Overview - How does Seed work?
Seed is a micro-consultancy firm that aims to fulfil two desperate needs.
(1) The needs of the underemployed and unemployed to gain real world skills and experience, build confidence and a personal brand and communicate this to the world so that they can land a job.
(2) The needs of organisations, in particular small and medium enterprises (SMEs), charities, startups and larger organisations, who need help resolving certain business problems but don't have the time or resources to solve them.
Seed addresses these needs by breaking down an organisation's project down into micro-tasks. Seed then links micro-tasks with "Learners" who want to gain the skill required by the micro-task and reformats it back into a solution that the organisation can feasibly execute (via a Project Manager).
Seed also equips learners with practical skills via online educational content (similar to Kahn Academy and General Assembly’s Front Row Service).
Basic Service Map - Organisations
Number of touchpoints between business and project manager will depend on the circumstances. Business owner may want incremental updates so that they can provide feedback on progress.
Basic Service Map - Learner
Fleshing out key elements1. Building a business model
--- 1.1 Defining the value propositions for the different players
------ 1.1.2 Businesses
------ 1.1.3 Employers
--- 1.2 Project Managers
--- 1.3 Revenue Streams
--- 1.4 Channels - Engaging Businesses
2. Online Micro-work: key levers to make this work
--- 2.1 Client pain points
--- 2.2 Matching talent with businesses
--- 2.3 Building trust and accuracy of services
--- 2.4 Online and remote Project Management
3. Learners: Building an online platform to build practical skills
--- 3.1 Learning practical skills online
--- 3.2 Moving on up (and making sure that everyone has a shot)
4. Showcasing those skills to the world (especially employers)
--- 4.1 Highlighting key skills that employers want to see
--- 4.2 Showcasing soft skills
5. Key partnerships
6. Case studies
1. Building a Business Model
Seed would be structured as a social enterprise as follows (PDF attached as doc):
1. 1 Defining Value Propositions for the different players
Learners will learn valuable, employable skills by completing microtasks for organisations. They will be able to share these new skills with potential employers with an interactive learner profile (see item 3 below). This profile will act as a quasi resume, highlighting the various projects that the learner has worked on and showcasing how their work helped the business achieve it's objectives.
They'll also be able to access online course materials, which will further help them learn new skills.
Seed could also be tied into school carriculum, acting as a work experience type model for school credit.
Incentives: Rather than offering learner's a financial incentive for the work that they complete for organisations, I have opted for a more intrinsic morivator: mastering and learning skills.
Key assumptions to test:
(1) Are learning, mastering skills and building a kick arse online portfolio enough of an incentive for learners to complete live tasks?
(2) Often job seekers cannot identify the skills that they lack ("you don't know what you don't know"). Does upskilling and mastering new skills appeal to job seekers where they don't know that they lack the practical skills that specific jobs require?
(3) Many young job seekers apply for multiple roles when they are job hunting. Would job seekers be willing to dive deep and develop specific skills that are only relevant to one category of job before they have landed a job in that field?
Special thanks to teammates Yvonne Tran for helping to refine the stories that learners need to tell employers via resumes and to Heather Kelly for emphasising that learning outcomes (eg: class credit or other endorsements) can be incentives from a learner's perspective.
Businesses will gain feasibly solutions to business problems that they are facing.
Businesses will be able to build on the ideas and insights of a younger workforce who come from a variety of demographics.
Businesses will be able to access ideas from outsiders who can provide fresh perspectives.
Businesses will pay for the service (albeit heavily subsidized) to cover Seed's overhead costs like Project Managers, staff, website infastructure (which is going to be costly given the online course content). Businesses need to have skin in the game and show that they are serious about the solutions that Seed's community are going to produce.
Key assumptions to test:
(1) Are smaller businesses willing to expend time and money using a service like Seed? If so, how much time and energy?
(2) How might Seed build actionable and viable business solutions via micro-work?
Employers will be able to dive into the skills that learners have developed on Seed so that they can make better hiring decisions.
