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Today you’re going to hear the story of James Rabbitt and Broader Learning. Broader Learning provides STEM based learning programs to multiple schools. This approach allows Broader Learning to provide a higher quality and more cost-effective experience for the students than any one individual school could provide on its own.

Broader Learning has grown out of James volunteering at local school’s helping with coding and robotics classes to now operating across a total of 5 campuses. The very first class they ran they received over 3 times the student sign up than the school had anticipated… That’s very exciting and I’m really interested to see where James and the team can take this company.

But for now, let’s go back to Day One, where this story begins…

Transcript

Adam:

Hi, I’m Adam Spencer and welcome to day one, the show that goes back to the very beginning, to share the story of some of Australia’s most incredible regional startups and entrepreneurs.

Today you’re going to hear the story of James Rabbitt and Broader Learning.

James:

I’m James Rabbitt, I’m the managing director of Broader Learning.

Adam

Broader Learning provides STEM based learning programs to multiple schools.

James:

STEM, science, technology, engineering, and maths. I guess Broader Learning tackles particularly the technology and engineering aspects, but we do integrate some of the science and maths.

More

Adam:

This approach allows Broader Learning to provide a higher quality and more cost-effective experience for the students than any one individual school could provide on its own.

Broader Learning has grown out of James volunteering at local school’s helping with coding and robotics classes to now operating across a total of 5 campuses. The very first class they ran they received over 3 times the student sign up than the school had anticipated… That’s very exciting and I’m really interested to see where James and the team can take this company.

But for now, let’s go back to Day One, where this story begins…

James:

I started studying a bachelor of computer science. I didn’t love it to be honest. I switched to a bachelor of IT, which is what I thought would want to do in the first place. And it is like more people, and problems, sort of focused. It was all about project management, and if someone comes to you with a problem how do you work out what the solution is? How do you work with them to determine what they want, and that kind of thing? While still not the best, most amazing experience I had, it was definitely more my level. Then I applied for an internship at NIB Health Funds for a year.

James:

As a software developer. Clearly aligned with what I was studying. I had heard them talking at career day, funnily enough, focused at high school students and I was an undergrad volunteering at the career day and I was like, “That sounded like a really cool place to work.” So I applied for an internship and got it.

James:

Broader learning actually started when I was an intern. At the end of 2016 we had kind of been bumming around not really doing very much for six months and we applied, or I guess proposed, to one school the idea of running these programs that we wanted to run.

James:

Me and my business partner Mitch, Mitch [McCloud 00:20:21], the other director. He wasn’t actually on board day one, but he very quickly got involved because we had both done some volunteering in schools and stuff before and we were both studying the same thing. We’re good mates, actually.

Mitch and I had kind of been working with one school just as employees, literally I guess, or contractors, because we had volunteered teaching coding and stuff in schools before and it just kind of fell into itself when we started working for one school, assisting them with I think it was a high school robotics program. We sort of saw that there was many a way that that could be improved.

James:

That was kind of where we said, “Whoa, there’s a really solid idea around centralizing that and us doing it all the time.” We’ll experience the pain point of doing that five times a day, or five times a week. That’s our argument for why we go to the … we say to a school, “Hey, instead of you having to do X, Y, Z, we’ll do X, Y, Z a hundred times and we’ll get really good at it, or we’ll get really good at tolerating what’s hard about it.”

What Mitch and I always loved about the idea is the idea that instead of every school in an area having to make the same outlays, so they have to have a passionate teacher who is interested in it. They have to do professional development, they have to make expenditure on [inaudible 00:28:58] so they used, oftentimes from our experience volunteering, once a quarter, or once a year and then sit on the shelves. Everyone is making these distributed outlays that are all the same and these resource companies are making tons of money and the school has got to dust off their resources, dust off their curriculum, teach it for a month, and then throw it back on the shelf.

Adam:

So they’ve got it, the problem. Multiple schools making the same resource outlays for a program that would run for a very limited time. James identified a third-party could come in, develop the programs and implement the programs in multiple schools, therefore saving the schools time and money and ultimately providing a better experience for the students.

Now that James had identified the exact problem, it was time to start working on the solution…

James:

We were just sort of sitting around for six months and sort of mind mapping for six months.

