Perlego won the 2020 EdTechX Startup Award alongside GoSkills.com. Founded only in 2016, Perlego have become one of the most successful online libraries. We spoke with Gauthier van Malderen, CEO and Co-Founder of Perlego to learn more about their success…
What was the inspiration behind starting Perlego?
Whilst at university I found myself sometimes paying hundreds of pounds for a textbook that I might only use once, and even then, only one or two chapters. I realised this was ludicrous, unsustainable and something had to change. I looked around and found that whilst I could listen to music via Spotify, and watch films on Netflix, there wasn’t anything that offered the same level of access and simplicity with books. That was my so-called ‘lightbulb moment’, and the rest was history.
What would you like everyone to know about Perlego?
Perlego is on a mission to build the world’s largest online library — but not only that, we envision a platform in which ‘learning’ as a whole is at its centre. This is why we are very keen on introducing a number of collaborative learning tools that would take the user beyond a one-sided reading experience to a pluralistic one.
We partner with publishers to support them and strengthen their position in a world that is quickly changing and one that is putting them at risk. Their revenue is suffering at the hands of academic piracy and the second-hand book market — Perlego works in unison with publishers to ensure that they can recuperate lost revenue.
Looking back to the day you started, what would you have done differently?
One of the most significant struggles of growing your own business is hiring the right people. Now due to economic decisions, I made the mistake of not hiring someone I should have — a designer specifically. Initially, it would have been quite a cost but it would undeniably have made the product far superior to what it was when we first started out.
We now have a dedicated team of designers who get involved across the whole design process and this is part of what makes Perlego so special — that our product designers are so holistic and all-encompassing.
What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I’ll interpret this question as referring to those who are just starting out.
If I had to try and break down a complex and wholly unique experience I would first suggest you start by looking at the industry of your choice and then seeing what changes need to be made there. For instance, in my case it was the (rising) cost of academic textbooks — an ebook subscription service was my solution.
Alongside that, you’ll also need a substantial amount of motivation to be able to persevere with your idea considering there will very likely be little reward in the beginning. Finally, I suggest that all entrepreneurs surround themselves with the right people — those who are as dedicated as them, as hard-working but also those that can bring something different to the table. At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do by yourself. It’s also a lot more fun when you can share this journey with others.
How do you think the support and ecosystem in your country has helped you to launch and grow Perlego?
Perlego is based in London and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The entrepreneurial ecosystem of London has meant that we have been lucky enough to have attracted angel investors relatively early on. These investors were equally as invested (forgive the pun!) in Perlego’s mission and aspirations as our team, which has helped us enormously. The whole entrepreneurial culture of London, and the wider UK, has helped us build Perlego into the great edtech company it is today. This region is definitely at the forefront of innovation in education.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have seen with Perlego amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
We’re a company that prides itself on our remarkable company culture. As a tight-knit bunch, we’ve always found our internal community to be one of the most important aspects of working here. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we were nervous how the decision to move Perlego to remote working might impact our culture. How would people interact with each other now? How could we ensure that we could maintain employee wellbeing and satisfaction?
But I am so proud of where we are now, how Perlego’s culture is as much alive as it was before — if not more. We have had several virtual drinks as a company, as well as team lunches, and even our own version of the Apprentice. If any of the team members are feeling brave enough, they’ve also been encouraged to lead cooking lessons after work (so far we’ve had Italian and Hungarian lessons).
How to envisage the EdTech landscape to change as we go into the ‘New Normal’?
We’re already witnessed how rapidly the world of education is changing in response to this current crisis, and I can foresee these changes continuing — albeit at a somewhat slower pace. I believe that once institutions have pivoted to support further e-resources, it will be hard to turn back considering the multitude of benefits they bring. There will be a wider provision of digital tools to support those learning and teaching remotely. This “new normal” will then encourage new entrepreneurs to create and innovate as we will enter a very exciting era for our industry.