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“As soon as I understood that my personal barrier as a female founder was confidence, I stopped getting in my own way” : Interview with Daisy Hill, Co-Founder & COO of Zzish

Global edtech companies are now worth €298 billion, a 3.8x increase since 2016 and global education and training expenditure is set to hit $10 trillion by 2030, while so far less than 4% of training and education has been digitized. In Europe, investment in edtech is growing faster than in any other mature market and it is now home to three edtech unicorns (two of which passed the billion-dollar mark in the summer of 2021).

We sat down with Daisy Hill, Co-Founder of Zzish, one of the UK’s most successful edtech startups to find out more about their journey so far and their plans for the future. Zzish, founded in 2015, is a smart data platform that gives teachers instant insight into student learning gaps and recommends the best resources from anywhere in the world to help each student progress. Aside from VC investments, Zzish has raised on Crowdcube more than any edtech startup in Europe – €3.48 million!

What first got you into entrepreneurship? 

I’ve worked in various high-growth technology companies throughout my career, and I believe that my entrepreneurial drive has come from spotting obvious problems in markets that were yet to catch up with the tech that I’d experienced in more progressive sectors. In 2013, after a deep dive with my father, a successful music composer for learners, I co-founded my first Edtech venture, Useful Music, to make it much easier for music teachers to discover and download high-quality educational sheet music. In 2016, I decided to act on a longstanding passion for education and become a teacher – but as soon as I started my training, it became obvious to me once again that I could have a much greater impact in the field as an entrepreneur. By applying the same kind of analytics and insight from consumer tech startups to a teacher-child relationship in the classroom, I knew that I could affect a much needed step-change in personalised learning for those often struggling or frustrated students. Which led me to co-found Zzish!

Was it harder for you as a female founder? If so, why do you think that was/is the case?

To start a business? No difference. To raise funding? Yes, but not for the reasons people normally suggest. It’s true that in the early days the lack of representation of ‘people like me’ (essentially, millennial women) investing in companies day-to-day led me to hide in the shadow of my male co-founder, who had outwardly much more “in common” with our investor base. As I got to know our investors, potential investors and indeed the investment landscape, I realised that I couldn’t have been more wrong. What ties us to the amazing individuals who back our venture is a passion for the impact that great tech can have on education and, from the commercial side, an awareness of the trillion-dollar market opportunity in our sector. As soon as I understood that my personal barrier as a female founder was confidence, rather than an innate difference in vision or perspective, I stopped getting in my own way and started pro-actively engaging with investor communities myself. Luckily the tech sector is now doing great things for female founders, with several fellowships and initiatives springing up to solve the exact problems and confidence issues that I faced in the very early years as an entrepreneur. I try and pay it forward whenever I can!

Tell us more about Zzish. How did you and your co-founder come up with the idea?

The idea for Zzish came about organically, through the lived parental experience of my co-founder Charles coupled with my insight into the classroom. Charles saw his son struggle at school, and as one of our country’s leading technologists (Oxford pHD in AI, Google’s first tech hire outside the US) he began to build technology to give him insight into his son’s learning gaps. I had seen a similar problem in classrooms, where teachers who may teach 300 students in a week struggled to personalise their teaching to every child. Both of us, with prior experience in some of the world’s best tech scale ups, couldn’t believe the relative lack of cutting edge tech in the classroom. We resolved this by building Zzish: a smart data platform that gives teachers instant insight into student learning gaps and recommends the best resources from anywhere in the world to help each student progress.

Today we have impacted the learning of 6 million students, sold our product in 78 countries and teachers around the globe have created 1.1m educational resources on our platform. Our signups have grown 10x in the last year and our annual recurring revenue is 5x what it was 18 months ago, thanks to our diverse and passionate team of commercial leaders, teachers and technologists. We are predicting another 5x growth in 2022!

Our goal has always been to use technology to ensure every child has access to quality education and in particular to give teachers the superpowers to personalize their teaching for every student. 

You just closed a £988,827 round on Crowdcube. Why did you choose to do a crowdfunding round? How did you finance Zzish up until this point? Do you plan to raise additional funding in the future?

In general, consumer products tend to do well on Crowdcube, and although we are not a consumer product, it turns out that education is something that many angel investors are passionate about.  Moreover, many angel investors recognise just how huge the opportunity is for edtech and how fast it’s growing.  For example, digital education still only accounts for 5% of the $6 trillion global spend on education. This figure is rapidly growing, with the market now at $414 billion and it’s easy to project out and see that digital education could exceed 30% by the end of this decade. 

The reach of crowdfunding has also changed in the last few years: shifts in cross-border regulation mean that investors from multiple countries can easily join your round, which is useful for a company like ours with a lot of traction outside our home market. We had investors from 58 different countries join this crowdfunding round alone: we now have multiple shareholder advocates for our brand and mission in every continent!

Prior to Crowdcube we started out by funding the business ourselves and then were fortunate to join Techstars and get their backing, alongside that of LEAF, a specialist Edtech VC. We were then supported by a handful of high net worth individuals who shared our passion for education. They have reinvested in every round, but we’ve completed three rounds on Crowdcube now and raised more in total crowdfunding (£2.9m) than any edtech startup in Europe!

What is your long term vision for Zzish?

Our goal is to power the learning of hundreds of millions of school children across the globe.  We think of Zzish as the first version of a “virtual teaching assistant”.  Imagine a software application that lives with the teacher in the classroom and that has detailed insight into the exact state of learning of every student in the class.  Imagine, moreover, that that application had already been in thousands of other classrooms and had observed what teachers had done to address the learning gaps in other similar students. That application could automatically recommend exactly the right resource or action to help every student progress fastest. In many ways, Zzish does this already, but we’ve got a long way to go to really fulfil our vision.

What are your predictions for edtech in the next 5-10 years?

The last two years have been a breakthrough for the everyday use of edtech in the classroom.  Before covid, most teachers were only using edtech with students for occasional homework tasks. Now all teachers understand how powerful edtech can be in the classroom and are now much more comfortable using software with their students on a daily basis.  So, for the first time, we are seeing software being used every day in the classroom on a massive, global scale. This change in teacher behaviour is the catalyst for the next 5-10 years of innovation in the sector. 

In 10 years time, it will be the norm for teachers to be using software and devices in almost every lesson and the impact on student progress will be significant.  For example, we will see software that diagnoses each student’s learning gaps in real-time in the classroom and provides exactly the right resource to help each student progress. Able students will never be bored because the questions are too easy and less able students will never be left behind because the teacher is moving too quickly and they can’t keep up.  Teachers will still be vital in the classroom and their role will become more fulfilling as they’ll be able to focus their time on helping the students who need help rather than simply lecturing to the class as a whole.

Veronica Fresneau
Veronica Fresneau
Veronica Fresneau is a tech and startups enthusiast, and an advocate for women in tech, startups and VC space. She has more than fifteen years of Marketing & Communications experience in several EMEA markets. Veronica is currently based in Amsterdam, where she coordinates brand & research for Rockstart, early stage accelerator-VC.

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