1. Always make sure your business is discoverable
Choosing the right business name and purchasing the correct .com domain name are crucial in ensuring people can find you. Your business name should always be easy to spell, easy to pronounce and descriptive of your product/service. OpenLearning came from a well-known style of learning and reflects the type of learning environment we provide. Ensuring your .com domain name matches or is similar to your business name should be one of the first things you purchase and consider. The majority of people will automatically assume your website domain is the same as your company name with a .com ending, if the domain name is taken either try and purchase it from its current owner or reconsider your company name.
2. Build an efficient and reliable team that can meet tight deadlines
As a start-up you have a limited amount of resources and work in a fast changing environment. You need a team with a combination of skills and ability to effectively prioritise tasks and quickly adapt to change. Working in a start-up is hard work and requires genuine dedication, hiring a team with the right type of attitude and work ethic plays a crucial role in your successes and failures.
3. You can only try and make the best decisions given your current circumstances and learn from a trial and error process
One of the first things you learn as a start-up is the importance of adaptability and efficient decision-making. The key challenges OpenLearning faced was learning to move and respond quickly to our customer’s needs. We operate in a very competitive and well-funded market, so trying to keep up with required product developments, customer service and engagement levels took some time to master. The main lesson learnt throughout this process was to understand you will always have the benefit of hindsight, so don’t let those decisions worry you too much.
4. Adaptability is crucial, you need to think and act fast
When first establishing OpenLearning we had initially targeted higher education institutions, however, quickly discovered that the sales cycle for our product was too long and too difficult to convert. Deciding to shift our focus and expand our target market to include individuals and training organisations was something we could only learn through trial and error. We now concentrate our efforts on making it extremely easy for anyone to set up a course on our platform. We also continually monitor student engagement levels to test what features are and are not effective.
By doing so, OpenLearning was able to grow to over 20,000 users without any paid marketing or SEO within our first year. Since then, we have expanded our team to include marketing, developers, UI/UX and engineer professionals and now support close to 50,000 students worldwide.
5. Focus on finding and servicing your customers from the very beginning
Don’t allow yourself to get carried away on trying to create and perfect the right product without having any customers. If you don’t have customers then you won’t know if you’re developing the right product or solving a real problem.
The key take home message is to learn to accept change and quickly adapt. Running a start up is hard work and without an ability to think and act quickly you fall behind the market and your competitors. The worst mistake you can make is to not make any mistakes. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in trying to perfect a product or service and in the process delay its launch and growth. OpenLearning continues to grow and change by the minute; its success is a result of learning through trail and error without losing sight of our vision.
CEO of OpenLearning