At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community. This week, we spoke with Douglas Lloyd, CEO of Azoomee, a kids entertainment and learning platform. He explained the emotional ups and downs of running a startup, how he secured funding and what it’s like being a husband and wife co-founder team.
Tech vertical: EdTech
Staff count: 20
Notable partnerships: NSPCC and O2
Q: Where did the idea come from?
My three daughters were actually the inspiration behind setting up Azoomee. My middle daughter Chloe wanted to listen to a popular nursery rhyme, so she searched for it online. Unfortunately, what she found was not suitable for a seven-year-old!
My wife Estelle and I realised how easy it was for children to stumble across inappropriate content online, even when searching for something innocent like a nursery rhyme. Rather than ban them from going online altogether, we wanted to develop an app that allowed children to use the internet safety whilst also teaching them the best ways of navigating it. That’s how Azoomee was born.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
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I began my career in finance, spending 12 years working in corporate finance and private equity in London, Paris and New York. Most recently, I was head of European investment banking at WR Hambrecht + Co. in New York before co-founding, funding and building VB Research, a digital media business focusing on the renewable energy and cyber security sectors, which was sold successfully to an LSE-quoted media company.
Q: How is it going? Can you share stats on number of users?
Very well. At the moment, we have around 10,000 users, but it’s still early days – we only launched the app in late March. However, very recently we signed a distribution deal with O2, making Azoomee the sole entertainment provider for their new family tablet. We’re incredibly excited about this collaboration, as it’s almost unheard of for a family-run business like ours to partner with a giant telco. We also anticipate this partnership opening a lot of doors for us and significantly growing Azoomee’s user base.
Q: How is Azoomee funded?
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To date, Azoomee has been funded by high-net-worth individuals and the Low Carbon Innovation Fund, raising £2.3m in total. We’re looking to raise additional investment through crowdfunding in September.
The fact that Estelle and I have successfully funded and sold a business in the past has made fundraising easier this time. It’s never easy, but it has certainly been easier than with the previous business.
If I had to offer any advice on fundraising to other startups, it would be: don’t be shy. You need to pitch well to everyone you know at the outset, because that’s where your first investment will come from – people who know and trust you.
Q: Why are you going down the crowdfunding route?
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The great thing about crowdfunding is it makes investing accessible to many more people, and in individuals who aren’t professional investors. There are a lot people out there who share Azoomee’s vision of making the internet a safer place for children. We want to give these people the opportunity to invest in something tangible that will make a difference, not just to today’s children, but also to future generations of internet users. Investing in a business with meaning feels good!
We decided to use Crowdcube because of its reputation in the sector. We also wanted to use an equity-based crowdfunding platform because we believe it is important that people get the opportunity to own a piece of the company. We also like the fact you can give away fun rewards on Crowdcube.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
Azoomee was our first venture into the consumer technology world, which posed a whole set of new challenges: How do you build an app for children? What is App Store Optimisation? How do you lower your Cost Per Registration? These are just some of the many questions we had to figure out. It’s also an eternal challenge to keep an app dedicated to primary school children fresh and exciting. We think about that every day!
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about setting up your company?
Seeing our idea come to fruition. I think back to the first conversation Estelle and I ever had about wanting to keep children safe online to actually launching the app and it being available to anyone in the UK (we intend to expand internationally next year). It’s truly been an incredible journey with tremendous support from individuals and major organisations. At times it gets quite emotional – launching the app was an unforgettable moment for us and the team.
Q: Be honest … What’s it like being husband and wife AND co-founders?
Honestly it works incredibly well. One of the most crucial decisions we made when we founded Azoomee was to create clearly defined roles – I manage the partnerships and product development side of the business, while Estelle is in charge of content and marketing. Of course we both have a shared passion for Azoomee and we maintain a close working relationship in the office, but we also know the importance of switching off when we get home.
Q: What do you think of the global EdTech space?
This is a very exciting time for EdTech, with products being developed worldwide to cater for the ever-increasing demands of this new tech-savvy generation. The UK should expect to be at the centre of this innovation given its excellence in education, technology and media. If you look at the kids’ space, some of the most exciting innovation is being developed here. That’s also thanks to a healthy mixture of access to great people and funding.
Q: Who do you see as your main competitors and how do you differ?
In terms of content, Azoomee is competing with major, established brands like Netflix, Sky and the BBC. However, we are very distinctive from them because we offer much more variety than just video on demand. Azoomee features shows, games, audiobooks, creative tools and a parent-approved messaging service. Much of our content actively encourages kids to get ‘off the screen’ and teaches them skills, such as art, science, natural history, spelling and magic.
Q: You have a partnership with the NSPCC – how did you go about forming this?
The NSPCC is a strategic partner of Azoomee and we’re proud to support them by donating every time someone subscribes to our app.
Our relationship with the NSPCC goes back well before the business was founded – Estelle has been fundraising for the charity for many years. We approached the NSPCC very early on because we felt we would be perfect partners. At the time they were starting to focus more on keeping children safe online and obviously that’s the premise behind Azoomee. The relationship has grown because together we have a shared vision of keeping children safe.
Q: What are your plans for the next 12 months?
The aim is to expand internationally within the next 12 months. However, exporting for small businesses also represents a large risk so we want to crack the home market first!