Aplia – Cube Analysis

Aplia.com is an educational technology company that was founded by a Stanford professor of economics in 2000. Its basic aim is to provide a content management system that assigns and monitors homework in a variety of business subjects (accounting, economics, finance). The premise is that if students practice more frequently, they will master the course material more readily – obvious, but this system gives instructors the tools to measure and evaluate student practice.

 

Face 1: Market Focus

Aplia is focused on the higher education market, specifically on a handful of core introductory courses in business and economics.

 

Face 2: Types of Offerings

Aplia is a content management system that comes with pre-populated content specific to the course the instructor is teaching. It is therefore a hybrid between a content and an infrastructure provider.

 

Face 3: Who is the Buyer?

As is typical in higher education, the buyer is the course instructor. An instructor adopts a textbook and decides to purchase access to Aplia with it. Students therefore are required to buy an access code to the program, which is bundled with their text. There is the usual disconnect that you find in higher education – the person who makes the purchasing decision is not the ultimate consumer, either in terms of content or in terms of laying out the money. Aplia requires a higher degree of instructor-student interaction, however, than a typical textbook. Instructors monitor student participation and student results, and it is necessary for students to participate in these before going on to more difficult material that requires higher cognitive skills.

 

Face 4: Global markets

The core market is found in wired Anglophone countries, but it has the potential to expand beyond that to European countries with language skills.

 

Face 5: Development of the market

The market space this product plays in is the most highly developed: content is freely imported and exported, and local producers are striving to compete with large US-based companies.

 

Face 6: Learning Technology and other forms of Learning

Aplia is explicitly designed to fit within the already established system of university education. The problem that it tries to solve is how to maintain student engagement with course material, while not overwhelming the professor with grading. By automating some of the ‘lower-value’ grading and requiring participation, it forces students to be better prepared, ultimately allowing them to get more out of the course. Key to the Aplia experience is that the product cannot be sold as a ‘recommended’ portion of the course – it must be required. If you don’t buy into the basic philosophical premise (students must work hard to get good grades) they won’t sell you the technology.

September 27, 2008   8 Comments

Pitching Your Idea – Some Internet Resources

This site has a brief explanation on how to pitch (elevator pitches, knowing your investors), and also has a video with information on selling your business:

http://www.smsmallbiz.com/bestpractices/Learning_to_Pitch.html

This site is focussed on female entrapreneurs, and has links to various information (market fundamentals, creating a pitch, business plan guide – all of which also have accompanying videos:

http://www.springboardenterprises.org/learning

I hope these are helpful!

September 20, 2008   2 Comments

First attempt: Ingenia and Recombo 2004

As an inexperienced EVA I decided to focus on both Recombo 2004 and Ingenia pitches.  Their format and the visual aid used by the speakers made it a lot easier for me to follow the pitch.  I’m assuming this format also makes it easier for any potential investor to get the most out of a 12 minute pitch.

Recombo 2004: MacPhee seems very confident about his company’s potential and shares his vision for the long-term.  He identifies key players in the team he’s assembled and highlights they’re relevant experience.  For now, I am impressed with the business model that was presented.  The speaker describes the company’s specific goals and the strategies to reach these goals. He uses clear graphics and relevant examples to get his point across.  MacPhee mentions some of his clients and key partners but also takes the time to mention the competition he is facing.  Furthermore he seems to give a realistic view of the company’s path to success by identifying the challenges that need to be dealt by the company in order to reach the described goals. MacPhee mentions the positive feedback he’s received from publishers/clients and shares his desires for the long-term.
Ingenia: Materi gives an overview of her presentation before she starts her pitch per say.  She describes her company’s activities in detail.  Shares the company’s success to date and briefly mentions the type of team members she is working with.  Materi emphasizes her own personal experience in the field.  She shares the type of clients she works with.  Materi clearly identifies some of the challenges faced by the company and discusses the approaches the firm will take to tackle these. She specifies the market the firm wishes to tap into and describes the logic behind choosing that market.  Furthermore she highlights her personal experience with this market.  She shares Ingenia’s main goal.  Very clearly describes the type of investment needed and the percentage of return that is expected.  Materi seems a lot less confident when discussing the potential challenges.  Some of the language used, such as “we think we can” and “ this will be tough”, is likely worrisome for a potential investor.  Overall, I feel more substantial facts about the firm could have been shared within the allotted time.

