Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Naisa Scott, and I am the co-founder of MentorDial. We are a platform that connects business professionals and entrepreneurs with professional mentors who are in the top 3% of their industries and who work in top-level positions at leading companies and startups around the world.
Professionals can book a video call with a mentor on our platform. Some mentors charge for giving advice, while other mentors advise for free. We are all about helping people and making a positive impact on the community.
Since launching six months ago, we have helped thousands of entrepreneurs around the world launch and scale their businesses, raise money for their businesses, and grow their teams. We’ve also helped thousands of professionals land jobs get promoted, transition careers, grow their skills, manage teams, and more.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I was 13, my father gave me a programming book for my birthday.
Later, at some point, I started building websites to make money. A teacher I considered a mentor taught me how to build websites using HTML and CSS.
When I was 15, I met my future business partner on a message board. He had the idea to start a podcast hosting company, but he needed someone to build the website. We joined together and created Switchpod.com. During that time, I was taking six AP classes per year in school with a 4.0 GPA. Juggling school and a startup were challenging, mainly because I was new to entrepreneurship and had never started a business before.
However, we grew Switchpod to 300,000 monthly active users by offering a free option and onboarding podcasts with many downloads, giving these podcasters free hosting. We hoped that by attracting these podcasts and driving them away from our competition, other podcasters would be encouraged to join our platform.
One year after launching Switchpod, we sold the company for a quarter of a million dollars. Looking back, we could have made more money from the sale, but I didn't have the negotiation skills or support to convince the acquirers to pay more for my startup. Selling the company got me accepted into Harvard College. After graduating from Harvard, I founded other successful companies that raised over 100 million dollars and were eventually sold to larger companies.
The experience taught me the importance of having a mentor. Because I had someone who taught me how to build websites, I was able to start Switchpod. I would have made more money if I could have gotten help with negotiation when selling Switchpod. So, in 2022, after a wild ride starting and selling companies, I decided to give back and help the community.
We wanted to create a community of people prepared to support and advise professionals and entrepreneurs struggling with the COVID crisis. By launching mentordial.com, we hope that by providing instant, one-click access to a global network of mentors, we can give people the support, direction, and motivation they need to achieve their goals.
Test as much as possible.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Before launching MentorDial, we used Pollfish and Slack to survey users and determine if the idea had legs. According to our survey, many people were looking for a mentor and had trouble finding one. It also seemed that career professionals were willing to pay for a mentor. We launched the MVP a week later with core functionality:
- Mentors can register.
- Users can sign up and book a call with a mentor.
- Users can see a list of mentors.
We conducted market research to find out how people were currently finding a mentor. We have some formidable competitors like growthmentor.com and clarity.fm. Our competitors’ way of doing things influenced our design and initial prototype. Eventually, we were able to differentiate ourselves from our competitors by targeting a different audience – Product Managers.
We wanted to create an Uber for business advice and make it easy for people to book a mentor. The current booking form takes less than 3 minutes to go through. However, for some people who don’t know how to create a Google Meeting link or a Zoom link, it might take longer. We’re working on removing that friction.
We paid $30 for the website design and $7 for the hosting. After launching, we reached out to customers who booked a call and asked for their feedback. We also encouraged customers to leave a review. We used hotjar.com to gather qualitative feedback and Google Analytics to gather quantitative feedback.
This feedback allowed us to iterate on the flow and launch A/B tests. We used Optimizely.com to launch A/B tests. For example, we noticed many people were having trouble searching for mentors based on category, so we implemented an A/B test where we showed the categories in a modal instead of a dropdown.
All of these changes didn't require much money. For us, it's essential to test in the cheapest way possible. We found a designer on Fiverr that charged us $30 for landing page designs and very little for design changes.
We got a lot of feedback from mentors about our booking form. We realized that making it easy for people to book might encourage people who were not so serious about mentorship; we added some friction by asking people why they wanted to speak with a mentor and requiring that answer to be at least 40 characters. We also make that reason transparent to mentors and mentors can cancel or reschedule mentees they don’t approve of. We also ask mentees for their LinkedIn URLs, which adds more friction.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Once we launched MVP, we reached out to friends and colleagues for feedback. They gave us feedback that we used to iterate on the product. Mentordial.com is a two-sided marketplace. To succeed, we needed both mentors and mentees. We reached out to mentors on LinkedIn first. We were surprised that many mentors were willing to mentor for free. Most were excited about giving back. We were able to attract mentors from top companies like Google and Amazon.
After reaching 100 mentors, we targeted mentees. We did cold outreaches on LinkedIn and were able to find many users that way. After trying different groups, we found a product-market fit with aspiring Product Managers. We joined various Slack groups to attract our initial 100 customers. We were able to reach 100 customers in less than two months. Overall, we've tried different marketing strategies to reach customers, such as Facebook and Google, which didn't work.
When it comes to financing the company, we bootstrapped. We haven't raised funding yet, but plan to do so very soon.
