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DAY FOUR – AUGUST 29TH, 2013

Erin Hopmann

How are you feeling about the project today?
I’m feeling really energized about things. Jess and I are stripping Dabble raw and taking a look at its innards. What have we just taken for granted when in actuality is not perfect and demands a good hard look under the microscope?

What did you learn today?
One thing in particular I’ve thought about a lot today: The balance of customer service and building a sustainable business. Paul Graham talked about the importance of doing things that don’t scale in this post. Whaaa? Shocking. But it actually really hit home, in that it’s something we did, in the first year of Dabble especially.

We bent over backwards for teachers. You can’t seem to write a class description longer than five words? We’ll write it for you! You’re teaching an obscure topic and don’t have a venue and are asking for 10 other things? We’ll try to accommodate 90% of them. The class didn’t meet your expectations? Refund!

Since then, we’ve tried to establish boundaries, recognizing, of course, that this is not sustainable. We’re not a babysitting service, nor do we want unqualified teachers on our platform. And we’ve adjusted our pricing (we used to take 50% of a $20 ticket, now we take 25% of a ticket in which the teacher prices).

But still, something we’ve realized is that we’re still trying too hard to please. We serve a lot of different types of people – both teachers and students alike – and this has become a detriment to the business in a way. This is not necessarily a new revelation. Having a diluted value proposition or brand or product is… settling for mediocrity and won’t win over too many fans. At least not too many lasting fans.

However, part of our argument has always been that we’ve put certain constraints on aspects of the business (i.e., the one-time class), and we’ve remained open to possibility along other measures. We’re a startup after all, right? Let’s lean-startup-it-up and see what our users say.

Relationship-building and developing a core of loyal users is essential, particularly in those early days when word-of-mouth can make it or break it. But, at what point must you make some hard choices about where you’re headed and stop putting your own needs on the back burner?

Well, it’s pretty obvious that that point has arrived for us.

Do you like blogging everyday?
Blogging every day is equal parts trying and exhilarating. I love it and hate dislike it. I stare at a blank screen when I sit down (and try to pretend like I’m Carrie Bradshaw as I sit in front of my window), and then the words have just tended to flow. I’ve never been a journaler, but perhaps this is the start of something new…

Odds & Ends
We really want to know, what do YOU want to hear from us?

We’ve said we want this to be a dialogue, and we’ve heard from many of you. But if there’s any specific things you’re wondering about – be it about Dabble, if we ate our Wheaties this morning, or something else – please drop a note in the comments below or shoot us an email.

DAY FOUR – AUGUST 29TH, 2013

Jess Lybeck

How are you feeling about the project today?
Today was a big day. There’s some real momentum here. It’s like my brain can’t keep up with all the good happening. I feel as if my head might explode with ideas for how to move forward. I told Erin this – but I’m more excited about Dabble now than I’ve been in the last few months. The words “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN” slipped out a few times. Optimistic, for sure.

But I need to remember this is a rollercoaster – not a one way plane ticket. I signed up for the ride. The high highs, the low lows. Swinging between feeling like you can take over the world and then that same world comes back down to crush you. Let’s hope we get a least a few wins before the feeling in my belly drops.

Oh, and how is it almost Friday? Fuck. Time flies.

So, what has changed in the last 4 days?
Openness. Willingness to let go of what is and think about what needs to be. Listening. Asking for help. I’m reminded of “The Art of Asking“, an awesome TED talk by Amanda Palmer. It definitely inspired Erin & I as we decided to take on this project. The motto? Ask and ye shall receive. And don’t be ashamed of asking your community to support you.

What did you learn today?
Our business model only works at scale – which works well when you’re fueled by funding, not so great when you’re 3 people trying to build something that’s sustainable. I think we’ve fallen into the “Get 1 Million Users and then we’ll make money” trap.

Quite bluntly, our business model is fucked. We have a concept that works, yet a business that doesn’t work.

Also, I feel like I’ve had entrepreneurial blinders on. I’ve realized that my thoughts & actions over the past few months were cloudy. I was hanging on to what we had built and how we had built it – just trying to push harder & harder instead of pushing smarter. We need to push smarter.

The rude awakening is due in no small part from the conversations I had today with some awesome people (I’m calling them our new beer & coffee advisors).

I swung by the office of Mr. Avi Stopper today – a founder who rides his skateboard to work and geeks out about excel modeling. We got into the nitty gritty of our P & L (that’s profit & loss for you non-businessy folks). What’s working. What’s not. What’s straight up ridiculous and some ideas on how to move forward. It’s not that I haven’t spent time modeling (I have) but it’s different to have someone weigh in on the assumptions & decision making. Excel therapy. Avi is a profit therapist.

What’s the plan?
Between the conversation with Avi and a few other gem conversations today, it seems like we might have a clear-ish path forward. We need to bounce this idea past our favorite teachers first and hear what they have to say. Then we’ll share with the whole interwebs. Why the delay? Because even honest people need feedback to prevent fuck-ups … I mean, do you remember Netflix’s Qwikster?

Odds & Ends
Erin doesn’t swear – she’s quite polite most of the time. I swear like a truck driver. I’m not proud, it’s just how I talk naturally. She’s given me a quota of “fucks” & “shits” to give per day and I think I definitely just went over …

 

We plan on answering different questions every day. Submit a question you’d like answered by emailing 30daysofhonesty (at) dabble.co.

