Master Investor interviews Brad Loiselle, CEO of betterU, a pioneering company focused on partnering with leading content providers from around the world and then promoting/managing their quality online education in India.
Hi Brad. Thanks for taking the time to talk to Master Investor. Before we start talking about your latest venture, betterU, could you give our readers a little background on yourself and your previous business interests? As the author of Keep Moving 4Ward you’re also vocal on the whole subject of entrepreneurship. How would you define your approach to business?
I am a serial entrepreneur that grew up with limited access to funds and education. I could not get the job that I wanted so I started to build my own companies. My ideas have always been ones that are large – and transformative for an industry. I founded EasyWrapLines in 2000, a paper goods company, with the aim of becoming the largest manufacturer of licensed paper products in Canada producing over 15 million products by 2008.
Over the course of the development years, I held a full-time job as a project manager consultant, working within the private and public sectors and helping to solve project challenges within large projects. Funds earned from this full time job funded my company’s growth.
I built this company to encompass manufacturing in China, a team of designers producing close to 1,000 designs for all the top entertainment companies, retail partnerships with almost all the major chains and distribution partnerships in seven countries (Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, UK and Puerto Rico). As a result of my efforts, I was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year under the age of 40 in Ottawa, being featured in media across the country and showcased for close to two years by Canada’s national entrepreneur show “CBC Venture”.
I founded iPal Interactive Learning in 2009, an ed-tech professional services company aimed at improving the process for content conversion into online learning, which gained quick traction after launch. I spent a year developing a methodology for how to improve upon the development process of online learning courses. I launched iPal in 2010 as a key speaker with the Canadian training and Education Conference in Toronto.
My methodology was a huge success which landed contracts with companies such as Toyota, BMW, Nike and Scotiabank, not to mention the US government, Canadian Government, IATA and many more. On the back of this success I grew my development team to 35 internal team members and two production houses in India. By early 2011, iPal won the Small Business of the Year award and was later acquired by one of its customers.
My approach to business is to work hard and make sure I plan out the key value pillars that will be hard for anyone else to replicate. It also requires that the idea be something that pioneers a new concept within an industry and not just copy what others have done. This is how I have been building betterU.
betterU is described as being “like Amazon, yet for educational products”. Many have tried – and failed – to emulate Jeff Bezos’s retail success in different sectors. What makes you convinced that betterU has the potential to achieve that kind of scale in the education sector?
When an industry is oversaturated and consumers are unsure of what to choose, it is time for consolidation. A marketplace is the solution. The other requirement is a collective collaboration of educators to help educate the masses. There is not one educator anywhere in the world that has all the education required to train the hundreds of millions of people across emerging markets.
In order to make this happen, one group – betterU – must bring together leaders from across all categories, types of education and supporting services so that when the students arrive at the site, we are organizing and providing access to the education they require. In addition, by having so many types of education programmes, betterU is able to run scripts that create customized learning programmes pulling together learning paths that help a student reach their desired learning outcomes.
As with any marketplace, betterU is helping people save time and money, and to streamline a much more robust learning programme.
The education market is becoming increasingly commoditized. What are the implications of this, both for the workforce and the industry?
Skills development is critical in a world that is advancing and changing all the time. Employees and corporates both need to stay ahead of changes through continual learning. Access to a marketplace like betterU which is always working with leading educators provides them with what they require when they require it.
In a world where labour is exposed to increasing competition at a global level and where even a university degree is often no guarantee of a job, what role does betterU have to play in helping to ensure that the proceeds of growth are spread more widely? What advice would you give to someone entering the jobs market in today’s world?
betterU is working to incorporate global job banks and corporate partners that can connect through betterU to draw learners to employment opportunities on a global scale. betterU also has the ability to connect learners with job specific learning programmes customized for their individual needs. This is possible only because of the over 10,000 programmes available on betterU.
Entering the jobs market requires that people be well prepared in terms of their skill set. There is a whole swathe of people that have focused too much on theory, which in a competitive global landscape is not enough. If someone enters the workforce armed with key skills while always learning more, they will have a competitive advantage. The world needs both ‘thinkers‘ and ‘doers‘.
betterU is currently focused on India. Presumably, the country lends itself to this kind of platform given that the population is still urbanizing and demand for good education at a low cost is part and parcel of the process of moving away from rural areas and into the cities?
Any market has the need for betterU. While India is our focus right now, we decided on this path because in order to attract leaders from around the world to join betterU, we needed to provide them with access to a market that they themselves could not achieve.
There is a tipping point to our business with content partnerships. The more we have on board, the more global opportunities open up to our marketplace. A learner, no matter where they are in the world, could access any of the leading educators through betterU. Our offerings go beyond simply education. We include job connecting, customized learning solutions and much more.
betterU shares are traded on the TSX Venture Exchange in Canada and in Frankfurt, Germany. What is the composition of the shareholder base in terms of management, institutions, private individuals etc.?
Most of our investors are individuals that believe in the vision of betterU. Many are holding on to their shares as they see the value of where betterU is growing. Many top bankers in Canadian brokerage houses helped finance the company and are long-term shareholders. There are only two shareholders over 10% currently with myself being the largest holding 15 million shares of approximately 52 million shares. I signed a volunteer pooling agreement committing to not selling any of my shares over the next 6 years. This is how much I believe in betterU.
Last year, betterU signed a strategic relationship with Times of India. What is the significance of this deal?
We are working to create national market awareness and positioning betterU as a market leader in this space. This requires significant market outreach and it can be quite expensive. A media investment helps provide growth exposure within the market without impacting the cash flow of the company.
You recently closed a private placement with a high premium to the market price. Now you are in negotiations with strategic investors. Can you elaborate a bit more on this?
As we continue to grow we are getting interest from many global leaders. These leaders are interested in the betterU model and we are assessing each one to determine which partner provides the best growth opportunity for betterU. I cannot get into more details about the partners themselves due to confidentiality.
What are your plans to grow the platform internationally?
Our priority is to first succeed in India, then we will execute on our plans for international markets. We are serious about this growth and have already registered trademarks in many of the countries we want to enter. Growth on a global scale also requires the right resources and these resources will come after our growth in India.
What are your financial projections for the next couple of years?
I cannot disclose this as it is not public knowledge. As a young company, what I can say is that we have been putting in place all the key partnerships in order to achieve significant revenues and growth in the future.
You are currently working on a potential collaboration with NASSCOM. What kind of impact could that have on your bottom line?
I cannot discuss the details of this relationship as it is still under development. What I can say is that we continue to have many discussions about the future and what it would look like together.