I Teach English Abroad… & Why I Moved On From My Startup PeoplePledge

When I started PeoplePledge with my wife (when she was only my girlfriend back then!), I never knew how much impact it would make.

So far, we’ve fundraised over $1,000,000 to help families struggling with their medical bills across Australia, USA and South America. We took our platform international, and spread the word about our crowdfunding platform overseas. We were nominated and won the Pride of Australia Medal. We were also nominated for the Young Australian Achievers Award. We were recognized as one of the Top 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs in Australia for 3 years in a row. PeoplePledge also viewed as one of the Top 100 Smart Innovations, and also won a Startup Salud Award (Startup Health Award), and gained funding from Startup Chile, UDD Ventures and the Australian Government.

PeoplePledge has been with me since I proposed to my wife, got married and had my first child. It has not only been an integral part of helping other families, but it has also been an important part of my own life. In fact, the whole inspiration of PeoplePledge stemmed from my own family’s challenge with paying for the medical bills of my late grandfather. There is so much to love and admire about PeoplePledge, and together, our team and I poured our hearts and souls into creating it, growing it and sharing it with the world.

I learned what it took to create something you truly love, something amazing and inspiring, and to work on it with an unshakeable passion.

We’ve been running PeoplePledge since 2013, so for about 4 years now.

When we first started it, I had visions of it potentially being the one main thing that I would work on for my entire life, in order to help others and also using it as a vehicle to make a positive contribution in the world… but as of right now, things have changed.

What has changed for me?

A number of life events and business-related events have come across my way. Here are the top ones that have influenced my decision to move on from PeoplePledge:

a) Prioritizing my own family and health

PeoplePledge was all about helping other families and helping them with critical health issues that they were facing. The values of family and health were major themes of the business. Yet, when I began reflecting on my own life, I realized I began sacrificing my own family and health which I never wanted to do or intended.

During the PeoplePledge journey, I got married and then had my first child. Now, I realize that I have to take full responsibility of my own family, and that is paramount in my life, especially when I consider the time and focus I need to spend quality time with both my wife and child. I was finding that running a startup, especially a investor-funded one, has been very high stress and all-consuming, which is counterproductive to raising a young family with whom you want to spend time and for whom you want to be there.

Not only that, I slowly began to notice that I could no longer fit into any of my clothes. I had to buy larger clothes and many of my clothes began ripping because I was literally busting at the seams!!! I had become obese, and I was neglecting my own health. Looking back on it now, I turned to food as a comfort for when I felt stressed in my business and with the pressures of a new family. Also, I didn’t have enough time to prepare quality meals for myself so I ate junk food, and I also didn’t have time for myself to exercise. This also was a major contradiction to the value of health which we wanted to stand for with PeoplePledge, and it felt so weird for me to be dedicating all my time and energy to helping others’ health, when I couldn’t even take care of my own health properly.

b) Challenges with the crowdfunding market

Another problem we began to face was the the crowdfunding market itself. We were the first to bring the innovation of medical crowdfunding to Australia and to Chile, however, there was already very strong, highly funded competitive forces in the USA. We found that the largest and best market for our platform actually was the United States, where there was a big need for it, however we would need millions of dollars of more funding to compete there.

c) Sticking to our values

However, I would say the biggest problem that we faced was a major conflict of direction and values with our investors. When we took investor money, we had hoped that their goals and values aligned with our own, and we presumed they would give us advice while we would consider it, and generally leave us alone to let us do what we did best. Our primary focus was to help families with their medical bills, and we wanted to do it in a lean, cost-effective way, and we wanted to have the biggest say in the direction of PeoplePledge.

We had thought that the investors would respect our vision, expertise and methods, but once they wrote us the checks, they tried to take over the company, telling us what to do, and demanding that we focus on selling and making money, and they were very nonchalant about wasting money, or to put it bluntly “flushing money down the toilet”. What’s worse is that they had some of their staff giving us advice about marketing and entrepreneurship when some of their staff members had no experience in marketing or being an entrepreneur themselves.