If I had the required funds and had to make a decision between both firms, I do believe I would go forward by granting Recombo another chance to further discuss investment potential.  I believe it will be interesting, however, to do this same comparison once I have more experience as an EVA.  The outcome could very well be the opposite.

September 19, 2008   3 Comments

Alan’s views on Recombo and Ingenia

Both presentations were convincing and easy to watch.  In Recombo the company has changed with the need/? and this is good.  I am a little uneasy about the  large turn around.  Was this always in the design, or just what exactly caused the large shift.  It is not clear in the presentation.  The first presentation was very “silicone valley” , relaxed, open shirt, whereas the second was more “business” with shirt and tie, etc.  This may be healthy growth, but is there a hint of non specific direction, or indecision?  All in all a  case to support this opportunity could be made, but another presentation could place this one out of contention.

Ingenia looks good on the outside, but I am hesitant about their expertise.  I would like to know more about the “guru” status of the presenter and why is it that with all the cultural concerns, are they working with Vietnam, without a solid base at home?  There may be very good reasons for all these concerns, but it is not clear in the prersentation.  Again I have some concerns and another project may be more rewarding.

September 18, 2008   1 Comment

Three Deal Making Principles

According to Joan Wood Moser, “Intrigue opens the deal, Facts justify the deal and Emotion closes the deal”.

Read about Why Investor Pitches Fail to Deliver.

September 16, 2008   4 Comments

Ingenia vs Recombo

I found the Recombo person used a lot of technical words I wasn’t totally familiar with, but have been learning about recently during my web design.  As he started describing what he was doing, it started to sound more and more to me like it was an aggregation hub.  In other words, a piece of software which automatically collects information from a variety of sources.  The model I see here is that each of these sources pushes out data (using an RSS feed for example) and this aggregator pulls the data together.  Seems like a neat thing, but as I mentioned before, I know someone who cooked up one of these sites using Drupal in an afternoon.  So my money isn’t on them, unless they somehow change their tune again.

As for Ingenia, I am worried about the prospects of a start up company doing business in South East Asia where cultural norms are very, very different than in the West.  Unless they have familiarity with the quirks of Vietnamese culture, they are going to find some very basic things quite frustrating.

For example, my wife just asked a Thai silk company to order some silk for her, a whole 10 yards of it (and a cost of $9 or so), and they told her no problem.  A week later and they still haven’t ordered the silk for her, and so she calls to find out why.  The reason?  She hasn’t prepaid for the silk.  Why didn’t they call to tell her that she has to pay?  Because my wife might lose face when they point out she made a mistake, and a Thai business would go out of business pretty quickly in Thailand if they forced their customers to lose face like this.

Knowing these kinds of cultural assumptions is key to doing business in this part of the world.  So unless Ingenia has some very experienced Vietnamese partners, they are going to lose a lot of money and productivity to these kinds of mistakes.

Does anyone here have any other cultural awareness issues that could affect business in various parts of the world to share?

September 14, 2008   4 Comments

Ingenia’s Business Pitch

As the director of e-learning BC and co-chair of Canadian E-learning Enterprise Alliance, Ramona (the director) leads a team of highly educated consultants and designers in her business. She exults confidence and shows that she has the expertise to back up her business by developing “guru” status and speaking in various important e-learning conferences around the world.

Ramona presents a feasible business proposal by backing up her findings with statistics presented by IDC to show that there is still continued growth in e-learning services. However, she’s honest when she speaks of the various challenges that lie ahead, including the lack of market at home and limited marketing and development funds. Taking business into Asia is a risky move, especially into developing countries like Vietnam, where one’s investment may not be protected by the government. However, Ramona turns this problem into an advantage by stating the fact that there is less competition in e-learning services in Vietnam and there’s a strong desire for education in large cities, where many young learners reside. Also, even though Ingenia is a young company, it has a strong clientele at home and is establishing its reputation and services in Indonesia and Vietnam. On top of that, Ingenia has also partnered up with an established software company in Vietnam that is funded by the government and will likely work with reputable universities that are expanding in Vietnam.

