Recognising the great success the PeopleCert have achieved over the last year, they were announced the winner of the EdTechX Scale Up Category. We spoke with Byron Nicolaides, Founder and CEO of PeopleCert about the inspiration behind their company and what they are looking to achieve next.
What was the inspiration behind starting PeopleCert?
From a very early age, education and entrepreneurship were at the epicentre of my upbringing and family life.
Both my parents were teachers — my father was an English language teacher and my mother a primary school teacher. I was fortunate to attend the Greek Community School in Istanbul and Bosporus University (formerly known as Robert College), a prestigious academic institution. One of the most educational experiences of my life has been hitchhiking around the world at a time when many barriers still existed. This helped me to recognise the attractiveness of a barrier-free world, as well as the importance of developing a globally competitive skillset in order to become a true world citizen.
Coming from a financially constrained background, I had to provide for my family from a young age through developing various entrepreneurial activities. My urge to feel financially stable alongside my academic background allowed me to land a job at Merrill Lynch where I managed to become a top-performing investment banker globally (Eagles Club 1989–1991).
There, for the first time of my life I felt financially strong and having secured significant capital, I decided to begin my entrepreneurial journey by entering the shipping industry. Yet, I quickly realized that a solely money-making career path would not make me feel fulfilled. I needed to get involved in a field that would allow people to reach their potential and dreams, giving them something meaningful and everlasting: education.
I started in 1994 as the master franchisee in Greece for Futurekids: one of the first computer training businesses for kids, enabling them to enter the field of technology at a young age. PeopleCert was born through Futurekids, as the need to certify the attained IT skills was required from our customers. In 2000, we were granted the license to administer the ECDL certification in Greece; the most established certificate for ICT skills globally. Within the past 20 years, we have expanded our offering from a single product to a portfolio of 600+ exams, enabling professionals to achieve their career aspirations.
What would you like everyone to know about PeopleCert?
Founded in 2000, PeopleCert is a global leader in the assessment and certification of professional skills and languages. We deliver 600+ exams to 50,000 leading corporations and 800 government departments every year, in over 200 countries and 25 languages. PeopleCert offers an ever-growing portfolio of highly sought-after certifications and global programs such as ITIL® and PRINCE2®, which have more than 500,000 professionals being certified annually. PeopleCert also has a strong presence in the language learning industry through its LanguageCert brand which is a unique suite of English language qualifications specifically designed for those intending to study, work or travel around the globe. LanguageCert is recognized by the UK Home office for UK Visa and Immigration, covering all visa requirements. PeopleCert employs over 400 people and 10.000 external associates, representing 34 nationalities and has received 36 awards in the areas of business, technology and CSR.
PeopleCert strives to offer an A to Z solution. The breadth and depth of our capacity and capability cover the entire end-to-end test development and support services; from qualification, design to test delivery. One of our key USPs is that we offer paper-based and computer-based exams with the same ease and efficiency. Service delivery is shaped by compliance to the highest international standards, including various long-standing ISO certifications.
Technology has significantly contributed to our business success. Our Business Technology division consists of 70+ employees — including Software Developers, Business Analysts and Data Scientists — and is growing rapidly. Our award-winning, core technology platforms — including PASSPORT (PeopleCert Assessment Portal), PeopleCert Mobile Management Apps, Instant Scan and Mark, and Online Proctoring Solution (OLP) — are proprietary, designed and developed 100% internally. We have zero dependency on external technology and/or suppliers; this gives us control, flexibility and a serious competitive advantage.
Since its inception, PeopleCert has created a balance between a successful and socially conscious business model in a sector that is predominantly populated by non-profit organisations.
Throughout our journey, we remain engaged and inspired actualising our company’s values of quality, innovation, passion and integrity. These have been our main drivers for the past 20 years and are manifested daily through our people and their unwavering commitment to excellence in everything they do.
We are “One Team, One Dream”. Our collective vision of certifying language, digital and professional skills to 21st-century citizens enables their social inclusion, career development and advancement.
What are you looking to achieve next?
We remain focused on our vision: to be the global leader in the exam delivery and certification of persons. In the last 5 years, we have achieved a CAGR of 40%, increasing our revenue from EUR23mn in 2015 to EUR78mn in 2019. We remain committed to our business plan, aiming to reach EUR240mn revenue by 2025, through organic growth and acquisitions, while keeping our values intact.
Looking back to the day you started, what would you have done differently?
Luckily, I would not change anything. Not because I have not made mistakes, wrong choices or bad decisions. On the contrary, I have made plenty — but these experiences have turned out to be my most valuable life lessons.
What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Business is not a sprint, but a marathon. Especially if you want to be in the “Business Champions League”, you need to remain focused to your vision, work really hard and constantly think about how to disrupt the status quo — otherwise, you might just become it. Identify opportunities, take calculated risks, make decisions. Embrace your mistakes as lessons — but don’t repeat them. My personal “secret of success” has been: Patience, Determination, Composure and Confidence. This motto has kept me going during the most challenging times. Follow your dreams and never give up.
How do you think the support and ecosystem in your country has helped you to launch and grow PeopleCert?
PeopleCert started its journey as a Greek market leader. When the financial crisis impacted Greece, rather than shutting down, we became a UK-based global player in the certification industry. Throughout the years we have managed to combine the best of both worlds. On the one hand, Greece offers well-qualified human capital instilled with “philotimo”, a characteristic Greek word that encapsulates “honour”. On the other hand, our success is linked to the prominent UK branding. The UK’s competitive global positioning enabled us to place ourselves among the international leaders in our field. Further, the UK system (tax, banking, legal) truly works. Today, all our business initiatives focus on supporting our partners, clients and people globally. We aim to develop and deliver innovative products that will create a better and more fair society. Certification is a global social passport that expands beyond time, geography, race and country.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have seen with PeopleCert amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
The biggest challenge was to keep the PeopleCert team safe and united while serving our customers’ seamlessly around the world. With a solid Business Continuity Plan in place — PeopleCert is certified by ISO 22301 for Business Continuity since 2015 — we switched to teleworking mode immediately. To satisfy the increasing demand for online exams, which grew 4x during the COVID-19 period, we rapidly scaled up our Online Exam Center capacity, allowing candidates to take their exams remotely by using our OLP solution. Competitors who did not have an equivalent solution realized a 90% drop in their revenues. Once more, technology has proven to be our weapon.
How to envisage the EdTech landscape to change as we go into the ‘New Normal’?
We will need to adapt to the new reality: a reality that will be characterized by the accelerated move to digital, and the faster consolidation of online-offline business models, while companies and people will have to make wiser and more tailormade choices for their professional lives. The necessity for skilling-reskilling-upskilling, especially in the digital fields, will become even more prominent. While remaining competitive, companies will need to adopt a more anthropocentric approach: it is evident that business success is people-dependent.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
It has been an absolute honour to win the EdTechXGlobal Scale-Up Award 2020. This award is dedicated to the PeopleCert team and their families, who are responsible for our continued success over the years. Especially now that humanity goes through the COVID-19 crisis, we must keep up the effort to empower individuals through digital solutions. While certifying knowledge, skills and experience, PeopleCert enables individuals to reshape their future.