Venture Dorm Week 7

Unfortunately the team weren’t able to make it to Venture Dorm this week due to prior commitments, such as work, and a university graduation (congratulations, Sami!). We have also had a team member realise that they aren’t able to commit as much time as they’d like to Lend a Skilled Hand, and so they have withdrawn from the team for the time being. We wish Matt all the best for his future endeavours and hope that he may be able to rejoin us later on down the track.

This week at Venture Dorm would have been revenue. Revenue is potentially the trickiest thing to work out as a new business, and has definitely been something we have been struggling with to find appropriate avenues for. We have been quite successful in terms of gaining revenue so far, but we need to work out a proper revenue model, and this is something the team is still refining.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, we’d be more than happy to hear them out!


Venture Dorm Week 6

This week at Venture Dorm we were presenting on customer relationships. Sam handled our pitching this week. We got a lot of good questions and suggestions from the mentors and other VD teams, such as:

I think it’s fantastic using the volunteers as a blogging channel. Have you thought about how you’re going to manage volunteers having a bad experience? Do you have a contingency plan for when things go wrong for the volunteers?

How do you use the power of your volunteers to leverage your brand? Maybe consider having some policies or protocols. You’re selling a good experience. The best marketing you’re ever going to get is people who’ve had good experiences.

The quickest way to market is to leverage from an existing partner, and you provide the technology they don’t have.

When you pitch something so general, there’s a lot of competitors. You can either narrow your focus into a range where you have no competitors, or you say “we’re better than all the competitors”.

You don’t necessarily need credibility before going to market. Elance did the reverse and were quite successful. They went and pitched to the free lancers, and said this is the place for you to be. THEN they went to the market and said they have x consultants you can tap into. If you were to find a way to tap into pools of volunteers, I think there’s a very credible example of going the other way around.

When you pitch, never apologise. People have come along to hear you pitch, not apologise.


Venture Dorm Week 5

This week at Venture Dorm we were discussing Channels. Sami pitched for us this week, and updated the class on our efforts of the previous week. 

We did a bit of research and spoke to about nine people, and unfortunately, only one of those people said that they’d pay for our service. The type of service they’d be looking for would be to get someone in on a long term basis, eg, someone to do their books once a month. However, on the positive side, we have received confirmation of payment for BOSSCAMP, and have received $3600 in revenue for our overseas volunteers. 

We also did some research into different areas where we thought volunteers may be useful, such as at schools. Teachers want a relationship with volunteers before the event, and usually only want volunteers for once off events, like sports days. For the more ongoing things, like reading to students, they want people from their own network, like parents and guardians. We also spoke to some volunteers – and found that when they want to volunteer things from their skill set, that they prefer to do once-off things, otherwise it becomes more like a second job to them. When they want to do long-term volunteering, they prefer to do things outside of their skill set, because it gives them the opportunity to learn new skills. 

We did, however, find a new potential source of volunteers – people who need to get back into the workforce. People who get injured at work, need to find a way back into the workforce and as part of their rehabilitation program often need to acquire skills in various areas again. Volunteering is a great avenue for people to gain these skills again, and we could help find them suitable placements. 

We asked the mentors and group about how to get some companies to take our seriously and pay attention to us. We’ve had some interest from some companies, but said that we were too small. Credibility is a hard thing to gain. It was advised to get some partners to come on board with us, which will lessen the risk for bigger companies. We have a bit of work to do in this space – we need to run some trials and find some people with credibility who would be willing to partner with us. 

