Whizz Education: Richard Marett and Ron Van Der Meer
Richard Marett and Ron Van Der Meer on how they've made maths fun to learn
Despite ever improving GCSE results, apparent slipping standards in basic arithmetic remain a bugbear of employers and a damaging issue for teachers, students and parents alike. Richard Marett and Ron Van Der Meer believe they’ve found a solution to help everyone. Their maths tutoring software uses computer animations to teach maths and is already active in 2,500 schools.
“If a child uses the software twice a week for a year, maths age progresses by two years for 95% of kids,” insists Marett. It’s proved almost as rewarding for the founders. Inside three years, turnover has hit £1m and is set for another growth spurt with release of a home tutoring package.
The idea for Whizz came from Van Der Meer, who had been toying with the idea of a computer generated maths tutor for some years before meeting Marett. Marett, fresh from running a financial advisory firm in Singapore had moved back to the UK and was looking to set-up an educational company. The pair were introduced by a mutual friend and the rest is history.
Marett and Van Der Meer started by enlisting the help of two prominent academics, who between them had authored more than 100 maths books. It took two years of research with the duo to ensure Whizz content was not only fun and creative, but educationally sound. In addition, a 40-strong team of animators, editors, programmers and developers were recruited.
The project took £785,000 of financing, painstakingly gathered from eight private investors. “It took me nine months going round demonstrating the product,” explained Marett. “Even when we got the investment, it was only really enough to make the product. We still didn’t know how we were going to sell it.”
The solution to Whizz’s marketing problems came in the form of a crucial deal with a sales company. Whizz partnered up with a team of 50 sales people on a commission basis.
With a solid customer base now secured and home market about to be tapped, Marett is wary of large developers entering the market. However, he insists the company’s prolonged research and design work will have made it an expensive market for others to enter.
Despite ploughing huge amounts of time and energy into planning a business that took such a long time to get off the ground, Marett insists they couldn’t have done it without the dedication of the company’s staff.
Collecting the Startups Awards Team of the Year award for 2006, sponsored by Wageroller, he said: “They’ve all worked so hard on minimal salaries because they believed in the product.”