Ingenia’s Vietnam pitch is an adventurous move for the company and its investor as it will take money abroad to Vietnam. Although this investment pitch is well-prepared and the company does have a good reputation in the business, I would still like to see more detailed breakdown of how Ingenia will enter the Vietnam market. How will they research and create materials that are tailored to Vietnamese students or learners? Will language and cultural difference be a problem? How many universities or government agencies will really need e-learning services that are offered by Ingenia? In other words, how big is the e-learning services market in Vietnam and how much will it expand in the foreseeable future? What’s the perception of e-learning in Vietnam and does the government has plans to promote e-learning to the general public? These are some of the questions investors will have to consider before joining Ingenia on this Vietnam adventure.

September 13, 2008   No Comments

Ingenia

Hi All,

As opposed to the 2004 Recombo pitch (the fairest comparison), it was a lot more polished as a whole.  As Marc notes, she used the classic SWOT approach – without naming it.  As far as strategic planning exercises go SWOT is pretty feeble, but for a 12 minute pitch using it to help frame the discussion makes it easy for the intended audience and it works in this respect.

In terms of their focus on SE Asia goes, I wasn’t sold as there were too many unanswered questions.  Time differences, amount needed $100,000 seems somehow insufficient to sustain anything, internet access issues were mentioned but not really meaningfully addressed ( I’ve spend a lot of time in SE Asia and it is an issue and can’t be glossed over – especially in the world of e-learning), and the last aspect that I felt she could have expanded on more was how they’d access the organizations they were targeting .  An awful lot that happens in the expat world is simply about who you know and how you know them – and that goes for both working with locals (gov’t etc.) and foreign organizations.

The last thing worth questioning was the Japanese re e-learning in Vietnam as she mentions it as being the only competitor in the market (a good thing).  In the late 1990s I did a survey of Japanese universities (I was working at one at the time) that were even remotely delving into incorporating e-learning and profs that used it.  The result was simply that it was several years behind N.A. and Europe at the time for a lot of reasons.  So, I can’t help but wonder what they’re doing, as late as 2000 there was nothing even at Japan’s open university (hoso daigaku – the so-called “university of the air”).  That said raising it didn’t hurt her pitch.

Those points aside, I thought that her presentation was concise and reasoned in many key respects, and she stayed on track and didn’t bombard with powerpoint slides.

Joe

September 11, 2008   5 Comments

the Entreprenuer and the Intrapranuer – OLT and Recombo

I choose the Recombo pitch and that of Michelle – OLT. First of all, I too quite enjoy the scrutiny of these videos. Like dissecting a frog for the first time. The more you do it, the more you get out of it.

I selected Recombo and OLT because I believe these two people define the entreprenuerial and the intraprenuerial spirit. Two terms that were less clear to me before the pitches. Brad was about venture capital and Michelle needed to work within the constraints of her company walls. Both video clips enlighten me to a world of work that is very different from mine.

It is evident that Michelle is experimenting with management techniques such as work coop students, IT people who were senior design members and students who were the “knowledge builders.” A form of Open Source was developing here. Brad was looking at 100 million with an established repertoire of specialists.

In the opening first few minutes of Recombo, I expected a better pitch from Brad He seemed quite wordy and I found his confidence to be lacking somewhat and I found myself still asking, what does Recombo really do? I think it was his line, “great big huge piece of Technology on multiple computers and we can just add components together…” made me feel he was talking down to the listeners and left me wondering. Did he know that we were his intended listeners back in 05? The punch, for me, just wasn’t there. Having been previously interviewed in 04, maybe Brad felt that the viewers already had some background information re: Recombo, “Business Problem Solvers.” Michelle, on the other hand, seemed confident from the get go and clear with her responsibilities.

As Brad continued, I could now see he was becoming a master of his craft as he spoke often of integrative platforms that Recombo developed and controlled. He was clever enough to answer all questions and his depth was becoming apparent. His passion for the company began to shine and it was evident with contractual commitment with Lighthouse. They were their to solve “business problems.” Quite an undertaking of sorts for a company of only 12 people.

