First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Doug Ashton: It is hard to imagine that there is anybody that has not been negatively affected by COVID-19. My family and I are no different. However, we are likely fortunate than most from a health perspective but having a college-age daughter and another daughter who is a senior in high school, there have been many changes to their educational experience. My wife is an entrepreneur herself, and we talk a lot about navigating our businesses in a COVID-19 environment and positioning for when it is behind all of us.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Streamable Learning.
Doug Ashton: After a long career as an equity analyst covering technology and telecommunications companies, I first founded a video communications company in 2009 that addressed increasing the use of video communications in the financial services sector. That company, OpenExchange, is now the largest provider of live and interactive video meeting platform in this market and serves clients all over the world. I started looking around for another community that might benefit from the innovations taking place in video and where scaling video interactions would have a positive impact. I came across the museum (defined loosely), and K-12 market and kind of took it from there.
How does Streamable Learning innovate?
Doug Ashton: First, we looked at how the video was being utilized in the classroom and in particular how the world’s museums, aquariums, zoos, art, history and other educational site were using video to connect with K-12 classrooms. We found a lack of participation from the content side of the market and really the school side too, and basically, a hassle map that made it difficult for the two sides to find each other and connect. In addition, the space was defined by a transactional model and two-way video communications. And so we solved for the hassle map keeping the sides from interacting, introduced a subscription model and shifted from videoconferencing to streaming. That was the insertion point of innovation: finding a community that wanted to communicate and making it easier for everybody to do so.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Doug Ashton: Everybody’s first reaction was that COVID-19 must be great for business because we offer affordable, high volume virtually-accessible content. However, while the pandemic has helped create a great deal of awareness of our service from both sides of the market, budgetary issues, spending constraints and general uncertainty in the market made it harder to close business. And with many of our content sites closed, we had to get creative on the production side and work with a host of new people because of the unfortunate furloughs and lay-offs.
The bottom line is that registrations are up, attendance is up, and we substantially increased the number of programs we are hosting this year. And that created its own challenges.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Doug Ashton: Most of our challenges were related to marketing and service packaging. Without a robust conference market and with district communications limited, we had to come up with new ideas that would allow us to continue to grow not only our subscribers but our pipeline. We got creative with pricing, trials, and enlisted our content partners into the process.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Streamable Learning in the future?
Doug Ashton: Starting and growing companies have an element of stress that is always present. It is different than when you work daily in the stock markets, not so much more or less. But in both markets, you rely on your team and customers to pull you through. And when you are building a community-based communications platform, you have to focus on helping the community through the new environment. And that, very much, has its rewards.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Doug Ashton: We have found in the K-12 space, because of budgets, you are always competing against free and the video space there is free content around. It may not be interactive, it may be dated, it may not have single market features (e.g. program/educational standards matching), but it is free. And so you have to keep talking about your value proposition, comparatively, use your reference clients to show success,( as there is some homogeneity) in K-1, and focus on offering more than anybody else has. As long as quality improves, more is usually better, particularly because many, many subjects/topics need to be addressed in K-12.
Your final thought?
Doug Ashton: We believe there are still many markets where entrepreneurs can create platforms that help enable scalable, affordable communications among communities that have pre-existing interests in connecting, yet general all-purpose platforms don’t work for whatever reason. K-12 and our content community is one that just happens to have a great mission too.