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Member Spotlight 5 Minutes With Martin Beeche, Ceo Of Prosper Education

ACBC (NSW) Member Spotlight: 5 minutes with… Martin Beeche, CEO of Prosper Education

1. Tell us about your business and how you've leveraged your Australia-China connections to build your success in China?

Prosper Education is a global education provider for the early childhood learning sector. Our flagship product, RoyalABCTM, provides an entire learning solution for young learners at school and at home. 

Using the latest technology and good old fashioned hard copy books, we empower teachers to deliver a high quality of education in the classroom and connect this to learning at home through a beautiful immersive 3D game world app. Using an interactive blended learning methodology we teach English language, 21st Century and growth mindset skills. Our core values revolve around being child centred, always be learning, approach life with a growth mindset, treat everyone with the utmost respect, everything we design is evidence based and constantly embracing creativity in the way we work and the products we build.

Our company was conceived from the needs of the Chinese learner, parent and teacher and our market is currently only China. We have sold 30,000 accounts since our soft launch 3 months ago and we recently had our official launch in Shanghai at the end of June. We have offices in London, Shanghai and Sydney.

Prosper Education has had a long relationship with China. The very first interactions by my co-founder were in Beijing over 10 years ago during his work for the Prince of Wales and the Prince’s foundation, the Foundation for the Built Environment. This work focused on saving the hutongs and many of the rich cultural elements of traditional Chinese living that were under threat from the rapid modernisation of Beijing. 

We are the first and only education provider in China to approach the early learning aged student with a full ecosystem approach, one which delivers consistent teaching in the classroom and at home.  We have designed a complete roadmap for young learners in English and essential social and emotional learning skills and support teachers and parents to create an environment for the child which is full of learning, support and fun.  A key part of our focus is on communication skills and the pronunciation of English.  Artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality are just some of the technology we utilise to help deliver the ultimate learner experience.

2. What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?

We are a rapidly scaling business so for me, everyday is a balance between the operational elements of leading the executive team with keeping my eye on the strategic opportunities in China and around the world - and delivering on those game changing relationships which will create a step-change in value for our stakeholders. Of course investor relations and fundraising is a consistent focus for me too. I’ve just spent the last few weeks in China with our team where we had our official launch event in Shanghai. I met with new and existing clients, visited classrooms to observe firsthand more children using RoyalABC, and spent one week in our London office meeting strategic partners and investors. I keep a very close eye on the culture and hiring the right people is the beginning step towards building a thriving and enjoyable work culture. 

We are currently building lots of incredible new content for the product, which is very exciting, and working towards an investment round in Q4 which is going to kick off our SE Asian and UK expansion. As a company Prosper has a deeply diverse team and we are proudly 54% female and are represented by 14 countries.

As the co-founder of a high growth business, I grapple with balancing the needs of the business with the wellbeing needs of our team, and believe they are actually not at odds with each other.  A high performing team is full of individuals with a high degree of self-awareness who understand what they need to do to take care of themselves. As CEO, it’s my role to provide them the space and bandwidth to be able to commit to that self-care which in turn creates a highly productive, creative and fulfilled culture.  

My primary role is to set the purpose and vision of the company, hire smart people with the right values, who then form incredible teams and go on to make life changing products.  We have daily, weekly and monthly meeting cadence to help keep everyone communicating and on track.  Every day is different, but it always involves a green smoothie and some kind of exercise to keep me sane.

3. What would you say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business in/with China?

?1) Number one is understand that China is diverse. It is a vast market, and you can’t assume that it is a one size fits all. There are hundreds of different China’s within one very large jurisdiction and to homogenise them is fatal, so understanding who your business’ target market is, is absolutely critical.

2) You must build your product to solve a real and significant problem. We use a lean methodology that is very customer centric - if we aren’t solving a genuine problem for someone it won’t sell.  So work closely with your stakeholders and build a solution for them, and don’t be precious.  Be prepared to abandon your original assumptions and pivot to ensure product market fit.

