It was 3:30 am In late July. The warm, stuffy room had me tossing and turning. I couldn’t sleep. My mind racing between my full-time job and growing my educational websites. Adblockers were beginning to surface and ad revenue dropped by the day. We were making ends meet but spending everything we earned.
The day before we had launched our ‘Premium’ subscription offering. The plan was simple. Sell a worksheet subscription to history teachers. One small problem. We didn’t have any premium worksheets.
An initial promise of an Ad-Free experience and ‘coming soon’ on Premium worksheets was all we had to work with. The rest of the materials were gifted by a whole host of teachers over 8 years ago; well before our time as Owners.
As I continued to evade sleep I made the decision none of us should make; I flipped open my phone.
A teachers name I recognised flashed up having emailed in response to our ‘Premium subscription’ promotional email. She was one of the teachers who had submitted free materials some years prior. Still teaching it seems and part of our email list. Her email was in full capitals.
‘YOU ARE NOT FLOGGING MY MATERIALS. REMOVE THEM IMMEDIATELY!!’
It didn’t matter that the teacher had misread our email, some of our core rankings were based upon the free materials she had submitted 8 years prior. It didn’t matter we had specifically said all those materials would remain free. She was pissed and we needed her.
I immediately sprung out of bed and reached for my glasses. My wife stirred briefly and then rolled back over to sleep. I set off downstairs and powered up my laptop.
I began to write back to the teacher furiously. It may seem extreme now looking back but this felt like a defining moment in our business. We had £500 in the bank, the business was surviving paycheck to paycheck and this was a huge blow to the future of our operation.
I carefully crafted an email that explained our position, how we were retaining the legacy of those materials completely free of charge, how we continue to pay for the servers and how our new offering will be brand new materials. I then had a thought….why not ask her to produce them?
So I did. I told her that our intentions were to reach out and ask her to provide paid materials (partially true) of which we could utilise as part of our subscription. I explained to her we had earmarked her as a potential supplier of these materials (this is 100% true) and how her experience and expertise would be important to us.
I pressed send and waited. The teacher was working overseas in the Seychelles at the time so I didn’t need to wait long for a response. It actually took another 2-3 emails to fully get our vision across. You see some teachers are hugely against any type of paid materials.
Through my time running the educational business, I had heard from Head of year teachers who would prefer to spend hours trawling for resources or making their own vs paying a nominal fee.
She thanked me for my clarification and said she would be interested in helping. I proceeded to ask her about GCSE 9-1 resources and whether she could supply them? The specific year (2016 I believe) was the first year 9-1 would be taught; we saw this as an opportunity.
‘I have resources for AQA and can eventually adapt for the other boards. AQA will be £1000’.
I looked at our bank balance again and we only had £500 until the end of August. I offered this and said we could pay the remaining once we had it. Fortunately, she agreed.
Fast forward to September and the first day of the school term had arrived. Ian had built the website functionality and we had marketing emails ready to drop. I looked at the bank balance again…….Crickets…This had to work.
We launched with AQA examination board resources mostly live with a promise of the remaining exam board resources live on a topic by topic basis. Fortunately for us, the business, the teacher, our futures and hell this blog post the subscription model worked. We grossed over £6,000 in subscriptions in September ALONE. We had breathing space, a little money in the bank and a model we KNEW worked. This was the beginning of 5 years of multiple subscription websites.
I am not sure where we would be today without that early morning wakeup, without that teacher, without the subscription model. Sometimes you need to go all-in on something.
For us; it worked out and it was the beginning of a wonderful journey that cumulated in us selling the entire business. We lucked out. Market timing, right place at the right time or just a fortuitous break. Whatever you want to call it happened to us.
When I go to sleep at night now I keep my phone in my office. But I sometimes think about that email and what would have happened if I didn’t read it or the teacher hadn’t agreed to create the resources.
Sleep comes much easier right now, but I’m glad it didn’t back then.