Innovation In Practice

Entrepreneur Spotlight

By Rob Anderson

An interview with Matthew Ansell, design and marketing manager

Matthew has been in product design and marketing ever since he left university, working for several blue chip companies helping them develop new business ventures. He was employed as the Head of Marketing at Westpac and BringMe from Lloyds TSB and led the Product Marketing and Management pision at IMG Media. Despite his success in corporate venturing and innovation Matthew decided to change the route of his career and conquer the world of entrepreneurship by setting up his own business. He began by developing various online platforms in collaboration with several agencies for clients such as Arsenal and Manchester United football clubs and set up a new TV online platform for Portsmouth FC. 

Today, Matthew is the design and marketing manager for his business, ‘DrSwot’, in which he develops study apps for Smartphones. Here, Matthew shares his insight and experience on how he developed his apps and how he made the transition from working in a corporate environment to being his own master. 



Q: What’s the background to DrSwot and where did the original idea come from?

 A: DrSwot is a series of study apps for GCSE students. We started the series with science because this is one of the few courses that every GCSE student has to take. The 1.2 million students that study some form of science course at GCSE level every year are our primary target buyer – it is a huge target market for us. Outside of the students, we have also received interest from teachers, parents and the intellectually curious who want to test their own intellect out on the app as well.

Q: What about the app itself, can you tell us a bit more about how it works?

A: We worked with an educational psychologist to help us understand the current generation of students. As they are incredibly proficient at multi-tasking, we have had to design an appropriate app format for this ‘tech-savvy’ audience. In terms of the app itself, there are two revision functions (‘Quick Facts’ and ‘Show the Word’) and two test functions (‘Multiple Choice’ and ‘True – False’). The content is specifically tailored to each exam board to ensure maximum relevance.


Q: It is fair to say that students these days have a relatively short attention span - how do you think DrSwot can tackle this problem and help them focus better?


A: Traditional methods of revising suggest that students need to read a fact six or seven times to be able to memorise it but most of today’s students just don’t have enough time, or they just can’t be bothered. That’s why DrSwot’s format is developed in bite-sized chunks so that students can pick it up (and drop it down) quickly within five minutes.


Q: How did you go about obtaining the customer insight that led to identifying this opportunity and the solution that met the right needs?


A:  I am a trend researcher myself and we also received valuable insight from a network of friends who are teachers and from one-to-one interviews with several head deputy and science teachers. They all said that they don’t have a problem recommending an app to students, but they just hadn’t yet found one that was good enough. They insisted that the content had to be authentic and reflect each exam board’s principles. We took this idea onboard, quickly mocked up the app and tested it with a number of students and teachers at different schools to get their feedback.


Q: In terms of the market, does DrSwot have a lot of competitors and how does it differentiate itself?


A: DrSwot’s competitors in the market are largely apps developed either by frustrated teachers – which have good content but the app design is poor - or by students whose apps are well designed but the content is dubious; some just ripped it straight from study guides or even their own notes! So, we saw an opportunity gap from the competitor perspective.

Basically, DrSwot combines the best of both sides by tailoring the content to the exam board specifications and offering it in a proper format. I would say that’s what differentiates us, as none of the apps in the market except DrSwot are actually content-specific to each exam board at the moment.


Q: From the research you did, was there anything that surprised or shocked you?


A: What shocked me was how much pressure teachers are under to over-deliver with results. Despite all that pressure, they are not given the extra tools to help students learn more effectively. From a student perspective, in simpler terms, why are there not better revision solutions to suit their generation, especially given all the technological advancements out there?


Q: Can you tell us a bit about your business model and pricing?


A: For each subject, we provide a free version of DrSwot for students to try out so they can get the feel of our app. If they like it, then they can purchase the full version for 59p each. Our plan is to use this test season as a taster to see how it goes. After that, it is a question of commissioning content. We are currently doing it over three exam boards, so we can see which one is the most popular.

Having iTunes as our retail store means we can change our pricing model at any time, so we don’t feel too constricted by that. At the same time, it means we have to be careful with our decisions as well. Apple has actually already asked us if we would consider developing just one app that covers content from all the different exam boards for each subject and gives students more flexibility to choose which exam board they would like to study.


Q: Have you considered other delivery mechanisms other than those you have mentioned?


A:  We have considered many different alternatives. However, my experience as a product specialist is that it is best to keep things as simple as possible. For DrSwot, we intend to keep it simple at the beginning, try to understand the market, see if there is a demand for this kind of thing and whether we can create a new market from there.


Q: What are some of the big lessons you have learned from this start-up business and what are some of the challenges?


A: One of the most meaningful lessons we have learned is that often the most important decisions are the ones you make right at the start, so you have to be really cautious about them.


For the challenges, I would say there are two main challenges. The first one is finding teachers who have time to work with us to produce fresh and original content. There are plenty of great teachers out there, don’t get me wrong, but it takes someone quite special to be able to deliver it in the style and format that we need for students to learn quickly within five minutes. We have probably turned down seven out of eight teachers that we have come across so far.

The second and probably the biggest challenge is promoting the app. At the moment we are testing several forms of social media, not only the obvious ones like Facebook and Twitter, but also education forum sites and blogs. Another crucial thing for us is finding ways to get higher up on the search rankings on iTunes. During the process of promoting our app we have constantly received five-star ratings, which is the highest you can get on iTunes, so at least that is one reassurance for us that DrSwot is going in the right direction.


Q: Yes, definitely. I had a chance to test the app and it is excellent. So, what are the next steps for you?


A:  It was not our aim when we first launched DrSwot to become wealthy selling study apps, as the market volume is just too low given the price. Instead, what we would like to gain from it is market insight, so that we can understand the education industry, and also customer insight into how this generation of students would incorporate technology into their study and revision. These insights will enable us to uncover fresh opportunities for new products and services offerings within this high growth industry. From digital and technology perspectives, I have no doubt that the education market will only get more and more interesting in the future.


Q: It definitely will. Innovation Quarterly looks forward to interviewing you again about your innovative ideas and products offering a new way of studying for students. But before then, do you have any final tips for budding entrepreneurs out there?


A:  This is a tough question! Firstly I would say listen to your gut feeling when it comes to identifying market opportunities, but make sure you test them properly as well. Secondly, like I said earlier, be mindful about the initial decisions you make, as they often are the most important ones. Finally, I would say be flexible with your resource planning.


Q: And what advice would you give leaders or practitioners in a corporate role who may want to move from a corporate environment to an entrepreneurial one? What differences have you observed?


A:  Many of my previous corporate roles have been in new venture environments where you need to roll up your sleeves and tackle a very broad ‘to do’ list. My experience as an entrepreneur is that the ‘to do’ list is even broader and I have found myself constantly out of my comfort zone – a good thing, I think. I have also learned to shamelessly promote what we are doing in a way that doesn’t embarrass my audience or myself, so tailoring your message to keep it fresh and relevant is very important.


Rob Anderson

Rob was a founding director of Edengene in 2000, having previously been head of the business growth practice at PA Consulting Group. A chartered accountant with strong finance skills, he has 20+ years’ consulting experience working with blue chip companies, designing and directing multi-year growth and innovation programmes. Rob is the author of Edengene's customer-led innovation methodology, which provides a structured approach to innovation to deliver revenue growth.