My phone lit up in the middle of the night because Paul had sent a message. He had an idea he wanted to bounce off Ben and myself. A few Zoom calls, endless text exchanges and a trial or two later, Spark’n - our brand new short-form online experience platform - was born.
With the pandemic still looming in many parts of the world, remote work remains the new normal for the foreseeable future, which means that online meetings continue to fill up our work calendars. But nine months into the Zoom era, these meetings have become dry, dull and draining.
So we asked ourselves: What if there was a way to make these virtual gatherings more fun? What if there was an easy way to break the monotony of weekly calls, or to breathe inspiration into a team’s morale?
Our answer: let’s add a spark of energy, creativity, and fun into your online meetings. Spark’n is an online platform that allows expert hosts, or “Sparks”, to lead 15-minute mini-experiences during corporate online meetings and events to create this energy.
Over the past three months, we have put our heads together to bring the Spark’n concept to a place where we are ready to share it with the world. Thanks to help from a select few hosts inside our experience hosting community (you know who you are!), coupled with a strong “go live” attitude, we recently began connecting corporate teams and Sparks as part of a Beta Trial to see if our idea has legs. Turns out, it does. It really does.
As the AFEH community is near and dear to the three of us, we wanted to share a few of the top line insights that helped form the idea of Spark’n ahead of our upcoming webinar “Online Experiences: What’s Next?”, as well as the learnings from our Spark trials that have crystalized the concept in our minds.
Our hope is that these learnings will trigger conversations inside the AFEH community and also ignite any potential Spark’n hosts to reach out and Become a Spark themselves.
Let’s dive in.
The idea that COVID-19 would be a short blip in our 2020 plans quickly evaporated when companies such as Google announced that their entire workforce would be working remotely for at least 12 months, if not longer. With anecdotal evidence of an increasing trend towards corporate bookings on platforms such as Airbnb, and recent discussions of online experiences becoming part of an estimated trillion dollar addressable market, we realized that there is still a huge market opportunity to connect experience hosts with remote work teams.
The rush to be one of the first online experience hosts on existing travel platforms was staggering. Platforms across the board received thousands of applications, and quite simply became unable to respond to potential hosts in a timely manner due to their own limited resources. That same problem still exists today, which has left a pool of potential online hosts without a marketplace to list on.
This pool potentially expands further with a shortened experience format. Creating a one hour (plus) online experience, and performing that experience on a regular basis, can exclude certain hosts. Creating an intensified fifteen minute presentation however, can open the platform to an additional cohort of hosts, or allow for multiple experiences from the same host who can ‘break up’ an existing long-form online experience.
Setting the price of an online experience is one of the most difficult things for a host to accurately determine, especially in a crowded marketplace when hosts are competing for bookings with other hosts. It can also be one of the most significant barriers to entry for potential guests too. But can this pricing dilemma be completely taken out of the equation by regulating an exact market-entry price point for all experiences? Our business model seeks to create a price point which offers sufficient compensation for hosts (for a low burden interaction), whilst simultaneously being affordable for corporate teams to engage with (and have those teams see the value-add of the experience at that price).
We do not want to create ‘Airbnb-lite’, or ‘Tripadvisor-mini’. Spark’n is different.
While spark’d meetings will be naturally social in their nature, Team Managers have the option to share a business goal with their chosen Spark when they book them, so that these goals can be incorporated in their storytelling. Sparks can then intertwine a business focus into their experience, whether it’s to enhance a team’s creativity or to cleverly present new ways of untangling problems through the medium of the Spark’s special subject matter. By doing so Sparks are able to educate in an entertaining and engaging manner.
Another unique characteristic of Spark’n is spontaneity. While Sparks are booked individually and in advance of meetings, team members may not even be aware that a spark is about to happen. This adds a surprise element to an otherwise routine and dull meeting, making the Spark a bright spot in each team member’s day.
As we hypothesized, a fifteen minute experience hosted by an expert raised the spirits of the teams in our trial run. Based on user feedback, managers felt that having a Spark in the meeting uplifted the overall vibe of their meeting and helped in getting the creative juices flowing from each team member. One manager even mentioned that some of his team members “opened their video for the first time” during the spark’d meeting.
The feedback from our trial Sparks to the fifteen minute sessions has also been incredibly positive. The condensed time creates an intensified level of energy for the host as well as the guests, and at the same time places very little burden on a Spark’s daily agenda.
Because of these promising results, the managers of the teams that we spark’d expressed their interest in booking their Spark for a longer, separate session (at the standard per person cost that a Spark sets individually) as a holiday or team building activity. While fifteen minutes can spice up a meeting, there is certainly demand for the original version of an experience. This is a favorable situation for both the Spark and the team -- teams get to “taste test” different experiences in a low commitment way and sparks are able to break through a company and expand their client network.
Whilst a fifteen minute experience offers little burden on a Spark’s time, we quickly learnt that the shortened format means there is minimal room for Sparks to flounder in their storytelling. For Sparks to deliver a targeted spark of energy, a well structured presentation, with interactivity built into the experience, worked best. The organized structure ensured a constant stream of energy whilst abiding to time limits. Additionally, Sparks that were able to link a tenuous business goal or lesson into their presentation resonated particularly well with team managers.
At this point, we still have more questions than answers. We’re certain that more learnings are bound to come as we look to formally launch Sparkn in early 2021. Will Sparkn set the world of online experiences ablaze? Stay tuned for the next update! 👍