How a Twitter message turned into an ASX listed company
Planting the seed of a better reading experienceStarting up a company is difficult. Growing one is even more difficult. And creating a sustainable, rapidly growing ASX-listed business is an order of magnitude more tough. But in 2009, when the early founders connected over Twitter, a different idea was the initial inspiration for what would become ReadCloud. The original concept was a book recommendation website, where interested readers would come to the site, receive specific and relevant recommendations on which book may be suitable for them to read next and be able to purchase that book through affiliate booksellers.
Lars had just arrived back in Australia, after launching and running a newspaper in Denmark before joining a venture capital firm as a partner, when he received this message over Twitter. Hungry to take on a new adventure, Lars was intrigued by the idea of books. While the book recommendation website was interesting, he was ultimately reminded of a different problem. Going to school and university in the 80s and 90s, books were the only way to learn and obtain information. And books were valuable. They represented an unparalleled opportunity to have a conversation with people from the past. For Lars, books were an essential resource to learn about the world, and he would constantly mark up textbooks and novels with highlights, notes in the margins and sticky notes and tabs to remember interesting things he had read or wanted to remember.
But one thing bugged him – all of his other fellow students were also marking up and making notes on their books, coming up with interesting insights, reflections and having their own unique experiences and perspectives on what they were reading. Were they experiencing and understanding it in the same way as him? If Lars wanted to see what they thought, he had to borrow their book, or debate with them directly about it. That’s fine if you have a good mate or two who you can do that with – but what if you wanted to know what an entire class was saying? Or better yet, what about sharing that with people across the world?
It’s here the most important cornerstone of ReadCloud was placed. What if we could build a platform where you can access all your books and texts on a device, add your “sticky notes”, highlights and comments, and share that with other people with the click of a button? With the proliferation of the internet now ubiquitous, and personal devices like the iPhone, iPad quickly becoming a staple in the hands of students, it was the right time to reinvent the book for the digital age.
Taking the first steps
Lars’ conviction in the usefulness of the idea was strong. He put up the seed capital himself and tried to build a basic version of the platform. Teaching himself to code, Lars and the early founders worked hard over the following months to build a functional prototype of the platform they visualised in their mind. This came at a time as eReader devices and eBooks were rising in popularity, particularly overseas in the United States. Sensing the wave of digital transformation that was set to occur, the team were determined to build and launch a successful product.
But an eReading platform is not very useful without content or books to read. They needed a way to activate relevant content for readers within the platform. Working with the Australian Booksellers Association, Lars and the team created a digital book program, enabling independent booksellers to sell a digital version of the books in their stores via the ReadCloud platform.
However, the original vision for Lars and the team was to help students – to make learning more engaging and to be able to share highlights, comments and notes. This meant being able to access your school curriculum’s resources within the ReadCloud app and platform. Thus Lars set out to secure distribution agreements with the major publishers of school resources in Australia.
“We went and knocked on a lot of doors” – Lars Lindstrom, CEO, ReadCloud
With the promise and potential of a platform that was secure, encrypted, and offered digital rights management to protect the publisher’s rights as well as tailored for the needs of school students, most major publishers signed up to distribute their eBooks via ReadCloud in 2012. This meant access to a library of over 100,000 eBooks inside ReadCloud’s Australian owned and developed eReader. Today this has grown to over 200,000 eBooks.
With the major publishers on board, independent booksellers launching eBook stores and a recent round of capital raising, ReadCloud was set to disrupt the traditional physical book dominance in schools. Central to this was the social aspect of the platform. Teachers and educators had the ability to not only encourage sharing of notes but to ask questions via the platform and provide additional context in the form of third party content like videos or other external links.
By 2013, ReadCloud had signed up 10 schools, with Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth NSW becoming one of the early schools to use the ReadCloud platform.
“As part of the introduction to the new curriculum, the school decided to go digital. As a textbook hire school, this meant no longer purchasing physical copies of texts but a digital file… A one stop shop for all digital content, such as ReadCloud reduced the difficulties of subscribing students to various publishers’ content. ” – Catriona White, Teacher-Librarian, Calrossy Anglican School
To this day Calrossy Anglican School are still using ReadCloud to deliver their classroom resources digitally!
Building the right company and solution for Australian schools
From here, it might have seemed like a simple recipe for success. With a working platform, publishers on board and schools already using the software, it seemed like growth was an inevitable part of ReadCloud’s future.
But running a software and education company has its challenges. Technical difficulties occurred as more schools joined the platform, with a complete overhaul of the product development needed to enable the platform to scale. There was also the initial apprehension by schools who still preferred physical books. In order to help the business grow sustainably, I joined the team, working to help schools understand how they can build eReading into their nascent digital learning strategies. Lars also brought in current Chief Information Officer Darren Hunter, a veteran IT architect who had experience building capable and scalable platforms, having founded and sold a share trading platform to Commonwealth Bank a few years before. Darren managed the product and technology, making the ReadCloud app and platform work smoothly and consistently.
Our team continued to grow with other key personnel and all of a sudden we were in 100 schools. As more and more schools began to adopt Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategies, we built native applications across a range of platforms, so that no matter what device a student had, they could access their content. We also partnered with book resellers like Impact and OfficeMax, to offer the option of physical books to schools.
As the company grew, our ambitions remained the same – to reinvent the reading experience for all students across Australia. Thus in 2018, we listed ReadCloud on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:RCL), allowing investors and individuals around the world to buy into the ReadCloud vision and be a part of our journey. This has allowed us to become an established presence in the Australia education industry. We also welcomed to the ReadCloud family two additions – the Australian Institute of Education and Training (AIET) and the College of Sound and Music Production (COSAMP) – helping us to deliver great training and educational experiences for Vocational Education and Training (VET) students.
The future of education and ReadCloud
This brings us to 2021. As of today, ReadCloud is used by over 120,000 students across more than 500 schools in Australia. We provide access to a library of over 200,000 eBooks and now also offer curriculum resources for VET courses. The company employs over 35 staff across Australia and is worth nearly $75M at the time of writing. And just last year we were listed in the top 10 of the fastest growing companies in Australia.
Over the next 5 years, we’ll be exploring and expanding our offerings to schools and the education industry in Australia. In particular we see potential in the rise of micro-credentials as well as the importance of Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses to the skills of today and tomorrow.
We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved to date and we’re equally excited about where the company is going. We see ReadCloud as much more than just an eReader – we’re an education company that is deeply passionate about ensuring kids get a great education by enabling great educators. We believe that the better educated our kids are, the better off we will all be.