This summer I was interviewed by the “Tek Tok” of IMPACT Incubator, a GCC initiative from the global investment firm Angivest in Bahrain. And with the epic mission of IMPACT Incubaor, it was of course an honour:
“Develop a thriving set of exciting startups that have bold ambitions to change the world and make simple yet significant impact on daily lives of people”.
While in voluntary quarantine in one of the family’s summer residences in Sweden, this week me and the company I represent had the honour to humbly trying to answer up to that epithet. During the interview we came to talk about the mission of AIAR, and how we are about to realize the vision of using cutting-edge mobile technology to build a Post-Corona-Society (PCS) with a significant improvement for people and the planet.
The interview covered the story behind, and how daring we are in changing the world, how we make this happen, what different services we offer, how we are reaching all millions and billions in doing this, and – perhaps the most interesting of all – how we believe Covid 19 is impacting our industry, and new trends of partnerships between old and new players. The interview can be watched in video here, or as an edited transcription in text below.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” How are you and your team at AIAR daring to change the world? What is the story behind AIAR?
– Ok, so two questions, how we are daring and the story behind. Regarding the first of these, we are daring in the disruptive sense that we are not – like earlier MOOC:s and eLearning providers – using new technology to repair old processes, but using cutting-edge level of emerging technology to innovate totally new processes.
The eLearning industry has so far done one thing right. By using internet technology in general, and mobile tech in particular, they have made learning accessible on a much wider population than ever before in history. Still, having said that, compared to other industries EdTech is last in line for really doing something that will do more magic than mere access. With few exceptions, most of the digital dinosaurs have content offline, put it online and think it becomes sexier because it’s there. Still, the supply has until today been marked by being:
- Boring: the EdTech supply today is not by far as engaging as in other digital areas, as shown in merely 7% completion rate.
- Uncredible: It is not by far secure with the majority of the online certificates being without credibility due to the ease of cheating.
- Expensive: And, for the emerging markets that we focus on – when you have five, four or even less than two-three hundred dollars/month in salary, paying 50-150$ for a course is still a tough investment to make.
– The second question was about the story behind, no? This story is a rather long one. And rather personal. Let’s just say I’ve had a rather successful digital career, with PhD-studies, 4-5 books, founder of IAB, Assignments for 100 companies on 4 continents, 2-3 ok exits, millions of users etc etc. But when I got my twin boyz 7 years ago, I found out I didn’t only have a wallet, I also had a heart.
That’s when I started the journey from being a serial entrepreneur to becoming a true social entrepreneur with a total pivot in leading principles – first starting a foundation helping 70.000 refugee children and parents on 17 locations in the balkan route and middle east. I then elevated to the area which I found had strategically most impact for enabling people , i.e. education – eventually teaming up with three other partners sharing the same vision while having complementary skills and even more impressive entrepreneurial backgrounds.
AIAR is providing the world’s first mobile ecosystem for lifelong learning with 360-degree content scope. It uses AI, blockchain and app credits to make lifelong learning an ease, rather than a burden. So how does AIAR make this happen?
– Well, good question. There are three things to make this happen, all being developed as we speak in the state-of-the art mobile platform conducted by the dream team in Vietnam. First, we have the contribution for reinventing the rather boring supply today. Here we take the engagement to a totally new level by introducing gamification part with EdCreds that you earn during the process. We make it socially engaging by introducing a social layer with friends, fans and EdBattles etc. And we make it relevant på introducing a hi-tech AI for customization of not only the choice of subjects, but for the personalization of the learning journey itself.
– So, all that is making the education a more engaging learning experiencing more like gaming and social media than traditional education. The 2nd contribution is perhaps not as “sexy”, but I think it’s an even more crucial tool for catalysing the earlier un-credible business of digital learning. By introducing a bullet proof interface, with face recognition and iris diagnostics etc., we make the examination secure. By introducing blockchain secured certificates we make the actual certificates secure. We even have discussions with a few of the big four to audit the security behind the examination process and certificate, so when you put your badge on LinkedIn, all future employers can feel certain that you actually know what you claim you know.
– Finally, we have the economic contribution so needed for the emerging markets focused by AIAR. First you don’t have to pay for the course, you only have to pay if you actually want to take the examination (and not much, a mere $10), i.e. a disruptive business model in itself. But it doesn’t end there, during the actual learning you “earn” your EdCreds, which if you are a hard studying student can be used to actually “pay” for the exams, i.e. leaving no cost for neither course or examination (of course with a stop-loss algo on our side securing that we never give away more than we earn).
AIAR is also planning to democratize education for the 2.5 billion people around the world who are in dire need of it. How is AIAR reaching billions of people in emerging markets with more fun, efficient and secure mobile learning?
– Well, again the answer can be divided into three different parts. First we have among the founders some of the best digital marketers in the world, working with some of the biggest companies on all continents. In our first learning app, the PoC, although only having 1 course and 1 language, we had a brave goal of 10K downloads within 3 months. The problem was we didn’t get 10K we got 100K, and eventually it became the world’s biggest independent app within the subject, loved by 200K in 165 countries. In all these countries we consistently beat the local benchmark with in average 700% counted as CPI.
