Andrew Carrick, EdComs Emerge Investor

What is your experience?

I started my career in educational publishing and have worked with educational content ever since. I’ve been a commissioning editor and marketer for Higher Ed publishing and was an early internet marketer. I was first online in the late 80s in academic publishing and published the first book in the UK about the technical side of the internet.

I then left publishing to join EdComs, when it was in its very early stages, producing learning content sponsored by corporates. Most of my work has focused on content. EdComs started on the sales/online publishing side on the internet, and later started doing websites for schools and developing a comprehensive offer.

Over the past 15 years EdComs has expanded its digital services to include website creation, film production, research and investment in edtech. EdComs aims to have the best educational content, and the strongest technology behind it.

Where do you think the opportunity lies in edtech?

Edtech is a slow burn. New products spur an initial burst of enthusiasm but barriers to entry in the schools market considerably slows growth. One barrier is the simple fact that teachers have limited time. Building momentum in sales is crucial; whilst there is a lot of potential in selling to schools, not every product is going to make it, based on the merits of the product alone.

In order to scale, you need to put time and effort into working directly with teachers. Night Zookeper is a really good example, they network well and consistently organise face to face meetings with teachers in schools.

What is your relationship with Emerge?

Jan contacted me when he was first setting up Emerge. I was happy to be involved and agreed to be a mentor in the first round. I came in more formally after seeing the Demo Day for the second cohort. I was so impressed by the quality and relevance of the companies, and seeing the progress Emerge had made. EdComs has also invested in the latest round. It is a company investment not an individual investment. Being involved with Emerge helps bring a deal of knowledge into EdComs; we are really interested in the people and the ideas on the Emerge programme.

What advice would you give to a budding edtech entrepreneur?

Firstly, it’s about going to market with strong evidence and foundations for your potential. Diagnostic Questions (EE4) are a good example. They have shown great traction. The idea has been widely validated and positively reviewed as both useful and useable. You also need to understand from the people you’ve piloted with why they use the product and why it is useful to them.

Getting this traction and social proof might entail lots of treading corridors and pushing for word of mouth, but you have to do it. Too many people try and skip that step. You need to be able to say to a potential customer: “people like you are already using this”, and you can’t make that up.

You can amplify this face to face work with the use of social media. You can build up strong networks using twitter — Night Zookeper and Tagtiv8 are good examples that social media can be a good way to sell to schools.

In terms of personality, it is a gross generalisation but there is no room for the shy CEO. You need to project a personality as part of your brand. It can be nerdy, glamorous, techy, whatever you like, but you need to be remembered. I don’t think there is any problem with single founders, but you need to tread a fine line: don’t flip flop around, display humility and listen to expert advice when it is given.