[Germany] How would you like to make money from your expert knowledge? E-Learning is a $53 billion world market that requires lots of technology and therefore is mostly tapped by universities and bigger corporations. But now a small startup from Munich aims to make everyone a distance teacher. Yesterday I ran my first online course using Conferendum, the product of a bootstrapped early-stage company that consists of only a CEO and two freelance programmers. Still they offer a fully blown platform for delivering online training via a web browser and phone.
Anyone can set up a training session in a snap, invite people and start charging. Interaction is done by screen sharing or the presentation of Powerpoint, Excel, PDF and Word documents in the learner’s browser. Participants can talk to their trainer and amongst each other by voice or chat. Conferendum also offers dial in numbers in 30 countries for people who want to attend by phone. Basically it’s a tweaked web conference tool comparable to WebEx, Genesys, GoTo Meeting or Dimdim, but with better monetization options.
A key advantage of Conferendum is the pay-as-you-go model. In contrast to big web conference players, there is no subscription fee for the host but a prepaid solution for charging attendees. Conferendum only makes money if the trainer does by taking a 25 percent service fee. Trainers can charge between €0.01 and €0.50 per minute or €1 to €30 per event for every student.
That’s cheap enough to appeal to freelancers or small businesses, like tutors or accounting experts, looking to make extra money with evening courses over the web. An underpaid teacher from Montevideo could double their income by teaching math to pupils in Madrid. The user interface is already available in 21 languages so there’s quite a bit of potential – parents pay up to €3 billion for private tuition every year in Germany alone.
Conferendum payments are based entirely on Paypal. The participants use it to pre-pay at least €10 that can be spent on the various trainers offering courses via the platform. At the end of every month, trainers get their Conferendum account balance transferred paid through Paypal.
Taking the product for a spin, I was surprised how polished Conferendum looks and how well it works, given that everything is programmed in Java to make it run on virtually every OS. Neither teachers nor pupils have to install any software. Having clicked the invitation link to a training session, the browser opens and a small window pops up to configure sound and microphone. And off we go.
CEO Wolfgang Berger sees 50 to 70 training sessions every day, held by nutritionists, marketing coaches or financial advisers. That’s still not enough to fly on a VC’s radar, he admits. After meetings with potential investors the feedback was that Conferendum is great, but that he should come back when it makes €1 million in turnover. That’s a feasible objective in a few months, Berger thinks, still an offer from one business angel had to be turned down because he wanted to invest a ridiculously small amount. That’s so typical for Germany.
Having proven the concept and ironed out bugs since March, Conferendum already makes a small profit. But the system can easily support several concurrent e-learning sessions with 1,000 or so participants. That’s why Berger is looking for investor money to spend on marketing. If he was in the US, he would probably just need a small endorsement by a prominent user like Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki or Jason Calacanis. They’ve already made other startups fly. Any such figure here in Germany?