Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head


I had an idea a year or two ago. “Who cares?” you may say — quite rightly. Ideas are pretty worthless in themselves as I’ve said before, plus no-one really cares about them even while making all the right movements of politely feigned interest.

But I went one step further than having the idea, I put it into practice. “Where is it then?” you may ask (or not, if you’re not bothering to politely feign interest.)  Well, it hasn’t really worked. In fact, it’s failed by all and any of the ways you might measure the success of a product. Few people engaged with it, few people recommended it to others, even fewer tried to use it and those that did got absolutely nothing in return for their attempt.

My idea was an ELT Home Swap house swapping kind of group. The only requirement for membership is being, or having been, in ELT in some form or another. I figured people trust members of their tribe more than non-affiliated strangers. AirBnB works without that membership so people are clearly happy to have strangers in their homes. I figured also that ELT people are, or have been, keen travellers and that they often don’t have money to spend on holidays but live in places that people want to go. Plus, teachers in particular often leave for the summer to work other jobs or go home for a while, leaving empty rooms or flats behind.

So I set up a Facebook group, invited everyone in ELT that was on my own Facebook and told them to invite everyone they knew. I asked people to add a description of what they could offer into a doc anyone in the group could view and made it clear that I had nothing to do with any transactions that took place and people were free to swap or charge rent as they saw fit. (I never intended to make any money off it, only to benefit in the same way as anyone else in the group.)

I was fairly confident about its success and excited about the amazing holiday destinations I’d be lining up for the next year. Everyone I had ever mentioned ELT Home Swap to told me it was a good idea. I believed my own fantasy, which is really just hope, or wishful thinking because, even though other people might tell you something’s a good idea, they’re mostly operating on goodwill for you. It’s not any use as a test for how viable your idea is.

Crucially, since I invested only about half an hour and zero cash in testing my proposition, I didn’t turn my idea into a personal or financial disaster. I didn’t quit a job to pursue it, I didn’t rent premises or spend money on a website or marketing or hiring staff or any of the things that can turn an idea no-one cares about into the worst idea you ever had.

In this case, I think there were a couple of things that doomed it to failure.

  1. Facebook’s algorithm means that of the 180 or so members, less than a quarter see any posts. So, whenever someone announces they have a place to offer, or asks if anyone has anything where they want to go, almost no-one sees it. To see every post in a group you’re a member of, you have to have your settings for that group set to “See all notifications” instead of the default “See highlights” but most people won’t think or know to change that.
  2. People didn’t want to list their place, or didn’t read the top pinned post with instructions about how to use the group. This could be because of another Facebook quirk where, when you are invited to join a group, as opposed to requesting access, you don’t actively choose to accept. You’re either in automatically, or approved by the admin (me). So you might not even look at a group you’ve just been joined to that you never knew existed.

Facebook might have been the wrong platform, but to test the idea any further would mean an investment of more time, significantly more time I expect, and possibly some cash on another platform like a website. I think that is where a lot of entrepreneurs go wrong. They’re sure they have a good idea, people have told them it’s a good idea and they mistake that for useful validation. They’re so wedded to it they ignore all the evidence that says no-one want or needs their product, and they tell themselves that more time and money is the way to turn it into a success.

I really thought, come summer, the group would come into its own as this would be when people were looking to go somewhere. I was wrong again. But the group itself still exists and all it needs is user engagement, successful swaps and far more members. It’s stagnant, rather than dead, and could surge into life with only the activity of a smallish number of people.

So, if you want in, and want to invite other people in, enter the email that your Facebook is associated with below and I can add you (your address won’t be visible to anyone but me and we don’t have to become Facebook friends for me to add you to the group). Read the top post, check out the document in the Files tab, and then invite a load more ELT people you know.

Fingers crossed!




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This entry was posted on June 21, 2016 by in Thoughts and tagged , , , .
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