James:

It was just kind of me and a bunch of Post-It notes for those first few months. People will tell you that’s super valuable.

James:

Like a full wall full of all the different possible things we could do and how they would tie together.

Adam:

James spent 6 months in the ideation phase, planning and wallpapering his walls with post-it notes and even James told me he probably spent way too much time planning, eventually you need to actually do something…

James:

People tell you, and it’s quite often, you should go ahead and start and get your first customer as soon as possible if you’re not embarrassed of the first thing you did you launched too late. It’s like a huge sort of repeated mantra in the startup world. I think that’s all valid. But going and finding a school, or a group of students to start with, is not exactly the easiest thing to do.

Adam:

James & Broader Learning did manage to get their first customer, it was the school he had been volunteering at helping with their Robotics Program.

James:

We were talking to someone whose job it was to manage outside school learning, which is a job that pretty much doesn’t exist in any other school as far as I’m aware. It was, I guess, looking back that’s sort of our small scale miracle of had we talked to a normal school we probably would have been told that there’s no appetite for that, but this school directly had one already.

James:

This was our first commercial customer. I guess you could say we had an unfair advantage, we kind of knew a little bit about them, we had worked with them a little bit as individuals. But this was a very different flip when we said, “Hey, we want to run a company and employ other people who aren’t us, but you’ve got to trust that just because we picked them, and we’re designing the programs it’s going to be quality.”

Adam:

Broader Learning is born, up until this point it had just been an idea in James’ mind and on his wall full of post-it notes. It becomes real when a customer agrees to pay you. And I want to reiterate here, because this comes up again and again in my interviews. Relationships. James had the unfair advantage of knowing the person her needed to talk to because he had the pre-existing relationship. Exciting times. However, the first 6 months of this new relationship was, perhaps, a little rough…

James:

I guess you would call it a collaboration to the high school in those first six months where we did some project based learning with a group of year nine students. That kind of … I’m sure it was valuable to them, but looking back and I apologize if they’re listening, I think it was a bit atrocious.

James:

At the end of it I was like, “Whoa, this is … I have massively overestimated what we could fit into six months with a group of high school students.”

Adam:

Even though this might have been a painful process from James’ point of view, it was a necessary one. As James mentioned earlier, getting your first customer really quickly is important. And it’s important because it allows you to get feedback, data from the market so you know what you’ve got is something people want and that early customer allowed Broader Learning to refine their offering.

James:

People in my profession and where I work talk about the idea of dog food-ing something, building a product and eating your own dog food kind of thing so you understand how poor your product is, or great it is.

Adam:

The next step now that the idea has been validated by successfully implementing it across the two campuses at the first school, is to grow. To find their next customer. And this was going to be a challenge

James:

The next step was trying to onboard a second school. We worked with a group of parents at St. James at Kotara South and the parents and the PNF clearly clearly understood that there was an appetite, I guess, within the school community, or that there might be at least an appetite for what we did. It was just sort of getting the school to understand then advertising to the school community to say, “Hey, we’ve got this program on.” And the school says, “Oh, you can have one afternoon a week in the library, or something like that.” And you end up with 68 students enrolled in a 24 student program. So you have to quickly send an email to the school and say, “Hey, can we please … is there any chance at all we could have another afternoon, or two mornings, or something like that?” Because there’s a huge appetite for this.

Adam:

Another challenge James found while implementing these lessons across multiple campuses is staffing & as a result the majority of Broader Learning’s team is casual.

James:

On that topic I’ve been surprised by how recruiting, and onboarding, and managing casual team members has gone for us. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, of course, but I’ve worked in plenty of casual teams. In fact, casual teams very like ours.

James:

But also, team members who honestly do so well, the casual employees of a small company, and they do really quality work, that’s something that surprised me that I wasn’t anticipating when we started. I really love the team that we have now because they each have their sort of, I guess different way of approaching what we do, but they can all be sort of trusted and relied upon to consistently do a good job, or the best that they can in what can be sometimes changing, quickly changing circumstances.

