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Q&A: HeyKiki, an Online Matchmaker of Learning


Until now, finding a palates protégé or a basket-weaving buddy was left to luck or the occasional random personal ad. Now, thanks to a new website called HeyKiki.com, students and teachers can find each other in the company’s online learning marketplace of sorts.

Founded by Joe Vadakkekara and Alka Goel, HeyKiki.com launched in 2009 and connects like-minded individuals with instructors or practice buddies for interests ranging from sports and language to arts and music.

Co-founder Joe Vadakkekara tells BusinessNewsDaily what this new social networking startup is all about.

BusinessNewsDaily: What does HeyKiki do?

Joe Vadakkekara : At its heart, HeyKiki is setting out to help people lead more active and interesting lives. In a city as big and fast-paced as New York, there's so much to do that it can be overwhelming at times. People want to do more with their time but they often don't know where to start. That's where HeyKiki comes in.

HeyKiki.com is a simple, user-friendly site that's designed to connect users with trusted local instructors and practice partners for a wide variety of activities. From language lessons to personal training to pretty much whatever you can think of. Its mantra is simple: You know nothing — learn. You know a little bit — practice. You know something — teach. So it really draws people in from a multifaceted approach to crowdsourcing; from participants to instructors alike. All through a location-based platform designed to foster a community of like-minded activity enthusiasts.

BND: Where did the concept of HeyKiki originate?

J.V.: It was during a Sunday afternoon at Sheep's Meadow in Central Park. We saw activity all around us … running, walking, cycling, blading, frisbee, etc. People were genuinely happy to be enjoying activities they liked with people they liked. We realized then that people would be more active if they had a credible source to find trusted instructors to learn new hobbies or someone nearby with whom to practice an existing one. At the same time, we realized there must also be many people with a special skillset (who may or may not be professional instructors or trainers) that could find new students in their neighborhood and make some extra money. We wanted to build a platform where people could get out of their ordinary routines, meet like-minded people and make life more exciting by participating in their activity of choice.

BND: The name HeyKiki is unusual, is there some significance behind that?

J.V.: We geared our site towards people who love life and live it to the fullest. Someone that gets a kick out of life. So "Kiki" just became a playful twist on getting a kick out of life.

Our mascot is a fun-loving activity monster who embodies the spirit of life, enthusiasm and curiosity that we promote on the site. Kiki acts as a motivator and represents the side of us that wonders, "What else is out there? What haven’t I tried? What can I improve upon? What can I teach?" We think everyone has a bit of Kiki in them and we ask them to embrace that side — to Say Hey to Kiki!

BND: How do you market your business?

J.V.: Although the site is functional nationwide and globally, we are focusing our initial marketing efforts in one market (NYC metro area) to establish a footprint and then expand city by city from there. We are looking to attract local instructors and practice partners to build a trusted community through targeted channels (social media, public relations, partnerships, etc.)

BND: What is your business model? Who pays you to use the site?

J.V.: The site is currently free for members to search or post listings and will always be free for members to search and connect with instructors and practice partners. After showing instructors they can generate leads through the HeyKiki community, we plan to charge instructors a minimal fee for premium listings and services. There are also other revenue sources in the pipeline.

BND: What has been your greatest challenge since starting this business?

J.V.: The greatest challenge, as is with many startups, is increasing brand awareness while moving forward in a timely and cost-efficient manner with limited capacity and capital.

BND: How many people actively get onto HeyKiki on a given day and how many of those actually connect with a teacher or practice partner on a given day?

J.V.: We have seen significant interest and member registrations during our alpha period and that momentum has carried into our recently launched beta version.  At this time we are not revealing specific company metrics.

BND: Your website lists hundreds of activities. Are you able to accommodate all of them?  For example, could someone actually find a Latvian teacher?

J.V.: Our initial marketing efforts focus on a select group of activities where we plan to build out significant content in each of those areas. As we grow, more content in niche activities will follow. Having said that, the site allows instructors or practice buddies to post for any/all of the activities listed; and allows members to add additional activities that may not be listed. The reason for this is to provide members with the ability to explore the potential options and come across activities they may not have thought of on their own. At the time of this interview, I didn’t notice any Latvian teachers on the site — yet! But we welcome anyone skilled in Latvian to post a class or practice buddy request.

BND: Today’s social media connects people with no face-to-face contact, your business puts people together face to face, was that deliberate?

J.V.: Yes. Most social media connections only revolve around online connectivity which is more of the same thing ... tech-bound, virtual encounters. We specifically wanted to provide a social platform where people connect online to actually meet offline, to become more active and social in real life, rather than virtual time. There’s something to be said about personal interaction, and with everything going digital/mobile these days, we are quickly losing face-to-face contact.

BND: How do you assure your users the legitimacy of the teachers found on the website?

J.V.: Currently, most people choose instructors through word of mouth or take a stab in the dark based on location and convenience using endless Google results or scouring Craigslist. Our members can choose instructors/teachers based on ratings and reviews from fellow members. They can also connect with other members who have taken a class or lesson through our internal messaging system to receive more feedback about specific instructors/teachers. We give our members the tools they need to find the right instructors and practice partners to meet their needs.