Venture Dorm Week 4

This week at Venture Dorm we were discussing Customers, Users and Payers. We had the entire group together this time instead of two smaller groups, and it was really good to hear the rest of the class’s ideas and progress! Matt pitched for us this week, and did a great job of it. Some of our highlights this week were:

Getting Flinders University and DECD on board for BO$$CAMP, and starting to get volunteers organised for this event – so far we have about a third of the people we need for the event which is being held in October. The BO$$CAMP team is very happy with our work so far on this, and we’re working through how to engage more volunteers and encourage people to come on board. We also had a big breakthrough with our international volunteering sector – we have an affiliate style relationship at the moment with Legacy of Hope International (Cambodia) and have already gotten some revenue from this! We’re also starting to understand what our model for this should be a lot more. We did some surveying on both sides of our market, and got some great figures out of it. 60% of the people surveyed held a bachelors degree or higher, 70% have volunteered before, and 75% of people wanted to be able to use their skills in a volunteering setting, so it’s important to get those who are keen for this sort of thing connected with suitable projects or organisations. 

Our biggest struggles now are dealing with legalities and liabilities – something we’ll need to look into. It was suggested that perhaps we get in contact with Volunteering SA as they would probably have some legality information and training outlines. 

The responses we’ve been getting from organisations have been varied – at the top end, they have too many volunteers and can’t organise them. At the other end, they don’t have much cash to spend and no volunteers, so it’s a matter of finding a model that works for that range. They’re all very excited about getting good volunteers, though, as it’s very adhoc with a lot of manual processes and ending up with the wrong volunteers. 

Some other things we need to start doing is looking into getting more projects happening and automating the process of matching volunteers a bit more so that scaling isn’t so much of a problem. We also need to talk to some people about the legality and liability part of our organisation.  

Venture Dorm Week 3

Venture Dorm Week 3 was focussed on value propositions. Nick did a great job of our pitch this week, and updated the mentors on our successes of the previous week. 

We surveyed 30 people, and found a resounding support for people wanting to do skilled volunteering. Over 70% of the people we surveyed had volunteered, and would volunteer again and would prefer to use their skills in a volunteering role. However, half of the people surveyed were not sure whether their work had a volunteer program. All of these insights provides us with a good opportunity to enter the market. We have 10 volunteers going to Cambodia soon, which is generating some revenue for us, and we are also meeting with the Flinders teaching department heads on Thursday this week to discuss volunteers for the BOSSCAMP program. We are still waiting to hear back from some people and organisations, but have received interest from SAPA but are still waiting on further specifics. 

There were some great discussions coming out of the rest of the Venture Dorm students. We discussed strategies on overcoming the fear of talking to strangers:

– I don’t like talking to strangers. It’s weird going up to people and saying “I’m selling this”. But at the same time, it’s just something you’ve basically just got to push past. You’ve got this awesome idea that people want and you’ve got to think of it that way. You’re giving them access to it, rather than trying to sell something. You’re giving them access to something they actually really want or need. And it’s changing that mentality that really helped. When I’m passionate about the idea, I can do it. If I’m not, if I’m hesitant, it comes across that way and I become nervous. It’s about believing it’s a good idea and acting as such.

– I just have no shame. I just go out there. I’ve looked at a few different strategies of doing it. I see it as more of “there’s people out on the street giving you free information on how to sell to them”. I think that’s the most ridiculous kind of way. I need to listen. You’ve got to put yourself out there because it’s all value add, and that’s just going to make your business better. I think naturally no one likes talking to strangers.

– I do it all the time, you just get used to it. 

– You don’t want to sell them the product, you want to give them a product.

– You’ve got to make sure that the questions you ask are promoting a conversation. People are willing to talk, a lot, if you’re accommodating to them. Smile! Ask, and you’ll be surprised. But make them open ended questions, not yes/no questions. 

– It’s important to go where your potential customers are. Maybe get a nametag, or take a friend. Set a time, and take that time to do it. 

Venture Dorm Week 2

Venture Dorm Week 2 focussed on the business model canvas and customer development. Sam handled the pitching and did a very good job of it! We got a lot of information out of this week’s session. We asked a few key questions, and got some great answers. 

Should we pursue a not for profit model or a profit model?

