We talked with Prof. Steve Molyneux of Tablet Academy a leading provider of consultancy and end-user training focused on people and outcomes, not the technology. This is what he said:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: We are doing well. I live on the Canary Islands, one of the places with a relatively low number of active cases. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Tablet Academy.
Prof. Steve Molyneux: I am in my late 60s, and my co-founder being in his late 30s. This means that I have had a varied career, all of which gave me a range of skills, and a large number of contacts, that have been useful in starting and running the company, as well as complementing those of my co-founder.
I began my career in the 1970s in the Royal Air Force programming Defence RADAR systems and then moved to Germany to continue programming systems. In 1983 I was Headhunted by ATARI to work as Software Manager for ATARI International in Hamburg, where I also found a passion for the use of computers in education. This passion eventually led to me co-founding Tablet Academy.
After several career changes, I returned to the UK and became the UK’s first Professor of Multimedia at the University of Wolverhampton, where I developed one of the very first Virtual Learning Environments VLE/LMS) in 1994. In the early part of 2000, I was asked to advise the UK Government on the use of technology in education but realised that whilst they provided substantial funding for equipment, they did not provide support for the training of teachers in how best use in for teaching. For these reasons, and others such as device equity, as I had predicted, the impact of technology on the learning of students was minimal, and as such, in 2013, I co-founded Tablet Academy in the UK to address these failings.
How does Tablet Academy innovate?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: As a company involved in the teaching of how to use technology in education, we must not only keep abreast of technological developments but also look at how our customers can use the developments to innovate their organisations. To do this, we ensure that the company is extremely inwardly transparent and everyone from senior consultants to apprentices have a voice in our developments.
We also promote the development of innovative products by our staff. Our staff are from a range of backgrounds from Aeronautical Engineers to former Head Teachers of English which bring a wide variety of comments and opinions. We hold weekly virtual meetings with all staff who can attend, during which anyone can comment on our strategic approach or raise ideas they have.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: As a teacher training company, before the pandemic, all our services were deliverable face-to-face. The pandemic forced us to transform all our services to be delivered remotely. This included changing our complete company infrastructure. We had to compress about 2 years of planned organic development into 1 month, which led to us also becoming more efficient and able to react faster to customer requests.
Of course, during the pandemic, our customers also had to change in order to take delivery of our remote services. In terms of turnover, our consultancy and training saw a marginal increase but was decimated by our Student Enrichment services as they are all delivered face to face.
Overall profit dropped as we had to invest in the development of new services, processes, and Infrastructure. But unlike many of our fellow training companies, we maintained a steady flow of work.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: By reassigning development work to those engaged in consultancy and training services, we transformed the company with remote delivery capability in just 1 month. This meant that once implemented, we managed to survive with only one casualty in terms of headcount.
This was a difficult choice, but if we had not reinvested time lost to transform the business to cope with the new situation, we would have had to make many more consultancy and training staff redundant.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: Even though our company focuses on technology training, in terms of our customer relationship, we ensure that everything we do is people centric, not technology centric. Customer confidence only grows with the quality of the product or service you deliver and the customer service you provide. As such we have become 2nd to none in our sector and now have many business referrals directly from customers. The only real tool we use is a CRM which we find invaluable in ensuring excellent customer service.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: We had a Government interest free Business loan but did not make use of it. We also had furlough some, but only a few, staff.
Your final thoughts?
Prof. Steve Molyneux: Many start-ups fully believe in their dream, which is highly laudable as history shows those that survive are those whose founders, with every fibre in their body, believe in their product and fully understand their target customer’s needs, even if they don’t initially. It is also those who listen to others and hear what they say. If you feel what they have to say makes sense, then act on it. Saying that, if they are negative and you still believe in your dream – don’t give up. Just remember, if you cannot get others to believe in your dream, then you will find it difficult to proceed.
Finally, and personally, don’t just chase the money. Treat investors’ money as if it were your own. You take more risks without understanding the consequences if you are playing with other people’s money.
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