boclips: disruptive innovator, satisfied customer

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Until relatively recently, video content in the classroom was a rare treat; an occasional break from the musty and lifeless textbooks that had been begrudgingly schlepped around all day in a tattered schoolbag.

There will be many who can remember the frisson of excitement that would ripple through a schoolroom whenever a television was wheeled in or a VHS tape removed from a drawer. Children could be tricked into learning as moving images turned dim recollections of what they’d read in their textbooks into living, relatable knowledge.

boclips is a two-and-a-half-year-old ed:tech startup making this possible on a scale never before thought possible, aggregating over 2m educational video clips from a dazzling array of media partners (everyone from Bloomberg to the BBC, from Associated Press to Getty Images) and making them easily and directly available to educators and producers of educational material.

“One of the founders – David Bainbridge – came from television and media, and he has four kids,” Tod Lockard, boclips’ global COO, tells us. “He was just shocked at how little video they were using in class and became curious about why.”

So they started investigating, and it turned out there was a very clear set of obstacles preventing educators from taking advantage of the Internet’s cornucopia of content.

“Say you’re a physics teacher trying to teach terminal velocity, but you want to wake those kids up and get them really excited with a video of Felix Baumgartner jumping out of the Red Bull balloon. The problem is how do you source it, do you need permission to use it and how much will it cost?”

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boclips takes care of all of that, explains Tod. “We’re just pulling in content from all over the world – all these private libraries – and our software will exclude expensive assets that won’t have clearances for education. Then the content available inside boclips will be indexed and searchable by exact curricula and syllabus’ key-words, making it easy to find and license for immediate use.”

Essentially, boclips’ platform allows its users to scour a wealth of rights-cleared educational videos from an array of premium content suppliers all over the world – and those suppliers benefit from boclips too.

“We provide consultation and data points to help big media companies realize that they’re sub-optimising their assets for education because they’re too expensive. It’s too messy for them to have to contract with every school, book publisher and university. It’s inefficient. So we provide a safe, secure one-stop-shop that educators worldwide can pick or pull from.” It’s win-win, for educators and the content providers.

“When you start to get orders from around the world, currency is one of the things you have to think about”

“We found pretty rapidly that this problem exists with educators and education systems worldwide,” says Tod. boclips began negotiating deals with content partners in America, the UK and Europe, while orders started coming in from educators in several European countries and a few Asian countries.

“So when you start to get orders from around the world, currency is one of the things you have to think about,” says Tod. At first they were simply manually translating costs and invoicing their clients in pounds sterling. But this was about to become impractical.

“We signed a global agreement with Pearson – the largest education provider in the world – that was not denominated in pounds sterling. We needed to set up a system or a partner that would allow us to accept payments (and pay some of our suppliers) in multiple currencies, so I started to research the market for digital, non-bank FX partners.”

Musical sting! Step in freemarket – but why did Tod choose us?

“A proposition like freemarket gives that degree of confidence, transparency and consistency that is doubtful we could get even if we were begging a bank”

“The two quick and obvious USPs are the 24/7 access to the platform, and the control it gives you,” Tod says, with literally no one holding a knife to his throat.

“For startups, the notion of 9 to 5 doesn’t really exist, but high street banks don’t offer 24/7 access for businesses of our size. If you’re a super-large multinational you might have more luck, but I knew for us there would be alternatives with a lot more agility.

“And obviously cost savings are mission critical for startups. For SME businesses, every penny counts. In the early stages, if you don’t manage your costs and be smart about it – it could be the difference between life or death. You just don’t know when you’re going to need that extra £2000 you saved on some big FX exchange that a high street bank would have creamed you on. Boom. Now you can’t have a Christmas party.

“A proposition like freemarket gives that degree of confidence, transparency and consistency that is doubtful we could get even if we were on our hands and knees, begging and cajoling a high-street bank. It’s possible, but life’s too short to have to go through that grovelling and agony to try and get a fee waived. Over the course of the year, we’ll save $4000-$5000 USD by using  freemarket compared to using the high street.”

Note the lack of editing of Tod’s highly perceptive testimonial. Note the reluctance to paraphrase or deviate from directly quoting him; with great eloquence, Tod has conjured a vivid image of the lack of freedom and leverage that SMEs have in dealing with banks, while matter-of-factly articulating the benefits of transacting with a nimble, cost-saving fintech startup like freemarket.

These are not the only matters on which boclips and freemarket concur; we are both deeply excited by the possibilities automation affords in our respective fields, and by the way in which it will help us save our clients time and money. boclips have developed their own software that allows clients to search for relevant content more effectively, by cross-referencing video metadata with syllabuses across the world.

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“The videos come in and our automated software takes the metadata and uses algorithms to scan it, process it and compare it to various taxonomies and curricula,” says Tod. “Machine learning and basic AI will help that metadata increase relevancy. We can take attributes about the user and start to make better predictions as to what videos may be most appropriate to certain subjects, depending on who you are, where you are, what age of learner you teach, even perhaps what time of day you teach.”

“The education industry needs something that’s straightforward and integrated so teachers don’t lose time swamped in a sea of choice, on top of all their other responsibilities.”

You could even argue that there’s a parallel in the ways boclips and freemarket streamline their customers’ choices, eliminating the need to hunt around for the best deal….

“Exactly right,” says Tod. “In their own way they’re both platform businesses. boclips is a platform connecting buyers and users of video content with suppliers of content. freemarket is doing the same thing with currency, matching up buyers of multiple currencies with the people that are selling them.”

It turns out that the similarities between our outwardly very different businesses played a key part in Tod’s choice of FX provider.

“That was going through my mind when I was looking for a partner as well. I like working with challengers and scrappy startups,” he says. “I’ve been here 16 years and the climate for innovation startups in London right now is phenomenally good. I think it’s cool that there are good people and teams trying to build businesses, and enough investors that are believing in it, saying ‘let’s go do it!’”

And the signs that innovation and disruption continue apace are all around us, as much as we try our hardest not to realise how much the world has changed since we were young. Much as the recent World FinTech Report survey from Capgemini and LinkedIn noted that over 50% of banking customers have turned to fintech startups for financial services, Tod has seen a shift towards digital in education too.

“Ten years from now, this will all just be normal. My kids – my son’s in year 7, one daughter’s doing A-Levels, another daughter at uni – I rarely see them with textbooks. They might have a book for literature… but the experience is just unrecognisable compared to what I went through.”

The times, they are a-changin’.

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