How we opened a children's robotics center in a small town

    Hi Habr! Today I would like to talk about our experience in opening a children's robotics club and about the nuances that arose in the process.

    At the moment, our team is developing a small network of children's robotics centers in the south of Russia. The first center we opened in September 2017. Since the team is quite skilled, we decided to refuse the franchise right away. It seemed to us: what could be easier than writing your own small educational program? Lego sets of robotics cost some sky-high money, which none of us had at the time of launch. Therefore, the development of a curriculum on electronics and robots based on arduino became a logical step.

    The population of the city in which it was planned to open the first center totaled only 40,000 people. We took children from 7 years old to classes. Through complex mathematical calculations, it was found that in a city with a given number, 200 people could potentially go to robotics. Having considered all the numbers, it seemed to us that this type of activity can bring good earnings. If we take into account the fact that we loved robotics very much and were ready to teach it, then we were absolutely delighted.

    The opening was scheduled for early September, we began to purchase everything necessary and write an educational program in mid-July. First of all, the most responsible member of the team discovered the IP for official registration of labor activities. The main activity chosen was the maintenance of a leisure center for children. (I don’t remember exactly which OKVED)

    The fact is that in order to officially teach, you need an educational license. Getting it is extremely difficult, long and expensive. If you choose the path of the leisure center, then there are only two restrictions: we cannot write in advertising and publicly say that we are engaged in the education of children, and we can not issue official certificates that the child has taken an educational course. In all other respects, the leisure center is practically no different at the time of launch from the educational institution.

    Rental of premises in 15 square meters. m in the city center cost us 450 rubles per square meter. m. It took a week to find the premises. School desks and chairs we asked at the nearest school. The decommissioned furniture, stored for decades in the basement, inspired little trust. We repainted it and changed the countertops. Shelving bought in Leroy Merlin. They are not so expensive, but more importantly, they are ideal for a robotics center. The board and the remaining trifle were purchased from local suppliers. Equipment needed for classes, namely many different electronic components, wires and batteries were ordered in China.

    After half a month of work, we had an equipped room, electronic sets traveled somewhere around the world in search of a destination. The only thing left is to find the first customers. We began to attend various events, carried small robots with us, and handed out leaflets. For the whole of August, 8 people registered for us in this way, which just makes up one group. The children recruited somehow sluggishly, and we could not understand: why? Now, after a long time and full of bumps, I understand that we didn’t do practically everything that could be done wrong. The worst mistake we made was that we thought our customers were children. In fact, our customers are parents, because it is for them the last word and they pay money for the child. Therefore, all advertising should be focused primarily on parents of students.

    The second mistake we made was to rely too much on social networks. In such a small city, online advertising does not work at all. That is completely. One does not even have to talk about any kind of SMM promotion. Perhaps the only source of advertising is “sarafan”. The main problem of the sarafan is the problem of chicken and eggs. They will not talk about you until many people know about you, but many people will not know about you until they talk about you. Based on this, you need to promote advertising by all possible methods, until you get the fewest people who know about you and can start a sarafan. You can easily determine this moment: on one of the days they will just start calling you every half hour and find out the details of children's robotics.

    We had no competitors in the city at all. Neither direct nor potential. No one was involved in the technical development of children, so from this side we could breathe freely.

    In September, we started classes with the first group of 8 people. Initially, they studied the basics of electronics and electricity, learned to assemble various circuits. The main record with us began in September - October. On average, they recruited a new group every two weeks.

    The pricing policy on our part was pretty banal: we looked at how much they charge for such activities in the nearest major city. It turned out - 500 rubles. At 8 lessons per month, 4000 rubles come out. It seemed to us incredibly much, and in a small town no one would have paid that kind of money. We just figured that in our conditions, conducting classes at 150 rubles would be enough, we started from that. After 2 months, they realized how wrong we were, and we had to raise the price, which passed with a creak among our parents. We did not take into account at all that the attendance of children in the classroom fluctuates at the level of 80%, which already removes part of the potential profit. Also, we constantly had to buy new electrical components, as children often lost or burned them.

    An educational program interesting for children to write right away did not work either. What seemed trite and understandable to us, the children did not understand, the opposite is also true. At the moment, we have written a lot of training programs: on the basics of electronics and electricity, the basics of programming games in Scratch, Arduino programming, 3D modeling and others. We have to constantly adapt programs for children, otherwise they lose interest in classes and leave. The main thing in robotics classes is to interest the child as much as possible. Create conditions for complex technical training to take place in an understandable form for him. We did not succeed in creating such an atmosphere right away.

    Only six months later, we were able to more or less work out most of the training and management processes so that classes on children's robotics on our part would cease to be hard labor and begin to bring pleasure and a steady income. During this time, we opened in two more small cities on the same conditions and plan to continue the expansion of the province. Also during this time, our children participated in several major competitions, and in all took first place. A separate topic deserves a comparison of our developed technical program with a standard program on Lego - robotics. Ours proved to be a cut above from all possible sides.

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