Just as Spotify and Apple have transformed the way people listen to music, Brisbane-based entrepreneur Andrew Barnes envisions his edutech startup GO1 as the way forward for corporate training.
Since launching in 2015, GO1 has amassed over 500,000 users for its SaaS platform, which enables companies, across all sectors, to find, book and track staff training for the purposes of onboarding, compliance and professional development. With customers on every continent (except Antarctica), the startup has seen its workforce balloon to over 75 people, spread across offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh, San Francisco and working remotely in South Africa and the UK.
In addition to being backed by Shark Tank’s Steve Baxter, Tank Stream Ventures and Blue Sky Ventures to the tune of $4 million, it boasts Seek, The Brisbane Lions, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Foxtel and Oxford University amongst its customers.
Barnes, who co-founded GO1 with Vu Tran, Chris Eigeland and Chris Hood, caught up with Dynamic Business to discuss the genesis of his startup and the strategies that have underpinned its growth.
DB: What led you and your co-founders to start GO1?
Barnes: Vu, Chris E and I went to high school together. Together with software engineer Chris H, we started Glass Obelisk, a web development business, after entering and winning some web developing comps. Originally, we had wanted to create something similar to True Local and went around door knocking to businesses… but most of them didn’t have a website so we pivoted. We built sites for ANZ, NewsCorp and others; however, our parents were more interested in us going to university than running a startup. Although supportive, they were worried the business was a gamble. I did economics, while Vu became a medical doctor and Chris E did law and gained United Nations experience.
In 2014, I went to Oxford University and did a Master of Science in Education. Upon my return, Vu Chris E, Chris H and I agreed there was an opportunity to streamline education, specifically professional development, with technology. In early 2015, we decided to sell off Glass Obelisk and launch GO1. The goal was to bring all of the world’s training and learning resources into a single environment. As a parallel, consider how Spotify and Apple Music have transformed the ay people listen to music. Instead of needing to buy individual CDs (courses) people can now subscribe to unlimited access to music (training).
DB: What strategies have fuelled GO1’s success?
Barnes: Two come to mind. The first has been to approach every engagement – whether it’s with a customer, partner or our employees – with a focus on creating win-win solutions. We need to make sure our customers are succeeding or they won’t stay. We need to make sure our partners and our staff are too. As a business, we need to add value in everything we do. The second strategy has been to constantly re-think our assumptions. If we can understand the world of education and training better than anyone else, we can build a product that is fundamentally better.
DB: Can you identify some defining moments?
Barnes: While securing capital has certainly allowed us to grow faster, it hasn’t fundamentally changed how we see the market or how we develop our product. Running a startup is like riding a rollercoaster – when we get customer feedback saying that it is fantastic and it has changed their business that’s when we know we are onto something… but in the early days, when the system used to occasionally crash it felt like the end of the world. Most of the difficult decisions we’ve made, including the risks we’ve taken, have been obvious choices… we just had to dive in and do it because there are no silver bullets in business.
DB: What’s been the biggest learning curve?
Barnes: In the early days, I would spend most of my day writing code. Today, I don’t write as much. I do miss it somewhat but understand that as GO1 grows, my responsibilities have had to change accordingly. Adjusting to this and being the CEO of a growing company has involved a huge amount of learning. The approaches that work well for a team of 4 are completely different to the approaches that work for a team of 75 – it’s a different environment.
How do you plan to capitalise on GO1’s growth?
Barnes: Without being flippant: to grow faster. Momentum can be a powerful tool to achieve even more ambitious goals!
Further reading: Yes, leadership isn’t rocket science… but who said rocket scientists make effective leaders?, Diversity can be a double-edged sword when businesses don’t have systems to harness it and Entrepreneurial success is impossible without creativity: ‘zig when others zag’ and more tips.