In the fast-changing world of EdTech, start-up Gojimo is a name to look out for. In March the company won the Publishing for Digital Minds Innovation Award at the London Book Fair; last week its founder George Burgess was listed among The Bookseller’s Rising Stars. It is now raising a further £1m, with half of that via a crowd-funding platform.
As the magazine noted: “Burgess is one of those whizkid go-getters who makes one despair of a wasted youth. At 15, Burgess’ eBay shop was earning more than £40,000 a year, and in the intervening eight years he has helped found three different companies. One of those, Gojimo, he launched while he was doing his A-levels when he became frustrated by the dearth of quality education apps. So with a freelance coder he began designing his own revision app, and continued to develop the idea when he attended Stanford University. He dropped out of Stanford to return to the UK and focus on Gojimo when the start-up was awarded $1m in seed money from investors.”
Burgess believes this is the beginning of major disruption in the education space, with mobile savvy students (as he was) desperate for re-imagined revision material, trusted (as publisher content has been for decades) but re-worked (in way only a start-up has the skills and desire to do) for how students access and use material today.
He believes the market is worth $100bn, and has sold his company to investors on the basis that this is a billion-dollar opportunity. Gojimo is also one of an increasing number of tech start-ups who have engaged with publishers, but quickly worked out that to get things done they would also need to circumvent the traditional players (remember Flooved?), and create their own content, bringing that premium content on-stream only when they can get the deals in place with the major publishers. He believes publishers must now evolve their offering, with Gojimo sitting in pole position with students already sitting inside its eco-system.
Here are 11 questions I asked George:
What is Gojimo?
Gojimo is the number one revision app in the UK. Spurred out of a project I started six years ago when I was 17, basically to produce revision apps for students. I was a student at the time, I couldn’t find anything, that was the pain point I was trying to solve. Over many years it has twisted and turned—we were a development agency with publishers for a while—but now we are single platform/eco-system delivering high quality content covering all the major secondary school subjects for UK, helping students prep for their exams.
How does it work?
In terms of product and features: you find the relevant material, download it to your device locally, and then it is all assessment based. It sits on your phone - enabling students to study on the move. The initial model is to sell premium content from our publishing partners—on board already are McGraw-Hill and OUP, with others to come—where we take a cut from each sale. We have a bunch of other ideas around premium services and features that we think complement our existing offering already. But I’m not going to talk about that now.
How big could you become?
Globally, exam prep and tutoring is a $100bn industry, our goal is to be the number one digital exam preparation brand in the world. It starts with the UK, this is where we are, it is where we have got the product ready and tested it. Last year we spent refining the product, and from January have seen 50% month-on-month growth. We now have a 250,000 monthly users in the UK—we estimate that we hit about 15% of all GCSE students. That to us is really compelling, that we can get to that proportion in four or five months. Now we are starting to look at how we take this and make it international. We recently launched in Ireland, and we are now the number education app. That proves to us that our marketing model works. Our strategy in terms of breadth of content, trying to cover the majority of subjects and provide it all in one eco-system, is compelling: there is long tail of other education apps covering the Irish curriculum, but we provide it all in a single place on a student’s phone.
Where does the content come from?
All of the free content, and content we start with in each market, is content we produce. We’ve developed a bespoke in-house content creation and management tool that enables us to do that really quickly and effectively. We’ve now got over 50,000 unique assessment items; they appear over 200,000 times because they are re-used over the different curricula where they apply. We work with teachers and grad-students who write the content - teachers fact check it and make sure it is relevant to the courses. Designers repurpose the assets into our own style, and we have two people in-house who work on that and approve it when it is ready. This means, we can produce it quite quickly and at scale.
How do your contributors find out about you?
We actively go out and find them, through our now networks, through twitter, looking at ex-examiners, and existing authors. We find teachers reaching out to us when they spot a gap. It is incredible once they become aware of us how involved they want to become. We do pay for the contributions, too.
