The founders of educational tech company Azoomee had global ambitions from the start.
Douglas and Estelle Lloyd set out to build a learning platform that would develop the skills of primary school children. One of the initial triggers came when their middle daughter encountered inappropriate content on YouTube.
The couple aimed to resolve the dilemma of parents who realised their children needed to use technology, but were anxious to ensure their screen time was well spent.
1. Establish a track record at home
That need was not confined to parents in the UK, where Azoomee launched in 2016. “Every country has this problem,” says Douglas Lloyd. “Governments everywhere give a lot of advice, but they focus on teenagers. In fact, the ages of five to 10 is when children are most open to learning.”
Nevertheless, a record of UK success was an essential foundation before looking overseas.
“You can only start considering international expansion once you’ve made certain headway in your own market,” says Lloyd. “Our UK launch enabled us to gain a lot of learnings and customers, so we were well prepared for our roll-out in other markets.”
2. Find direct routes to your audience
Key to the brand’s swift UK profile was a successful partnership with Telefonica O2. Azoomee became the sole entertainment provider on the telecoms giant’s child-friendly tablet.
The biggest challenge for the business was replicating this partnership in other markets. “When you’re pushing into new markets, you need a partner who has access to your end user every single day,” says Lloyd.
“Our audience are parents who have the disposable income to invest in their children’s future, and who understand that schools can’t meet all of kids’ learning needs. Partnerships give you visibility, distribution and credibility with this audience.
“We set out to find the best partner in each country. For example, Vodacom have 30 million connections in South Africa, so they were an obvious choice.”
When you’re pushing into new markets, you need a partner who has access to your end user every single day.Douglas Lloyd, Co-founder, Azoomee
3. Be useful to your partners
Each partnership offers mutual benefits, Lloyd emphasises. The telecoms providers working with Azoomee in its 110 markets worldwide gain at least as much from the arrangement.
“We are at the heart of Telefonica O2’s entire family proposition, for example, and provided new revenue streams for them,” he adds.
“It’s a good example of how fast-growth entrepreneurial businesses can work with large and established businesses who are looking for ways to turbo-charge their revenues.”
4. Comply with even non-compulsory standards
Since Azoomee’s launch, new restrictions to protect children from inappropriate online content have come into force in many countries.
It’s a development Lloyd welcomes, but it provides new compliance hurdles for Azoomee, from data protection rules in Europe to the requirements for inclusion in Apple’s US App Store.
“There’s an increasing number of regulations when you are active in the kids’ space,” Lloyd says. “Some standards are required, some are simply nice to have, but we view them all as important in giving people comfort that we are a safe kids’ product.”
5. Find the funds to secure resilience
Bureaucracy apart, the business aims to spend most of its time focusing on high-quality content, as well as ensuring continuous funding for its next ventures.
“In your first market, you can build in incremental steps,” Lloyd says. “When you decide to go international, you need to make sure your infrastructure is going to be resilient and capable of providing support to your customers.
“Unfortunately, these are decisions you have to make before generating revenue – you need to build a very significant runway so you have confidence in the roll-out. That means persuading investors to put funds in place before you see the bookings.”
To date, Azoomee has managed to raise almost £8m from a variety of sources, including crowdsourcing. HSBC also provided funding of £200,000, via a business loan, to support the company’s push into new markets and its product diversification.
For Lloyd, the benefits of this arrangement went beyond the finance itself: “HSBC is a global and globally-respected business. In my view, it helps us to build a global business if we’re associated with aspirational brands such as O2, Amazon, Vodafone and HSBC.”
6. Go as far as English will take you
Many digital businesses consider translation as a critical first step to moving overseas. But while the user interface of the Azoomee’s digital platform now comes in 10 languages, the games themselves do not yet have local language content.
Sticking to English is possible because the games are simple and intuitive, and also because of the markets currently prioritised by the business. “Our focus for now is on English-speaking markets, or where an English language service is acceptable at launch, such as Scandinavia,” says Lloyd.
That will need to evolve when Azoomee sets its sights on fast-growing markets such as China, which Lloyd is confident will happen.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have the capability to be a global brand,” he says. “We want to be everywhere – and we see no reason why we can’t be.”