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Interviews

DIFFERENTIATION – THE KEY TO THRIVING IN A SATURATED MARKET

Graham Glass, CEO of Cypher Learning

 

What has enabled Cypher to continue to grow in an increasingly saturated market?

Recognising opportunities for growth around the world is actually one of the things that has helped us grow. We realized that there were so many opportunities outside of the U.S or Western Europe and actually, a lot of our revenue comes from outside of these regions. For example, with our education based LMS, NEO, we have schools and institutions in the Philippines, Latin America, Norway, Australia, and more. The way we have created the product allows the flexibility for it to be tailored to each educational institution’s exact needs and because of this process, we can provide different languages, different elements of learning and really help the teachers in each country make the most out of the system.

 

You have recently expanded into four more locations: Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Russia. What was the reasoning behind deciding on these locations?

The growing popularity of our learning platforms has made it possible for the company to expand quickly and cover more of the market around the world. The selection of the new sales offices came as a natural move, as we started to get more and more customers in those locations, and we wanted to seize the opportunity to expand even more. We also wanted to provide local support to our customers, which is an important aspect in our strategy. Since we already had an office in The Philippines, opening new locations in Indonesia and Malaysia was essential. In the case of Australia, since we launched the APAC version of our platforms, with servers hosted in Sydney, it was also vital to have a sales office as well.

 

What is different about your products compared to your competitors?

CYPHER LEARNING is currently the only company on the market that provides a learning platform for each e-learning segment: academic, corporate, and entrepreneurs. Our products are built on the same core platform. They share some functionalities and the overall design of the platform, but they’re targeted towards different markets. NEO is an LMS for schools and universities, MATRIX is an LMS for businesses, and INDIE is an LMS for entrepreneurs. For each of our products, we have created special functionalities that address the needs of each market.

Our platforms are very intuitive, easy to use, and visually appealing, which makes the whole experience more engaging and enjoyable for all users. The navigation is simple, and you can customize the platforms to match your brand and fit your needs.

Our platforms are built to ensure a smooth implementation and they’re easily adopted by students, teachers, trainers, and entrepreneurs. We offer support for 40+ languages, mobile apps for all devices, and accessibility features so all users can enjoy the platform.

CYPHER LEARNING products provide complete solutions with powerful features for managing all teaching and learning activities for schools, organizations, and entrepreneurs.

We’re also focused on bringing innovation through our platforms, by creating cutting-edge features that other systems do not support such as automation, adaptive learning, and competency-based learning.

 

How do you see the e-learning market changing and developing in the future?

I’m very excited about the future of the e-learning market. Machine learning and artificial intelligence hold great potential in terms of making learning truly personalized. We’re already on that path, taking steps forward with automation, multi-layered neural networks, feedback algorithms, amongst many other developments. And things will advance on a massive scale, rather quickly. With AI in online education, we’re not talking about 20 years until it will become the norm. Some of these technologies are going to be available and mainstream in the next few years. Keeping up with these changes and making sure the incredible amounts of learner data will be used correctly will be challenging, but I have high hopes of what the future has in store for us.

 

What advice would you offer other individuals and businesses in the e-learning industry?

We’re all in this together so we need to stay true to ourselves. In order to provide the best tools, the best solutions and the most memorable experiences that support people of all ages to learn new things, we need to keep on learning ourselves. That’s the only way to continued growth, both personally and professionally.

 

Interviews

GOING FOR INVESTMENT IN CENTRAL EUROPE: START-UP LIFE OUTSIDE A TRADITIONAL TECH HUB

A Q&A with Bence Jendruszak, Co-founder and COO at SEON

 

  1. At what stage did you realise you were going to need an investor onboard?

During the early stages of the development (when completing our minimum viable product), we managed secure a Central European payment gateway in order to start using our system (free of charge). From this point on our product development was user feedback driven. It was at this stage, that we realised that our product has gained enough proof of concept, that we were ready to pitch the idea to investors.

 

  1. How important was the investment to getting your business to the current point?

Our pre-seed investment (50k EUR in January of 2017) was the initial kick-start to arriving to the current point. That micro-investment allowed myself and Tamas (Co-founder and CEO or SEON) to start working on the project full time and also to scale up the development team (from freelancers to full time programmers).

 

  1. How did you start the process of looking for an investor? 

We started by setting up our very first pitch deck. Of course, a lot of market analysis and USP shaping went into this. Once we had our first deck, we started contacting investors and started pitching the project to them. That specific pitch deck was very different to what the current version looks like.

 

  1. Were you aware of the challenges you could potentially face as a tech start-up in CE?

We were very well aware of the challenges. The European investment mentality is different than that of the US investment mentality, for example. Investors tend to be more conservative in the EU. Now imagine what the investment mentality may be like in the CE region. Nevertheless, we were also aware of the advantages of setting up a tech start-up in the CE region. The talent pool of

engineers and the cost of labour is by far the best in our home-turf – so the challenge was worthwhile.

 

  1. What was your journey to finding an investor like? Challenges / milestones?

Initially, we were faced with multiple unacceptable deals. The terms and conditions weren’t right for us in the long term. We were always aware that in order to build an international start-up (that would later develop into a scale-up), we had to on-board investors that we were fully comfortable to cooperate with – and vice versa. We needed to be on the same page and have a shared vision for SEON’s future.

 

  1. How did you find your lead investor, Portfolion? What else do they offer in addition to financial investment? (international network etc.)

