In 2017, Corporate America spent $28B on training programs to improve efficiency, increase productivity and up level staff and executives. Yet, according to Training Industry Weekly, less than 8% of those programs were fever completed.
While there are dozens of Learning Management Systems all delivering electronic instruction and testing, there’s virtually no place that engages staff members together to work through and complete courses and programs essential for success.
Software pioneer Mitch Russo, one time CEO of Timeslips, the industry’s first time and billing solution and later COO of SaaS powerhouse Sage U.S., was inspired by the opportunity to try and solve this problem by creating a new and patent pending system to pair people up in the same programs, host and supervise live accountability partnership sessions and record live stats proving their progress week after week.
After a year of prototyping and development, he’s just released the Results Breakthrough Network, (RBN), one of the first in what we think will be a new generation of B2B systems that will focus on markets and needs that have been ignored by the major social systems.
We think his experiences in bringing RBN to life provide valuable and timely lessons on current industry trends and movements. (Mitch is also the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller, The Invisible Organization a book which we also think is a very timely read for any software startup.)
Results Breakthrough Network Company Profile
|Company:||Results Breakthrough Network|
|Company HQ:||Marlborough, MA|
|Market/Industry:||One on one business training and skills retention networking|
|Company Principals:||Mitch Russo, CEO|
|Founded/Years in Business:||2017, 18 months|
|Company Development Type:||Privately held|
|Number of Employees:||One|
|% of Revenue Growth Over Last Years:||100% quarter/quarter|
Softletter (SL): Mitch, what is the Results Breakthrough Network? And how did you develop the concept?
Mitch Russo: I developed the idea based on my work with corporate training programs and my experience as CEO of BusinessBreakThroughs, a joint venture funded by Tony Robbins and the late Chet Holmes. In terms of corporate training, I’ve purchased over in the course of my career over $100K of training, including master classes, courseware, advanced training etc. from which I never derived the benefits I hoped for.
It wasn’t the fault of the programs; it was mine. To get value from corporate or personal training you need to A) retain the knowledge you’ve paid for and B) begin to put your training to work for you. The problem is most of the time you don’t do that. People are busy, they lose track of time, they move on to other things. Very soon, you forget what you’ve learned and value you paid for is lost.
The problem extends beyond me. According to the American Society for Training and Development (ATD), businesses spend an average of $1,200 per year training an employee. That’s a total of over $30 billion dollars. And almost ALL of that money is being wasted. Their research shows completion rates for training courses can be as low as 4% (and the problem is particularly prevalent with online courses). Another study the conducted at companies with more than 5K employees showed that as low as nine percent ever applied what they did do their job. I’m going to do some quick math. Four percent of $30B multiplied by .96 equals $28B wasted on training that was never completed, retained, or used by employees.
SL: What about automated reminder or reinforcement systems? There are quite a few apps and systems that promise to help you retain learning.
Research has shown they’re easy to not pay attention to. And they’re easy to disable. And that’s exactly what people do. I faced this problem at BusinessBreakThroughs and developed a solution, an accountability coaching division designed to reinforce the lessons you learned at BBT. The program cost $1800 per month and included a weekly one hour phone session with a coach. During the session, you could ask five pre-specified questions about your training and the coach would provide answers and follow up on your progress in subsequent sessions.
The program was very effective. We tracked performance against the coaching regimes and noted improvement in every parameter included in the one-on-one sessions. The personal interaction drove this. Our courses and systems had plenty of refresher sessions and reminders integrated into them, but they often weren’t used. But people working in cooperation with other people on shared interests did. I think this quote from Daniel Pink’s new book When, makes the point very well:
“We are far more likely to stick to a goal if we have someone holding us accountable. One way to surmount a slump is to tell someone else how and when you’ll get something done.”
I also have to admit I drew some inspiration from sites such as Match.com. Of course, their focus is on romantic interests, ours business. But I sometimes think of RBN as a “dating” site for entrepreneurs. Our at least a romance.
After I left BBT, I was working with a new professional training system on a consulting project and experienced the same problems I’d faced earlier. None of the current social systems were equipped to handle relation-based interactions for professional purposes. That’s when I began to develop the concept of a cloud-based accountability coaching and relationship system.
SL: How does the system work?
First, you begin by filling out a relevant profile. This includes basic information about yourself and your availability to work with another person. You also pick what courses or learning programs you’ve participated in. This enables you to connect with people who are learning the same or similar material.
SL: Where do the course lists come from?
The system is prepopulated with hundreds of learning programs. We’re working closely with corporate training departments and learning systems, both classroom and cloud-based. We’re generating a great deal of excitement with this market because they understand that skill retention and use are important factors in building future business for their operations. There’s no such thing as a course that doesn’t have an advanced or extended curriculum, but if people don’t perceive they’ve received value from the basic program, they won’t buy anything else.
The next step is to pick the questions from the courses you’re taking on which you want to be held accountable. These questions come from the curriculum, but you can add custom and private questions to the list. After you’ve created your profile and picked your courses and questions, you search RBN for people who match your profile, then send an invitation to people in the system who you believe are the best fit to your needs. If they accept your invite, you can send your new partner a suggested date and time to get started. You can see the system in action at the video link below:
SL: Can you have more than one partner?
There is no practical limit to the number of partners you can have, but most people are best served by having a steady partner and a second partner that could focus on something different, such as diet and exercise. All relationships within the system are one to one.
