In our latest blog, Simon Challis talks to Patrick Cooke of EdPlace
Patrick Cooke is Partner and Marketing Director of EdPlace, which launched in February 2011 and has 11 staff in the UK
What is EdPlace?
It’s an online education resource that gives parents the tools to tutor their children themselves, rather than paying a private tutor. We have content generated by qualified teachers, which is segmented by school year and key stage. Parents choose worksheets for their children to complete and we compile data on their marks so parents can see where they sit within the national averages; we then recommend future work for their kids to do based on their results.
Where did you get the idea for it?
My business partner Will Paterson set up an online customer service review site with his brother in 2007. But he wanted a new challenge, so he bought EdPlace’s predecessor company – which originally offered printable worksheets – and turned it into an online firm. He approached me to help advise him on how to market it. We worked closely together on the idea for several months until he asked me whether I wanted to become his business partner.
Was this your first start-up?
No, when I left university I set up a business with two partners, photographing university sports teams. We eventually realised we didn’t have the impetus or funding to make it a bigger business so we shut it down. By that stage I was already working as a professional photographer on advertising shoots. That’s how I got into advertising, and I worked in the industry for nine years before coming to help set up EdPlace.
I’ve always been a self-starter who was comfortable with taking risk. While I was in advertising I taught myself web design and had a sideline business creating websites.
What do you like about running your own business?
I find it very empowering to define the destiny of a business.
Where did you get the money to start up the business?
Both Will and I put in initial funding, then we took some seed funding from investors. We wanted enough cash to help us prove the model while retaining as much equity as we could. Now the business is established we’re looking to raise a much larger amount of capital in the next few months.
How has its business plan changed since you first wrote it?
The numbers in it have continually changed as we’ve developed and tested our business model. We know more about the seasonality of the market and EdPlace’s ability to attract customers than when we first set out. But our basic concept has remained the same: Rather than focusing on the schools market, we see our unique difference as offering parents the tools to help support their children’s education.
What’s been your biggest mistake?
Not taking on enough seed funding. We chose to bootstrap the business, because we wanted to prove it could work without burdening ourselves with too much debt, but that meant we couldn’t afford to take certain risks at times. Because of that we weren’t learning quickly enough.
What’s been your biggest achievement?
Hitting the milestone of our first 1000 customers was very satisfying. Also, working with a business partner who shares the same ideals and goals as me, who has a very similar personality as me, but who is skilled in the areas that I am not, has enabled us to get to where we are right now.
What’s the next step for the business?
Right now, we’re focused on closing our next round of funding. Once we get that, we can begin hiring more staff so we can scale up the business more quickly than we’re able to do right now.
What do you think is the secret of success?
You need tenacity. Four out of five ideas you have won’t work out. But the one that goes right helps you forget about all the failures.
An unwillingness to accept compromises; I’m really pleased with how the EdPlace website looks and what it delivers because we wouldn’t accept second best.
Also a real drive to get an idea moving; every entrepreneur has moments of doubt, when you think you’ll never get it off the ground. But you mustn’t become consumed by those doubts otherwise you will never make it work.
Do you have any heroes?
I tend to draw my inspiration from certain qualities that people have, rather than from individuals themselves.
What tips do you have for people thinking of setting up a business?
Have passion for the industry you are entering, because it will be your life for the next few years. Be very clear about what the problem is you’re trying to solve with the product you’re bringing to market. Also, understand exactly what appetite there is for your product. Surround yourself with good people and make sure you are well funded at the right times. You may not need lots of cash in the early stages, but once you’re sure you’re onto something then you must back yourself, by raising enough capital to have a real go at it.