Adam:

Building out that casual team of superstars that James is very happy with is very important because of the very nature of the industry Broader Learning operates in. Having to run multiple classes on the same day means Broader Learning needs a very flexible team to cover classes across more than one campus on the same day. So hiring is a very important role that is crucial to the company’s success. James wanted to be able to conduct interviews in a professional space, but didn’t think hiring out office space for Broader Learning full time would be worth the cost. James was able to find an alternative, bringing Broader Learning into the University Of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation network, or i2n hub.

James:

Working at the hub here on Hunter Street, was a good sort of solution for that because it allowed us to co-locate when we needed to and to interview people when we needed to.

Adam:

The hub and the manager of the hub, Siobhan Curran, have been able to assist James & Broader Learning in other ways too.

James:

It’s been helpful in terms of even just sort of lifting our profile and connecting us within the Newcastle business ecosystem. I was talking to someone about this the other day, that Siobhan, it’s her job to work here all the time, look out for opportunities for the members.

Adam:

So, What’s next for Broader Learning? Broader Learning has 4 schools on their books right now, a total of 5 campuses. And those schools are ongoing, repeat customers. Which is exactly what the team want.

James:

Once they’re onboard and working with us, or we’re working with them rather, we … it’s not like a one time and it’s done.

Adam:

So it’s a matter of continuing to do a great job for their partnered schools, while also keeping an eye on the horizon for new partners. The team still have a lot of room for growth in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region alone.

James:

It’s not like we’ve churned through all the schools in Newcastle. We’re more than interested in talking to everyone and seeing the different formats. It doesn’t necessarily have to be school based, it can be library based, or even workshops for the children of a large company, or something like that based in their foyer, or something like that.

Adam:

There are still a lot of challenges ahead for James, Mitch and the team.

James:

As I sort of mentioned it’s hard. It can be hard working with schools who don’t have a lot of staff to … Schools quite often, it’s the number of classes plus one, that’s the number of employees they’ve got. Every primary school has got 10 teachers and a principal, or something like that. There’s not always someone who you can have, and we can make contact, and we can have a couple of emails back and forward, then we might hear from them three months later and we’re totally sympathetic to tat because of the time pour. That’s kind of part of, I guess, of our appeal, is that once we are set up it’s like set and forget, we’ll email you if there’s a problem.

Adam:

Between James’ wall of post-it notes and the support Broader Learning has from the i2n and the i2n’s manager, Siobhan, Broader learning is in good hands…

James:

She definitely looks out for things that we don’t because we don’t have the luxury of doing that full-time. Of just, you know, what are the opportunities? What’s going on in the ecosystem and that kind of thing? That’s a huge benefit being plugged into even just Siobhan’s mind, where she keeps things in mind for you.

Adam:

I think a key part of Broader Learning’s success is James’ understanding that everyone learns in different ways, and that the methods used in  traditional schooling aren’t always the best fit for every student. I asked James what’s the best way for him to learn. You’ll hear his answer, after this short break.

(Music)

Adam:

I have to start off by saying, this is not a paid sponsorship. I’m going to speak about this app simply because I love what they’re doing.

I love podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts, mostly business and entrepreneurship related podcasts since at least 2011. But something has always bugged me about the podcast app I use, and practically every other podcast app out there.

(Ringing)

Monica:

Hello, this is Monica.

Adam:

Hi, Monica. It’s Adam, how are you going?

Monica:

Hi, I’m good. How are you?

Adam:

Monica is one of the co-founders of a brand new app called Curiohh!

Monica:

It’s all about following your curiosity.

Adam:

I love podcasts because I can listen and learn, but some podcasts go for over an hour, for example, the most recent episode of the Tim Ferriss show goes for 3 hours. And, I love it, but there are really useful bits of information that I’d just like to bookmark so I can come back to later and not have to skim through 3 hours of audio to find it again, that’s an extreme example but I think you get my point. So how do we solve that problem, introducing Curiohh…

Monica:

Curiohh is a podcast app that allows listeners to retain and share the best bits of their favourite podcasts with their network.

Adam:

I downloaded the app on launch day and I personally love it. I would really love for you to try it out if you are an avid podcast listener like I am.

Monica:

If you’re not satisfied with whatever podcast app you currently use, then what’s the harm in giving us a go and seeing where it takes you?

