Friday, November 28, 2014

The Kineo Elearning Story - 10 Lessons For Start-Ups

After 9 years as the Managing Director of Kineo, I have made the difficult decision to move on and explore new opportunities. I will be stepping down as MD of CG Kineo at the end of August. As I pack up my Kineo marketing collateral I have been reflecting on the Kineo story. At some point one of my colleagues, most probably Stephen Walsh, will write it up in detail but here are some of my immediate reflections.

We began life as a start-up company in Brighton in 2005 and have become a £20m global company with offices from Chicago to Melbourne. It has been an exciting adventure, hard work but fun. I want to say a big thank you to everyone that supported me and my colleagues over the years.

We sold the business to City & Guilds back in 2012 and now feels like the right time to move on and let someone else take the company forward. Matthew Johnson, the new MD, will bring lots of energy and experience to the role. I wish him and the management team the best of luck for the future. I am confident that we made the right choice in selling to City & Guilds. A business that has longevity having started in 1878. A business that is passionate about education. A business that is also a charity and makes money to make a difference, for example investing in bursaries for young people. A business led by Chris Jones that is growing globally and investing in innovative new projects.

It is difficult to measure success but I feel proud of what we have achieved at Kineo. We grew the company every year, even through the tough times, and more importantly we were profitable every year. In November 2013 we won the Elearning Company of the Year award in the UK for the second time. In 2014 we also won the LPI Learning Provider of the Year award and we were also named as the top custom Elearning provider in the US this year.

There are many lessons I will take away with me from my Kineo experience. However, here are ten which may be helpful to other start-ups:

  1. Recruit the very best staff you can afford. At Kineo we were fortunate to recruit a great team of people. With great people you can achieve anything. I was also blessed with four Kineo partners that were passionate, creative, ambitious, hard-working and people you could trust with your life. Further tip - recruit happy people. 

  2. Customer service is at the heart of everything. When projects get difficult is when you really prove your value. Build long term customer relationships. Simple things matter, do what you say, be helpful and be positive. 

  3. You are not simply building a business but building a brand. Be clear on your brand, not just the visuals but the values it represents. 

  4. Be ambitious. In the internet world you should be looking at global opportunities and seek to establish a global brand. 

  5. You have to keep moving or you will get run down. Change is inevitable and you need to move quickly. Instill in everyone in your business a sense of urgency. Also look at trends outside your industry, for example, when everyone in our industry was hyping mobile learning we saw the importance of multi-device solutions and responsive elearning, which we pioneered through the Adapt open source project.

  6. Everybody can become obsolete, you have to keep learning every day. Your skills and experience should be more valuable today than they were last year. What did you learn last week?

  7. Give away everything you know. You are what you share. Love really is the killer app. Sharing and being helpful is the most effective form of marketing there is. 

  8. Stay up later than the competition. There is simply no substitute for hard work. 

  9. Be flexible, stuff happens. Odd to quote Mike Tyson but he put it well when he said "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." 

  10. Cash is king. In a small business, cash is your lifeblood. You should monitor sales, margins and customer satisfaction but most of all you need detailed cashflow forecasts every week. 
My immediate plans post Kineo are to invest and work with start-up companies, hopefully helping them to grow into successful businesses. My first investment is with my former Kineo partner Stephen Walsh in a start-up venture, a social search engine called BuzzSumo. It finds the most shared content for any topic or domain. It is also free, so give it a try. I will also continue to work with the City & Guilds Group to explore how the Group can invest in and support education and learning technology start-ups.

I will continue to be involved in the elearning community. I passionately believe in the potential of learning and technology to improve performance, and I very much hope I can continue to contribute to future thinking in this area.