This report explains our strategy and plans for the next year, and is part of our annual review.
Moving from discovery phase to growth phase
We’ve seen the last three years as our “discovery phase” (as explained in our last business plan). We didn’t immediately focus on growth because first we wanted to answer the following questions:
- Could we make significant progress on the issue of how best to choose a career with social impact?
- Would people listen to our research and change their career plans?
- Would they follow through with these plan changes and actually increase their impact?
- Could we bring about these plan changes scalably and cost-effectively?
- Do we have a working funding model?
Answering these questions took time, especially because it usually takes people a year or so to change their plans, and it takes another year or more to see if they have followed through.
Today, however, we think we can answer “yes” to each question. We believe this means that 80,000 Hours is a project with potentially huge impact: 31% of graduates say making an impact in their work is “essential”, but they have little idea what to do except work in the social sector or give up (“sell out”). So most of their potential impact is wasted.
We can potentially fix that.
As a result, we now intend to move into a “growth phase”. Our career guide and coaching currently bring about around ten significant plan changes per month. Between now and October 2016, we intend to increase that to over fifty per month, focusing on talented graduates under 30.
50 plan changes per month would mean 600 significant plan changes per year. Based on the results of previous plan changes, that would mean the equivalent of 14 new effective altruist non-profits founded each year and millions of dollars of additional donations to the most pressing global problems.
Why end the discovery phase?
We now think we have satisfactory answers to each of the five questions above. I’ll now go over each question, and explain why we believe the evidence more than justifies investing in 80,000 Hours to take it to the next level of scale.
Can we make significant progress on the issue of how best to choose a career that makes a difference?
We think our career guide offers clear evidence that after four years of research, our advice is better that what people normally receive.
Most career advice is focused on the mechanics of getting jobs (such as CV tips) and doesn’t help you at all with big questions like how to make a difference in the world. Moreover, it’s based on anecdote rather than research, not aimed at talented students, and often mistaken.
If you want to make a difference, the usual advice is to go and work in an organisation such as a charity with a social mission you’re passionate about. But as we’ve shown, even if you want to work at a charity (which most people don’t), many social interventions don’t work and these jobs often offer little influence, and do little to build your career capital.
We now have a list of core principles, suggestions for a wide variety of paths both inside and outside the nonprofit sector, a framework for comparing jobs in all sectors, a framework for comparing causes, a rational process for making decisions, in-depth reviews of many common career paths and a rapidly growing community to help. Much of this advice is unique to our site, and as far as we know, no-one else has worked on the question of how to have a social impact with your career as much as us.
Will people listen to our research and change their career plans?
As of April 2014, 25,000 people read our advice each month. A review in early 2014 found 107 significant plan changes due to our work, and a further review in early 2015 discovered another 81. These often represent major shifts in direction, resulting in many tens of thousands of hours spent differently. We’ve also had extremely positive feedback from many others. We think this offers clear evidence that people will listen to us and change their plans based on our advice.
Will people follow through with these plan changes and actually increase their impact?
In early 2014, the evidence that people would follow through was encouraging. A majority of those who reported significant plan changes had already followed through. Now with another year of data, the evidence is significantly stronger. There’s no sign that people are abandoning or regretting their plan changes, or leaving our community. You can read many of their stories on our site.
Do these plan changes result in more impact? Everyone who made a plan change thinks they will have more impact as a result (it’s part of the definition). But there’s also harder evidence, which will be sketched out in the next section.
Can we bring about changes scalably and cost-effectively?
Over the last year, over 70% of the plan changes were primarily attributable to online content, which is very scalable: to get more plan changes, we could simply drive more of our target market to the site.
What about cost-effectiveness? If you simply divide our historical costs by the number of plan changes, you get less than £2,000 and 5 weeks of labour per plan change. Given that a plan change represents a major shift in direction for one of the world’s most talented young graduates, with decades of work ahead of them, you’d expect this to be worth it. And our detailed estimates from April 2014 suggest that the additional impact of the plan changes is many times their costs, which is especially encouraging given our small scale.
Since our April 2014 estimates, the evidence is even stronger. Some of the plan changers earn to give, and donate more because of us. The amount the largest donors intend to donate within the next three years due to us increased about ten-fold to £6.9m. This year, we also identified five professional non-profits which likely wouldn’t exist without 80,000 Hours, and now collectively have a budget larger than our own. And this doesn’t include any impact which will result from people we have helped who have gone to build skills, enter research or enter politics: we regard their potential as equally or even more important than the impact of donations from people who are earning to give.
See more detail in our review of program performance.
Do we have a working funding model?
We fundraise by collecting evidence of significant plan changes, then raising donations from our community and former users based on the evidence. So far we’ve raised over £500,000, of which £130,000 comes from former users, showing that the approach can work. 2014 was our most successful year of fundraising – we quickly made our stretch target. The total of donations made by our community also continues to grow very rapidly, and we expect it to exceed £10m per year within a couple of years just from those earning to give.
As a fallback option, last year we also showed that users would probably pay enough for coaching that it could cover its costs from fees.
We got into Y Combinator
A final reason to end the discovery phase is that we were admitted to Y Combinator, a startup accelerator which is widely regarded as the best in the world, and whose alumni include Airbnb and Dropbox.
Y Combinator only accepts startups that are in a position to grow massively, and with a selection rate of only 1%, admission into the program is a vote of confidence in our potential, and puts us in strong position to focus on growth from June.
Plans going forward
Our goal is to go from ten significant plan changes per month to fifty per month by October 2016.
One option would simply be to hire a team of ten coaches, initially based at top universities. This would take several years to do well, but would mean we could get ten times bigger, with a cost per plan change under £2,000 (similar to previous coaching).
In fact, we think we can do much better than this by focusing on online content. We’ll begin by adding career profiles, creating interactive tools (such as a careers test), answering common questions (like whether to pursue a Masters) and rewriting our most important articles. We expect this to increase the fraction of online users who change their plans.
At the same time, we can bring a lot more traffic to the site by writing sharable content (as we’ve done before). We also expect significant press coverage in August due to the launch of Will’s book, which is going to be closely tied to 80,000 Hours. Then from September, we will likely focus on outreach to students at universities, which we think could easily get thousands more people in our target market signed up to the newsletter.
Overall, we expect to be able to scale up faster and with a lower cost per plan change through online content compared to coaching.
Because significant plan changes is a lagging metric, month-to-month we’ll judge our success largely by “user reading time” – the total monthly reading time of everyone who has given us their email address. We think this metric is a good proxy for how many highly engaged readers we have, which is a good predictor for people likely to make significant plan changes. Having email addresses also allows us to do surveys, providing us with more concrete data.
The next year should be an incredibly exciting time for 80,000 Hours, as we really start working to bring our ideas into the mainstream.
Our goal of 50 significant plan changes per month (or 600 per year) would put us on track to engage about 10% of the 30,000 most talented English-speaking graduates. That would mean that in 20 years, around 10% of leaders in the English-speaking world would be focused on maximising their social impact as effectively as possible. And that would be enough to make a major dent in some of the biggest global problems, such as global poverty, factory farming and protecting the world from catastrophic risks.
From there we could expand much further. Ultimately we want to provide far better career advice for everyone, and for social impact to become one of the key factors that people consider when choosing a career.
If you’d like to hear about our plans and progress as they unfold, subscribe to our updates group.