I was shocked to see englishcafe.com announce that they were closing. Of all competitors, they seemed to have the best concept and strongest management team. There were a lot of things that I liked about the website: emphasis on community building, intuitive interface, good teacher pages, group classes and user generated content. The website focused on people, both teachers and students, and it seemed like it could really build a loyal user base.
I was also extremely impressed by the management team, which was composed of a group of uber-experienced Harvard and Stanford MBAs and tech industry veterans, including Douglas Carlston, who founded Broderbund. When I was a kid in the 80s, pretty much every piece of software I used on my Commodore 64 was written by Broderbund: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Print Shop, Prince of Persia and many others (all of which contributed to making me a solid B-/C+ student).
When I was initially researching the space for live video English teaching and came across englishcafe.com, I was at first dismayed to find such a well implemented and well run website.
How the heck, could I develop something that could compete with these guys?
However, englishcafe.com ended up encouraging me to push forward. For one, the website validated the viability of this business. While many people I talked to liked the idea of language classes via live video, a lot had reservations about focusing on English as a Foreign Language. Englishcafe.com, with their highly experienced and connected team, demonstrated that real money believed that the idea could work.
So my strategy was to try to develop a differentiated service, a different language teaching focus, revenue model, design/ interface etc… It’s an excellent website, but we could study its flaws and try to build something that users might enjoy more.
So, now that the website is folding, I have to ask out loud.
There were some things about the site that raised question marks. The biggest was that they did not seem to have anywhere enough teachers to build a significant revenue stream. I estimate that you’d need least 1,000 teachers with moderate useage to get revenue into seven digits—and that’s revenue, no consideration of expenses.
I also wonder if there were problems with the user experience, either for teacher and students. In some respect, I saw areas where design could be improved.
Anyway, I’d love to hear from users of the site. If have any experience with englishcafe.com, please comment. Why do you think it closed?