Singapore startup hopes to democratise education, encourage community-based learning
Seeks to raise seed round funding, immediate goal to expand precence and user base
YOU hear it often enough in discussions about surviving the startup journey – If you’re a founder who can’t code, learn how. Yet it’s not often you meet a founder who has actually done so in order to achieve the bigger long-term vision in his or her head.
Learnemy founder Elisha Tan did just that, when time came to move to the product development stage of her startup idea.
“I wanted to outsource my product development and ran through my mock-ups with a friend to get his advice on costs and duration, and he suggested that I should learn how to code because a founder can't afford not to know her product.
“That's how I started learning Ruby on Rails. In fact, I coded the current version of Learnemy with the help of a friend,” Tan says in an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA). (Read more about her coding journey here).
While the current version of the marketplace is the result of her own coding work with development beginning in November 2013, the initial beta version of the product was outsourced to a developer.
Tan is no stranger to going off the beaten path in the quest for new knowledge. It was what sparked the idea for her startup Learnemy, a peer-to-peer marketplace for people to learn new skills from their community.
After graduating from the National University of Singapore with a degree in psychology, she wanted to learn squash but a search online proved futile.
“Nobody would say that they are a terrible coach, so reviews on sites aren’t a good enough indicator. Also, since I'm learning for fun, I don't need to learn from a professional. Learning from an enthusiast works just as well, but where do I find them?” recalls Tan.
She also found that there were individuals who want to teach others what they are passionate about and make a living out of it. Unfortunately, they either don’t know where to start or struggle to find more learners.
Building a place to find each other
After graduation, Tan spent some time with a small social media agency where her proposal helped clinch the deal to handle social media for Chingay 2011, Singapore's largest street parade.
But the frustrations felt during her quest to learn squash lingered, and she made the decision to do something to solve the problem. She applied for and was accepted into the Founder Institute Singapore in September 2010, and work began on bringing her idea to life.
In July 2011, Learnemy received S$50,000 (US$ $39,950) under the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme by Spring Singapore.
With Learnemy, Tan hopes to democratise education in the region. While Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms, such as Coursera and Udacity, do a great job at providing accessibility online, she believes that a different solution is needed in this region.
“Learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom. I’ve taught a copywriting class at a café, sharing what I know from practising it on my startup. It was a casual atmosphere and the teaching wasn’t just from teacher to student – we also shared our knowledge with each other,” she says.
“Internet speed and online payments are still big problems in the region. That’s why offline classes still make sense. Plus, online learning can’t provide the social interaction an offline class can,” she adds.
Learnemy is intended to provide an easy way for learners and instructors to find each other. To find an instructor for private lessons, users can simply do a search on the website, read verified reviews, and book a time. They can also join group lessons to learn with their peers.
Interested instructors sign up online and can start accepting learners once Learnemy has authenticated them. Listing classes are free on the platform; the startup takes a 20% commission per enrolment. Both professional trainers and enthusiasts are welcome to teach.
Currently focused on programming, sports and music categories, Learnemy’s instructors include athletes previously in the Singapore national team and community leaders of various local technology user groups.
“My notable instructors include Winston Teo, an ex-NEO/ Pivotal Labs senior engineer. NEO is the best software development agency in Singapore and he teaches Ruby on Rails.
“He also organises the monthly Ruby meet up group in Singapore, and organises RedDotRubyConf, the largest Ruby conference in South-East Asia,” says Tan.
Growing the learning community
The marketplace made its official debut this week, and during its beta phase, matched more than 700 learners and attracted 135 instructors, claims Tan.
“We're growing at 10% per month at the moment, but we're looking to grow that number,” she says.
She also now has a developer on board, Nicholas Ng, a software engineering graduate from Multimedia University in Malaysia who has worked on marketplace apps Propwall, IBilik and Carsifu.
In terms of competition, Tan says there are a couple of similar companies operating in Singapore but Learnemy “has been around longer.” In Malaysia, there is a similar learning platform active in the market called CultureRun, which was founded in 2011.
“However, I would say my main competitors are the incumbents whose websites gave me so much frustration that I first started developing Learnemy. Such websites or directories do not provide a platform with unbiased reviews ... that's where we come in,” she adds.
The next six to 12 months will be spent on growing Learnemy's user base in Singapore, with Tan looking to expand her team. She is also looking to raise another seed round to fuel expansion in Singapore and the region.
She shares that the toughest challenge to date in building her startup has been discipline.
“As an entrepreneur, you have no bosses to manage you. Any goals and deadlines can be pushed if I wanted it, so I have to work extra hard to discipline myself,” Tan says.
But despite the challenges, remembering the reasons why she began her entrepreneurial journey in the first place keeps her going.
“I told myself that if I no longer believe in my vision, it's time to find a job. So far, I haven’t stop believing and it has helped pick me up when things seem down,” she adds.
In case you were wondering, Tan did end up learning how to play squash. She took up a couple of private lessons from different coaches, along with a group class – all discovered via Learnemy.
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