First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?
Jonathan Seaton: We are thankfully all safe and well. I think everyone has faced different challenges during these times, and we are no exception. We have been doing all we can to support educators, which has been hard to balance with family time, but we have made it work.
My wife Susie and I have a son who is just coming up to two years old, so we haven’t faced the same challenges as families with older children and home learning. I have been in awe of all the incredible things that teachers, parents and guardians have done to support children at this time.
Tell us about you, your Career, how you Founded Twinkl
Jonathan Seaton: I am Co-Founder and CEO of Twinkl, a global educational publishing company that I started with my wife Susie in 2010. We provide over 655,000 high-quality and trusted online teaching and learning materials and tools, which are all teacher-created and checked. I am proud and humbled that the business we first operated from our spare bedroom now helps educators in over 200 countries and regions and now has over 640 wonderful team members behind it.
My entrepreneurial story started as a child, as many young entrepreneurs do. I spotted a key gap in the market at school, and I started my own tuck shop! It opened up a way of thinking for me, recognizing what people want and need and providing it whilst still questioning how to do it better. The school eventually banned my tuck shop, but that questioning and willingness to test things out stuck with me.
The idea for Twinkl came to Susie and I nearly 10 years ago when she was working as a school teacher and couldn’t find any resources she needed for her lessons online. Extensive searches by us both showed that these were either unavailable or were poor quality. Susie was working well into the night to make the resources herself, and after speaking to our colleagues and friends, we soon found that she was not alone in her situation. This sparked an idea.
Spotting a gap in the market, we pushed away from traditional publishing and started creating high-quality, digital resources from our spare room. For over two years, I got up at 4 am to create resources before leaving for my job at the time and would then continue making resources until midnight once I returned home. I learnt as I went, carving a path through execution and feedback. It began as a small enterprise that operated on an “after work” basis, but quickly grew as educators embraced the high-quality materials we were providing.
We founded the company with the mission to help those who teach, and this is something that is still at the core of everything we do at Twinkl today.
How does Twinkl Innovate?
Jonathan Seaton: At Twinkl, we speak to hundreds of educators every day, and so we recognize the challenges often faced in the role. Many of our team members are current or former teachers and are parents too, so we really do have our ear pressed firmly on the pulse of education and never stop listening.
Twinkl continuously innovates to create exciting new tools and mediums to engage children in learning. Whether that’s bringing dinosaurs to life through augmented reality, creating books that explain diversity to reception children or making tools to tailor lessons to every child’s individual needs, we’re always looking for new ways to help those who teach.
The Twinkl team consults the teaching community whenever a new product is created, and many of its innovations are developed in response to a need that has been highlighted by educators directly. We do not innovate just because we can or because the technology is available, but because we see the genuine potential to help educators and improve learning experiences.
We were recently honored with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation, after being recognized for our innovative approach and our groundbreaking resource collection, Twinkl PlanIt. Twinkl PlanIt was created in response to significant changes to the National Curriculum for England in 2014 and provides everything an educator might need to address its aims, including detailed lesson plans, home learning tasks, formative assessment materials and more. We’re incredibly proud of how many educators we have been able to help through this – and it is still incredibly popular today!
How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business and how are you coping?
Jonathan Seaton: Learning materials mission has and always will be to help those who teach, so we knew that we needed to fulfil this more than ever during the pandemic and support people; however we could. It’s also important to us that children have access to learning, whatever the circumstance. Recognizing that our digital resources could help with homeschooling, we decided to offer free access to all of our learning materials to teachers, parents and guardians as schools closed or prepared to close as a result of the coronavirus.
We offered this support to educators all around the world and created bespoke codes for different countries and areas to ensure that everyone, everywhere was able to access Twinkl resources should they wish to use them. The team reached out to over 200 countries and regions around the world, including those where schools had not yet closed, to support contingency planning.
Offering support across the globe was incredibly challenging and time-consuming to do in such a short time-scale, but we wanted to help as much as possible and stay true to our mission. Whilst adapting to working remotely, our incredible teams continued to work tirelessly to create new content to help parents and guardians further with home learning.
Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?
Jonathan Seaton: We recently returned to our former subscription model and brought free access to our full resource collection to a close. This was not a decision that was made lightly, but it is one that will ensure the sustainability of the company and that we are able to continue fulfilling our mission and can support educators in the future. It is important that we all play our role in supporting society during this time, but companies also have to consider what services they can offer without threatening either their operations or employees.
We are still as committed as ever to supporting educators through this difficult time. So our bespoke Home Learning Hub, which is full of resources and tools that have been created explicitly for home learning, will remain on our website for free for as long as it is needed.
How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety, how do you Project yourself Twinkl in the Future?
Jonathan Seaton: When you’re truly passionate about something, stress is inevitable. But I always start my day by reading as this gives me the opportunity to not only learn and engross myself in something new but also get my mind ready for the day ahead. I find that the morning is usually the best time to process any challenges, and by reading for an hour or two, it gets me set up and ready to tackle the day.
During the day, I find switching between tasks and processes is key, as well as ensuring that I have a variety of tasks to complete throughout my day.
Spending time with my wife, Susie, and my young son is also incredibly important. You need to take that time out and enjoy the company of family and friends. Keeping my body active, as well as my mind, really helps to combat stress and anxiety too – walking and cycling are my ‘go to’ forms of exercise.
At Twinkl, we’re extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful team. Every member works incredibly hard and is truly focused on our mission, to help those who teach. By being focused, agile and not afraid to experiment with new ideas, we will keep finding new ways to help educators across the world. The wellbeing of the team is incredibly important, and we have a Wellbeing Coordinator and a focused People Team that support all members through one to one, group and business-wide activities.
I am also aware that Twinkl can’t do it all, so we have set up our business accelerator TwinklHive to nurture start-up businesses that share our passion to help people and make a difference. We offer start-ups a customizable cash investment, mentorship, access to services and residency to help them break into the business and succeed.
Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?
Jonathan Seaton: The education sector is incredibly competitive, so when Twinkl was founded, it was hugely important to develop a strong reputation and a level of trust. The sector was dominated by traditional publishers, many of which were decades or even hundreds of years old. Therefore we focused on engaging with the teaching community to ensure that we were creating materials that educators really needed and could trust.
We also directly employed our customers by hiring teachers to advise on all aspects of resource creation. All of our resources are teacher-created and checked, and the majority of team members at Twinkl are current or former teachers.
We also have a unique production process. Every resource is created in-house and checked by current or former teachers. They are made by expert in-house graphic designers, illustrators and application developers. When complete, each resource undergoes two separate checks, before being uploaded to the site.
Due to its fast-paced nature, Twinkl can also quickly adapt to changes, including when teachers make requests for new resources. Unlike some other publishers that have long production cycles, Twinkl can offer a 24/7 production turnaround.
By keeping teachers and educators at the forefront of our mind, we’ll always produce and provide the resources and tools needed to support educators. We always have and always will work towards our mission, to help those who teach.
Your Final Thoughts
Jonathan Seaton: The past 6 months has been incredibly difficult for us all, and I’m sure we’ve all learnt a tremendous amount. Twinkl was extremely fortunate to be able to offer free support to those affected by school closures, and it’s something, as a team, we are incredibly proud of.
Twinkl will continue to innovate and produce new materials and tools to help those who teach as well as supporting the incredible entrepreneurs who have joined our business accelerator, TwinklHive.
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