Start Up Life with Jon Smith
Jon Smith, CEO of Pobble is this week’s Beyond Busy episode guest. Pobble is an Edtech startup platform for teachers and students to improve speed, confidence, and enjoyment in writing. The platform won the Bett award for the Best Classroom Aid for Learning, Teaching and Assessment and the GESS award for Best Paid ICT Product.
Graham and Jon start off by talking about how Jon’s decision to move to Cornwall from London helped his work with Pobble within the startup tech scene.
> A lot of education startups aren't actually in London because it’s expensive to grow a star top talent. It’s very expensive because you're competing with companies like Google and Amazon. When we arrived in Cornwall, I didn't really expect any sort of ecosystem at all for anything. What I found is that there are a lot of socially focused entrepreneurs.
> If you can show children real examples of other children's writing, it becomes motivating for them. If you've got a load of people that are publishing their writing online, those examples can then be used as a means for planning lessons so that you can show children what good writing looks like. It doesn't matter what culture you go to whether China, Australia, or the Middle East. Everyone has the same struggle about engaging children in writing.
Jon talks about how having famous authors to critique the children’s work helps make a huge difference for Pobble.
> Authors have engaged in Pobble and as a result, the schools had these wonderful experiences and children have gone from being reluctant writers to being excited and engaged. I think we've got a lot more of a kind of stable ecosystem. We don't rely on the authors. Still, they jump in, which is wonderful, but now, it's a lot more about that peer to peer feedback.
Then, Graham asks Jon why education hasn’t been more disrupted or advanced by technology. Jon shares how he introduces Pobble to schools prior to the pandemic.
> Prior to the pandemic, it was really hard to basically make progress. When we first started, schools were had absolutely no experience of buying software. In order to sell people, what we would do is we would run writing workshops and we would sell those to schools. During the workshops, we would introduce Pobble, as a concept.
> We’ve just gone from a situation where tech was just so far from being the present thing in schools. There was some schools that were quite tech savvy. But now, every school is trying to kind of make that transformation of being a little bit more tech enabled. That's obviously really positive for the industry.
Graham and Jon discuss about Slack, the team management platform which Jon and his team uses for easy communication.
> Slack is like everything. It's like far better than email. Slack has been absolutely key and I think Slack and Google Hangouts or Google have been central to Pobble for the last two years. We do all of our communication through Slack and we very rarely email one another.
Jon shares a book called Remote which he and his team use to know how to work remotely and how tackle remote working.
Pobble’s mission is all about inspiring children and the future and help people express themselves and creative. A lot of us are parents so there's a real sense of camaraderie within the team.
One thing that Jon finds really hard not being in control. For him, having real control over what his team do and the choices that they make, even if that means that they have to be a little less ambitious as to how quickly they grow, they won’t need a huge team.
The biggest challenge for us is that we need to be basically at cash free breakeven. If we're at cash free breakeven, we are in control of our destiny, because we don't need to go and raise more money. The second thing is getting to cash flow breakeven. You don't need to rely on having to raise more money because that’s when you give away control. When you're desperate you have to raise more money.
By learning how to do it myself, I was able to identify what is the most scalable, cost effective way to drive this process forward. Rather than hiring an expensive other person to design a process that may not even work anyway. We always now have this philosophy where if we haven't done this thing ourselves, as founders, we don't hire someone else to do it. We have to have done it ourselves in order to understand how to get the help we need in order to do that. No one comes into a business and can immediately deliver things.
Finally, Jon discusses the importance of being in a classroom. His 6 year old daughter joins in with the chat and shares her experience in learning from home and learning in school.
Unfortunately, you're going to have a generation who lost a lot of education. In those children, you're going to have the ones that were able to be educated at home, and had very engaged parents or even had the ability or the time and the ability to help do home schooling.
Having children in school is important unless you're done obviously. Lots of homeschoolers do a great job but they’re planning for that and they're set up to do that. But if you're not, I think that's a really tricky thing for any parent to figure out.
Brought to you by Graham Allcott of Beyond Busy