ExamLearn, which was founded by three secondary school friends, is a fascinating new Irish Edtech startup. Here, one of the founders – Jack Manning – talks about building a business based on a big gap in the market.
How and why did you start?
ExamLearn was initially called JC-Learn. Me and two friends, Johnnie Bell and Eamonn Flannery, set it up shortly after getting our Junior Cert results (where we achieved a combined 30 As). We felt there was a lack of technology around the school study process. We also wanted to combat the need for expensive grinds and revision books so that anyone in Ireland could achieve a high grade, regardless of how much money they had to spend on education. We set about outlining all the most important features of an effective study plan such as subject notes, A-grade past exam answers and expert study advice.
“Many older Edtech companies are behind the times when it comes to content and user experience”
How long did you spend on your business plan before your launch?
We initially didn’t spend any time on a business plan as we just got straight to work. We were completely inexperienced when it came to planning a business model. However, after working on ExamLearn for a few weeks we became aware of the Student Enterprise Awards run by the Local Enterprise Offices. When we entered, we had to form a business plan and were given guidelines and workshops on how to do so. This provided some direction for our fledgeling business and allowed us to think about the more long-term business goals.
“We know exactly what students want because we are students ourselves.”
What is Examlearn’s USP?
The Irish Edtech market is quite open. This has allowed a young startup like us to grasp a serious chunk of the market. Many older Edtech companies are behind the times when it comes to content and user experience. ExamLearn’s USP is that it is fully comprehensive on all of the subjects. It offers everything a student needs all under the one roof. Our young and user-friendly approach makes us stand above the crowd. Also, we know exactly what students want because we are students ourselves.
Your website is very impressive, did you build it yourselves or did you employ a web design team?
We initially built our own website on WordPress. ExamLearn was then lucky enough to have won the IEDR Matrix Fund competition where we got a new site built for us. However, we are still not happy with this quality and are lucky enough to work with Gytis Daujotas and Oisin O’Duibhir (both our own age) who have joined our team. Over the summer we fully redeveloped the site from scratch with a host of new features and a far better user experience.
“We plan to become a nationwide name in all schools and to be the most widely-used resource for Irish students.”
What are your expansion plans for next year?
Our plan for this year is to complete the Leaving Cert and the dominate the Leaving and Junior Cert Edtech market. We plan to become a nationwide name in all schools and to be the most widely-used resource for Irish students. Hopefully, after the leaving cert, we can set about bringing the ExamLearn brand to other countries.
“We find word of mouth is absolutely core to our growth.”
What advertising do you do, what do you find works best for Examlearn?
We pay for Facebook and Instagram ads and Google Adwords. However, we also make use of all the different social channels (Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram). We also use mailing lists and attend events around the country to get in contact with students. We find word of mouth is absolutely core to our success. Many of our signups are from friends of members who have already signed up and spread the word.
“Validate your idea with a minimum viable product. Don’t waste time looking for investment when you can be building a great product.”
How do you divide your time between studying and running a business?
After just a few weeks into sixth year, I’ve come to realise this is going to be a ridiculously busy year. My current schedule is 9-4pm in school, 4.30-7.30pm study, 7.30-8.00pm dinner, 8.00-10.15pm ExamLearn work, 10.15-12am gym … and then bed. I will probably have to start dedicating more time to school work as I get closer to the exams.
Any tips for someone wanting to open a business while in school?
My number one tip would be to create a product or service as soon as possible for as cheap as possible. Don’t bother with expensive research. Validate your idea with a minimum viable product, just like we did back with our first WordPress site. Don’t waste time looking for investment when you can be building a great product.