so they could buy subscriptions for their students. We also hoped companies would pay us in order to find more connections to students who could potentially become future employees, or if they end up hiring someone they met through our service.
Our final pricing model turn out to be $100 per meeting for students, as well as $5000 for university subscriptions which allowed fifty students from that school would have the opportunity to use our service.
We created a landing page with details about our company and promoted it on as many social media platforms as we could. Over the next few days, we kept track of the number of visitors we were getting on the page and calculated our retention rate. However, we were not gaining as much attention as we had hoped, so we met up once more to make a few more changes to the language and look of the site, which helped increase our web traffic.
Costs, Activities, and Seed Investment
Our team also started to figure out the costs of all our activities. That included individual salaries, which varied depending on our own personal status. We calculated costs for hiring developers, a sales person, a lawyer, paying for transportation and office supplies, and buying different resources such as URLs and mailing lists.
With our pricing model and burn rate, we figured we would need a seed investment of $620,000 so we could continue validating and testing our idea for the first twelve months, then start generating revenue for the next six months and become cash positive by month eighteen.
Concierge Testing and Prototyping
During the last few weeks, we worked hard to get a concierge test going. We were able to match up a student with a potential mentor and had them meet up for a shadowing session through the style of wizard of oz. One of our team members, Ola Micek, tagged along and observed the interaction between the student and mentor. Afterwards, both of them were interviewed individually about their experiences.
We also worked to create a demo of our app to demonstrate the on-boarding process a student might go through. Skylar Dann worked hard to create visual design of the screens, then together with Ridwan Pothigara, they got the app working in Principle.
As the final week approached, the team worked together to get the pitch deck ready and polished for the final presentation. There were a lot of late nights and coffee, with tensions running high as we went through the deck over and over again. Using the pictures Ola took of our student volunteer from the concierge testing, I compiled them all into a video and did a voiceover explaining the steps our user was going through with our service and the app.
On the day of our pitch, we got up in front of the class as well as a panel of judges and presented the work we did over the course of the semester. We answered any and all questions they had, and in the end discovered that 4 out of the 7 judges would be interested in funding the idea.
In the End...
...we all left with an immense feeling of accomplishment. There were some ups and downs, which were expected from such a long group project, but ultimately we were all proud of ourselves and of each other. Everyone had their own skills that they brought to the table, and encouraged the best out of each other. If someone was lacking somewhere, the rest of us would step up and take some of the workload. We always made sure we supported each other, even if there were some disagreements. There was a lot of pride by the time we finished this project, and we even discuss the possibility of picking it back up when we get the chance.