Ben O'Connor of Higher Learning Technologies to be April Guest Highly Successful Coralville Startup to Share Story
New Mobile Educational Publishing Company Speaks to Greater Des Moines (DSM) Startup Entrepreneurs
"We want to be the best and the only choice for mobile educational publishing," declared Ben O'Connor, co-founder and CFO of Higher Learning Technologies (HLT), the 2013 Silicon Prairie New Startup of the Year honoree. "To do that we have to keep building on our platform, expanding the penetration of our existing markets while extending the product into new ones as well," he explained. O'Connor will be the guest interviewee at the April edition of Square One DSM Startup Stories where he will field questions from Executive Director, Mike Colwell, as well as from the audience.
Coralville-based HLT is a mobile educational publishing company whose software platform allows students and professionals to study on their own schedule. "Our platform delivers what students want?: the power to use their mobile devices to study anytime, anywhere for their admissions exams, classroom courses, professional certifications and licensure tests," explained O'Connor. The idea was conceived by O'Connor and two of his friends, Adam Keune and Alec Whitters, while Whitters was studying dentistry at the University of Iowa. Dentistry students still study for exams using an age-old method involving flash-cards. With a smartphone in his pocket, Whitters was carrying an unwieldy box of cards around to study. For O'Connor, himself a nursing grad student at the time, and the other two students, it seemed inconceivable that such an outdated means of study could not be upgraded to the 21st Century.
Started as a side project, ramping up during the summer of 2012, and blessed by some funding through friends and family, the three roommates took the plunge into entrepreneurial waters.
"We were fortunate early on," recalls O'Connor of their locating a design team that developed their MVP and of the early traction that the bare-bones product garnered in the market place. They almost immediately generated revenue. "Those early sales allowed us to raise money fairly quickly," he explained of funding rounds of $1MM and $5.5MM in the early few years. This further accelerated their growth leading them, by early 2016, to becoming the #1 grossing education app in the App Store and on Google Play with 15 apps ranked in the top 100 and over 1MM users.
Joining Colwell, O'Connor is happy to share whatever insights he can, although he admits that the early days of the company, a scant three plus years past, already seem decades ago. "I'd be lying if I said it was not chaotic," he says of the constant learning curve he and his co-founders have been on with none of them bringing a business education to the table. "I read constantly," he reveals of his non-traditional approach to a business education. And then there are the challenges of personnel he notes recalling that in the final quarter of 2014 they grew from a dozen on staff to over 30. "Honestly I would counsel people against that fast of a growth curve, it can be problematic and probably is not the best way to scale," he shares.
Perhaps paramount among the lessons he has learned and wisdom he hopes to share is the importance of finding mentors with perspective and experience. Not doing that as much as they should have may have led these very youthful businessmen to a few unnecessary mistakes.
"Finally," imparts O'Connor, "if nothing else, I hope to stress the importance of constantly learning and educating yourself. The only way we could do this, given our backgrounds, was to learn very fast and to never stop doing so."
With revenues doubling yearly and projected to continue on that path, it would seem their lessons have been well learned.
Startup Story Event Info
$15 admission fee (includes lunch) or free (if you don't want lunch).
Networking and Lunch starts at 11:30 a.m.
Presentation starts at Noon.
April 20, 2016
Greater Des Moines Partnership
700 Locust Street, Suite 100
Conference Center (street level)
Contact us at info@squareoneDSM.com for more information.
Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance. Contact Square One DSM for details.