Key assumptions to test:
(1) Does a learner's interactive user profile actually fulfill an employer / recruiter / hiring manager's needs?
From the Original Idea:
I’m in two minds about the whole payment issue. A potent extrinsic motivator, it really messes with the incentives on both sides.
SMEs and charities should pay for quality services that they receive, this is fair. However, paying a site that primarily aims to teach skills is risky and could be a prohibitive upfront cost (especially in leaner times).
I also think that this needs to be seen as a real world learning tool. Learning and development is an intrinsic motivator whereas money is an extrinsic motivator – this gets a bit blurred. I also don’t want this to become a defacto freelance website, it is specifically aimed at upskilling people so that they can find gainful fulltime employment.
Any thoughts are appreciated.
1.2 Project Managers
Project Managers are vital to Seed's success. It is key that we get the incentives right for Project Managers to do a great job.
Two possible ways to fund the project managers are:
(1) Project Manager's are employed by Seed, funded by the revenue streams outlined below.
(2) Project Managers act as quasi-franchisees. Seed enables Project Managers to meet businesses through the platform. Seed has a vetting process to ensure that Project Managers are great. Seed then takes a cut of the fees that the Project Managers charge. (This is how task based companies like Taskrabbit and Freelancer websites like elance work)
Key assumptions to test:
(1) What Project Management talent do we need to build a platform like Seed?
(2) What is the best way to reach out to and engage that talent?
Special thanks to Karem Yilmaz for some awesome suggestions on how to define the Project Manager's role.
1.3 Potential revenue streams:
- Organisations pay for solutions (SMEs, Charities, Larger Organisations, Startups)
- Philanthropic Funders (who support unemployment initiatives) / Corporate funders who want to build brand around social issues (like unemployment)
- Software-as-Service companies who want more people to learn specific skills about their service could sponsor course content that builds knowledge in their area (eg; Hootsuite sponsoring social media content; Salesforce sponsoring markeitng or sales knowledge)
- Licensing business solutions that can scale and help other organisations (basically creating IP)
- Enabling recruiters to search for candidates in specific geographic areas who have mastered specific skills for a fee (similar to LinkedIn's model) - although this needs to be structured in a way that doesn't limit anyone's access to employment.
- Potential subscription fee to access online course content (preferably not to unemployed / underemployed learners as this really defeats the purpose). You could potentially license variations of the software / platform to companies who want their employees to develop core skills in areas that Seed services. This is not dissimilar to OpenIDEO's relationship with OiEngine. You could also reach out to people via a subscription service who have jobs in certain fields, but want to develop skills further (this is a similar service to General Assembly's Front Row Service). A number of friends who are in the early stages of building their careers expressed a desire to access a service like Seed.
Huge shoutout to Leigh Cullen, Dan Kolodziej and team #TeamPopUpBus for providing invaluable insights around the microwork as a business model and possible revenue avenues.
Research: How do other companies monetize their social service?
Samasource “is an innovative social business that connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the Internet (via microwork).” Companies pay Samasource for the work completed. Sumasource then breaks the task down into blocks that it's workers in Africa can complete.
Check out Dan Kolodziej's excellent summation here (as part of #TeamPopUpBus). Sumasource also accepts donations.
Catchafire links charities with volunteers. Organisations pay Catchafire a fee for their services. This covers Catchafire's operating costs. Catchafire also accepts donations.
Charity:Water reaches out to businesses to fund their organisational costs so that all consumer donations are directed 100% towards water projects. Charity:Water faces a familiar dual facing business model dilemma through their need to balance consumer and business donations (the business model is unsustainable if one donation group outpaces the other).
1.4 Channels - Engaging businesses
It's going to be particularly difficult to reach out to and engage businesses to become clients. Although the risks and barriers to entry are lower than traditional consulting services, the platform is still risky - businesses have to pay for the service and expend time. Learners are also risky in that they are just starting to master their skills.
As teammate Ashley Chin pointed out, microwork outsourcing organisations (like sumasource) need marketing and sales teams dedicated to business development.
Seed could potentially use learners who want to develop business development, sales or marketing skills as a team to build Seed's key capabilities in this area.