I don’t mind getting advice from others who have experience. I do mind being told what to do by others who don’t know what they’re talking about, and just pretend to. I put more weight on advice given by people who have had success in the area in which they are giving advice. What irked me most was that some investors and their staff members demanded certain things that were against PeoplePledge’s core values, and yet they were not the major shareholders of the company, so they didn’t have the right to do so.

Brutal lesson learned: Taking investor money is not always a good thing. Sometimes it’s actually better not to take investor money. If you do take investor funding, you need to know, like and trust your investors, and they need to respect you and how you do things, and it’s best that they have had success and expertise in key areas that will help your business.

What will happen to PeoplePledge?

We sold off our business and medical crowdfunding tech in Latin America, and we parted ways with our investors with whom we were having conflicts. We closed down the PeoplePledge office in Chile, and we are no longer going to offer medical crowdfunding services in the USA.

Doing this was not an easy decision, and it has taken about a year or so to do all of this, during which I had a lot of time to reflect on PeoplePledge, my family and myself.

But…

Don’t worry? —? PeoplePledge Australia isn’t going anywhere. PeoplePledge Australia is our baby, and that’s where it all started, and I still see the need for it in Oz. Therefore, we are still continuing medical crowdfunding for struggling Australian families.

We designed it to be easy to maintain so there’s absolutely no reason to shut it down. I’ll fix serious bugs, ensure smooth running of the service, and may think about ways to reinvest some of the revenue to improve it. But I’m not good at focusing on many things at once, so for my own sanity I’m considering it feature complete while I focus on my family and also get started at my new job as Teacher in a school in Asia.

This wasn’t an easy decision since it cuts short PeoplePledge’s potential. But actually it’s already met the modest goals I set out to achieve 4 years ago. Despite PeoplePledge having struggled as a startup and the pains and hardships we had to go through, I consider it a success.

If anyone decides to use PeoplePledge Australia from now on, please get in touch if you have any major problems, but please keep in mind that most of the service will be automated and that we’ve scaled down our team, and we will only be working on it part-time from now on.

What exciting projects am I working on right now?

Immediately after moving on from PeoplePledge in Latin America and the USA, I had several months of soul searching. I felt lost and confused. I didn’t do much in terms of work and I intentionally did not keep myself busy, so that I could have plenty of time to spend with my new family, and figure out what I want to do next.

As for the future, I’m excited to teach English abroad in a Private English School in Asia. This sounds a little random and left-field, but it’s actually not.

During the time I was in Latin America to grow PeoplePledge, I taught myself Spanish since I needed it for business and for my everyday living. As I developed my Spanish language skills, I realized that I loved the language learning process. Not only that, there were actually times when cash flow with PeoplePledge was tight, so I would teach English part-time to Chilean business people, high school students as well Spanish diplomats and lawyers. I discovered that I actually had a knack for teaching languages too, and for sharing my knowledge on how to learn languages efficiently, using research-based methods and the latest technology.

I decided to teach English in Asia, since I can still teach English as a Foreign Language to students, but I also have the ambitious goal to teach myself Chinese (which I have been trying to do for a long time now, but have consistently failed in the past). Plus, living in Asia means I’m closer to my extended family in Australia (which is important for my child).

I’m teaching English part-time for only a few hours a day, which gives me more hours in the day to exercise, spend time with my wife and child, and even time to work on passion projects related to language learning and tech.

In future, I envisage myself perhaps building technology related to language learning, education and literacy. Right now, I’m really interested in the fields of applied linguistics and computer-assisted language learning.

I’ve already built myself some apps that I’ve hacked together for myself, which I may release to the public. But for now, I’m working on them in private, and simply for myself. I just want to focus on understanding the language learning and education fields, and focus on actually helping my students in my classes succeed and reach their goals.

I’m also getting interested in projects related to affordable homes, as I’m finding that I seem to have an interest in real estate and housing, but this project is still in the idea-stage.

Overall, I want to simplify my life and focus on my family and health. Of course I still want to help and inspire people, as I see that as my life’s mission, but for now I teach English abroad… which certainly is still very important.

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About the author : Matthew Alberto