Writing is Failing at the Student Level
We provide several services: an essay examples database for brainstorming and researching essay topics, our free essay help writing blog and thesis statement builder, and our essay editing service.
Previous hedge fund trader and semi-pro poker player. Responsible for all things product and marketing. Led Kibin from concept to over $75k in monthly revenue.
|1||$1,863,000 in Lifetime Revenue|
|2||Profitable since Q4 2015|
|3||EDB revenue growing 400% y/y|
|4||1,000,000+ Monthly Unique Visitors|
We’re modernizing the college writing center. That means improving the antiquated model—where a student has to go in and see someone face-to-face to get help on an essay—and bringing that experience online. Students can get help for everything ranging from the brainstorming and idea stage of an essay to the final product where they’re looking for someone to proofread spelling, punctuation, grammar, and to give feedback. We provide 24/7, online writing help.
Writing has become increasingly important. Having good writing skills is critical. Any job you go into, the need for clear written communication is a necessity, whether you’re doing a writing-focused job like content marketing or not. Blogging is also huge. In this day and age, you just need to know how to write well.
The problem is that writing education is really failing. Students aren’t given enough attention or help. Class sizes are too big. Getting the one-on-one help that they need is just a pain, and they’re too busy. Because writing skills are developed in school and at a younger age , if students don’t get the help then, and they don’t refine their skills then, it becomes very hard to figure out how to write well later in life.
Making that process of getting help more efficient and making more resources available online that are actually good, valuable, and interesting is the challenge we’re trying to overcome.
I was applying to law school back in 2011, and my personal statement was kind of a mess. I needed to be very specific in what I was trying to communicate. I was having a hard time getting the feedback that I needed from family and friends. When I turned online for help, I just wasn’t finding anything with the feedback aspect that I was looking for. Kibin was born of that frustration with the inability to find the quick help that I was looking for.
We started as a free peer-to-peer model that focused mostly on the feedback portion. We had to eventually pivot out of that to a paid editing service. We’re now realizing that we need to be focusing more on the end-to-end help of essay writing rather than just the final phase of that process. That’s kind of the high level overview of how we’ve gotten to where we are today.
Usually, they learn about our services through web searches. There’s two main ways that a student would find us.
The first is when they’re looking for help on a specific essay that they’ve already been given an assignment for. When they search online for essay examples, we’ll pop up as one of the options and they’ll find an essay example that we’ve curated.
The second is when a student is searching for general essay writing help. Maybe they’re struggling with their thesis statement and they Google, “How to write a good thesis statement” and they find our blog which has tons of examples. We get a lot of eyeballs there; a lot of students are looking for help.
The blog is great in terms of getting views; we’ve had more than 1 million unique views in April. One of our strategies is first passing people to the free thesis statement builder. In the thesis statement builder, you plug in the topic you’re working on. At the end of the builder, we have a call-to-action that says, for instance, “See essay examples on Shakespeare’s Othello.” They click through there and some percentage of those users become customers for the database. We also try to attach them to the essay editing service later down the line.
The other acquisition channel, which is really the biggest driver right now, is just the database content itself. Some portion of that content is indexed by Google. It goes back to the example where the student is typing in, “Essay example on Shakespeare’s Othello.” We pop up specifically with that essay content, and, in order to get access to the full content and the rest of the database, the student would need to pay for the service.
We’re actually quite picky with the editors that we hire. We have about a 9-hour editing test that we use to vet potential editors. Then it’s reviewed by somebody internally, and once they’ve gone through and passed all the training material and the tests, we start giving them access to jobs.
We also have regular quality checks to ensure consistency. In between those quality checks we depend on the customers to leave feedback and be the early warning sign when there might be a problem. We do a really good job upfront of vetting people and making sure the quality is high on that side. As a result, we don’t run into a ton of problems in terms of customer complaints.
This is a big barrier to entry when attempting to start an editing service from scratch, and something we really struggled with for the first couple years.
