Start up success: Atom Learning
After setting up his own tuition agency, Jake O’Keefe was inspired to bring private tuition to those who could not otherwise afford the classic model offered within the industry. Together with his co-founder Alex, Jake set up an automated online learning platform, making education more affordable and accessible for its customers. Today, he shares his journey with UMi.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Atom Learning is an online adaptive learning platform for students aged between 7-12 that combines high quality, teacher-made content with sophisticated technology to keep students on their optimal learning paths.
What did you do before you started this business?
At university, my co-founder, Alex, and I worked as private tutors for a number of large London tuition agencies. Following university, I pursued a career in quantitative trading, while Alex pursued a career in law; we both retained a few, long term tuition clients. We decided to set up our own tuition agency on the side. The agency’s success enabled us to quit our jobs to pursue careers in education full time: Pembroke Tutors is now one of the largest tuition agencies in London.
What inspired you to start up?
We were frustrated by the inequality in education provision in the private tuition market: private tutors are unaffordable for the majority of people and the quality varies significantly. We realised that the only way to resolve these two problems was via a fully automated solution that standardised the quality and could operate at sufficient scale to be affordable to all.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
A fully automated online learning platform that teaches students through a combination of practice questions, text and video based resources. There’s an AI underneath that works out the student’s current attainment level and the most efficient way to get them to where they need to be.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I personally turn to books when I need help, non-fiction and fiction. I also like to look at how other successful companies have solved the problems I’m facing.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
We bootstrapped Atom Learning, which became profitable quickly in the first few months of operating; we’ve remained profitable.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
On-boarding over 150 schools in the first three months of launching our school platform has been a real endorsement of the quality of our content and technology.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
The sophistication of our technology, the quality of our content and the fact that we have built two platforms, one for teachers in schools and one for parents at home – our competitors all offer a single platform for both home and classroom use when the requirements of both environments are very different.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s extremely rewarding to watch something grow from nothing and now be at a point where others are joining the company, sharing in the vision, making it their own and getting excited about the potential impact.
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
As a global online learning platform for children aged 7-18.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
In the spirit of the finance question, it’s worth considering whether you genuinely need external funding or if there’s something simple you can do to start making money without having to spend anything. The benefit is that your quick analogue solution should prove whether there’s a business to be made before investing significant time and money.