How it all Started: Gavin Cooney, CEO Learnosity
The below interview with Gavin originally featured in the Q3 2014 issue of the In Business magazine.
IB: How did you fund your business initially?
GC: While the dream was always to be a product company, we were fortunate to have a very close relationship with the Board of Studies in New South Wales. They’re the government body responsible for the State exams in New South Wales. Consulting revenue from bespoke e-learning projects helped to support us in the earlier years while we got up and running.
IB: What’s the best advice you were given?
GC: You really need to listen to your customers. As an entrepreneur it can become too easy to fall in to the trap of going in all guns blazing, full of innovative ideas telling customers that you have exactly what they need when really it was by listening to exactly what they wanted (and delivering) that we managed to make the break.
IB: What was the most important lesson you learned starting out?
GC: After doing both a business degree and a Masters in business I realised very quickly that I knew absolutely nothing about running my own business. It was definitely a baptism of fire. Turned out there were lots of things to learn about funding and the traditional ways of growing a business. We eventually discovered that going the VC route wasn’t necessary and we ended up going it alone.
IB: Your biggest make or break moment?
GC: The development of an embeddable “record button” for one of our clients in 2011. All they wanted us to do was to develop one record button which could be placed within their existing e-books. Initially we had pitched a full solution, convinced that was what they needed. But they didn’t want that. They wanted a single button. This was a pivotal moment for us, we found our niche and this paved the way for our strategic shift into SaaS where we give our clients the ability to build education’s next big thing using our tools and services.
IB: Would you change anything in hindsight?
GC: It’s very easy to look back in hindsight and see how things could have been easier. We made a lot of mistakes, slept on lots of sofas went to lots of conferences we didn’t really need to be at. Really, lots of trial and error. Course it would be great if we could take our current business plan and implement it back in 2008 but it wasn’t possible – in fact the market might not have even been ready back then. But if I had to change one thing, it would be the amount of time we spent on doing the rounds with VCs. Concentrate on the product, make it awesome and they’ll come knocking – even if you no longer need them!