Andrew Barnes is co-founder of Go1, a company with a vision to reach and impact one billion learners around the world with its online learning platform.
Andrew’s achievements are considerable, and it was a pleasure to catch up with this founder and talk about the online learning platform’s incredible global success.
Andrew’s academic prowess is considerable, yet he told me that he couldn’t draw a straight line at pre-school age, and briefly had his parents worried. However, he went on to do well at school through what he describes as a mix of hard work and luck. He found that he loves to solve problems and create things, traits which have stood him in good stead both in academia and business.
By the time they were fifteen, Andrew and his friend Vu Tran decided they needed to earn some spare cash. So, they decided to start a web agency and offer web solutions with start-up cash of what they could scrape between them which was $50, Aus. Andrew says they made almost nothing. However, they learned and built it to the point that they were servicing some of the big Australian banks. Andrew says to this day, he doesn’t think the banks realized that they were employing a couple of students.
Both Andrew and Vu continued with their education. Vu was training to be a doctor and still practices once a week. Meanwhile, Andrew completed degrees in business management and economics, a doctorship in Philosophy, and a Master’s of Science and Education from Oxford and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
Andrew also gained recognition for his business achievements, Andrew and his team were named Brisbane Young Entrepreneurs of the Year by Business News Australia in 2021.
Go1 Online Learning Platform
The story of the Go1 online learning platform starts with spotting the problem. During Vu’s studies, he found that he was doing differing training rotations with different training providers and had to re-do his hand-washing training each time as there were no coordinated records of achievement. It seemed a ridiculous waste of time, and Andrew and Vu had the idea of an online learning platform for training that coordinated qualifications.
They were starting to move towards this when Andrew woke up in the middle of the night with a brainwave and sent himself an email. He says this is a habit he has never broken, and most of them look crazy in the light of day. This one said to apply to Y Combinator in the morning. On this occasion, they followed through and met the end-of-the-day deadline for an application with the idea of their new online learning platform.
Their own learning curve
Go1 went from being bootstrapped to raising an initial $120,000 US, which at the time seemed a fortune. Andrew says that bootstrapping brings with it cash constraints, but when capital becomes available, there are new constraints. Neither matters. What does matter is building a business with a strong value, and that should always be the north star.
Andrew talks about macro and micro challenges that he discovered growing the online learning platform. He says the four macro things to scaling up are having a large enough market, nailing the product-market fit, having a clear competitive advantage, and having the resources, both in terms of people and cash. He says that they had none of the four at that point, though when they look back at the original pitch deck, not that much has changed. It is more that everything has sharpened and come into focus.
At this point, Andrew was living in and studying in England. They were setting up in the U.S., and the rest of the team were in Australia, including two other co-founders, Chris Hood and Chris Eigeland, who had worked with them on the original web company. The multi-locations brought many new challenges for their small team, working across several time zones.
As other entrepreneurs will recognize, Andrew says that you start optimistically convinced by your perfect idea and product, and it takes two or three years till you focus and narrow it down in the market. He says that explaining this to people so that they understand it can be very hard.
One of the early milestones for their online learning platform was when their sales force could present and do deals without one of the founders being present. That is when you know you have got a viable product right.
Go1‘s online learning platform offers the most extensive curated eLearning library from top training providers in a single subscription. They supply large corporations and small enterprises and, in both, aim to unlock potential through a love of learning.
Powered by A.I. and machine learning, the Go1 online learning platform offers a content hub and library of training. The 150,000 courses and 200,000 pieces of content are curated for eLearning from many of the world’s top training providers, including Harvard Business Review, Skillsoft EdX, and Pearson. The online learning platform works as an iTunes for learning, enabling users to collate their individual content playlists from multiple sources. Go1 acts as the distributor and pays royalties on the content, in the same way, other platforms do for music. The result is a much more cohesive and relevant course for each learner.
The user base on the online learning platform has increased 300% in the past year on the back of growth in the U.S. and Europe, and, of course, the pandemic has made online learning more attractive and necessary than ever before. Their annual revenue catapulted by 438% in 2021, with the U.K. becoming its second-fastest-growing market globally and reflecting the huge demand for corporate education.
In July 2021, the online learning platform secured a further $200m funding. Up to this point, their total funding had only totalled $14m, so this was a massive jump. The investor line-up is stellar with investors including SoftBank Vision Fund 2, M12 (the venture arm of Microsoft), Salesforce Ventures, and Madrona Venture Group.
However, the recent milestone Andrew is most proud of is reaching is having reached 3.5m learners. Some of them have been able to create businesses of their own as a result. The governments of Singapore and Malaysia partner with the online training platform to share training that perhaps would never have otherwise been possible.
The current funding round way exceeded their expectations. They were not looking to raise that much and were humbled by the interest they received. Instead, it will enable further expansion into Western Europe, reach other English-speaking markets, and expand their product portfolio. They have offices in the U.S., South Africa, Vietnam, the U.K., and Malaysia, but their headquarters are still at home in Brisbane, and the company is currently valued at $1b.
A Mission to Reach a Billion Users
They have no definitive plans for the future of the online learning platform as yet. Andrew feels it is far too early in their journey. Education has so much scope. Andrew is married to a teacher and says that his wife understood the power of education quicker than he did. Andrew wants to explore how they can help more customers, reach more markets and perhaps explore adjacent markets such as coaching or the supply of other content. Education has the scope to do something small for a huge impact.
Final Words of Wisdom
Andrew says his advice comes from both he and Vu having continued learning and exploring other paths with their additional studying. You do need that passion for what you do, but what that passion is for isn’t always evident. People who are new to an industry or new to starting a business have such a steep learning curve it helps to keep lots of other possibilities in place while you narrow it and focus on getting it right. Only by exploring can you be sure you have chosen the right path.
You might also enjoy the wisdom of another tech entrepreneur to watch, Renji Bijoy of Immersed