October 8, 2015
Adam Meehan and Lexi Randall-L’Estrange were looking for volunteer opportunities to put their skills to good use whilst in South America.
When they found that volunteering options limited them to providing services that didn’t capitalise on their expertise, they found another way to help – developing an online matching platform to assist organisations and volunteers to connect based on the skills needed to assist organisations and volunteer projects.
We spent 5 minutes with Adam and Lexi to ask them about The Work Well and testing their idea through Crunch 2015.
What was the inspiration behind starting your social enterprise?
A: We were exploring work opportunities in South America and were thinking about what would be the best way to give back to an area that we might get so much from, not just work but culturally as well, and that we know has certain areas of disadvantage. And we realised that the way we could have the most impact was to use our skills for multiple different organisations rather than just one.
L: We both started looking for volunteer opportunities in South America to either do remote (online) skilled volunteering or doing work in the community there in our spare time and there weren’t those opportunities. They still had that quite archaic view of volunteering and community engagement, so we thought, that’s not good enough – with Adam’s software skills and my engineering skills and community management experience it just wasn’t the best use of our time. So we decided that instead of pursuing those opportunities ourselves we would spend our time building The Work Well.
A: From that, we are developing a platform where hopefully we will be able to multiply the good by connecting skilled professionals with organisations.
L: It became obvious as we started working on our website that this was a problem that needed to be solved for Australian organisations first and once we’ve got that set up we can then extend ourselves to Australian organisations working overseas because it’s a huge desire for people to contribute to international development projects.
We really want to curb voluntourism and use other ways to try and help people understand in what way they actually are valuable. When Australians have unique professional skills that are directly transferrable to organisations and that translates directly into money saved.
While we were in Argentina we were able to help an organisation called Social Opportunity Group, who are supported by a social enterprise café in South Yarra – The Final Step Café. The Social Opportunity Group work with disadvantaged kids on nutrition and education and youth engagement projects about an hour and a half out of Buenos Aires. In their case, $1 is a meal – so if you can save them a couple of hundred dollars, that’s food on the table for a couple of hundred kids and that’s a real impact people can have. You can volunteer in other capacities but it doesn’t have that same impact.
L: If you’re not a builder, don’t build houses. If you wouldn’t do it in your country don’t do it somewhere else. Everyone has good intentions, but The Work Well is an avenue that will help people volunteer locally or internationally, but the key is that it’s about using your skills. You can do it from your home, you can do it in 5 minutes or you do it in 5 hours or 5 days. It depends how much time you have to contribute.
What’s been the most important thing you’ve learnt through the Crunch?
L: What I knew we needed and what we wanted to get out of the Crunch was strategy around business model and pricing and the financial skills to back that up.
A: Nowadays people think that they’ve got enough online material and books to learn from but having the kind of support, attention and real world experience at your disposal is invaluable because you are pushed along the process, and it’s validated and it’s contextual. It’s about you and where you’re at and your type of problem and there will be a real person speaking to you – that’s not in the book and it’s not in an online video. People also generally procrastinate, so it’s good if you want to get moving.
L: I wrote a business plan 12 months ago but I hadn’t built the product or tested it, so the business plan wasn’t very useful. Writing a business model is an extremely complex thing to do and it’s not a weekend job. It requires critical questioning and the iterations that a 6 month program allows you to do. All those changes for us really happened in that first 3 months, a lot of that moving around.
A: You get to have key conversations too. We were able to learn and validate our ideas with former alumni and people that are likely to be our future customers. You need external review.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone working on their start up idea?
L: Start talking about your idea. Don’t think that whatever you’ve thought of is some big genius idea, most of the time someone else is already doing it, which is fine because you will do it differently. But don’t hold onto your idea with such intensity that you wait until you’re 6 months down the track before you start engaging other people in the conversation.
There are very few people out there trying to steal people’s start-up ideas. If you tell people that you have an idea, you will meet people with similar ideas. And they might be collaborators or you might find out earlier on that the marketplace is more crowded than you realised.
A: Validate, validate, validate
L: Then do your research then validate again.
A: I used to say ideas are worthless, action is what matters. But it’s a combination of the two. An idea that is untested doesn’t require an action yet. Know why you’re doing the next step.
L: And for social enterprise of course, apply for the Crunch!