– Still, having said that, owned and earned media is for free, and however efficient it’s always nicer not having to feed Mr Page & Brin and Zuckerberg more than necessary no 😊 So, what we are even more supreme in is earned and owned media, where we apart from leading expertise in SMM/CRM/EMM/SEO etc, ranks highest on ASO, in the PoC higher than giants like Udemy and LinkedIn, even higher than Google themselves on their own platform 😉
– But looking ahead we are more than anything passionate growth hacker, where we even more intensively is using an elaborate partner model, where we already closed MoU:s with three countries with distribution to more than 43 million consumers, and negotiating with ever more as we speak (not Bahrain so far, gimme a buzz and we’ll be there :D). And we didn’t even launch yet 😊
What are the different products or services that AIAR offers?
– Well, you can answer this on two levels, I think. First regarding content, where we in the startup phase are focusing on cutting edge digital subjects from partners (e.g. EmTech like AI, BC, AR, data science like python, R and SQL, programming like java and kotlin, or soft skills like agile PM, digital strategy and digital marketing etc). In the scaleup phase we step up to all STEAM subjects – and in growup phase a full one-stop-shop for all subjects – but what we see from our partners on the local markets, in the PCS the most acute demand still will be the digital subjects.
– The second level of this is the languages. And here, again, we are during the startup phase having the pilot in English, but already the first year using our content hub in Cebu for rapidly expanding to Bahasa and Hindi, thus reaching 1/3 of the global internet population. During the scaleup phase we are complementing with Bengali, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese – i.e. a genuine focus on the emerging markets, reaching a whole 53% of the global internet population.
What do you think is the impact of Covid 19 on the future of Edtech? Do you see any trends of partnerships between traditional education players and EdTech companies?
– Ok, again two questions, and perhaps the most exciting of them all 😊 The first regards the social impact of the Post-Corona-Society (PCS), and that is nothing but dramatic. Not only is PCS consolidation the earlier trend of using eCom/mCom for consumption of analogue stuff, social media for consumption of media and social relations, and gaming/net entertainment for leisure – with companies like amazon recruiting hundreds of thousand people and the FANG-companies happily climbing on the stock market.
But corona has also dramatically catalysed totally new processes, and more than anything the understanding of the benefits for people and planet with remote work and remote school – with zoom boosting all over the world, and with closed schools in 182 countries affecting 72% of all the world’s students, while Asian EdTech companies are the only ones hiring while the offline ones are firing.
But when that shift in demand is substantially broadened (quantitative), which is of course good for the industry, more importantly there will also we a dramatic shift in the character of the demand (qualitative). When the digitization of the education market goes from a historical low 2% to 20% or perhaps even 40%, the digital dinos will not anymore get away with torturing the early adopters with boring experiences with un-credible certificates to an expensive price.
Instead when the early majority is stepping in, they will demand at least as engaging experiences as they get in social media and gaming online and will expect at least as credible examinations as they receive offline. And that is exactly what AIAR is offering.
– So, yes, regarding the 2nd question, this will lead to a totally reinvented market structure. With the smartest of the traditional players understanding their role as content providers, teaming up with the NexGen of EdTech companies delivering the platforms contributing with the state-of-the-art learning experience combined with secure certifications and a competitive business model.
Some weeks ago, Harvard, Texas university and some other universities, outed their corona-plans for the fall, where they will publish some thousands of their courses online. Good no?
Well, it would have been, but they will do it and.. still demand the same fee as offline.
This is how offline organizations historically has responded to online challenges. They don’t understand that distributing digital content to 100 million people don’t cost more than distributing it to 100 students. The ones who do (with dramatically lower fees, or even no-fees with a business model earning money from other sources), teaming up with EdTech ventures delivering a cutting edge user experience and 100% secure examinations, will totally win the education battle ahead – AND deliver monumental impact in the process.
Lastly, do you have any message for our audience?
– Well, ye, of course I do 😊 First, for you who want to change your life, I would say you need two things. You need a smart phone, which more than 5 billion of you do today – even in emerging markets (and if you don’t, your uncle or someone in the neighbourhood do). Second, you need motivation, you need an urge to achieve something, and fight for the time to do that. That we cannot give you, that you need to fix yourself.
But all the rest we can actually give you. And of all things you can control yourself (i.e. not having to “wait” for infrastructure from government etc), that is the single most crucial action needed to change the direction to wherever you want to go, and change the course of the people and the planet to wherever we want it to go. My message to you, is when launching (starting at the end of the year), come and join us in that journey 😊
– Secondly, for you who want to change other people’s life, I again turn to the same question as you started with, Sunitha. Like Mr Mandela was saying, education is the most powerful weapon to change the world, and if you want to be a part of changing the world, for other people as well as for the planet, then come join us. If you are a digital distribution partner, an interested investor, a content provider or state-of-the art developer, whatever expertise you have, come and join us – cause, right here and right now, in the Post Corona Society we’re heading towards, there are few more rewarding contributions to people and the planet than the mission we’re on.
Rufus Lidman, Fil. Lic.