2. Online Micro-work: Key levers to make this workThere are a couple of key levers that will need to work if Seed is going to be successfull.
2.1 Client pain points
Key insights from SME business owners and managers.
I've talked with local businesses in Melbourne (Australia) ranging from comanies with a couple of employees right up to a family business with 150+ employees:
- The biggest challenge is the knowledge gap. How do you bridge the knowledge gap about your businesses context, idiosyncracies of sector and particular business problem without it draining client resources?
- possible solution: Project Manager leads project. PM has deep insights into specific business problems so that they can steer the team to come up with viable business solutions.
- possible solution: spend large amount of time defining the project breif
- possible solution: Project Manager to constantly provide the business owner with updates to make sure that the solutions are on brief.
- possible solution: Projects have a really limited scope
- possible solution: Pilot Seed in one sector, with one verticle task. Build up the platform's competency around this task so that solutions meet the brief.
- Ensuring solutions are accurate, are feasible to execute and are good value for money
- possible solution; see accuracy discussion below at 2.3.2
- possible solution: Arm learners with some knoweldge in key areas before they embark on tasks (via online learning modules).
- Possible solution: Payment to Seed could be tiered. Businesses pay a small upfront fee and then pay the bulk of the fee as a bonus if Seed's team produces a feasible solution (this bonus could also be distibuted to team members, acting as an added incentive).
- Business Owners are constatnly fighting fires and don't necessarily have the time to interact with consultant
- possible solution; PM clearly defines how much interaction the business owner needs before the process starts.
- It's can be really hard in small businesses to know what you need. You don't necessarily have a diverse or large workforce who offer solutions. You're often so busy that you don't have time to step back and work out what you need. You often don't have the resources to execute any solution.
- Possible solution: Seed website gives potential solutions to common business problems - asking the business owner to contact them about that solution if they are facing that problem
- Possible solution: Targeting SME's who know exactly what they need, but don't have the time to create the solution themselves.
- Possible solution: Seed targets StartUps, who tend to know what resources they need (because they have reached breaking point) but don't want to commit to a full time employee because they are running lean.
2.2 Matching talent with businesses
Step 1: The Client finds a Project Manager
Option 1: Clients can input their requirements and Seed platform makes recommendations based on expertise, skill, price, project histor and industry focus, in a similar way to Taskrabbit - see research below (ok, this is going to involve one complex algorithm, so it's not particularly feasible). The client can then reach out to the Project Manager to see if they can meet their needs.
Option 2: Clients can browse and search the Seed platform to find a Project Manager who meets their requrirements (expertise, skills, price, project history, industry focus). The client can then reach out to the Project Manager to see if they can meet their needs.
Option 3: Clients can upload their tasks / requirements and Project Managers can apply / bid to lead the project (see catchafire application example below).
Step 2: The Project Manager builds a team
The Project Manager then uses the Seed platform to build a bespoke team. Project managers can search learners based on their current skill level. Learners can also search for projects and put themselves forward for work.
Research: Taskrabbit uses an algorithm that matches Taskers with Clients who have the right skills and availability for the task. The matching algorithm takes into account our Tasker’s past behavior on the site, the skill preferences they set in their profile, and their availability and schedule. Taskrabbit presents the Client with a variety of suitable Tasker candidates – some tenured, some new – so the Client is able to make their selection on the grounds they see fit (e.g. experience, ratings/ reviews or price).
Taskrabbit uses a complex algorithm to help clients find their tasker. Seed could employe a similar system to help businesses find Project Managers.
Research: Catchafire is like e-harmony for pro-bono work. It matches up willing professionals with charities who desperately need specific tasks done. Catchafire asks volunteers to apply for certain jobs. Organisations then review the applicants and select the volunteer they want to work with. Catchafire also links up volunteers with organisations for a video call to make sure that both parties are on the same page before the project starts.
Catchafire's Project Application - stage 1 - meeting the prerequisites
Catchafire's Project Application - stage 2 - application
Thanks to team members Carlie Guilfoile and Liz Barnum for their excellent insights into building a platform that client's will love.