We used to have to run paid campaigns to find editing talent, especially to help our overnight coverage. But we now have the benefit of a diverse, global team, and we’ve been around long enough where we’ve been linked to on popular work-from-home blogs and forums. So all of our editor applicants are inbound now.
Every student writes essays. Every single student. Even if you’re a chemistry or physics student, you’re writing lab reports, you’re writing some kind of essay or you’re required to take English 101 at some point in your college career. To me the market is every student.
Today there are about 750 million students worldwide. If you shrink that down to the US, there are about 35 million. I’m talking high school and college level students. Then, I just look at what our annual spend per student is right now. That’s about $110. If you multiply that across the US market alone, that’s about a $3.9 billion market there.
Besides students, we’re also taking a look at businesses, authors, academics, job seekers, etc.
In the past we’ve done editing for several customer segments including students, businesses, job seekers, academics, and authors. But we’ve found that focusing our efforts on students right now is the most logical thing to do.
Editing has always been the core of our business, and when people think of the core they mistake it for the largest piece. But the core is generally a smaller piece of a much larger whole. Our database business will soon overtake our editing business in terms of revenue. So when I think about expanding outside of students, I think about what segment we could provide editing services to that would also be complemented by a larger, recurring revenue business.
We have some ideas on where to take that, but I think it’s important to note that the student segment itself has the potential to be a billion dollar business on its own.
Right now, the biggest person in the essay database space is a company called Study Mode. It’s been around quite a while, but they don’t do the greatest job of really putting together a high quality database. We, on the other hand, are all about quality. Everything we do, from our editing to the content that’s in our database, is about quality. We actually manually review any potential essay submissions for the essay database before publishing anything.
That doesn’t mean that every essay in the database is an A quality essay, or even a B, because I think that there’s definitely value in looking at what makes a bad essay. But every essay has to be something we believe is useful. It’s not just gibberish. It’s not a copy-and-pasted Wikipedia article. It’s something of value. None of our competitors do a great job of really vetting the content of the database to make sure it’s useful.
Adding essays to the database is one of the easiest ways to accelerate growth. The more essays we have, the more traffic we generate, and the more customers we acquire.
Beyond that, we’ve done very little in terms of optimization. We’re just now testing our first price hike for the essay database, but we’re still priced at literally half of what competitors charge, and we offer a better product. We also haven’t done anything in terms of conversion rate optimization. We have a lot we could do in terms of driving down the cost of our content acquisition, link building, and SEO efforts. So there are a lot of growth levers we can play with to really move the needle. We just haven’t had the bandwidth to do these things yet, which is another thing we’ll be solving with this fundraising round.
Finally, as we start to really optimize the essay database engine, we’ll start looking at our attachment rate to the editing service. Essentially the editing service will be complimentary to the database where we leverage the database customers as our acquisition strategy by cross-selling the editing service.
There are two main risks: Scaling quickly and our reliance on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Right now, we’re adding about 10,000 essays per month to the database. That means we’re manually evaluating those essays for quality, fixing issues, and creating SEO-rich pages for each one. It’s quite the process. And we want to take this up to 100,000 essays per month or more with this fundraising round. Obviously this comes with challenges, but we’ve worked the last six months to put the infrastructure and processes in place to be able to scale.
In terms of our reliance on SEO, it’s something we’re aware of. A Google penalty would really hurt us. That being said, we do not use, and never have used, any black hat SEO or shady link building strategies. We also create long form, educational content on our student essay writing blog that really helps communicate that we’re an authoritative voice in this space.
So while these are both risks, we recognized them early on and have taken adequate steps to mitigate them as best as possible.
Our main challenge right now is getting capital to grow the business. This may not seem like a huge challenge, and it isn’t. But you need to understand that we’ve been at this awhile. We’ve shifted the focus of the business twice now in an attempt to find a scalable growth path. We’ve now done that and we simply need to add fuel to the fire.
We’re not looking for product market fit, we’ve found it. We’re not in danger of going out of business, we’re profitable. We’re not trying to figure out our unit economics, we’ve put processes in place to scale profitably over the last 18 months. So our biggest challenge is simply getting more capital to grow at an accelerated rate.
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