Michelle spoke eloquently at times describing the support required from her team and consequently, the expectations from OLT. She realizes it would be better to “outsource” – her mention of Wiki’s and Weblogs – rather than burden her central organization with something that is already available and supported. Why re-invent the wheel right? She is clear that the team does not become overburdened trying implement outside technologies. Her market niche is faculty and the kids on campus. She needed something effective, that was supported and over all, it had to work. Technical innovation came from a blend of “creativity and innovation” of a multitude of users, including staff. Who better than the end user to develop the product/process.

With the OLT, market readiness seems to be, shoot from the hip, though they seem to be standing on their own and Brad assures the viewer the Recombo is always market ready. I like his metaphor, “play well with others.”

Would I trust my money with these two at the helm…? Hmmm, I’m not quite sure. Probably, if I had some. I was, however, disappointed when Brad mentioned that he and partners would leave if they could not focus and “if the price is right, you sell.”  I guess I come from the old school where, “if it’s not right, you fix it.” And that means more focus.

Funny, there was never any mention of Mike Gardner – CEO of Recombo. Is he a recent transplant…?

September 11, 2008   5 Comments

Ingenia

The presentation was well structured complete with an agenda, swot analysis and summary.  The content brought the audience into the business, who is on the team, what do they do, how do they do it… quite personable in feel.  The President provided credibility to the presentation through her own intimate involvement with the product, customers, and business operations.  Credibility was further increased through referencing a 10 year track record and clients. 

The pitch was based on a SWOT analysis and candidly presented their strategy.  The strategy can be interpreted as being unable to make it in the home market thus heading out to a foreign market.  Intuitively, I would consider the home team to have an advantage, especially when ties to the government are identified as important in the presentation.  

The pitch requests $100,000, that is not a lot of money to raise in the form of love money ($10,000 each if 10 employees and thus available as a line of credit).  I am uncomfortable with the fact that they were able to self finance for the preceding 10 years and now require an outside source for $100,000.  The 20% return is less than the 20% EBITDA or 20 times return on investment in 5 years as per Angel’s selection criteria.  The numbers presented suggest no go.

Interesting side note, the www.ingenia-training.com  domain has expired.

September 11, 2008   5 Comments

Recombo

Change from 2004 – 2005.

  • More professional demeanour (and appropriate attire).  
  • Spoke more clearly and more concisely.
  • Clearer definition of value proposition to customers and Recombo (less tech talk).
  • Less animated, less passionate.
  • No summaries, graphs, numbers which may make it easier to convey message (though should define technical terms such as SCORM prior to its use in presentation materials). 
  • Overall, change in feel from company in startup mode to company in growth mode.

I am curious (as with the M. Lamberson interview – see comments under OLT – Interesting, but not a pitch? by Mary Burgess) whether Mr. MacPhee was able to prepare responses in advance.  If pre-prepared, he did come across naturally, not scripted.

Concerns watching 2004 pitch

  • What is Recombo’s competitive advantage over the traditional publishers (Pearson, Thompson…)
  • If have all these clients (80% Fortune 1000), why this pitch?  
  • Markets and revenues ~doubling year over year, too good to be true?

Concerns watching 2005 pitch

  • Great shape but… transition…  is past relevant to future?  
  • Company appears to change strategy annually.
  • Nearly double size of staff, what will the company be, what is the strength of its management?

 

Strength in both presentations:

Clear definition of the problems that Recombo intents to resolve for customers.

Company seems to understand its own business model.

Company has a vision (though in state of flux).

Company has a financial plan – positive cash flow goal, revenues growth projection, source of financing (IPO / acquisition).

September 11, 2008   No Comments

How about some inspiration?

Here’s where some of the hottest new technology plays are being unveiled today …

The TechCrunch50 event in San Francisco.

This is the pitch pool on steroids!

September 10, 2008   2 Comments

Impressions on the Entrepreneur Pitches

I have tried to look at Ingenia and Recombo with my venture capitalist hat firmly on. I have quickly realized what Elsbach’s paper has also suggested. It can be quite difficult to cut through the pitchers’ creativity and to not be carried away by their enthusiasm.  Making these kinds of decisions can be very weighty, and perhaps somewhat subjective.

Initially, a few things have struck me about the Ingenia and Recombo pitches.