Building a client's trust that Seed can provide accurate business solutions will be vital. This is particularly important given the relative inexperience of microtaskers.
2.3 Building trust and accuracy of services
2.3.1 There are a number of ways that seed can build trust with Clients:
- Enable Project Managers to build platform profiles that exhibit traits like trustworthiness and capabilities - like Taskrabbit (see example above). This will probably work better where Project Manager's operate as quasi-franchisee's and compete against each other for work. However, this may skew incentives for Project Managers to take on less competent learners as their performance will rub off on the project managers. Research: Check out this excellent talk by Rachel Botsman on trust as the currency of the sharing economy.
- Project Managers can oversee a project, ensuring consistency in product delivery and quality. Project Managers can also act as mentors, sharing best practices with team members and the client, and provide learnings from previous projects, offering a macro perspective.
- Client ratings, feedback and comments. Highlighting success stories in case studies.
- Building a funding model around trialing before you buy. By charging the client a small upfront fee. The client pays bonuses if key business objectives are met.
2.3.2 There are a number of ways that Seed can ensure that work is accurate:
(1) Tasks where there is a "right" answer (eg: maths problems)
- dummy tasks: tasks with known answers are distributed randomly in sets of work. As user's don't know the difference between dummy and real tasks, you can estimate the accuracy rate of a particular set of work that is simlar to the dummy task.*
- multiple submissions: Multiple learners complete the same task. The more users answer the same task, the more sure you are that the majority answer is the correct answer.*
- peer learning: Team members check the work of other team members.
- Mentors and Project Managers (Learners who have already mastered the skill): Learners who have already mastered a skill can check the work of learners and provide valuable feedback and share best practices.
- Voting: Putting the judgement out to a number of learners. Learner's who are more experienced get a larger number of votes. The judgement call with the largest number of votes 'wins'.
- Mentors (Learners who have already mastered the skill): Learners who have already mastered a skill can critique the work of learners and provide valuable feedback.
- Competitions: Multiple team members submit answers to a specific brief (eg: create 5 facebook posts for Lucy's Flowers Valentines Day campaign). Team members, the project manager, client and / or consumers then vote on the best responses (99 designs uses a similar model).
- Online collaboration platform: Use the project hub as an online collaboration tool where users can build on ideas.
- peer learning: Team members critique the work of other team members.
- Mentors (Learners who have already mastered the skill): Learners who have already mastered a skill can critique the work of learners and provide valuable feedback.
2.4 Project ManagementManaging an online workforce of micro-consultants is going to be a huge challenge to overcome. There are a number of functions that could make this possible:
- Project Manager - acts as a primary point of client liaison. Build a team. Builds a project timeline. Ensures that key milestones are met. Ensures accuracy of work.
- Online project hub - highlights project timelines (including key milestones, deadlines and progress) and deliverables. Online base for team to interact with each other and give each other feedback. It's possible to prototype an online hub using services like basecamp, trello, Google +). Google hangouts and skype are also great ways to keep online teams in the loop.
- Keeping everyone accountable. It can be really easy to loose sight of team goals when you are working remotely. Gaining soft skill badges like "punctuality", "team work", "collaboration" could help incentivise team members pull their weight.
3. Learners - An online platform to build practical skills
3.1 Learning practical skills online
Seed will help learners build new skills via an online gamified learning platform.
The basic mechanics of this process are:
Choosing a skill (this defines the goal you want to achieve)
Seed then breaks the skill down into manageable goals that you will need to achieve to master the skill.
Seed makes sure that you have know the fundamentals that the lessons will build upon (knowledge dependency)
Learning – Platform then walks you through a process to learn that skill by providing instructional materials, setting tasks to complete (“conceptual” learning) and then allowing the learner to master the subject matter through completing a real life project (“experiential” learning).*
Celebrating success and mastery with points and badges
(this process is largely based on that outlined in Brian Burke's excellent book “Gamify: How Gamification motivates people to do extraordinary things” (2014)
*Seed will combine elements of experiential and conceptual learning so that students can master content and gain practical skills.
