Spot the opportunity — what is the gap in the market? I saw the opportunity to create high quality online courses from my time at Groupon — online courses were the most popular ‘product’ category and the courses sold weren’t as good as I hoped.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bhavneet Chahal. Bhav is a passionate self-made entrepreneur who is dedicated to providing accessible and affordable education for both unemployed adults as well as working professionals. In 2013, she co-founded GoSkills.com, a New Zealand based online education company that provides courses to help people learn practical business skills to get a new job, upskill for their current jobs or to stay relevant in the workplace in the face of changing technologies. Bhav also supports young women wanting to start their own business with practical assistance; she proudly supports two USD $2,000 scholarships each year. The title of these awards leaves little room for misinterpretation: they are called the Scholarship for Women Who Want to be the Boss.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My journey began at university. I studied Applied Science at Otago University and, while I always enjoyed science, I couldn’t see myself pursuing a career as a researcher or scientist.
During the last year of that degree I heard about a student business competition on campus called Kickstart. I entered the competition with a business idea and was surprised and delighted to be awarded one of the prizes and to be a finalist in the competition.
This opened up my eyes to a totally different world of business and entrepreneurship. I then completed a Master of Entrepreneurship to learn practical skills to start and grow a business.
After completing that degree, I started my first company with a classmate. This was a tumultuous time and I learnt a lot about business, partnerships and surrounding yourself with the right team. The business ultimately failed, but I learnt certain lessons that would help me succeed with my next business.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
While working at Groupon in Sydney, I saw that online courses were a growth area but that the options available were not always providing the quality content required by professionals looking to expand their skills.
The ‘aha’ moment came when I realised that we could fill a gap in the market by creating high quality courses for professionals and selling them through the Groupon platform.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My first business failed because my co-founder and I had overlapping skills and had disagreed on many things.
I overcame this by reflecting for a long time over the steps that led to the breakdown of the partnership. I concluded that this was ultimately a difference in opinion on how to run and grow the business, and because of our overlapping skill set.
I extracted some core lessons from the entire experience and endeavoured to apply what I had learnt to any future business I entered into.
For my next business, which I started about 5 years after the first, I wanted to kick things off right. I wanted to work with a co-founder with a very different skillset to mine, that would be able to complement my skills. I found that in Franz Ombler, my co-founder at GoSkills, who had many years of managerial experience, as well as a technical skill set. This was a gap in my skills and experience, and we complemented each other well.
We also have shared values and mutual respect for each other, which I believe are key factors to our continued and successful working relationship today.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going really well! We are growing our revenues at 50% year-on-year, we have a remote team of 14 people spread all over the world, and we are still bootstrapping our business, which means we have never taken on external capital to grow. We have grown by reinvesting our profits to fuel further growth. Building a business that pushes the boundaries of being in a global and connected world has been extremely fulfilling.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we first started, I had printed out business card-sized coupons to hand out at my local train station. This was to test the idea that people would buy online courses via coupons. It worked (some people did redeem their coupons and bought the courses online) but it wasn’t something that could scale. It was fun nonetheless and I learnt a lot about human behaviour and herd economics! We’ve also kept the spirit of always experimenting with new ideas at GoSkills, albeit in a more ‘traditional’ online environment via A/B testing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our culture is something we’re extremely proud of. We have a 100% remote team made up of a fun and talented group of people who communicate daily across time zones and continents. Together, we have built a culture that encourages freedom, creativity, open communication, and thinking outside the box.
We recently held a team building retreat in Thailand, and although it was the first time for many of us to meet face to face, it was remarkable to see how everybody’s personalities were exactly how they seemed online. The retreat was a valuable experience for us to further cement our team bond and discuss how we can work together better. We’ve even started ending our virtual team meetings by saying “Durian!”, in reference to the polarising fruit we tried while in Thailand.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I firmly believe in promoting a healthy work-life balance for yourself and for your team. Happy people are more productive and creative, which ultimately leads to better business outcomes. I also think people aren’t getting enough sleep! I’m known amongst my friends to go to sleep (very) early and wake up early — I aim for 8–9 hours of sleep every night.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many people I take inspiration from. I don’t think you really know what’s possible until you see someone else doing it. I’ve learned vicariously from so many business leaders, such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Phil Knight, and Richard Branson just to name a few. I believe media (movies and TV) has also played a huge role in making me realise that it’s possible for women to take on leadership positions and become CEOs and founders of successful businesses.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
GoSkills currently has over 198,000 subscribers and growing. We reach potential learners primarily through inbound inquiries from organic search, paid advertising and partnerships, and referrals from happy customers.
As a company, we like making data-driven decisions. SEO and customer feedback are part of that process. We optimize our content with keyword research to try and reach the largest number of people searching for a specific term. We also regularly review course ratings and get feedback from customers to see what people like and where we could improve.
And of course, having a high-quality product is essential to growing and retaining subscribers. We strive to keep our courses and learning management system as high-quality and user-friendly as possible, while keeping costs low. This has helped us build our subscriber base to where it is today.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
GoSkills uses a SaaS subscription-based pricing model, where individual learners can purchase monthly or annual subscriptions to our courses. The recurring subscription model results in regular revenue each month.
We have a freemium subscription model for our business customers, which includes free access to our learning management system (LMS) with the option of purchasing upgrades to enterprise-grade features and the award-winning GoSkills course library. We chose this model so we can provide businesses of all sizes the ability to train their teams without the exorbitant initial outlays or minimum user requirements typically associated with an LMS.
By adopting a product-led growth strategy and a recurring revenue model, we are able to keep our costs low and revenue high. Having a self-service platform also allows us to more easily scale GoSkills operations to work with more companies without imposing a high administrative cost.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Spot the opportunity — what is the gap in the market?
I saw the opportunity to create high quality online courses from my time at Groupon — online courses were the most popular ‘product’ category and the courses sold weren’t as good as I hoped.
- Surround yourself with the right people
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of finding people with complementary skills and having a shared vision and goal that you are all working towards. Teamwork makes the dream work!
- Come up with a better solution — think carefully about design and UX
We differentiated ourselves by focusing on an excellent end-to-end user experience — from bite-sized course lessons to a simple and fun interface to learn with.
- Know your audience
Conduct customer surveys often, analyse the data and keep a watchful eye on customer feedback. Once you understand who your customers are, their motivations and their likes and dislikes, you can better serve their needs and help them achieve their goals.
- Know how you will get your solution to your audience — how will you reach their eyeballs?
It’s essential to not only innovate on product and technology, but also on your customer acquisition channel. I feel like this is often overlooked, and is essential to ensure you keep growing by always finding new ways to reach your audience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would help reduce the pay and leadership gap between men and women. There is a bias that forms from a young age about which roles and characteristics are suitable for men, and which are deemed suitable for women. I believe we need to act now to alter these perceptions, from the schoolyard to the boardroom, so that the next generation is more equal and progressive than the last. I think humanity as a whole would greatly benefit when the gender gap no longer exists.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Mitch Russo started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Mitch wrote a book called “The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies” and now his 2nd book called Power Tribes — “How Certification Can Explode Your Business.” Mitch helps SaaS company founders scale their own companies using his proprietary system. You can reach Mitch Directly via [email protected]
5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS, with Bhavneet Chahal and Mitch Russo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.