The London firm to watch!
If you draw up a roster of the biggest student gripe, then the gargantuan prices of books that even the Bank of Mum and Dad struggles to afford, would top the list – likely overshadowing the rising price of beer at least for most.
But now a London start-up is on a mission to make educational content free for all. Flooved, founded by Hamish Brocklebank and Nicolas Philippe, is a global education platform that wants to make all textbooks available through open access. They want to see a day where education becomes free for all.
The Shepherd’s Bush firm has over 10,000 users in 191 countries and over 800 professors contributing their material. Last month, an appearance on BBC’s Click TV got over 20,000 visitors to Flooved over the course of a single weekend.
The start-up is already making big waves and has influential backers, including billionaire entrepreneur Lord Ashcroft and YouGov co-founder and CEO Stephan Shakespeare. The duo have together put in seed investment worth an impressive £400,000 and Shakespeare is now company chairman.
So is time to bid goodbye to textbooks? We speak to the founders to find out:
Q. How did you come with the idea of setting up Flooved?
Brocklebank: It all started with a drunken idea in a pub. We both started discussing education and found that the price of textbooks was just too high. We felt that there needed to be a way for students around the world to access resources easily. So we launched Flooved with a Spotify-like model, similar to services like JSTOR, Know.com and Clegg.com.
But soon we realised that resources, academic papers and education as whole should be free for all – forever.
To set up the business, we knocked on every investor’s door you can imagine after which Lord Ashcroft decided to invest in our business. Subsequently, Stephan Shakespeare, the founder of polling firm YouGov, also invested. He’s now our chairman.
The Technology Strategy Board also awarded us a grant worth £121,000. We just finished that grant and we’re very likely to get featured as the Technology Strategy Board’s up-and-coming company to showcase UK tech companies around the world – which is very exciting.
While the investors own 30% of the business, we own a 70% share together.
Q. What’s the idea behind the name?
Philippe: It’s derived from “fluvius” and “editio” which is dog Latin for “river of books”
Q. What’s the USP of the business?
Philippe: We’re very much pro open access and believe that everyone should be able to access educational resources without any restrictions. We have more than 800 professors from around the world publishing their material on Flooved. We’ve got users from 191 countries, basically everywhere but Greenland and North Korea.
Brocklebank: There are so many amazing universities and our goal is to help them use the internet to offer more courses and admit more students.
And No! We’re not trying to say that signing up for Flooved will let you skip university. We still think that an instructor is very important and Flooved can help you in your educational journey.
Q. How do you collect material?
Brocklebank: When we initially launched, we had professors specialising in maths and physics contributing content and students really liked it. We emailed a lot of professors telling them about our plans, but were very clear that although we were ab open access, we were still a business. We told them that we needed to have a sustainable economic model to make this work because a lot of open access repositories are grant-funded.
These professors gave us their content on the condition that we make the content available for free and monetise the service later. So that’s how we got professors from Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and countries like South Africa, Pakistan and Iran to start publishing their content on Flooved.
Q. What’s the business model?
Brocklebank: We have several key ways to monetise the business but content will remain free forever. One way is to offer a Q&A session with a professor around the content. If you pay a small amount of money you can get a guaranteed professor or a PhD student answering your questions, as we have loads in our network.
The other big one is using the database. For example, if a bank wants to hire people with a specific mathematical background, we can put them in touch with students who’ve studied that subject on Flooved.
Philippe: In fact, we have behavioural analytics guy on the team who is a researcher at Cambridge University in animal cognition. He is brilliant at extracting meanings in patterns and behaviours in huge data sets. Student Recruitment is a very interesting space because, at the moment, there is no one platform and the space is dominated by Facebook, which is too personal, and LinkedIn, which is too professional.
Q. How have you managed to get visitors?
Philippe: Our USP is that we provide Open Access to undergraduate students who have been neglected by the open access movement so far, as it focused solely on research. Yet, not having access to expensive textbooks is terribly unfair. It’s fine when you have a huge library like in the Oxbridges of the world, but even in England some university libraries are struggling. And of course this is especially relevant in continents like Africa, hence a lot of our user base is in fact is located there. So we really feel that we are opening doors and evening out the game so to speak.
We understood very early that, contrarily to publishers’ mantra, “content isn’t king” and clinging on to the precious content like Moliere’s avare with his cassette is not forward thinking. It is the interlinking of tech services with the content that provides value.
The other factor that helped promote Flooved was the tight-knit academic community that spread the word.
You see, education is exciting. Fundamentally a sense of common good is at the heart of the business because we are making access to resources easier and free.
Q. Why did you decide to be based in White City and not Tech City?
Brocklebank: That’s because Shoreditch is horrible. The rents are extortionately expensive. I know businesses in Mayfair that are paying less than Shoreditch.
Philippe: Shoreditch is a bit of a myth which is separate from the reality of setting up a business. In our early days, we were hosted by an agency in the area and we stayed there for six and seven months.
Brocklebank: Shoreditch is a great place where you can have fun, but we’re here to work. We spend 14-16 hours a day in the office and have no distractions here. We work the way a start-up is meant to work. No big parties at the Hospital Club for us – we’re here to make an awesome product and give our investors a return.
Q. What advice did you get from Lord Ashcroft and Stephan Shakespeare to run Flooved?
Brocklebank: They have given us huge amounts of advice and it has been great to be able to learn from both their successes and mistakes – in particular from Stephan our chairmen, his main pearls of wisdom were:
1. Focus, on doing one thing and building the core part of your product really well, instead of trying to do 100 things at once, which can be very tempting for a start-up.
2. Be willing to adapt your business model based on customer feedback and spend a lot of time learning what your customer wants and how they engage with your business.
3. Really focus on making sure that your te
am and employees are not only happy and productive but that they are the best people you can hire for the job. Also, when you have hired them it is really important to invest time and expertise in them.