Both pitches seemed to indicate they had a strong core team. By the nature of the business I think it was important for Ingenia to make mention (as Ramona did) of the credentials of their team, and the fact that they had a pool of external consultants to draw from. Ingenia did note that “infrastructure was something to think about in Vietnam”.  What was not so clear to me from their pitch was specifically what thinking they had done on this. Perhaps more info on this would have been useful?

Ingenia also seemed to be facing a fair bit of competition in the local market. Ingenia was very open and candid (too much so?) about their competition. Targeting the SE Asian market seemed to be their way of helping to address that. Ingenia was also open about being new to the Vietnamese market. Their plan seemed to include leveraging some existing contacts, which increased my level of confidence. Again, as a venture capitalist, I am not sure that would give them enough of an edge?

I wasn’t sure about what the existing market share might be for Ingenia and how much this new market might figure in their future plans, or really what their future plans were. Recombo addressed this issue more directly.  They did not seem to have one fixed exit strategy, but I was pleased that they articulated some possible scenarios.

From Recombo’s second pitch I really felt that they have identified their market, share, and size. The pitch was very clear about their product, services, what the benefits are to their customer and why they will pay-up.  As a VC I found the description of their  relationship with the lighthouse customer reinforced my confidence here. The pitch demonstrates a good handle on the business problems going forward. The incentives idea also seemed to me to show some creative forsight in planning their business model.  In moving through their transition year, I got the impression that Recombo are capable of absorbing lessons, adapting, and moving forward.

September 10, 2008   3 Comments

Brilliant ideas anyone?

WRT: the article posted on the ‘Art of Pitch’ section of Module 2: How to pitch a brilliant idea.. I have just spent the las 30 minutes trying to access it with no result. I have full access to UCB Library via this link:

https://rsvpn.ubc.ca/http/www.library.ubc.ca/

Made many queries using Academic Search Complete… always get “no result found’… what’s my problem?

Thanks,

Nancy

September 10, 2008   5 Comments

Public Forum Reminder

Just a small reminder, when making comments about pitches and the people behind them, to focus on business rather than personal issues.  There’s no question that the credibility of the pitch-maker is a huge business issue, but remember that this blog is a public forum and those individuals (or people they depend upon) might find your commentary within searches, etc.  So say exactly what you feel, but learn to position your commentary in polished professional prose…   Thanks!

September 9, 2008   No Comments

Intrapreneur or Entrepreneur at heart?

As an Educational Venture Capitalist, I found it interesting how differently entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs pitched their proposals.  Both intrapreneurs (Michelle and Ted) are centralized figures in a very decentralized environment and that perhaps is their biggest challenge; they have to share their vision and gain acceptance of that vision with varied stakeholders.  As intrapreneurs, they have to prescribe a direction, yet be tuned into the changing needs of the users – not an easy task I assume!

 

I found the entrepreneurial pitches much more black and white – as an Educational Venture Capitalist, I would either give my money or not.  In Elsbach’s article, “How to Pitch a Brilliant Idea” she would have coined both Recombo’s and Ingenia’s spokespersons as “showrunners”.  Both came off as knowledgeable professionals that were passionate about their business. 

 

I found Ingenia’s pitch to be well thought out and researched.  I gasped when she suggested Vietman, but she seemed to anticipate the audiences reaction and have answers to some of the obvious concerns.  Their core strengh seemed to be their team and their ability to adapt.

 

I found the differences between the Recombo ’04 and Recombo ’05 pitches to be quite dramatic.  The company in ’04 had dreams, but not necessarily a “focused” vision.  I felt the company’s focus, on focus, was a reason for their continued growth. 

 

Where would I put my money?  Well, after all my ramblings, I might not be a black-and-white business person after all.  I guess it is no surprise that I put my Business Degree into my pocket and went into the softer side of teaching…

September 9, 2008   2 Comments

Marketing Speak

I have just looked at Recombo 2005 and also Ingenia.

What I saw with Recombo was a very unfocused pitch, obviously made by a sales/marketing guy.  I don’t think there was a buzz word he left out.  I started making a list of them because it made me laugh.  Here are a couple of my favorites:  productization, (huh?) interoperability, bet the company.  Also his “focus, focus, focus” speech sounded like it was straight out of a bad how to book.  As far as I could tell, the only “focus” he articulated was his mission “to be a 100 million dollar company.”

