Tech Pitch: Firefly

Entrepreneurs Simon Hay and Joe Mathewson explain how they turned the idea they had aged 13 and 14 into a profitable EdTech business...

Company name: Firefly
Founders: Simon Hay (28), Joe Mathewson (29)
Background: Simon Hay has a PhD in ubiquitous computing from Oxford; Joe Mathewson worked on the algorithmic trading desk at UBS after studying PPE, also at Oxford.
Based in: Hammersmith, London

Very simply, what does your tech start-up do?

Firefly is a learning platform, intranet and virtual learning environment (VLE) for schools, which can be used by teachers, staff, pupils and parents. Everything is displayed on the Firefly dashboard after logging in: upcoming lessons, homework to be completed, school announcements, school calendars and so on.

Teachers can set homework which will come as a push notification on pupils’ phones or tablets and easily put together learning resources bringing in YouTube videos to make interactive resources, quizzes and more. Staff can integrate previous systems and data into Firefly to manage communications. For example schools can choose what they allow parents to see such as whether their child has been handing in their homework late.

Pupils can use Firefly for revision, to submit their homework via their iPads or phones, to see what homework is still outstanding, do tests under timed conditions even at home, or post questions on forums for a particular subject or class.

Tell us why there’s a need – what do you disrupt?

We’ve built the whole platform specifically for schools, because that’s where the business started, rather than customising a business platform for a school environment like some companies offer. Schools have very different needs compared to businesses, and even to each other, so we offer highly personalised software.

Some teachers are still quite wary of using technology as part of their job, but we’ve always been incredibly focused on making it as easy to possible to use. If they can write an email, they can create a learning resource for their pupils on Firefly. We’re not using technology for the sake of using technology – anything we build has to be a significant improvement in speed and ease compared to paper-based systems.

Are you funded?

We’ve been profitable from the beginning so we haven’t sought any funding, and we’ve been doubling our revenues year on year.

What were you doing before starting?

We’re school friends and when we were 13 and 14, we started experimenting with programming and wanted to build a new intranet for our school so we could access homework and resources from our computers. By the time we were revising for our GCSEs, most of our year group was using the platform we’d built to store and share their revision notes, and teachers were pulling us out of lessons to ask us questions. Eventually they began paying us to develop the learning platform and gradually other schools asked us to do the same. We both went to university, and worked in investment banking for a time, but now we’re both working full time on our boyhood startup, Firefly.

What’s the best thing about where you’re based?

Being based in Hammersmith is important to us as we want to take advantage of the global pool of talents that is available in London. With clients spread across the UK and the world, it is also crucial for us to have good transportation links. It also so happens that we are just down the road from the school in which the first version of Firefly was built so it feels like Hammersmith it is part of our identity.

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