So you heard about project VIP.
Now let’s talk about the shameful ‘Articles and Essays’ that I was involved in some years later.
We fast forward now to 2014 and I was living in Northolt with my partner Daniela.
I was furiously trying to make my tutoring agency work – Gobsmackers!
At Brunel University locked away working on making an intro video for the tutoring agency
And it was working – just pretty damn slowly.
As discussed my go-to-market strategy was flyering (and then getting thrown out of carparks I flyered in) as well as using Gumtree.
Gumtree actually has proven to be a massive gift for growing many aspects of my life.
It’s how I met Pei (left in this picture above) – my business partner for my second tech-startup attempt ‘Meet My Tutor’ – as well as Adomas (an intern in the centre – again from Gumtree) -. It’s how I recruited all of my interns for my first years of trying to grow a company.
It’s also how I met the lady of my last six years – Daniela 😛
As you can see below Gumtree was a place I recruited tutors as long as 7 years ago
So at this time, my students were coming from my flyering activities as well as the content I was putting out on YouTube.
I was producing Gobsmacking videos:
And as you can see I was putting a considerable amount of effort into producing them alongside a Gobsmackers website the Studiobookers team (a startup I was launching) had built out upon Wix.
This, in combination with Tube Toolbox (an automated like/follow/comment tool for YouTube), was driving traction towards my videos – and actually led to business and commercial inquiries from a subsidiary of Coca-Cola.
It was actually again how I would later meet another good friend of mine – Ross Derrick – through YouTube.
Fulham is pre-getting ready for a big night out
This led me down the path of putting a couple of adverts on Gumtree itself to see if I could find some additional students from the platform.
And as it had turned out from a listing of Gobsmackers I’d put onto Yelp – there was a seeming demand for SPSS tuition.
On Yelp (a business listing directory) – I’d received an enquiry from a university student who was happy to pay £50 per hour for around 10-20 hours of SPSS tuition.
That was £500 – £1,000!
Now, this was typically a university module as part of a Psychology degree (more often than not) that was statistically led.
I thought – cha-ching!
I then immediately put one of my usual ads out on Gumtree in search of a tutor who could deliver this alongside putting out ANOTHER ad positioning myself as an SPSS expert.
Of course, I was not but I:
- Looked at existing SPSS ads
- Googled some relevant terms (MatLab, Python, R)
- And then duct-taped together my educational and career background (Warwick>Deloitte)
Slapped up my smiley face to put together a pretty good-looking and well-performing ad.
It wasn’t that hard once I analysed the other ads and figured out how to improve upon them.
(This was also where my journey into understanding SEO was to begin – by playing with Keywords in titles, and descriptions and seeing a direct revenue return from this activity).
From this moment my business would start growing aggressively
As it was then that the phone call came.
I remember being in the living room of our house-share in Northolt at the time.
Ajay, Vijay, Daniela and I were midway through our normal routine of gathering around the television at the end of the day to watch a TV show.
At the end of our respective days – Ajay at our uncle’s office, Vijay at a shopping centre selling kitchens, Daniela cold calling Italian hotels at Harte Hanks, and myself also at my uncle’s office helping them…
The TV was a way to take our minds off things.
I’d rushed off to take the call in the kitchen as it would almost always be work (or someone trying to sell me something) if a call came in.
Since I’d launched the ad on gumtree I’d got several enquiries for students who wanted SPSS support. And so I was also able to find a really good SPSS tutor – Gabrielle who was studying for her PhD at UCL in statistics so was perfect for the role.
She’d go out and teach several of the students I bought in – keeping £25-35 depending upon the work whilst I took the difference (around £10-15 typically)
This time it was different:
A Chinese student at Westminster university answered as I picked up the phone – “hello”
Hello Deepak speaking how can I help?
“Do you help with SPSS?”
Yes, I certainly do – what are you struggling with?
“Can you help with my assignment?”
Sure – I’m a little busy at the moment but I have an excellent friend of mine who’s also an SPSS expert and she’ll be able to walk you through it!
(i.e Uruguayan Gabi)
“Perfect – can she do the assignment?”
Yup she’s at UCL and already finished a psychology degree with a 1st class honours and is now pursuing a PhD in this same space
“Ok great so she can write?”
Then my heart jumped into my mouth.
It then twigged upon me as to what she wanted and I had literally no idea (seems naive in hindsight) that people did things like this.
I paused for a moment….
Daniela and I were struggling as it was. Between her work at Harte Hanks and me working part-time for my uncle – affording things was a real struggle.
Each morning to get to work we’d wake up in the freezing cold of winter and wander to the local bus stop at 7/730am.
Daniela has never been a huge morning person, and when you need to wake up and have to make your way towards a job that you hate…it gets even worse.
So each morning we would catch the 195 to Uxbridge road and then the 427 to Uxbridge.
The mornings would be filled with silence and sleep on the bus.
Any attempt at conversation was futile and I see that looking back upon it – Daniela had lived a life of Italian sunshine in her beautiful country of Italy and now was getting 2 buses each morning with me to go to a job cold calling.
In a country; that without a decent income didn’t offer much of an existence for you.
These were the days of Daniela falling into a deep depression that was very much caused by our struggle as a couple to understand each other and to adjust to each of our personal turbulence.
The struggled to find meaning in our respective careers (we were both lost).
And her being a thousand miles away from everything she knew, alone, living with a man who’d bought her to a house share in crime-riddled Northolt and was banking on what…..
Gobsmacked to make things work.
Daniela was depressed and I wasn’t far behind her. I felt like a failure of a man in being unable to support us.
Yes, she can – we can definitely help you with that!
‘Ok how much?’
She wanted her entire 10,000-word dissertation written. I was scared, shocked and also had no idea how much to charge.
I feel so ashamed about this looking back at it, but know that I did it because I was trying to literally buy some happiness in our lives.
I wanted things to change, I wanted to get us out of this situation I had mired us in.
And so began a strange journey into the essay-writing underworld that was to change our lives forever.
Here’s one of several ads I would rotate between that would drive leads.
But the other interesting part of this was figuring out how to find an actual writer who did this.
I wasn’t comfortable asking Gabi – so AGAIN I turned to gumtree:
And as mentioned that I would model my advert based on other adverts I saw with some modifications.
I tried to use better references, as well as more personal information as a route to building more trust (although those ads above are currently live ads so a lot has changed in 6/7 years!) alongside strategic use of keyword placement.
Gumtree is a search engine and I was able to optimise my listing pretty quickly – alongside figuring out how to launch similar ads in multiple cities to drive more phone calls.
You could feature an ad for as little as £7 and it would deliver sometimes £1,000+ clients.
It was these same ads that I used to actually meet an agency that would do the work for me.
And this was the other part of the journey that also felt seedy and insidious.
Now I had secured a client who wanted her assignment written for £900 with an initial £450 payment – I had to figure out who would write it.
‘Hello, Mahir speaking?’
It was an Indian voice with a UK number…I began aggressively probing him with questions – I had a client, could you offer this, how did it work? How could I trust you, what happens if the work isn’t good, when will I receive it, who are you? What’s your background…
The questions continued – with Mahir answering every single one of them
I’d later find out that he charged me double the normal rate because I was such a pain in the arse.
The first experience was scary as I received funds and paid Mahir £600 ultimately of the £900 (his actual cost was around £250).
But it was from here that a journey of both tutoring and assignment writing began – and evolved – which I’ll continue to talk about in the next email…
And break down the finer components of this both Articles and Essays as well as Gobsmackers.