Updated: May 22
Everyone is using Zoom for work and school, aren't they? Overnight, Zoom has become the defacto standard for meetings since social isolation became popular or required. Like Kleenex and Rollerblade, Zoom has defined the product category and is no longer just a brand. Why isn't My Coding Place hosting virtual classes and camps for kids on Zoom?
I wrote an earlier blog post with takeaways for software companies trying to appeal to small business. In this evaluation, I did not talk to salespeople like I did during my prior purchasing process, which required a bigger monthly investment and was not a decision that would have been easy to change. Most of these tips are regarding product marketing, product design, and trial design.
We spent many hours and multiple days evaluating options. Because we were testing, we were not ready to subscribe, which ruled out options like Zoom. The Zoom free version is limited to 40 minutes but our classes are one hour long. We started our virtual coding classes for kids using the platforms WebEx and Uberconference. The biggest reason for not going with Zoom was the limitations on the free trial. We simply were not going to invest in a product before evaluating it.
We ended up going with Whereby but evaluated two others with students. WebEx is operated by Cisco which is a well-known networking and cybersecurity company. We used it for classes where students joined with tablets. Unfortunately, the interface is not clean or modern. On top of that, the login process is clumsy and tedious. It was not a tool people enjoyed using, so we used Uberconference for the classes where we knew students were not using tablets. Uberconference is more Zoom-like with a single click to join, and it is easy to use and looks modern and appealing. Unfortunately, Uberconference was not robust and could not run at the same time as Unity software in those classes and lessons, plus if you had another browser window open that you were using at the same time, it could drop you from the meeting. Therefore, neither WebEx or Uberconference were ideal, one because it was not robust and the other because it was not user-friendly.
Fortunately, we found Whereby after a month of evaluating the tools and not being satisfied with either. We know there are many conferencing tools available and small companies with small budgets, but branding and marketing would be a requirement for prospects who do not have the time to read articles to find out about your product. Finding the perfect solution requires persistence because the tools are often hidden in blogs, videos, reviews, and articles. We tested tools like Intercall, Adobe, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams. Adobe called us during our trial, which was a nice touch that set them apart, but their product was too complicated for kids.
The clock was ticking to subscribe to a platform because we had organized virtual workshops for Scratch and Python coding for a Dell employee resource group, with 10 students in a session and six sessions total. We accommodated 20 students last year in our studio but felt that 10 was a reasonable size in a virtual setting. We were going to subscribe to Uberconference if we had to choose one of the two tools, but we were nervous about reliability. Luckily, we came across Whereby 1-2 weeks before we had to make a decision. We randomly found Whereby in a random article on best conferencing tools. Other unknown tools on our list were collaba, 8x8.vc and tico.chat.
Here are the reasons the instructors and students enjoy using Whereby:
easy to join: once students make sure they are running Chrome, joining is as easy as one click. They simply knock and wait to be allowed entry.
fun to use: the emojis that are available are fun to use and easy to throw up on anyone's screen. The emojis are a great way to measure progress and let the students participate quickly and easily without everyone having to talk or type at the same time.
multiple screenshares: this is a highlight and key differentiator. We love that students can share their screens at the same time as each other and the instructor. Even Zoom does not allow this. This innovative feature is what convinced us. The ability to see what other students are working on while looking at the instructor's screen and everyone's faces at the same time is authentic and motivating.
Unfortunately, we needed a different tool for live streaming. Broadcasting and recording is possible in Zoom but since we weren't using Zoom for classes, we didn't default to it for our Facebook Live sessions. As a first-time live streamer, we were happy to find Streamyard after evaluating many tools like BeLive, Vimeo, OBS, Wirecast, and Lightstream. You can do Facebook Lives without streaming software, but we wanted to appear professional to the audience with banners and branding, and we needed a meeting platform like Whereby to broadcast two people and screenshares. With Streamyard, we were able to look polished and seamlessly offer different views of us and our screenshare. Also, Streamyard's trial allowed us to use our own branding which made the experience authentic and one that we wanted to continue.
Live streams from coding schools? Where would we start? At the end of April with no experience streaming, we started a new short-term initiative running Facebook Lives with #myCPlive to show people cool projects they can build with code. On a side note, if you are interested, you can catch the recordings on our Facebook Videos page. The 30 minute sessions were cropped to be more useable to viewers trying to learn these topics.
April 28 - 3D Games featuring Unity
May 5 - Animation featuring Processing
Finding the right streaming software for a beginner was extremely important for this effort. Like finding Whereby, the process required watching videos and reading blog recommendations, as well as testing the application. One provider's tool was just too intimidating and complicated for a newbie, even though we kept getting emails from their support team. If we can't figure something out during the evaluation process, our users will likely have similar issues so it's a bad sign.
In summary, finding the right software for a small business' goals takes great effort, persistence and patience. We spent a lot of time evaluating various tools and did not want to pay for evaluation. That is why Zoom was ruled out at the beginning. Streamyard and Whereby offered trials and we liked them so much, we decided to pay for both, even though at the time the Streamyard trial expired, we only had one Live session remaining. Offering an authentic trial is also important for conversion. This means, don't annoy your trial user with generic branding, like having watermarks all over the screen until they pay.
We are happy to support these software companies and feel very fortunate to have found them just in time for our needs! Innovative software that is fun and easy to use is worth the cost, but finding out about these companies was harder than it should have been! Invest in marketing, get the word out, and make sure you are known by influencers because not all businesses will have time to find your perfect solution! That brings up thoughts on SEO and SEM for another post. Good luck and stay safe!