It is not user generated content: students can’t go in there and submit a question, and they will never be able to. The number one risk is the quality of the content and the relevance. Ours is curated material—it is not crowdsourced. It is a new take on traditional educational publishing. Some of the publishers we know are starting to use authoring tools for things like MCQs [Multiple Choice Question Exams] but they are still quite slow and it can be 18 months before they get the product out. Publishers can probably figure out how to do this in the long run, but they are not trained to think of innovative new models and approaches to their work. We came to it from: ‘we have enough money in the bank for another 12 months, how we do cover the British curriculum in time?’
Are you in competition with publishers?
What we will be offering from most partners is e-books: we are just waiting for signatures on contracts. The idea is that you take the chemistry quiz, realise you don’t know enough, and then buy the e-book from one of our preferred partners. So in that sense it is complementary. In some respects we are competing though, because we are producing education content, albeit in another form, and giving it away free. If you look at other industries that have been disrupted, that is the origin of disruption. Publishers have only have themselves to blame for that, because we tried to work with them from day one, and they were too slow.
What funding have you raised?
I did an early round with friends, family, and my network. That was to kick-start the business formally. Once we’d pivoted and begun building the Gojimo platform, we went to traditional venture capitalists and did a £1m seed round led by Index Ventures, who have done companies like Facebook, LoveFilm, Skype, and JamJar Investment (from the founders of Innocent Drinks).
We sold them on the big vision: there is a billion dollar opportunity in this space. We will need to fight to get it, but someone will get it. Typically, venture capital firms are looking for billion dollar exits, they don’t care about anything else in-between. It was crucial we had that vision. We are not looking to do a $10m exit to a partner in the near future. We are raising more money right now, and are launching a crowd-funding campaign, via CrowdBnk.com. We are looking to raise in the region of £1m, and we have already had half of that committed. There are a bunch of reasons why we are doing it this way: we have appeal among the masses (that instant understanding of what we are doing), and we like the idea of building a network of ambassadors.
What are your costs?
We are a team of eight, all based in London in Shoreditch. We are a tech company, and that’s how we see ourselves. Half our team our developers, and we want to continue that way. We want to be constantly improving the app. A huge amount of cost is on this development, but increasingly it is also on content, ensuring we produce high quality stuff at high volume. It requires investment, but we can still do it more affordably than the Pearsons or OUPs because of the model we built. More will be going into marketing too - most of it via paid Facebook ads.
How do you see your relationships with publishers developing?
Many publishers are willing to work with us even though we are starting to compete, because they can’t figure mobile out. They want to see what we can do with their material. We can say, your revision material is a consumer purchase and we now reach 15% of those GCSE students who want that content. Publishers are really good at creating high quality content, but to date they seem to be very limited on the forms and formats on which to distribute that content. I’ve seen a lot of companies try to work with publishers, and the problem everyone has is that publishers are very reluctant to do anything at scale. We’ve had to pivot and begin to create our own content: we had to. You die waiting for content deals. It becomes self-fulfilling a publisher tries one platform, but it fails because the platform can’t get enough content, and then the publisher goes away thinking that the opportunity does not exist. Ultimately, publishers need to be a little bit willing to experiment, and embrace it. Otherwise in the long term they are going to be out of a job. We are now recruiting people to run our content team—including a content lead. That is a very interesting role. It would suit someone from an educational content background, but wants to run it on steroids. We’ll be looking for other content people to join that team.
How will students interact with these premium e-books?
The e-books are not designed to be read page by page. We don’t want to empower students to read the whole book, but to dig into the section they need and consume it. We break the e-books down into very small chunks. We run through the ePub and pick out the headers, and turn them into topic items. There is no such thing as a page: you cannot start at the beginning, you have to select a topic. It is new way of interacting with old style of content, but we think presenting it much more effectively.
What’s with the name?
The name is meant to be random and playful. But we worked with a branding agency, and they took the idea of goji berries that make you smarter, and mobile. You don’t need to know this, but it is a nice story.