Straight Up Startup…Featuring Adam Brimo, CEO And Co-Founder Of OpenLearning

Adam Brimo is the CEO and co-founder of OpenLearning, the social, collaborative and student-centered online learning platform where anyone can create and run courses. Course content formats include audio, video, text, blogs, quizzes and different types of assignments. With the help of world renowned University of New South Wales Professor Richard Buckland, Brimo based the OpenLearning system on the principles of student autonomy, diversity of learning materials, openness of resources and social interactivity.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and International Relations, and a Bachelor of Engineering in Software Engineering from the University of New South Wales. Prior to co-founding OpenLearning, he founded Mijura, an innovative team management application; and Vodafail, which landed him the 2011 Choice Magazine Consumer Activist of the Year award. He is also the recipient of the 2011 UNSW Alumni Graduand Award.

A true academic, consumer activist and entrepreneur, Adam Brimo took the time to talk with the Rackspace Startup Program about the importance of having an efficient and reliable team that can meet tight deadlines. What follows are Adam’s thoughts on how the OpenLearning product was developed and branding that product to ensure that people can find you.

What was involved in the product development of OpenLearning?
It’s very important to stay focused on the priorities that will have a direct impact on your users or potential customers today. When building a product, it is very easy to think of cool features, ideas or enhancements that sound easy to implement, but if you actually go on to implement them they will take longer than you expect. This will result in the most important features being delayed. This includes attempting to build a complex system prematurely before you have the user demand or scale to require it. Therefore, we rely heavily on feedback from our customers and requests for features before we implement new functionality.

How do you establish a successful branding strategy?
The first step to building a business is ensuring that people can find you. There are a few key things here to get right. You have to choose a name that is easy to spell, easy to pronounce and descriptive of your product or service. Our name came from the style of learning environment that we were building, which was already a well known teaching style.

It is also vital to have a .com domain name that matches or is similar to your name. The main way people find our website is by word of mouth, typing in our domain name or searching for it on Google. The majority of people will naturally assume that your domain is the same as your company name with a .com at the end. Initially we started with a different domain, however we were lucky enough to purchase our current domain name for a reasonable price.

What lessons were learned building OpenLearning?
We have learned the importance of having an efficient and reliable team that can meet tight deadlines. When you have limited resources you need a combination of a great team and the ability to prioritize and focus on the most relevant tasks at hand. Those priorities may change quickly so although it is good to think far into the future, you have to be ready to adapt and change just as fast.

What challenges did your startup run into?
It is always going to be challenging to bring a new product to market and OpenLearning is no exception. We operate in a very competitive market with many well-funded and established players so the challenge for us is to move quickly and respond quickly to our customers’ needs. This is both from a product development view as well as customer service and engagement.

What business wins has OpenLearning achieved?
We’ve been able to grow to over 20,000 users without any paid marketing or SEO by focusing on engaging our existing users and building features that make our platform inherently social. Additionally, while our main business has been providing our platform to universities and companies, we have also provided a number of free online courses in a few disciplines. This has enabled students and teachers to experience the platform and learn something before running a course themselves.

What were the ‘What to Do’ and ‘What Not to Do’ while building your startup?
You won’t always know what decision you should make in a given situation so you should always just try making the best decision under the given circumstances. When you look back you will always have the benefit of hindsight so try not to worry too much.

What were the good, the bad and the ugly of establishing OpenLearning?
We’ve been pretty lucky in that we’ve had great support from our users and our customers. In many ways we are going on a journey with our users to build the educational platform they’ve always wanted. This means that when we run into challenges or problems, we can work together to solve them and build a stronger relationship.

What pivots were involved while establishing your business?
We were initially targeting the higher education market exclusively but we quickly discovered that the sales cycle for our product would be too long. So we’ve now focused more on making it extremely easy to setup a course so that individuals and training organizations can use our platform as well. This has helped us open up the platform to a wider range of people and organizations.

What straight up business advice would give to a startup?
Focus on finding and servicing your customers from the very beginning. It’s easy to get carried away trying to build a great product but if you don’t have customers then you won’t know if you’re developing the right product or if you’re solving a real problem.

The Rackspace Startup Program thanks our favorite UNSW Lion, Adam Brimo, for taking the time out of his busy schedule to enlighten us on how finding and servicing your customers from the very beginning is vitally important to a startup. For more insight on hosting your startup on the Rackspace Cloud platform backed by Fanatical Support™, contact the Space Cowboys today.

John McKenna loves startups and is a Space Cowboy with the Rackspace Startup Program. He also crafts customer stories and produces really cool videos for the Customer Reference Program. John enjoys telling stories through his writings…and loves the beach, the ranch, his dog Blue and most of all his three beautiful daughters.


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