We met them by introduction from an acquaintance. Portfolion is a well renowned VC in the CE region. They seemed like a partner that we could on-board into our boat and we could steer the ship together with them. They are the subsidiary of OTP Bank, one of the largest banks in the CE region. A potential gateway to partnering with a major bank seemed like a mutually beneficial setup. Aside from receiving a financial investment from the fintech fund of Portfolion, we can happily say that we are providing our fraud prevention services to OTP Bank as of today.

 

  1. What have you learned about the investor landscape in CE?

We found out that European investors are even more sceptical when it comes to CEE countries. They tend to avoid start-ups that aren’t located in hubs like Berlin or London. For them, Hungary is still seen as a former Eastern bloc country playing catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of living standards and infrastructure.

That said, there are a lot of investors in the region, but you really have to focus on getting in touch with the right organization. Onboarding an investor is a long-term partnership, there has to be a fundamental alignment in terms of the vision and mission of the two teams. We believe that we’ve managed to partner with investors who share the same vision and mission as us (up to date).

 

  1. What role will investment play in the next growth stage of the SEON?

 The next growth stage is focused on international expansion. We will be seeking an investor that can provide not only funds, but also somebody that has a solid portfolio of fintech companies and a partner network of financial institutions.

 

  1. Do you have any advice for other businesses in your position that are looking for funding in the CE region?

Do not rush into any deal that is in front of you, time is on your side. If you are in an early stage, make sure to approach as many investors as possible, in order to be able benchmark each opportunity.

 

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Interviews

A PROPTECH FOUNDER’S BEGINNING, THE START OF KLEVIO AND HOW ACCESS-TECH IMPROVES FACILITIES MANAGEMENT

KLEVIO

An interview with Klevio’s CEO and Co-Founder, Aleš Špetič 

 

What is Klevio? 

Klevio is a smart intercom that allows individuals to enter a building using a mobile app, providing digital access and removing the need to use a key. Teams or individuals can manage access rights from our dashboard or the app, understanding the usage of their buildings better, whilst cutting costs and improving efficiencies. As well as Facilities Management (FM) professionals, Klevio’s technology has been implemented across numerous sectors including short-stay lets and longer-term property management, a recording studio that manages room bookings and a London pub which allows temporary access to delivery professionals via its solution. Klevio is also popular with private homeowners.

 

How did the idea come about? 

The founding of the team and the products we worked on came from several influences along our journey. I was still working on CubeSensors, a company I founded that created miniature sensors for both the home and offices, feeding back data on temperatures, noise, light, humidity and the likes, something of a Fitbit for the room.

Aleš Špetič

My co-founder and now Chairman, Demetrios Zoppos, was involved in the creation of Sherlock, the digital entry system that went on to be the underpinning technology for Klevio. When Demetrios exited his previous company, onefinestay, he held onto the intellectual property (IP) of Sherlock, knowing that there was a future for this technology elsewhere.

We quickly came to the conclusion that my IoT experience and history with physical products for consumers and offices, and the IP he had kept for Sherlock, meant that it would be criminal not to pool our experiences and so Klevio was founded.

 

How do you compete with the other access solutions on the market? 

We have merged the new and the old. Keys have been around for thousands of years in some way or another, so have been ripe for a digital upgrade. With our competitors, although there is some amazing technology, most add confusion or annoyance to the process. There are smart-lock providers whose technology normally requires the changing of locks or at least the installation of an ugly and not always user-friendly pin-pad at the door.

Other options require magnetic cards and in many larger establishments receptionists are paid to ensure that someone enters their email for data capture, further adding to huge setup costs. With Klevio you do not need an extra key, token, or card. Everything is on your phone, similar to Apple Pay.Klevio is installed inside the building and is connected to the existing lock.

For office spaces, co-working and other large blocks, key cards are just one more item that can be shared and lost. With Klevio there’s no need to provide a keycard to anyone and it can be connected to an existing system. Many access systems do not have this benefit, and for offices this means you can change the access to your own unit without affecting the rest of a building.

 

What are the main challenges for your business? 

Changing a mindset. People have used and trusted keys their whole lives. Getting them to accept a simpler alternative isn’t an easy thing to do.

The other difficulty is hardware, especially when it comes to security and people’s offices and homes. With software, if you make a mistake or something doesn’t quite work, you can patch it and update things. If a hardware product has a fault, a product recall is going to be a huge undertaking, and no startup will have the budget to ride the storm like a Samsung or a VW Group. We invested a huge amount of time to make sure that Klevio performs well.

Customers need to build confidence and trust in your offering, rushing to deliver and make a splash can backfire in a huge way.

 

What trends in tech do you see shaping the future of offices and homes in the next five years? 

In the IoT space things are moving fast with the world’s largest companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook all vying to be the centre of the interconnected home and office. There are hundreds of startups carving out their own little corners too, so the next big shift will be consolidation. The industry leaders are already making moves to buy or partner with interesting startups to get ahead on IP and reach.

On a consumer level, people want smart solutions but are increasingly aware of their rights and privacy. Products that offer that on-demand feel, making lives easier and smoother, without taking too much data, will provide that personal touch consumers want and slowly start to manage the offices and homes of the future.

 

What is the one piece of advice you would give an organisation when looking to digitise its processes? 

Do your research – don’t rush to find a solution. There are companies out there that will be able to make your place of work run more smoothly. You just need to find the one that suits your systems, colleagues and budget.

 

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