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Photo by János Balázs

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41 responses to “Day Four”

  1. Jess & Erin, Thank you for this. I’ve been a Jess Lybeck fan ever since I opened my first business 5 years ago when she introduced me to meetup.com as a way for growing a community of followers, and have been a loyal fan and supporter of Dabble as it has given my new business an easy platform for connecting with new clients.

    On the eve of closing that first business, or rather letting it metamorphose into something more sustainable for me and my future vision, I too am in the process of looking at mistakes, failures, lessons AND successes from this period so that my new venture can flourish (and so can I!)

    Jess used the word “willingness” and that is the 4th time in 24 hours that word has jumped out at me in different contexts. The word comes from “will” which is the domain of the 3rd chakra, our power center, how we define ourselves by what we do in the world, action. My partner Katy & I use the chakra system as a framework in our popular Dabble class Get Unstuck and like to reference material from Anodea Judith. In her book “Creating on Purpose” she delves into how to manifest your intentions by working with obstacles (internal or external) as they show up in your energy centers.

    She writes “Healing begins with willingness — willingness to confront the past, willingness to feel old hurts, traumas, and injuries. Become willing to explore your shadow places, the dark and scary places where dangerous creatures may lurk. Be willing to dredge up the buried past: old experiences that you couldn’t handle at the time or repressed emotions that got hidden in the basement. When you tell the truth about the past, you free your soul for the future. Allow every experience, sensation, pain and problem to complete its creation cycle. Take off the resistance and dive in. Wallow in it, if you must, until it is complete. Enjoy even the uncomfortable feelings and sensations. They are the proof that you are alive!”

    You are well on your way!
    Andrea

  2. Oz du Soleil says:

    Erin, I’m glad that you mention how much you’ve bent over backward. It crossed my mind that Dabble was so responsive …
    1. Are they making a ton of money so that a team of employees is dedicated to responding to teachers so quickly?
    2. Is the responsiveness sustainable?
    3. Do they have an amazingly efficient way of responding and running a business?

    I’d accept less handholding–especially if it means Dabble stays alive.

    • Erin says:

      Oz,

      Don’t get me wrong – we absolutely want to keep an emphasis on customer service. And certainly not every teacher we’re bending over backwards for. It was more that we need to stop and say, ‘is this worth the effort for the return?’ more often than we do.

      Vast improvements to the technology have significantly reduced the amount of time we spend per class, so that’s a step in the right direction. But appreciate you noticing! You’ve been great. We don’t feel like we’re babysitting you. 🙂

      Erin

  3. Naté Grindeland says:

    Hello!

    I think you definitely have to take a higher split of the sales, especially if you are filling venue’s and teacher’s rooms with paying customers because of your website and loyal fan base. I have a venue where people sometimes host events or teach classes and I don’t take anything less than 30%, and I’m nowhere near as capable of filling a room like Dabble is. Usually people are more than willing to do deals that are 50/50 or 60/40–even very experienced people. You definitely have that leverage to be able to ask for more.

    Honestly, I don’t like membership model because I didn’t see that they were selling at my place unless they were super cheap (and then it wasn’t worth it). I had much better luck in the past selling punch cards (some items would cost two punches, but they were still a discount off full price). Teachers would get the same percentage, but it would be the value the customer paid for the punch card not the full price. If you started selling punch cards now, you would get cash up front, but if you try it, make sure they expire in a reasonable amount of time…don’t make it too favorable for the customer. If not a punch card, some sort of promotion that gets people to buy a bunch of classes up front, just give them something in return…discount, freebie.

    One other thing, on the page you are asking for help on, maybe suggest people sign up for classes too.

    There are probably many other things you can do to improve the cash flow situation over time, but these seem like they can be done within 30 days and without much expense.

    I hope you ladies pull through this…you’ve definitely struck a chord with the right audience and have built something great. I would like to keep taking Dabble classes. And no, this is not an uncommon problem. I took a part time job to earn extra money and know many other business owners doing the same thing. I still have the business and the job a year later. Wish you the best. 🙂

  4. Just thinking says:

    Have you guy considered trying to get established businesses with healthy class rosters to use your site as a platform? That would seem to me to bring in more traffic for the smaller teachers and maybe lead to cross pollination. I’m thinking places like the Paper Source, chopping Block, lilstreet art center, Palette & Chisel, metalsmithing studios, ceramics studios, established music schools, etc. maybe offer them free spots at Dabble in exchange for the traffic they push thru your site? Not sure if getting reliable #s of students is a problem but if so, perhaps there’s a way to cultivate a symbiotic relationship with some crafty chains and orgs… Just a thought…

  5. Alex says:

    Hi there
    I wrote a blog post about similar considerations the other day

    http://www.tnooz.com/2013/08/28/news/warning-the-big-challenges-for-anyone-involved-in-p2p-tour-and-activity-marketplaces/

    Hopefully some of those thoughts (from tourist focused tour & activity marketplaces) cross over. Good debate in the comments too

    I wish you the best of luck however you choose to do this. Keep going!

    Alex

    • Jess says:

      This is awesome! A really enlightening article that certainly gets at some of the reasons why making Dabble work is so hard.

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