SL: OK, you have two people who’ve agreed to hold each other accountable. What happens next?
To kick off your scheduled appointment, you can call, connect on Skype, or use the communication system of your choice. Once you’ve connected, each party logs into the RBN network and opens up the app. At that point, either party can function as the coach or the coached. You can switch roles at any time.
Using chat, the coach can ask their partner questions about how they’re progressing on their course or training regimen. The system saves your questions and answers, and you can review them at any time. It also saves for each of the two partners with a set of six statistics that can be anything the partners wants to track, such as revenue, sales, profits, even calories or steps if your stats are focused on exercise.RBN App Partnership Screen[/caption]
Also, you can graph your progress as you work through your course and view your interaction via a series of different views.
If RBN is configured for a company or internal operation, there’s a powerful administrative backend to enable courseware and training managers to analyze how people are reinforcing their skills. The system is designed to help management be of value to their staff by being alerted when partners miss their coaching sessions. Nothing else is tracked that is not required to help staff/coaching partners be successful. There’s also a way for coaching partners to rate with stars their partner based on how dedicated they are to the other person’s success. And of course, all user information is kept confidential.
SL: What happens if both or either partners decides to end the coaching relationship?
All they have to do is select the End Partnership button on the front of the app.
SL: What markets are you targeting? Corporate and professional training and learning organizations, both classroom and cloud-based. We’ve shown early alphas of the system to potential customers and they are populating the system with their courses and their students. Charles Byrd, CEO of ByrdWord, Inc., who created 0 to 60 with Evernote training, was one of our first full program and student populations to join. Since then, we’ve on-boarded about one new program each week.
SL: How did you get the product built? Are you a coder? What lessons did you learn during the development cycle?
My coding days are long behind me, but I did work closely with a UI designer on the system before we began coding. Based on my experiences, I believe this is where product development should start, particularly if you’re a domain specialist such as me. As I worked through the UI, I came to understand deeply how the system’s workflow needed to fit together. Thus, when it came time to begin coding the system, I had a strong visual model I reference the programming team back to.
SL: What tools did you use to mock up the UI?
Simple drawing tools. We coded all the initial interface screens in HTML. I didn’t want to use a framework; that encourages complexity. I wanted to build a system that focused closely on building and supporting a close, one to one relationship between two partners. RBN is built on the LAMP stack; PHP, MySQL.
SL: Who did you use for actual product development?
A team from India. They were actually on hiatus between major projects, and anxious to keep their group comradery and communications fresh. They were also a firm that had experience in developing platforms. I negotiated an hourly rate for the development, and monitored and directed the group on a daily basis via Skype every morning. The project went smoothly for the most part and I attribute that, as I’ve already mentioned, to the extensive UI work I did before we began coding. As you point out in the SaaS Entrepreneur, it’s quite possible for a domain expert to lead a development effort in SaaS. This wasn’t true in the era of TimeSlips.
SL: What problems did you face during the development cycle? My primary problem was language. The development manager I worked with was very good with written instructions and communications, but talking was more difficult. Accents can be a problem and Indian English, while not a dialect, doesn’t always map comfortably to American English. As a result, I had to spend time sharpening and strengthening my writing skills. It was worth the investment.
SL: How long did the development cycle take? From concept to deliverable: 12 months. The cost was about $100K.
SL: What’s your monetization model? Per month pricing for RBN is $67 dollars a month. But with site licenses, the cost drops down to under $20 or less for larger communities.
SL: There are a lot of chat programs out there, Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc. Why are people going to use RBN instead of setting up a session on Skype?
First, this is not a chat program; you are live on voice communication with your accountability partner at the time of your session. You can of course use any combination of tools such as Skype and other chat programs, but none of them are specifically designed to create the environment that one-on-one accountability does. It’s not only about the chat or the questions; it’s about the personal relationship that the platform creates.
SL: What lessons do you have to teach startups?
Start by identifying a blood spurting problem that has not been solved. Then:
- Assess how easy or hard it is to identify your target audience
- Analyze how receptive your audience’s reception to your product.
- Quantify the value your system will provide them.
- Locate and work extensively with at least one client. Develop a deep understanding of what they need and how you will solve their problem.
I also strongly suggest you create study a manual process that your software copies and see if it solves the problem; if it doesn’t, head in a different direction. In the case of RBN, I already knew there was a process. The challenge was to use technology to bring one-to-one partnerships into the cloud and do it at reasonable price.
In terms of marketing, establish that there is one for your product. In our case, we can identify the companies and businesses involved in developing courses and learning systems, as well as corporate and HR consumers. This means we can focus our sales and marketing message and strategy. We’re not throwing RBN against the wall and hoping it sticks. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough, particularly in B2B markets.
In terms of financial lessons, I can tell you that things are going to cost more than you think, take longer than you think, and it will take time to jumpstart the sales process. In my opinion, RBN is an excellent example of an existing problem that was not solved by technology until now. In the end, it turns out that a combination of old school person-to-person relationships combined with innovative technology can provide the same results and for far less money than the old school paid coaching model.
I think RBN is going to serve as a model for other new networks to come. The old monolithic systems such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and others are built around mass markets, not personal or focused interactions. If Softletter readers would like to discover if ResultsBreakthrough.com can be a solution for their own organization training needs, I’ll be happy to speak with anyone who would like to set up a free trial. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.