A Whizz in Thailand

Richard Marett, co-founder and CEO of Whizz Education tells us how his company this year will see its award-winning online tutoring and digital education products used in schools across Thailand.

Whizz Education is a rapidly growing, award winning, online tutoring and digital education publishing company. It was founded back in 2004 by Ron van der Meer, a leading creator of educational pop-up books Ray Douse, Ben Keogh and myself.

Together with our talented team here in London, we develop engaging, educationally powerful and easy to use maths resources. This online suite of services is called Maths-Whizz. We work with parents, schools and departments of education to increase achievement levels in maths through individualised tutoring, whole- class tools and application of best practices. We aim to make maths fun by using interactive maths animations and unique tutoring methods to deliver measurable results, matched to national curricula.

Maths-Whizz is now used by thousands of 5-13 year olds in eight countries, with major growth coming from the USA, the Middle East and Russia. By mid 2013, Maths-Whizz is expected to have launched and rolled out into 10 markets.

However, the potential for Maths-Whizz in Asia is huge, which presents great opportunities as well as challenges. Asia is renowned for its excellence in maths and science and much of this educational strength underpins the emerging economic powers in Asia. There is also a commitment and dedication to learning throughout their culture. Having travelled all over Asia and seen this for myself, I was confident that we could add value to their educational standards with Maths-Whizz.

It is only in the last few years that we have begun to fully explore opportunities in Asia. As an early growth company, we decided that we couldn’t be everywhere at once, so opted to focus on one country at a time, with the aim of proving our credibility in one market to attract interest from others.

We also wanted to find a market entry model that was strategic and measured in its approach to deliver scalability through effective and sustainable growth. Through our research and observations, we decided to focus on Thailand. So in November 2011 we started to search for a trusted local partner there.

We previously had interest from a Thai publisher who had approached us at a UK exhibition. But rather than jumping on board with the first partner who was interested in us, we decided to take a different approach. We were prepared to commit time and investment to getting the right partner, knowing that this would be the difference between success and failure in Asia.

We wanted to find a like-minded company that had already achieved educational success in Thailand and was dedicated to raising educational standards there. We also wanted them to localise the product range and at the same time demonstrate the strength of the partnership with a financial commitment. Knowing what we were looking for helped us devise a set of criteria in order to benchmark prospective candidates.

Whizz Education: Facts and figures

  • Whizz Education is based in London with offices also in Seattle and Dubai. There are currently 43 people working across the three offices.

  • In 2012 it won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade, for its outstanding achievement over the last three years.

  • Among other awards, it was also a finalist in the BETT Award for ICT Exporter of the Year 2012.

  • Currently over 150,000 children between the ages of 5 and 13 use Maths-Whizz Tutoring Plus worldwide.

  • In the UK over 4,000 schools use Maths-Whizz.

  • For more information: http://www.whizz.com/

As a small UK company finding the right partner in an unfamiliar market can be a daunting prospect, so we decided to seek expert advice and support from UK Trade & Investment. We undertook an Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) which enabled us to make visits to the market and benefit from the research and networking capabilities of the UKTI in Bangkok.

We went to Thailand in order to assess the market potential first hand so, we visited schools and met potential partners they had shortlisted on our behalf. It was very encouraging to see just how ingrained educational success is in their culture and the Thai Government’s commitment to improving the education system, particularly through English language instruction.

From this we were able to narrow our search down to five companies and set them the challenge to write a business plan for us. We had to continue our due diligence on our prospective partners, observing how they operated in the market and how well connected they really were. We were keen to work with a partner who had access to, and contacts with educational ministries. You can only really gauge this when top-level meetings actually come to fruition, rather than just being promised.

Over a year after our search began we appointed Nanmee Books as our Thai partner in December 2012. Although the process had been long it had been worth the patience and thoroughness, and we are confident that the right decision has been made. We certainly couldn’t have done it without UKTI support, working with their team changed the dynamic and gave credibility in the market, helping us to attract serious contenders.

Nanmee Books are already engaging with our team to localise our product for the Thai curriculum with their own translators, editors, educators working towards the goal of launching in May this year. We will be taking a step-by-step approach, targeting local states and pre-selling to a number of schools in the expectation of proving the product and expanding our client-base nationally.

We can’t wait to see Maths-Whizz being used by teachers, parents and educational institutes throughout Thailand, and eventually across Asia. It will be great to see British innovation and expertise educating the next generation there. We are confident that we have found the right model to find partners in Asia, and are keen to use this approach to explore other opportunities, especially in Malaysia.

I would certainly recommend other small, ambitious companies to look to Thailand, especially as it is one of the biggest growth markets in Asia. It’s definitely a challenge worth taking. The people are incredibly gracious and welcoming and they are eager to work with innovative British companies.

Richard’s top tips for doing business in Thailand:

  • Thais are gracious and polite. However, never mistake their demeanour for weakness – they have an iron will

  • The issue of losing ‘face’ is very important in Thailand. So you must be mindful and respectful of this – especially in education where high achievement is so valued

  • Working with UKTI gives you credibility and really helps connect you with the right people – the initial investment is well worth it

  • Winning the Queen’s Award gave us credibility and kudos there – so make sure that your Thai contacts are aware of your achievements

  • If you’ve got a good product you’ll get approached. Signing a deal isn’t a challenge, but signing the right one is – be thorough in finding the right partner for you

Sectors: Education & Training
Countries: Thailand
Export Action Plan