Background: I'm the founder of StrumSchool.com - a marketplace focused on connecting guitar students & teachers for private online video lessons. Prior to building StrumSchool, I spent 7 years in marketing doing BD & SEO for eBay.
Google recently launched a welcome page for it's new 'Helpouts by Google' product. The tool is designed to help consumers and "experts" connect through paid online video. As this is Google's first public acknowledgement of Helpouts' existence, few details about how the tool will be positioned were available until now. Here is what I think is the most important information from Google's launch page:
- User Experience & Interface: The Helpouts experience will look very similar, if not exactly the same as Google's Hangouts product. This means that the person speaking in the video will be at the center of the screen in a large box with the non-speakers below in significantly smaller windows (shown here). While Hangout's UX/UI isn't sexy, the tool is clean and easy to understand. There is no reason for Google to reinvent the wheel in terms of live online video UX, but I would be concerned that there isn't much differentiation between Helpouts (paid) & Hangouts (Free). Once consumers start using the Helpouts tool, what is stopping them from cutting Google out of the transaction by using Hangouts? If I'm Google, I would build two premium products - a lesson recording tool and a curriculum management tool - to differentiate the Helpouts experience & deter cannibalization from Hangouts.
- Monetization: In their Payments & Fees page, Google specifies that they will take a 20% "platform fee", which will cover credit card processing fees & Google Wallet charges. Assuming Google pays 2% for a CC processing fee, their take is 18% of the lesson cost, which is slightly lower than what most startups in the space are taking for similar products (Average: 20-35%).
- Signup: A Google+ account is required to schedule a Helpout. Of course Google requires you to use their account to sign in for their new service. What I don't understand is what is the difference between a Google, Gmail & Google+ account. In general, I think Google has a branding issue on their hands and the idea of needing to create any new account credentials will lower adoption rates.
- Mobile: The Helpouts service will be offered as a mobile & tablet experience - Safari is supported but iOS isn't on the list of OS's. This is a huge advantage for Google. Since most of their competitors are flash based or only work in native mobile apps (IE: AddLive), having a WAP page integration makes Helpouts avaliable to a larger audience. That said, it'd be really nice if they didn't pull the Android only card on mobile.
- Payments: The only form of payment for Google will be Google Wallet. Meh... another thing to sign up for.
- Verticals: Google published this as their list of available verticals: Home & Garden, Computers & Electronics, Health & Counseling, Nutrition & Fitness, Fashion & Beauty, Art & Music, Cooking & Education. Now let's be honest, when was the last time you looked for a Home & Garden lesson? People don't look for this type of stuff... they look for "Gardening Help" or "How Do I Grow Roses". One of the biggest advantages for vertically focused companies like mine (StrumSchool.com), is that we have a targeted experience which limits distractions. Since Google Helpouts' is being launched in multiple verticals, consumers will have to choose their verticals (Home & Garden), a sub-vertical (Gardening), their provider (John Doe), the lesson length & price (30 Min / $30), preferred lesson time (9pm on Tuesday) and then go through the booking process. That's a lot of decisions if you ask me...
- "Experts": Google claims that they are going to vet all of their "experts". Without a massive and well trained staff, I'm skeptical of their ability to sort out the experts from the hobbyists in all of their verticals. Vetting experts is a labor intensive process that requires subject matter expertise. At StrumSchool, we only looked for great guitar teachers. Vetting guitar teachers is a totally different process from vetting someone giving medical or legal advice. Unless the Google Helpouts team is planning to staff subject matter experts, they run the risk of having unqualified people as service providers. At StrumSchool, finding great teachers was a full-time job. All of our teachers were required to interview, pass a background check and prove that they had over 5 years of full time teaching experience. Our high standards made it easier for consumers to feel confident that they would receive advice from a qualified source every time. Based on what I know about Helpouts, I'm not convinced that I'll be talking to a real expert without vetting them myself.