What is the problem? Who is the target customer? What is the solution, the promise? Why do people pay?
The Problem: Getting into tech and learning to code is hard. There is an abundance of free or inexpensive resources but it's not always clear what to consume and in what order. Having a mentor to guide one through the journey is valuable. But generally professional mentors are available only to those enrolled in a university, or a formal online certification or bootcamp program or through an employer.
Target Users: For those looking for third party mentors in tech, not connected to a specific school or job, who they can work with long term.
The Solution: Dominic Monn built Mentorcruise, a marketplace for people in tech to find a mentor. Goal is to provide long-term mentorship instead of one-off calls. People pay for the customized guidance and the accountability.
Why does the founder keep working on the business? What makes it a good match for their strengths, goals, and desired lifestyle?
Dominic went to an apprentice program for software engineering in Switzerland. He taught himself machine learning by taking courses through Udacity. He received a mentor from Udacity as part of his program. He really liked that relationship but when he finished his courses he lost access to that mentor. After he started a challanging internship he wanted a way to find specific mentors on-demand. So he built Mentorcruise.
A mentor is someone who has gone through what you're going through now. When doing something challenging, it helps to get someone in the boat with you.
He worked remotely for a San Francisco startup from Zurich while also working on Mentorcruise as a side project.
Working for a startup is obviously very exciting. But when you have this little thing on the side, during nights and weekends, you have full control and you can bring your creativity to it. You're responsible for every job from marketing, product, sales. Which builds a broad skill-set. It's super exciting and super valuable.
Where did the very first customers come from? What channels did the founders try? What didn't work? What did work? How long did it take?
Action: Built an MVP in 1 to 3 hours per day over the course of four months (while commuting 3 hours every day). Avoided building things like an appointment scheduler, for which external tools exist.
Outcome: Had something to share with one side of the marketplace - the mentors/teachers.
Action: After building the MVP, concentrated 100% on marketing. Spent 2 months on pre-launch marketing efforts. Sent direct messages to over 100 people on Twitter to recruit mentors. Focused on senior people in tech who had some audience. Also shared a simple landing page on Reddit and other online places.
Outcome: Most people didn't get back to his messages and emails. But in the end, there were 60 people who put in their email address on the landing page.
Action: Goal was to have 30 mentors on launch day. Launched with those 60 email sign-ups.
Outcome: 12 out of the 60 mentors created a profile on the platform and were available for booking.
Action: Encouraged mentors to share their profile with their Twitter audience and followers.
Outcome: Early mentees (i.e paying customers) came from the mentors. These were people who wanted to talk to the mentors already and now had a seamless way to initiate that relationship. Some of the early mentees also signed-up to be mentors in other areas like product and business.
Action: Worked on optimizing mentorcruise's search presence.
Outcome: SEO is the primary channel for acquiring mentees now. By October 2019, Mentorcruise had 160 mentors and was making $700 per month in fees. Reached 100 paying customers in March of 2020.
Mentorcruise's business model as a marketplace is to charge 15 to 25% platform fee on all transactions. Mentorcruise reached $2K MRR in May of 2020 and is still going strong. Many mentee have been active with a mentor for 6 months or more. There are mentees who have paid $1000+ in total mentorship across several mentors.
One of the most common advise as a founder is that you should sell to businesses. They have the money and they pay for more things than consumers do. But there are certain things consumers are happy to pay a lot of money for and education and learning is one of them. Especially if you're teaching something valuable that can make them more money in the future or give them a new career, people are willing to fork over thousands of dollars.