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Ukrainian AcademyOcean won Google’s grant. How the startup helps businesses to automate training for employees and customers

AcademyOcean, an Ukraine-based Software as a Service (SaaS) startup that provides a smart Learning Management System (LMS), announced that it has raised funding from Google for Startups Ukraine Support Fund, as well as received ongoing Google mentorship and product support. The AcademyOcean platform helps businesses to automate training for employees, customers, and partners.

The exact amount of funding is not disclosed, though it is known that each startup receives up to $100,000 of equity-free financial investment, as well as Google Cloud credits and hands-on Google product and technical support.

Google announced its $5 million Google for Startups Ukraine Support Fund, operated by Huge Thing, in March 2022. AcademyOcean was selected to the second batch of startups to join the Fund.

In interview for AIN.Capital, the founder of AcademyOcean Volodymyr Polo shares the details about the startup’s idea, product, features, and results.

What is the idea behind AcademyOcean LMS? How did you come up with it?

AcademyOcean was created in 2017 in Ukraine, in the beautiful port city of Odesa.

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All photos provided by AcademyOcean

The idea of AcademyOcean came up when I was building another product. We needed a tool that would help onboard our customers and train our employees. In 2017 there were 4 people in a team. We did our research, but we could not find any tool on the market that met our exact needs, so we decided to build our own Academy. 

After that, our clients and partners came to us asking how they could have the same Academy for their needs. Here we saw a rising demand for a platform for building online academies. So we created an online portal with short courses for our users and called it an Academy

The best thing I came up with was to ask the designer to draw layouts of my “ideal LMS.”

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After that, I tested this idea on the US market:

  1. First, we named the product AcademyOcean (though there was no such product yet). 
  2. Second, we have made a short website about it.
  3. Third, we went through the potential US clients on LinkedIn to find out if there was neediness for such a product. What was a big surprise for me — people around the world were interested in the platform. Moreover, they were willing to pay. So I realized that it is necessary to create AcademyOcean.
  4. Fourth, we set goals for the year.
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What problems does the startup solve?

Let me tell a story about one of our first clients. It was a company from France. They came up with the idea of ​​training employees who are retiring. The task was to help them adapt to a new stage of life — to retirement. Nevertheless, it was necessary to consider their gender, interests, and location. This is how we developed a unique LMS technology — dynamic content. It enables content to be personalized based on certain learner characteristics. Now, a retiree in Lyon and a retiree in Marseille see different versions of the same course. We saw that they were easily able to figure out how the Academy works. By the way, we have an industry-leading ease-of-use rating of 9.8 out of 10 on g2.com

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Another example is Netpeak Group. In general the client was spending 320 hours each month onboarding 20 people. After they launched the internal Netpeak Group Academy, time spent on onboarding decreased by about 60% (about 192 hours of labor per month), predominantly in areas related to company policy, manuals, and descriptions of processes.

YouScan reached out to AcademyOcean in 2019. Their clients requested that they create educational courses for their product. These clients wanted to have a document to establish their employees’ knowledge in social media analytics, which would certify their mastery of YouScan. This helps the agencies when selling their own services. Now corporate clients are using our academy, and they appreciate the convenience and step-by-step structure of the training. In addition, clients can study independently at any time convenient to them. This helps reduce the burden on the CS and Support teams. 

Tell us please a bit more about the product. How does it work?

I like to compare the work of our LMS with the work of Swiss watches. A professional team makes the product with incredible precision to details, works for the business, and adapts to its needs.

AcademyOcean provides users with various control tools: the admin can set a deadline for courses, limit the number of attempts to pass tests, make a course optional or mandatory, and so on. As for the levels of access to the system, AcademyOcean has several roles: admin, analyst, curator and editor. 

Academy is an excellent resource for releasing new features and supporting ongoing user communication. Here is an example of how our clients do it:

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What is AcademyOcean’s business model? How do you monetize the service?

We have a subscription model, which means our clients pay us monthly (they can also choose an annual subscription to get a 25% discount). The monthly price starts from $300 and allows clients to get a nice set of functionality. 

Our product team is constantly adding valuable features and by subscribing now, customers lock in the current price. For example, in August we added statistical API’s that empower users to transmit statistics on all learners in a specific course. Subscribers benefit from all upgrades and improvements as they are rolled out.

Since the beginning of the war, the number of clients among Ukrainian companies has increased twice, because companies that used russian’s LMS switched to us. 

Who are your target customers? How many customers AcademyOcean has already acquired since launch?

First, of all our main target customers are executives within different industries. It could be:

  • any company with 100+ employees;
  • companies that create and sell courses, or online schools;
  • businesses who need an onboarding platform;
  • businesses who want to upskill their employees and have a learning culture in the company;
  • SaaS that wants to educate their customers;
  • hardware companies that need to educate their partners.

I can say that the number of customers is calculated in hundreds. 

Share with us other interesting metrics that indicate the startup’s growth path.

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Before the war, we had x3 year-over-year growth during 2020 and 2021. Nowadays, we invest much of our profits in the team, marketing, and growth in global markets.

We continue to increase our team. Today we have 20 talented people working to improve our product in multiple areas. 

Our clients are located on 5 continents, and we have more than 300,000 learners on our platform. That is why our team is located in 7 countries, and we speak different languages so clients can receive fast, qualified and service.

Tell us a little more about the startup’s future plans: what services are you planning to launch/improve, what markets to enter, and why?

The Ukrainian IT industry impressed the world even before the war, and now we are working to support the economy in difficult times, so our motivation is twice as big.

“The Ukraine Support Fund backs Ukrainian-founded tech companies so they can continue to strengthen their community and build a foundation for post-war economic recovery. “ – says  $5 million Google for Startups Ukraine Support Fund.

From this quote the reader may find the answer to the question: “ How are you going to spend received funding from Google”. 

To achieve our ambitions, we are growing. First, are investing in team expansion.

Additionally, we are increasing our presence in Global markets, where a significant part of the support received from Google will be invested in our growth.

One of the most important things in the near future will be personalization. The training should be personalized. People do not want to read general information anymore. 

They want something specific and tailor-made for them. 

We at AcademyOcean invented a very powerful technology that allows us to personalize the content in an automated way, now we have plans on applying AI in this technology.

This is not a secret that new technologies are rapidly developing, and new professions are appearing faster than specialists. In such an environment, the possibility of fast and high-quality learning is very important. Therefore, our mission is to develop technology for personalized, evidence-based learning and development.

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