Melbourne-based EduTech startup Typsy is on track to reach 500% year-on-year sales growth this year after successfully courting its largest client to date – Switzerland’s prestigious hospitality management school, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL).
Launched in May 2016, Typsy – an online hospitality training platform – is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Jonathan Plowright, whose previous businesses include Up Finance, a broker providing finance and insurance to the hospitality sector. To date, he has raised $5 million from private investors for Typsy.
According to Plowright, the deal with EHL will help fast-track his global expansion plans for Typsy by enabling it to offer its online video courses to a cohort of more than 2800 hospitality students from 114 countries every year.
He spoke to Dynamic Business about the origins and rapid growth of Typsy, the service it is providing the hospitality sector and the significance of being backed by EHL. He also discussed the importance of ‘kicking arse’ for clients and the demand from generation Netflix for engaging, authentic video learning.
DB: What circumstances led you to found Typsy?
Plowright: Through Up Finance, I was exposed to the challenges faced by businesses such as pubs, bars and restaurants. When a customer mentioned they were struggling to work out TripAdvisor, I resolved to produce a video course to help them. My marketing guy knew how to work a camera and with his help, I pulled something together… the video was less than great but it was a fantastic learning experience! At the time, I was aware of Lynda[dot]com, the training platform now owned by LinkedIn and probably one of the greatest success stories in online learning. Seeing an opportunity to fill a gap in the hospitality sector for an offering like Lynda[dot]com, I ditched the calculators, sold Up Finance, bought some cameras and, taking my team with me, started Typsy.
DB: What is the elevator pitch for the business?
Plowright: The Typsy platform makes it easy for customers – from individual users and small venues with 20 staff through to large hospitality groups such as Solotel – to access training from the industry’s best thought leaders. In the case of academic institutions such as EHL, Typsy serves as a tool for them to support the learning outcomes and industry-readiness of their students through a blended learning approach.
Essentially, what we do is engage with hospitality businesses, learn what their biggest challenges are and then find the people who are world experts when it comes to addressing those challenges. We then fly to wherever those experts are in the world and film an online video course with them, which we make available to users through the Typsy desktop and mobile apps so they can learn and upskill as they need to.
We currently have around 300 video lessons on our platform, across what we call ‘whole of house’. For example, we have courses on management, marketing, finance, leadership for head office; courses on greeting customers and serving alcohol for front of house; and culinary courses for back of house.
DB: How are you approaching user engagement?
Plowright: Having been raised on Netflix subscriptions and shows like Game of Thrones, the people entering the industry won’t settle for boring or functional training content – they want to be engaged, entertained. As such, we’ve tailored educational video content to capture their attention. As part of this approach, we subscribe to the ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy. In other words, we act as a ‘fly on the wall’ to the experts we film. We also know that people appreciate authenticity. For this reason, if we’re doing a course on German beer, we won’t film it in a studio in Melbourne – no, we’ll travel to Germany and shoot it on location in a German beer house with German beer expert.
We’re also driving user engagement in the way we approach professional development; namely, people earn skills credits when they complete a video lesson on Typsy and when they complete a course, they earn a certificate. Critically, anyone who uses Typsy builds a profile they can share with prospective employers – employers have told us they really like being able to see where a prospective employee’s interests lie, that they’ve taken the time to learn certain topics and that they’ve got that basic knowledge.
DB: How was the deal with EHL struck?
Plowright: One of our business development managers reached out to a contact at EHL who basically said Typsy had been on their radar, which was great. I then flew to Switzerland and meet them and we built a good relationship, so kept the conversation going. It took about six months to bring them on board.
DB: What validation does the deal provide?
Plowright: Having the world’s oldest and largest hospitality school research all the available platforms across the industry and see in Typsy something that resonated with them – a vision they were confident to invest in – was very reassuring, especially as EHL’s Head of Innovation is very switched on to the changing education landscape.
DB: What value will the deal create for Typsy?
Plowright: EHL have amazing commercial contacts globally as well as a lot of clout in terms of brand; however, the reality is that the we’re not sitting here waiting for EHL to create value for us, we’re focused on kicking arse and delivering value for their faculty members and students. As JFK said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I feel if we approach relationships like this and we do a great job, new and exciting opportunities will open up.
DB: EHL aside, what success has Typsy enjoyed?
Plowright: Our sales tap really got turned on six months ago. Since then, we’ve been moving very fast with some great wins. By the end of this year, EHL will represent about 10% of recurring revenue, so there’s a lot of growth happening elsewhere. We expect see growth in enterprise-level sales, so relationships with players like Solotel, EHL and William Blue, but where a lot of our sales growth is coming from is the SME side of our business.
DB: How will you reach 500% YOY sales growth?
Plowright: One of the things we’re doing is expanding into North America this month. As part of this push, John Robertson – the former head of enterprise sales for Lynda[dot]com – has joined us to head up or North America sales and we’ll be adding staff in LA.
In the Australian context, for $179 per month, SMEs gain unlimited access to the Typsy platform, with the ability to upload their own courses, so the value proposition is really strong for the market. To capitalise on this, we’re hiring more sales reps across Australia.
DB: How do you see 2018 playing out for Typsy?
Plowright: We’re looking to have between 35,000 and 50,000 from across 1000 venues on our platform by the end of the calendar year. That’s the goal, but the most important thing for us is that we’ll be honing the user experience by tracking course review ratings and making sure we deliver really engaging video content. The value we create for our customers is as important as the growth we experience.