Monica:

It’s super easy. We’re on iOS at the moment, we’ve got Android coming out soon. You just go into the app store and look for Curiohh with two H’s on the end, and the symbol is some headphones and yellow background. It’s very easy to find. Very easy to go through and download it, and be able to figure out how to use the bookmarking and snippeting function.

Adam:

For those of you on iOS go to the app store and search Curiohh with C-u-r-i-o-h-h and download the best new Podcast App around.

Monica:

More information Curiohhapp.com. But you’ll see us online quite a bit.

(Music)

Adam:

So, James started Broader Learning because he understood that traditional school education, as well as existing online tutorials, aren’t always going to be the best way for people to learn about STEM subjects. The different ways that people learn is clearly something James has thought a great deal about.”

James:

Yeah, I was never like I’m going to do amazingly academically, it’s always something I’ve been interested in and I find the current way that this stuff is delivered is kind of challenging for some people. I guess you could say that I don’t learn traditionally. I’m not even saying schools don’t do it well, that’s not at all what I’m saying, I’m just saying when you get online and you buy yourself an electronics kit and you’re completely on your own and you look up a tutorial and it’s kind of geared particularly for a certain way of thinking, or it makes a bunch of assumptions about past knowledge. I think it gets in the way of what people are trying to achieve, it gets in the way of the feeling of reward that they’re looking for in trying to learn something and accomplish something. So whether they’re building a small circuit, or writing an app, or something like that, I think that that’s discouraging for people like me, or people who don’t think in the way of that particular tutorial or technology are built.

Adam:

It’s discouraging for them. For you, what’s the best way that you learn?

James:

I haven’t found that yet. I really like working with a small group of people to explain something. I find that that really forces me to face what I do and don’t understand, and it’s sort of a driving factor for going and understanding something better then coming back to that person and being able to explain it. It’s not about being right all the time or anything, it’s just I do enjoy working with people to get both of you across a line and you’re like, “Ah.” You know? You feel that sense of achievement or something when you actually finally get the concept.

(Music)

Adam:

I hope you enjoyed listening to the story of Broader Learning & James Rabbitt. If you enjoyed this episode please feel free to check out the shownotes for this episode at welcometodayone.com which has links to everything that was mentioned in today’s episode.

And, if you can spare a minute, I’d love for you to leave a rating on the show. It’s practically the most important thing you could do for the show. It’s really important and helps people just like you discover these stories.

You can do that by visiting the show notes page on welcometodayone.com and clicking on James’

post or simply go to ratedayone.com.

(Music)

Adam:

Next time on Welcome to Day One, Daniel Spiteri from FEIKE, a company that helps people get home safely by riding on a foldable electric bike to their location, folding it up, putting it in their boot and driving them home. Here’s how Daniel got started…

Daniel Spiteri:

Bought the bike, tested it out and just did a couple of runs with it and thought, “This is the go.” I did three months of riding around Newcastle, timed everything so I’d ride from here into Honeysuckle, fold the bike up, put it in the car, pretend I was talking to people on the way, drop the car off, pull it out, pay, ride back here, timed everything. Timed every single location and worked out a formula to go into the app so that then became the business.

(Music)

Adam:

Thank you so much for investing some of your time today in listening to Welcome to Day One, I’m excited that you’re here.

This episode was created by me, Adam Spencer & Andy Jones.

Interviews conducted by me, Adam Spencer.

A big thank you to James Rabbitt from Broader Learning and a massive thank you to Newcastle University’s’ Integrated Innovation Network for partnering with Welcome to Day One to bring you this awesome story.

The script was written by me, Adam Spencer in collaboration with Andy Jones.

Music by Lee Rosevere, full attribution on our website welcometodayone.com

This episode was mixed by Andy Jones.

Thank you for listening and see you next time.

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Credits

A big thank you to James Rabbitt from Broader Learning and a massive thank you to Newcastle University’s Integrated Innovation Network for partnering with Welcome to Day One to bring you this awesome story.

Music Credits

Music by Lee Rosevere.

Title: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Source: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Licence: CC BY 4.0

Thanks for listening! Catch you next time.