Startup profile: Wepul, the new app that connects neighbours for fun skill shares
Are you an exceptionally skilled juggler of oranges? Do you know how to rock ‘welcome to the jungle’ on electric guitar? Think you can bake the best blueberry muffins in Bristol? Wepul want to know about you!
We all have amazing and varied skills that we can share with others in our neighbourhood, and this is exactly what Bristol-based startup Wepul is harnessing.
“It’s kind of like Airbnb for skills, tips and tricks”
Wepul’s app connects those looking to learn new skills with neighbours offering ‘microlessons’ of between 30 minutes to 3 hours, on virtually anything you can think of.
The idea is that your connections are ‘hyperlocal’ (think next door, not 3 miles away), are one-off and are super specific.
Check out one Wepul user learning salsa in the video below:
Mark James, the app’s co-founder, tells us the Wepul app was built out of a very common frustration – trying (and struggling) to learn something new on your own. For Mark, it was a desire to learn how to skateboard. He tells us: “After spending a fair bit of time falling on my bum I was asking myself: Am I doing something fundamentally wrong? Have a just bought a really crap skateboard? Am I doing it all right, I’m just new and this is to be expected?
“The ambition was to use technology to help us go and meet the people in our neighbourhood we would otherwise never meet”
“I watched a few YouTube clips and while it showed me other people skating successfully, it didn’t answer any of those questions. It occurred to me that there were probably about 10,000 school kids who could answer those questions within about 3 mins and I’d be happy to pay them, but there was no way of finding them.”
Fellow co-founder, Sebastian Ritter found he was often looking for ways to get him and his wife off the sofa – seeking out all sorts of courses only to find out they were miles away and incredibly expensive.
“I took a one-off lesson where I learned a tune on the Ukulele”
Mark explains: “The ambition was to use technology to help us use technology a little less, get off our bums, away from the TV a little and go and meet the people in our neighbourhood we would otherwise never meet. It’s kind of like Airbnb for skills, tips and tricks.”
With the app only just live and available in the app store, the Wepul team are celebrating the success that comes with bringing an idea to reality. Mark adds: “It’s very early days for us as the app has only been live for a few weeks. That said, I’ve had a few incredible experiences. I took a one-off lesson where I learned a tune on the Ukulele (pictured right).
“That evening, when feeding my 1-year-old daughter, rather than being plonked in front of the TV while she ate her gruel, I sat and played the (albeit limited) ukulele to her while she sang with glee. That beautiful moment wouldn’t have happened without Wepul and the kind people teaching.”
But as well as learning through their own app, the Wepul team learned quite a few of their own startup lessons along the way. Mark tells us: “We launched a website originally about 3 years ago and made so many mistakes despite being seasoned designers and engineers.
“The South West is perfect for the sort of people that we want on our app”
“We had no monetisation strategy. We thought “Well, we don’t really care too much about the money, we just want the site to help people do fun new things,” not realising that if you want to create something that’s actually useful to people, it will require constant development and iteration, all of which is costly, so we need the site/app to make a modicum of money from the start.
“We originally positioned all transactions as swaps. You teach me X, I’ll teach you Y in return. We later learned that in order to find these perfect matches, you need millions of people in close proximity to each other and that only comes when you’ve proven you can build something useful to people.
“Lastly, we all love the idea of the skill exchange but when push comes to shove, returning the favour and teaching someone the thing you’ve promised just becomes a chore.
Reinventing the business
Nonetheless, being based in the South West helped build things back up, as Mark explains: “The South West – particularly parts of Bristol – is perfect for the sort of people that we want on our app. The culture is diverse enough that you get a cornucopia of skills on offer but small enough that there seems to be a genuine warmth that’s absent in other more metropolitan areas.”
And, lessons well learnt, he offers this advice to anyone looking to follow in their footsteps: “Do everything you can to hold on to the core problem you want to solve while trying as hard as you can to prove to yourself that the solution you have in your head is wrong.”
The Wepul app is now available for download in the iTunes store with an Android version coming soon. To find out more about the app, check out the Wepul website or follow them on Twitter here: @wepul.