Conceptual learning is where you learn by answering questions and showing that you have mastered content. For example, Kahn Academy gets users to answer quizzes to ensure that they have mastered content. Seed will give students quizzes to ensure that they have mastered specific subject matter.
Experiential learning is where you learn by doing (eg: working on real projects). For instance, Duolingo teaches users a language by getting them to translate the web. +Accumen’s “Lean for Social Change” course on NovaEd gets teams to use the knowledge they have just learnt to build a project in the real world. Seed will incorporate live projects from Clients to help students cement their knowledge via experiential learning.
Completing set tasks: Students will then master the skills taught in the instructional video by completing set tasks and answering questions.
The type of task will depend on the type of subject matter being completed.
If students are completing a task with a specific answer (eg: a maths or science question as above), then the platform could use quizzes.
Tasks where learners have to make judgement calls (eg: will this tweet harm company x's brand). Learners are given a scenario and multiple choice answers about different courses of action. Learners can compare their course of action with that of other students to see if they made the right call (similar method to learning by case study)
- If the task requires creative skills, then we will need to design a collaboration / feedback mechanism into the process - potentially engaging mentors who have already gained the skill (see 4.2 "Moving on up...")
- Creating "Dummy" tasks where more creative work is involved. Eg: Create a twitter account on a niche subject (that you are not necessarily interested in) and try and build a follower base over two weeks. What did you learn? What lead to engagement? Calculate your engagement scores etc.*
*"Dummy" or set tasks will also help ensure that learners can learn even if there isn't a lot of client work (as per teammate Ashley Chin's suggestion below).
Once students have mastered a topic to an acceptable level, they will be able to apply those skills by completing real life projects (supplied by SME’s, charities and larger companies). This will provide valuable experiential learning.
Learners gain “Mastery Points” by completing online course content and micro-tasks (which will tally to form “mastery badges”).
Team members, project managers and clients will all be able to endorse learners for certain skills. This will also foster collaboration (not unlike OpenIDEO).
These badges will enable to learner to feel a sense of mastery and achievement. The learner will also be able to use the badges to show potential employers that they have developed certain skills.
3.2 Moving on up (and ensuring everyone gets a shot)
Once a learner has gained full time employment in their chosen field, they can only act as a mentor / teacher through the site. This will ensure that the individuals who need to skill up the most can access the micro-tasks.
4. Showcasing skills to the world (especially employers)
4.1 Creating a kick arse real world work portfolio
Learners can create an online profile that showcases the skills that they have built on the site. This profile will show potential emploeyrs the skills that the learner can built, the projects that they have worked on and the testimonials they have received from clients - forming one kick arse work portfolio.
Employers will be able to dive deep into those skills, find out what learner needed to do to achieve them and check out the projects that learner have helped bring to life.
Ana shows off the various hard skills she's gained while completing her Social Strategy badge.
Ana shows off the various soft skills she's gained on the platform.
Employers can click on a specific skill set to see specific feedback.
Employers can find out what it takes to earn a badge.
Employers can dive into Ana's portfolio to check out her contributions to various projects.
4.2 Showcasing soft skills
The idea includes a means for learners to showcase the soft skills that they have gained on the platform. This is in response to a number of articles that outline the desire of employer's to see graduates with these skills (see these great articles by Time and Forbes). Organisations like Fullbridge and SamaUSA have also identified these as key areas that individuals need to develop if they are going to succeed (and survive) today's workplace.
Here are some of the basic soft skills that employers want: collaborating; giving / taking feedback (inlcuding disagreeing effectively); communication; interpersonal skills; creativity; critical thinking; team player; problem solving; planning and prioritizing work; punctuality; flexibility; managing projects; self awareness; cultural intelligence; overcoming obstacles; creating viable solutions; asking for help efficiently; awareness of others; being a positive force; being forward looking; pitching; strategic thinking; design thining.