3) The third element really speaks to what I mentioned before about our China connections. Relationships are important because business is a function of trust. The only way to truly succeed in China is to develop relationships based on mutual exchange for the long haul.

4) Again, this is cultural point - build a local team that shares the values of the parent company, but is also able to build its own strong and independent Chinese culture. We enjoy sharing our values and cultures with our team in China, and equally love to observe what local team culture they have established and how they work together with their values. Prosper is a consciously diverse organisation and we are already seeing the tangible benefits to truly celebrating diversity of thought, culture and people.

5) Patience, humility and perseverance are a big part of the journey of starting and keeping a successful business in China. Just know from the beginning you will make mistakes, and make assumptions that are wrong, and all of this is completely essential to the process of building a sustainable business. Ask for help from local networks, find mentors that can give you local introductions, use Government agencies and trade missions and business networks like ACBC for their wisdom. Celebrate your wins, and above all have a growth mindset, a sense of humor and a long term view.

4. How do you go about marketing your business in Australia/China and what has contributed to this success?

Always approaching our thinking from the perspective of our customers’ needs has enabled us to find product market fit with the right price and the right channels to market.  We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way but have always embraced the learnings and adapted accordingly.

The actual marketing of the business in China has been diverse and we’ve used a mix of channels including direct selling into private kindergartens and distributors, conferences, information seminars, meetings, media partners and content marketing. We also use WeChat of course, which is a powerful tool for us, and other social channels to connect.  All this has been driven by our local marketing team in Shanghai, which we’ve found essential to a successful marketing strategy.

We are about to announce two significant deals which will further accelerate our growth.  One is with a major teacher training university who will be co-branding their teacher training department with RoyalABC and whom trains thousands of teachers every year.  Another deal with a leading innovative internet content production company in Shanghai, which will directly target the rise of paid digital content in China.  Up until about 2016, most consumers in China expect all online content to be free but that has changed in the last two years and most consumers are now willing to pay for content.   

Our marketing strategy has revolved around the ‘why?’.  Why would a kindergarten owner or teacher want to buy our solution?  We built our strategy around effective communication of our beliefs in the transformative power of education, language, growth mindset and social and emotional learning in early life to develop happy, well adjusted children, and we want to do that authentically in China for our Chinese customers. Consumers today have a very good nose for smelling out inauthentic companies, which is good news for us since we are a true education organisation with long term objectives of creating Incredible Beginnings for millions of children in China.

Outside of China, our head company Prosper Education’s brand is about being an innovative values based organisation, driven by the opportunity to work in agile creative ways to help impact the lives of millions of children around the world.  For me, nothing is more compelling than that.

5. You have been very successful to date, but there have no doubt been challenges - what's been your biggest challenge that you have overcome in your business journey with China?

Undoubtedly we have had challenges. Operational growing pains, people and culture are by far the largest.  Growing from 8 staff to over 40 in three countries in 12 months was a huge internal challenge to maintain the culture we wanted to build.  There are  significant operational challenges that come from growing from about 15 up to 40 people and opening office in another country.  Some of the people that joined the team in the very early days were no longer suited to the requirements of the business as it scaled and those are difficult but necessary conversations to have.

Being disciplined with ourselves to take the time to hire the right people with the right mindset and capabilities has been very important. Having the right mindsets around the table is critical when it comes to other difficult decisions, like pivoting the business model or product, both of which we had to do in the early days.  Having people who deeply believe in the purpose of the company, who have the right capabilities and a growth mindset is a winning formula.

6. What's your motto/mantra?

My wife and I have four young children so as a father I deeply understand the challenges our young children face in today’s rapidly changing world and nothing is more important to us than preparing the children of today for these challenges. 

Our 10 year goal is to give 100 million children around the world an Incredible Beginning. I love this, it is so big, so challenging, it stretches me and all of the team to dream and strive to get there. 100 million is a massive number, but I think about that one child at a time. It reminds me of Laozi’s proverb, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Visualising each child being able to realise their true potential has become my motto. It is an amazing motivator to be part of something so meaningful.