Melbourne-based edutech start-up Xplor recently raised $6 million in Series A funding. It’s a big win for founder and CEO Mark Woodland, who sees it as validation of his vision and business model. Having previously transformed his family-owned childcare centre into $22 million business, he’s determined to disrupt the early learning sector, here and abroad, by bringing education into the 21st century.
Launched in August 2015, Xplor is an app-based childcare management platform that enables parents to experience their child’s early learning journey in real-time through a live feed of photos, videos and activities. By automating roll-call and attendance as well as rosters, reporting, payroll, invoices, payments and HR, the platform also reduces the admin burden on educators, freeing them up to focus on teaching.
“There are no bolt-ons, no modules,” Mark told Dynamic Business. “Just a complete platform that gives parents, educators and administrators their time back.”
To extend its market reach, Xplor offers the software and supporting hardware, including iPod Touches and iPad check-in kiosks, free to education facilities in Australia and overseas. Meanwhile, families that sign up to the platform pay $2.50 per week.
Xplor is currently rolling out to thousands of childcare centres and kindergartens across Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the USA. In addition, the platform currently facilitates over 5.5m daily connections across their existing pool of childcare centres and kindergartens.
Ultimately, Mark wants Xplor embraced by every single one of Australia’s 15,000 childcare centres and kindergartens. He spoke to Dynamic Business about his journey from ADF member to childcare centre operator to industry disruptor.
“Romanticising education is the quickest way to kill it”
From 2003 to 2010, Mark served in the Australian Army within the Royal Australian Artillery and Australian Army Psychology Corps. During this period, his mother, a retired primary school teacher and principal, bought a childcare centre in Melbourne. To reduce his mother’s administrative workload, and thus allow her to focus on teaching, Mark joined the business in 2010.
He had little interest, however, in traditional teaching, believing (as he still does) that “the quickest way to kill education is be romantic about it”. Mark was also frustrated by the outdated and manual operating systems prevalent in the childcare sector. Consequently, he resolved to use technology to bring efficiency to the business and to redefine what it meant to teach and learn.
In 2012, Mark took the reins of Woodland Education. Over the next three years, he grew it from a $400k business into a $22 million business with three centres and a customer base of 850 families. Mark attributes much of this success to his experience in the Army, explaining that it taught him “perseverance and not to give up, even when the odds are against you”.
“We need to stop teaching like it’s a decade ago”
In 2014, Mark founded Liveely, a software platform that automates administrative process in the aged care sector. Later, in January 2016, Mark sold Woodland Education to focus on the newly-launched Xplor. The edutech start-up, which had been in development since 2010, evolved out his original vision for the family business; namely, to redefine education while reducing admin, thus enabling educators to educate. Mark, who completely self-funded the software, said the business has spent the time since launch helping childcare centres and kindergartens to re-imagine education.
“Instead of being upset that children are incredibly engaged when using mobile devices or playing videogames, educators should seek to create that same level of engagement in learning,” Mark said.
“It’s the digital era, technology is here to stay. We need to stop teaching like it’s a decade ago because children, who are digital natives, are tuning out. By not embracing new technologies in the education space, we’re not only wasting our own time, we’re wasting our children’s time. We have a lot to lose if this continues. If we wake up and learn, we have a lot to gain.
“We are facing an incredible time in education. Childcare centres and schools need to compete on service, not rely on demand. Services around the world understand this and love the Xplor platform because we genuinely care about education and are solving the challenges currently facing the industry. We are solving a problem not creating a problem to solve.”
“We’re expanding, exploring new technologies”
Mark said a continuing focus for Xplor is refining the platform to ensure the best possible service for parents, children, educators and childcare centre operators. In addition, the business is using funding from the Series A round, which was led by AirTree Ventures, to grow Xplor’s teams in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States. There are also acquisition talks with other platforms in the space and plans to launch Xplor in the UK and China next year. According to Mark, the next five years in edutech will be incredibly exciting, with plenty of opportunities to evolve his start-up.
“Ten years ago, smartphones didn’t exist and neither did the digital and online services that matter the most today, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Uber,” Mark said. “It’s fascinating that ten years before that, the internet – not social media – was considered the biggest shift the world had seen. VR, I think, will be bigger than both, so we’re currently exploring VR platforms and interactive video.”