The biggest lesson learned from launching is to quit if something isn't working. We spent too much money and effort trying Google ads when they didn't make sense to us.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Mentors are very excited about helping people and positively impacting society. To attract mentors, we launched Facebook and LinkedIn ads targeted at people who work in leading companies like Google and Facebook. We bought a video ad on Fiverr that worked well. We were able to attract over 150 mentors from leading companies like Google and Amazon. Though we were able to attract many mentors using Facebook and LinkedIn ads, we found it hard to reach profitability because LinkedIn ads are generally more expensive.
To attract mentees, we used Facebook ads, attended events with entrepreneurs and career professionals, and launched ads on podcasts. We took classes about SEO as a long-term strategy to attract mentees. We were able to attract hundreds of mentees using Facebook ads, but we also spent a lot of money doing so. We're still iterating on the ads and haven't reached profitability.
We think SEO will be the key that allows us to scale. Unfortunately, it takes at least six months for SEO to work. We're working on restructuring the site to make it more keyword-friendly so that when people search, they land on the mentor or category pages and convert. We've also started reaching out to blogs and journalists to get backlinks on websites with high domain authority.
Before launching, work on validating your idea. There are cheap ways to do it.
We also launched a referral program that has successfully obtained mentees. For each mentee a user refers to Mentordial, we give them $10 and their friend a $10 discount. So far, over 100 users have referred their friends since the referral program launched about one month ago.
We found that an email newsletter is a great way to get users to convert. 98% of users come to the site and don't convert. We use Google AdWords to retarget them and drive them back to the site. We also send them emails about various subjects, like the list of mentors they might want to book. We also use content from our blog in emails. Our emails have an open rate of 80%.
Lastly, we started partnering with communities such as entrepreneurship communities to match their members with mentors on our platform.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Since launching six months ago, we get 1000 bookings per month. We have over 150 mentors from leading companies like Google and Amazon. We’re currently losing money on Facebook and LinkedIn ads. We plan on iterating on the creatives to decrease the cost per acquisition.
Right now, we make money by charging a commission when mentees book a call with a mentor who charges. Many mentors do not charge; we often do not make revenue on calls. We plan on changing that by introducing a subscription model where we charge mentees a small yearly fee for business expenses to use the service and moving away from a commission-based model.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We should have done more market research before launching the business. One of the reasons I started Mentordial was because I had a great experience with a competitor that helped my other startup. I wanted to help other entrepreneurs who were in the same boat. However, I didn't realize there were business model issues.
For example, right now, some of our calls are free. We make a commission when a mentor charges. What prevents a mentor from taking his business off the platform? He can easily use the platform to have a call with a mentee and convince the mentee to book off the platform, which means we lose the commission.
Another issue with the business model is that most people think that mentorship should be free. We want to help as many people as possible, but we also have business expenses. It's been hard to convince people to pay for mentors. We attract mentors from leading companies, and those who charge don't charge less than $100 per call. For most people, that's expensive
Possible solutions to the issues above include switching to a subscription model instead of a commission model. We're still exploring other solutions. However, we're focused on a freemium model to build a community and attract as many people to the platform as possible.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Hotjar to obtain qualitative feedback about the platform. It gives us a heatmap and recordings of people using the platform. Using the recordings, we've launched A/B tests that increase conversion by 550%. We can see where people get lost.
For example, we noticed that people had trouble filtering by category on our browse page because our category dropdown had too many items and was too small. We A/B tested a modal with a search bar that showed the list of categories. That made it easier for people to filter based on category and find the mentors they wanted.
We also use FiveSecondTest.com to launch new designs with feedback. We ask people the following questions:
- What is the purpose of this page?
- What is the target audience?
- Is the site trustworthy?
- What are ten things that you don't like about the design?
For quantitative feedback, we use Google Analytics with event tracking. Event tracking allows us to see what people are searching, what categories they select, when people are booking calls, etc. When we launched a new design in May, we measured the bounce rate after launching to ensure that it had a positive effect.
Combining quantitative and qualitative feedback will enable us to launch A/B tests to determine where we should focus our effort and money.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Launching fast, getting feedback, and iterating are essential to the startup process. The Lean Startup is the most influential book that has helped us launch the company. Testing our ideas before launching was integral to our success. For example, we launched an MVP to get quick feedback about our concept and iterated based on the input. Based on the feedback, we realized that we were targetting a wide range of people and needed to narrow our target audience to a specific group and use case.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The best advice we have is to test as much as possible. We made mistakes where we had all sorts of assumptions about our target audience and business model that were wrong. For example, when we launched, we targeted all groups, from marketers to entrepreneurs. Therefore, our messaging was all over the place and not targeted enough, costing us money.
Before launching, work on validating your idea. There are cheap ways to do it. For example, Dropbox launched a video to see if people were interested in their concept before launching. It's hard to do all that work and realize no one wants what you are selling.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for part-time, talented marketers who can help us scale the startup. We need help with SEO, cold outreach, and social media ad marketing. You will need to help us figure out how to attract more users using SEO. You'll also need to set up Facebook and Google ads and optimize them. You'll also need to reach out to potential clients and onboard them on the platform. You can apply by contacting us at [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
For more information about Mentordial, visit our website. If you are looking for career or business advice, book a call with a mentor.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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