I invited the founders of Lighthouse Learning, a children’s digital education company as they share their entrepreneurial journey, how the idea for the company came about and their plans for the future.
Hi Danielle and Alex, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
We’re great… busy… but great!
Can you give us some background information about yourselves?
We’ve both been in the education technology industry for 8 years. Danielle did a Multimedia Technology and Design degree and Alex did a Philosophy degree and E-Learning Design diploma. We met working as producers and project managers creating web-based learning content for schools.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
Alex had just started a masters degree and Danielle was taking time to travel and spend time in her hometown of San Francisco, California. While talking about what we might do next, we realised we were both really interested in the potential of new technology and mobile devices - so we decided to team up! We knew that with our experience and passion for education technology we could do something really great. It felt like we had to seize the moment because technology moves on quickly and tablets were just starting to become mainstream in education.
How did the idea for Lighthouse Learning come about?
The idea for Lighthouse Learning came about with the increasing popularity of mobile devices and their integration in children’s lives both at home and at school. You see kids using these devices on the bus, in the restaurant, at home, in class… We noticed a lack of quality learning apps that parents and teachers could feel confidence in.
We want kids to have access to exceptional quality, engaging content so they can experience real learning using their devices. We know what makes great elearning for kids and we were excited about translating our knowledge to mobile devices.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
It is still early days for us; we are 1 year old. So far, the hardest part has been turning our ideas into something real! It’s easy and fun to have ideas. As project managers, it wasn’t a challenge to make a detailed product plan and financial forecast. The challenging part comes with turning your plan into a reality and gaining measurable traction.
How did you initially get traction?
Our first products have been apps for the Apple App Store. Dragon Shapes and Shape Arts were both featured in excellent positions in the US App Store both in the Kids and Education categories. That was by far the most effective way for us to get traction.
Being featured is not guaranteed and we were fortunate to have this success with both apps. It was testament to all the experience, skill and hard work that has gone into our products!
How have you been able to fund it so far?
We are based at Sussex Innovation Centre which provides start-up incubation and funding support. The team there have been a real help. We covered the first few months with our savings before we got further investment.
What is Lighthouse Learning? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Lighthouse Learning is a children’s digital education company. Our aim is to help kids discover rich, ‘lost in the moment’ learning using their favourite devices. We have a strong focus on the pedagogy behind our content - we think combining cognitive, creative and social approaches is the best way to learn. That’s why we are building a global community of young thinkers, makers and sharers!
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
1. Build a team - as an in-house development team, people are our main asset
2. Build a brand - establishing credibility and awareness gives you a bit of momentum and it’s so much easier to launch new products when people have already heard of you
3. Balance quick releases with quality - we use agile, iterative development approaches (based on ‘lean startup’ principles) which have helped us learn and keep focussed
They are so many challenges that entrepreneurs go through trying to build a company or making it successful, can you share a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?
The first hurdle for us was building a team. We didn’t have an office, we didn’t have a product and we had nothing tangible to show but ourselves. We were doing interviews in cafes and restaurants, trying to sell the idea of a company to job applicants. We had to put across our confidence and enthusiasm and show we had a coherent, well-thought out plan so people could have faith enough to take a full-time position with us. Hiring people when you don’t have a company yet is difficult, but fun. It was very rewarding when we’d put an excellent team together!
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The highlight so far has been the experience of releasing our first product: making our first sales, getting our first 5-star reviews, and hearing from kids and parents that are playing with our app and loving it!
The excitement around our first product releases helped the team to gel and gain confidence, and now we can’t wait to create more amazing learning content for kids.
How do you define success?
We will feel really successful when we have created financial security for the company and for ourselves, fulfilling work for our employees, a happy work environment and, of course, a great product with lots of satisfied customers!
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Lighthouse Learning team in the coming months?
We’re focussing on building great products - more amazing digital learning for kids, more cool characters and stories and more features for grown-ups.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Support network - If you are flying solo, build a solid network. Make sure you have people to bounce ideas off of and turn to for advice and encouragement. When we first started out, we felt fortunate to have each other as co-directors. It can be a lonely path for an entrepreneur!
2) Set realistic goals - We heard enough horror stories about over-ambitious product ideas that took too long and never materialised. It’s sometimes more important to get something out the door - the first work you do will not be perfect, accept this and focus on learning as much as you can.
3) Have a proper plan - allow enough time for preparation and research and don’t underestimate the importance of this phase. Find relevant events or online groups and speak to as many people as you can for advice. You’d be surprised where the best advice may come from!