– Define how you will monetise the model to scale. The idea is simple & great. Onboarding not for profits might not work, might not scale. How am I going to get money to fund building it to answer this question. How can I build something simple/elegant but pervasive but cheaper/faster/quicker and then decide how can ramp it through word of mouth. 

– Revenue model is going to be a challenge but determining which way you go will have an impact on the revenue model. Idea sounds good – niche, could do better and a need is out there. Monetizing it may be hard – if working with lots of not for profits then being NFP might be best. Pretty important decision. Identified two sided market – difficult equation – doesn’t sound as hard as some other businesses, sounds reasonably attractive for both sides. The fact you’ve got some traction already indicates it’s possible. Need to do some work exploring revenue models and seeing how it’ll pay and how it can scale, and employ people.

 – In the long run, may start with a simple matching concept, may become self learning, but to take it to the next level, got to look at multiple business models around training around how to do work in Cambodia, how to handle mature workers doing sabbatical etc. Different cost model, much more intensive. That will be part of the challenge. How does it scale to be a bigger thing? Take it one step at a time. 

– Obviously up to your group, no one can decide that except you. But if you go NFP route – can do dogfooding, can test internally. Invaluable way to work out how other people will use the product if you can use it yourself. Have an unfair advantage over our customers with our database. If you’ve got that NFP angle then you have the social justice juice going around.

– Keeping away from the social side of it, you don’t want to associate yourself with the problems of the volunteers. Want to have a linkage with certain groups of people. Maybe not payment for the people, maybe payment for advertising people because otherwise you get the responsibility of bad people. 

– Is it a transient or a long relationship that we’re staying in?

How do we find the right person to talk to at a company?

– Go into LinkedIn, see if you know anyone in that company and see if they can do an introduction for you.

– Ask for help. Just ring them up and ask for help. People love to be asked for help.

– The bigger companies will have a website and it’ll say on there what their roles are. 

– Someone might talk about their volunteering in the media and you can do some research about who promotes this, and then get in touch with them.

– You can set up a landing page on LinkedIn and make an ad targeting to the right department. Doing an ad with their face with a clickbait ad. Either they’ll see it or their colleague will see it. 

– LinkedIn is really good – you can work out how you know someone and investigate their kind of role. Just got to find the right traction in the right way.

– Be persistent!


How do we deal with scaling too early?

– What are we trying to do and how are we trying to do it? Try and stay focussed. It’s great getting attention but if you can’t deliver there’s no point. 

General feedback

– “Voluntourism” is detrimental generally. As a NFP you still want to get access to those resources. If you guys are bringing them in and running them through a basic Volunteering 101 so they’re at a basic level. Also filling in key positions – volunteering + a stipend, people wouldn’t necessarily stick to it, they’d be challenged being in the local environment. We had some money to allocate to them (not a lot). For most NGOs filling those important positions that’s where we were most desperate to fill those. Impact investment type – social capital investment stuff

– I think wrapping it with a service that helps, my experience with giving, to overseas people – you don’t want to just give to say, Cambodia, you want to give to something you’re connected with, you’re passionate about. So providing the service forms a part of the cycle. Instead of reinventing the wheel you can provide the capability to keep the wheel going.

– With the overseas stuff, you have a lot of competition. There’s a few we used to use. I think locally it might be a bit differently but overseas there’s a hell of a lot that goes on already that you can access, but I think locally you might have a lot more of an opportunity to pair things up easily.

– Customer demographic – focussing on the younger side demographic. I think you’d find a lot more customers in the older demographic. They’re older, retired, they have the time to invest in volunteering so it might be a good consideration to not only look in your demographic.

– We (Monarto Zoo) get a lot of call for work experience. Whether that can be linked into volunteering and mentoring and all that stuff. There’s a lot of people that might have a school experience or even do it just regardless of that. It’d be nice to be able to link those in somehow. 

 Absolutely great feedback, and the team is excited for week 3!