Google Helpouts shuts down on April 20th, 2015. I was in the group of the first instructors they approved for the platform. I predicted the failure of the Helpouts platform early and often, but not here. 🙂 I hoped Google would get it together.
First let me say that I appreciated the opportunity to be among the first batch of instructors. It not only lead to me putting video courses on Udemy but then lead to me decide to start my Masters degree this year so I can teach college in my field of expertise (on the side or eventually full time). It was the first domino that made me realize how much I LOVE teaching… and how else can I provide instruction.
While I am grateful for that, I’m also disappointed by the outcome, even though it’s the outcome I thought would happen.
When I look at why any company or startup fails, I am looking at the following criteria:
- The concept (which often sucks but I think this is a good concept).
- The execution and UX (which were bumpy but had some good things going for it). This also includes does the product or service rely heavily on people changing the way they do things now. Because people rarely like to change how they do something now, especially if they are telling themselves it works for them.
- The marketing (which was close to non-existent from what I saw).
- The user response (which seemed to range from abusive to teachers to thrilled people who used it with some frequency).
- The competition (which is vast from the point of view of easily-accessible online education but not vast from the perspective of live video-based possibly-paid help).
In this case, you have working against Helpouts:
* Competition. I am still more likely to read discussion forums and watch YouTube videos than pay someone to help me over video. Yes, Helpouts worked for some of you. I didn’t do a Helpout on singing lessons (though I could have) because posture is too important to singing. I need to be WITH someone and really take in everything they are doing to do it right.
And when you don’t require someone in person, will forums and YouTube videos suffice? What about posting to Facebook asking people how to do or fix something? Forums, videos, and Facebook are great especially if you want to get a lot of different ideas on how to do something.
I knew about Helpouts and *I* didn’t use them. I went to local cooking classes. I watched videos on installing that accessory on my motorcycle. I contacted tech support and waited for answers. I asked the guys at Orchard Supply Hardware the best way to do it.
* Execution, UX, and Natural Human Behavior. Helpouts required a new behavior, and that’s one of the hardest things to overcome in any new product or service. “People need us, but will need to learn a new way of looking for help, asking for help, and (potentially) paying for help to get it.”
I see Craigslist ads for people saying basically, “OMG please help me right now with Axure,” which is the software on which I train people in real life, online, and through Helpouts. So people are hitting Craigslist before they’re hitting Helpouts.
There were also serious UX problems. I created an hour-long Helpout that Helpouts consistently booked as 15 minutes. I once had Helpouts charge someone for three hours at $90/hr. They FREAKED out at the charge to their card, and I ended up with NO Helpout (cancelled out of fear of the charge) and spending a LOT of time being customer service (because they were sure I charged the card, I had their money, etc…).
Years ago, there was a wave of angry eBay sellers who hated eBay so much, they were going to sell on a site called Bonanza. You probably haven’t heard of it. You’re not shopping online at a place you never heard of. So why sell where your audience isn’t shopping? Sounds like wasted time and potentially wasted fees if you’re charged to list item or have a “store.”
Bonanza is unlikely to get people to drop their eBay and Amazon habit and start shopping there. Helpouts wasn’t able to get people to drop their other habits of pursuing help, so it didn’t become someone’s new habit.
Which is also because of…
* Marketing. For the most part, nobody knew about Helpouts. Google didn’t do a Google job in making sure they knew about it. Google definitely has the power to get Helpouts in front of anybody using Chrome, Android, Gmail, Google search, or other Google products. Someone looking for a how to on YouTube could have been shown messages that a live trainer is ready to help with this topic. Without “going there,” how will people even know about this? I know Google did a little, but if they had done “enough,” it might not be shutting down.
I also knew marketing was a major afterthought when I saw two things:
1) Google seemed to expect us teachers to spread the word (as the main method of marketing). We were given codes. We were given contests. We had to let people know about it. Hey, you’re freaking Google. You tell people about it!
Bonanza did this too. You’ve never heard of it. That’s because they told sellers YOU promote it. You tell people to come to your Bonanza store. Unless your product or service is naturally viral in some way, don’t expect what are basically your customers to do your marketing.
2) My lovely green hoodie that I love so much didn’t say Google. But more importantly, it didn’t have a URL. I think one main thing we’ve all learned about marketing since 1996 was get your URL on stuff so curious people know where to go to check it out. The hoodie said Helpouts (whatever that is since it had no slogan), no URL, and what looks like a waving dude grabbing my butt. 🙂
That’s not helping visibility or awareness. To me, it shows me what kind of attention Google is giving the visibility and awareness of Helpouts. If we send instructors cool cards and a nice hoodie, THEY will spread the word for us.
Bonus problem: competition for your instructors plus the marketing “problem.”
If you want ME to market it and send people to Helpouts, but Helpouts takes a cut, well why should I send people to Helpouts? Why not send them to Hangouts or Join.Me or something else, and work out payment before or after the session? The main advantage of Helpouts was: I KNOW I will get paid. Working with people directly, I have to worry that they will stiff me, which is solved by getting them to pay up front. I have new people pay up front and recurring students pay before or after, though many now pay for “Session Packages” up front and we work against their pre-paid package.
Udemy handles this interestingly. If I send someone from my website or URL to my Udemy video course, I get 100% of the income and Udemy takes NO cut. If they come from browsing the Udemy site, Udemy takes a cut. If they come from an affiliate link, the affiliate and Udemy take a cut (and I end up with very little). That would have been more enticing for Helpouts… let me use your platform but let me keep the money when I bring the customer there. That’s MY customer.
If you build it, don’t expect me (your customer) to market it. I have no horse in the race of your product’s success. I was doing OK before you and will do OK if you go extinct. Don’t expect me to be as dedicated as you are and promote it with all my might and budget.
IN CONCLUSION, to me, this is unfortunate. Google had the platform built, the teachers checked out, and people willing to give time and expertise for free or paid. Google had Google in its pocket to potentially make sure everybody knows about this. This SHOULD have gone better.
Perhaps we can try this again someday when it has a fresh plan behind it. It needs a major marketing plan to ensure visibility and awareness that can lead to traction and adoption. Without that plan, what’s the point?