Seed will be particularly adept at enabling learner to build the following soft skills: Collaboration; working in interdisciplinary / cross cultural teams; working in remote teams; creativity; critical thinking; problem solving; cultural intelligence; cultural awareness.
I'm still unsure what the best way is to showcase these skills and would appreciate any thoughts / feedback (whether it's as a ratings system, points system, showing feedback, testimonials etc.).
5. Key PartnershipsSeed could build key partnerships with the following organisations;
- Funding partners (see revenue stream above)
- Online education - Kahn Academy (to help build Learners' knoweldge gaps), NovaEd
- Aggregating great online practical content like Google Venutres (check out their great library here), HackFwd's passionmeetsmomentum, Behance's 99U, creativemornings etc.
- Industry bodies who could help build Seed's client base.
- Online work sites, like TaskRabbit, Elance, O-desk and Fiverr who could link Learners with external tasks.
- Mentors who could help build Learners build up their skills and who can help build up course content
- Project Managers (either employed by Seed or acting as quasi-franchisees)
- Online jobs boards / job profiles (like LinkedIn) - potential to use thier "skill endorsement" space as a way to prototype offering.
6. User Journeys
Lucy is a florist who wants to launch a social media campaign in the build up to Valentine's Day.
She has noticed that she doesn't get great Valentine's Day sales when the day falls on a weekend. Unfortunately, Valentines Day is on a Saturday this year.
She hears about Seed from a friend. She goes onto their website, and finds Jon, a Proejct Manager, who has lots of experience building social media campaigns. She works with Jon to clearly define her business objectives (boost Valentines Day sales, despite the weekend date) as well as convey key information about her business (what they specialise in, what their brand message is, what their offer is, who her customers are).
Jon breaks the tasks down into smaller chunks and tasks various users to complete them. Sam, who is honing her marketing skills, completes market research on who buys flowers on Valentine's Day in Lucy's neighbourhood. She finds out that guys predominantly buy flowers for their girlfriends when they are at work, so that their girlfriends can show that they have someone special in their life. Guys don't necessarily buy their girlfriends flowers from Lucy's city location on weekends.
Jon then tasks Sara, Terry and Nick create some possible content strategy directions. Nick thinks it could be a great idea to create a Valentine's Day event that lets women show their social networks how much their boyfriends love them. Nick thinks that Lucy's Florist could put on a DIY class where girlfriends could learn to make floral bouquets, accompanied by copious amounts of chocolate and champagne. Jon reaches out to Lucy with the teams progress. She loves the direction.
Jon then tasks Ana, Suzy and Liz with coming up with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts to advertise the event. Ana comes up with some fabulous copy (the whole team agrees). Lucy runs with it and sells out the Valentine's Day event. Even better, her instagram feed is filled with girlfriends hastagging #LucysFlorist, #love #imadethis. Given the success of the event, she's has decided to start running classes every month to suppliment her revenue.
Meet Phil. Phil owns a local hardware shop, a business that his father started. He knows that his business is being devastated by the chain hardware store down the road, but he is so busy fighting fires that he doesn’t have the time (or the energy) to address these pressing issues.
He reaches out to Seed.
Seed recognises that Phil needs help getting his head around how he can play to his strengths and compete against the chain hardware stores. Seasoned learners, who want to develop their strategy badges, work with Phil to help him define his needs, goals and aspirations. They walk him through a few of the ways they could help:
- How might Phil reshape his business model?
- What are Phil’s key strengths and weaknesses?
- What has he got that the large chain hardware stores can’t compete with?
- What can’t he compete with?
- How might Phil better engage his customers?
- How might Phil add value?
An aspiring HR / learning and development wiz starts trawling through Seed’s database to find people they think would bring value to Phil.
An aspiring community manager starts building momentum and energy around Phil’s project.
- Marketing / advertising: mico-tasks include conducting market research, developing customer profiles and personas, mapping their pain points and needs, ideating on how to address those pain points, creating a content strategy, researching how to reach those customers.
- Artists / graphic designers / copywriters: creating content based on the content strategy.
- Writers and editors then go through the various reports, honing their business communication and editing skills.