Steve O’Hara, co-founder of Exemplar Education, the largest UK supplier of high quality supplementary home- based maths and English education tells us what defines his way of doing business.
What do you currently do at Exemplar Education?
I am the Director of Education at the UK’s largest home learning company, Exemplar Education, a company I co-founded to offer families learning support from the comfort of their own homes.
The programme is a user-friendly online teaching system specifically created to support the UK National Curriculum. It has over 2,000 video lessons and 6 million questions for children to answer.
I devote the majority of my time to developing and redefining our various digital systems to supplement and support the English, maths and reading skills of children from Year 1 to GCSE. I’m also responsible for identifying new opportunities and ways we can make our platform even more accessible and relevant to the current learning needs of families everywhere.
Most recently, I have led the company’s mission to roll-out lessons free of charge to children learning from home as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. So far over 10,000 households have signed-up in just a matter of weeks and attainment has excelled with young learners now achieving an average pass mark of 96% on each lesson.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
We identified an enormous appetite for a home-based online alternative to private tuition, plus one that was developed with the express purpose of supporting teachers and schools. We have never purported to, nor wished to, ever be seen as a proposed alternative to the classroom.
Education must be a culmination of many resources, and we built a platform which offered a cost-effective solution to compliment the hard work put in by teachers. We knew there was a gap in the market for a system that could easily fit into the day-to-day lives, and the budgets, of busy working families.
Once we had a firm grasp of our USP we set about developing a system that would allow children to work from home at a time and pace that worked for them.
It was essential for our system to remove traditional barriers to learning support including budget constraints and a lack of time and to offer a platform that provided an all-round learning support experience for all the family. We set about building a comprehensive library of learning resources, all designed to put children’s learning first with lessons created in support of each of the national curriculums in the UK.
Who do you admire?
I’ve taken inspiration and guidance from a broad range of leaders in their fields. I admire Tony Robbins and Sun Tzu for their simple and powerful insights in making sense of complex issues. I’ve always been impressed by the dogged determination of the likes of Richard Branson and Alex Ferguson. I take inspiration too from my own father for always speaking from the heart without malice and I admire children for always keeping me grounded and reminding me why I created Exemplar Education in the first place.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Back in 1991, we had found our niche and had a shared vision for the future and we were determined to make it happen overnight! The reality was very different. Straightaway we wanted to take our concept to the next level but we were left frustrated by slow growth at the outset. Looking back, I’d have cut myself a bit more slack and had greater confidence in our business model.
At the time we were effectively creating a brand new industry from scratch. Guidance was thin on the ground and there was no rule book to play by so we had to work through challenges and obstacles to shape the business into the incredible learning tool it is today. Starting up we had the privilege of time to refine, develop and improve which ultimately helped us to build a stronger business model. At the time what I thought were obstacles were actually opportunities to build the foundations of a business with longevity.
What defines your way of doing business?
Throughout nearly 30 years of business our approach has always been to innovate without compromising what makes us unique in the first place. Back in 1991 we were the only business in the education sector looking to roll-out a uniquely home based learning programme. Fast forward to 2020 and we’re still the only business which offers a service on the scale that we do.
Over the years we’ve worked hard to adapt to meet the changing learning needs of families by keeping pace with technology and expanding our online offering to support the ways kids learn best today. We grew the business from an original programme of videos to an extensive online system of lessons built on a comprehensive diagnostic process.
The delivery method might have changed but the traditional curriculum based learning techniques that built the business remain the same. Although it’s crucial to move with the times and adapt in line with trends and consumer behaviours there’s never been a reason to compromise our core values as a business.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
My advice to anyone starting out is once you’ve settled on your model, trust your USP, and always be ready to adapt and improve it. Most importantly surround yourself with those that will make you grow and not hold you back.
Of course you must stick to your guns and have every confidence in what your business can offer, but it’s even more important to stand out from the crowd by adding value to your customer’s lives. Knowing your business from the inside out and working out how to stay close to your customers in the shifting sands of consumer behaviour will keep you focussed and on track.
About Exemplar Education:
Exemplar Education is the largest UK supplier of high quality, affordable, supplementary home- based maths and English education. Starting in 1991, Exemplar Education has developed and refined the use of home learning to supplement and support schoolwork in maths, English and reading, from Year 1 to GCSE. Over 400,000 children in the UK have registered on Exemplar Education programmes.