There is an existing product but there is no pay off in terms of investment.  No competitive analysis was provided, there is no clear offering that would make IBM or anyone else buy the company. IBM has been marketing and selling software and hardware solutions for over 50 years.  I find it hard to believe that Recombo is providing any value that IBM could not reproduce on their own.  There are economies of scale to think of.  IBM has the staff, the infrastructure, the expertise already in place.  Why would they think of buying a company like Recombo, unless there were people, (customers or staff) or a product that they couldn’t attract on their own.

The CEO  of Ingenia was considerably more articulate, she had done her homework and at least came off sounding intelligent.

Ingenia is selling a service rather than a product, which in itself forces a more articulate discussion.  If they are trying to sell expertise, one would hope that the person doing the selling could sound like an expert.  The one thing that caught my attention was that it seemed like they couldn’t make it at home, so they are trying to find somewhere they can make it. (Vietnam)  Not the greatest business model in my mind.

My money goes with neither company.  I can’t see either one making it.

Carolann

September 8, 2008   12 Comments

Pitch Pool EVA responses

So far I’ve watched three of the pitch’s and something that resonated about the RECOMBO 2005 and the UBC IT Services was the idea that we need to “Play well with others”. RECOMBO actually uses that phrase, and Mr. Dodd’s idea of a framework that draws people and having an e-strategy that is an enablement-strategy are excellent.

While being in business RECOMBO is looking for what a win looks like for their customer, it is not just about making money, but about helping their client. UBC’s IT department uses “partners” that work in the different faculties and help determine how IT can help them best, and how the faculty can help shape IT.

While RECOMBO is a business and UBC IT is not looking for financial gain, they both have a very service oriented philosophy. We’re not here for ourselves, but to help you succeed. As an Educational venture analyst I believe this is a critically important philosophy for business in the current marketplace.

With a move towards open source software or community source software permeating the internet and a larger community expectation of philanthropic contributions from large companies, I believe that shared success needs to be a guiding principle for companies to succeed vs make money at all cost tactics.

RECOMBO’s Brad MacPhee seemed confident about the success of the company. Moving to double the work force of a company is a large undertaking and would require a capable managment team. From my little experience with business models, the “lighthouse” client struck me as a critical asset to the feasibility of their model. The market sounds vast and their ability to grow rapidly based on their lighthouse’s clients talks to the even greater potential for growth. It seems that their transition from an engineering provider to a solutions provider has been a key reason for their success. This is a technical innovation that greatly increases the market size. Their exit strategy wasn’t clearly defined but it sounded like the IPO was a worthwhile step between being acquired by a larger middleware provider like IBM and staying as a private company. As an EVA I would put this company on my shortlist to invest with.

UBC IT’s use of the flexible framework and consultative town-hall strategy, and partners within the faculties have obviously drawn the clientele towards e-learning (or as David mentioned their pitch video, we can drop the e and just call it learning) in a successful and inclusive way. UBC has a track record of developing successful commercial products from research (WebCT for example) and now prefers to focus on community sourced software and partnerships. While not something that is going to make money immediately for the university from a free product, it will likely make the university programs more competitive and bring learning more efficiently and effectively to people at a distance. As an EVA I would support this kind of project in my university.

Cheers!

Jarrod

September 7, 2008   No Comments

Getting To Work

Thanks everyone for your introductions and first steps into the course – now its time to dive in some venture content!

Our business “boot camp” may introduce material that is unfamiliar to many of you, but we promise it will be interesting and very worthwhile.  In the first iterations of this course we actually went deeper than we do now – offering an exposure to interpreting financial data, etc, – but even then we couldn’t begin to cover all of the material an entrepreneur needs to master.  So for those of you aiming to be entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs this is just an introduction, and for everyone else it’s a solid overview of the process and thinking involved.

My original training was as a scientist, and there’s no question that the essence of all great science is asking the right question of the Universe.  In business, that same essence is asking the right question of the marketplace.  That’s why we’re focusing on the pitch – the entire story behind a venture needs to be contained there – something really credible and compelling needs to stand out.

We’re offering some good starting points, but the journey is yours.  There are lots of materials you can discover and explore on your own.  Please share those that resonate with you.

Good luck!
DavidV

September 7, 2008   No Comments