Wed 20 February 2013 at 11.00 am

Educake, a new digital publishing startup

Charley Darbishire (Educake)

Taking Place: Willow Building (room W01), Headington Hill Campus, Oxford Brookes University, OX3 0BT

Missed this event?  Find out what our students thought in the summary blog below...

by Mirissa Ladent

For the third Lunchtime Digital Seminars, we welcomed Charley Darbishire, Founder and Managing Director of Educake, a new homework and revision digital platform.

Educake boasts 4000 questions in 3 sciences with plans to expand across more subjects in the future. It allows teachers to create and assign tests with open-ended questions while text recognition technology allows students to receive immediate feedback on their answers. It even leaves room for minor misspellings. Progress reports show at a glance which topics have been covered and - drawing from tests results - how well students have understood each lesson. It’s easy to see from Charley’s demonstration how much time teachers can save on grading papers by employing his product.

After working in educational publishing for many years, he explained, he got fed up with the slow pace of traditional publishers. “There should be a faster - and cheaper - way to produce quality textbooks” he thought. In autumn 2011, after carrying out the necessary market research and talking to teachers, he started raising funds to develop the Educake software.  Now, with a year of testing and debugging the software behind him, Charley says the product is finally ready to launch. The bulk of the software development was outsourced, however, Charley thought it worthwhile to invest in teaching himself web development to ensure he could make tweaks himself moving forwards.

For those wanting to start their own business like him, he has 5 key pieces of advice:

  1. You can always live off less money than you’ve got. Your passion will make up for your lack of material possessions.
  2. Know your limitations. The idea that you have work 18-hour days to succeed is a myth. You’ll make yourself sick and make bad decisions for your business.
  3. Don’t do it alone, it’s too stressful.
  4. Find a mentor and meet them regularly. Their experience is invaluable and they’ll keep you sane.
  5. Do it as cheaply as you can. Cut out any waste.

In the second half of our seminar, Charley offered tips on how to get a job in publishing. In particular, he stressed how very competitive the sector is, recalling how, at a former company, even a position in the Lake District “miles from anywhere” received upwards of a hundred applications. And while he agrees that having a Masters degree in publishing is an advantage, he was adamant that qualifications alone are not always enough to stand out in the current job market. For that, he explains, the best strategy is to get to know your potential employer by going to events they are likely to attend and sparking up a conversation with them.  Try asking their advice on how to get a job in publishing, rather than if they have a job for you.  This can be an effective strategy, as most people are happy to share their opinions and it gives you an opportunity to talk about your skills and ambitions.  You never know who you might impress!

Leaving the room after the seminar, the three things I took away were:

  • Do what you love. Whether that means working in a big publishing company or starting your own business, it's only worth it if you're truly passionate about it.
  • 'If your users knew what they wanted in a product, they would already have made it themselves.' Your product shouldn't just respond to users' needs, it should anticipate them.
  • Use technology to your advantage to simplify internal processes and save time, money or energy. Go with what is practical, not necessarily what is comfortable.

As an MA Publishing student here at Brookes, I found Charley’s advice and experience inspiring. As he mentioned himself, we are all aware that the publishing industry is incredibly competitive but it was refreshing to see that with enough determination one can also carve out a space for your own ideas to come to life. The seminar was particularly relevant as one of our assignments for the Digital Publishing Strategy class is to create an online product (website or app) to complement a print textbook. Charley's lecture showed us what is possible in terms user experience, business models, and innovation. The fact that Charley went into this with little or no programming or engineering knowledge is also a relief for those of us who hope to work in digital publishing. It goes to show that the market is new enough to be open to anyone willing to work hard enough.

Mirissa Ladent is an MA Publishing student originally from Lille, France. Her publishing interests include: digital product development, data and content management. Reflected in her experience of bug testing and data quality for Google Maps. Connect with Mirissa on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @Llya360