Swedish Startup Space

Meet Lurn – a startup out of Gothenburg that aims to transform education

Written by , and on May 15

I recently had the opportunity to meet CEO Michel Westher and Carl-Adam Hellqvist, Product Developer, for a discussion about effective learning, ambitious entrepreneurship and how Lurn is to become a leading actor in the educational market.

Special note: Lurn are regional finalists in Venture Cup today. The team here at Swedish Startup Space are cheering for you!

I first got in contact with Westher and Lurn a while back when he, together with lead developer Shahin Zarrabi, shared their captivating story on the opening night of a project called Next Step by MiG (the Marketing Association in Gothenburg). A few weeks later I found myself at the surprisingly spacious headquarters of Lurn, eager to learn more about one of Gothenburg’s most promising startups.

It all started on a sunny day in March of 2012, when Chalmers students Jonas Otterheim and Johan Svensson had an idea of sending talented students on challenging internships in China.  They formed a team of six people, including Westher, Zarrabi, Hellqvist and HR student Maja Storm. As the project started they realized that there existed some problematic aspects that needed to be dealt with.

A few weeks later I found myself at the surprisingly spacious headquarters of Lurn, eager to learn more about one of Gothenburg’s most promising startups.

There was a greater need for education when sending students to cultures that differ from the Swedish one, as opposed to internships in the U.S. Meanwhile, Chalmers had plans of their own and wanted to to create a course in Chinese. The team, which had been working on a solution to the problem, presented their vision of a new e-learning software that could be used to Chalmers, who were fond of the idea.

In late May of 2013 the decision to deliver a Chinese course through Lurn was made. A few code-heavy months later, in early September, the first students started using the platform. Westher and his colleagues had now taken the first step of their journey:

It was truly a great opportunity for us. We could implement features that we had longed for in our own courses and test them on actual students. Since being able to see real time statistics on student progress is a large part of what makes Lurn so great, we could now for the first time track the improvements of a group of students over time. It was amazing to witness, says Westher.

A higher demand for the product

From the very beginning Lurn was developed to support any subject, not just language. The vision, as Hellqvist describes it, is that anyone who is an expert in something should be able to teach his or her expertise through Lurn, using an easy yet carefully developed pedagogical process:

Early on we saw the vast potential of what we had in our hands, and decided to create a scalable product from day one. We saw that our platform could do something about all the troubles organizations encounter every day in gaining and spreading knowledge both internally and externally, Hellqvist explains.

The Chinese course finished in early December and, even though the platform initially had quite a few defects, 95 percent of the students stated that they wanted to see Lurn involved in more courses at Chalmers. The team had gotten a taste of what could be accomplished, and with loads of user feedback to build from, they now looked far beyond the halls of Chalmers.

Startup camp

But let us jump back a few months, to September of 2013. Parallel to the introduction of the course, Lurn was accepted into the Chalmers Innovation Startup Camp, a ten-week accelerator program that helps early phase startups getting the tools they need to make it big. A crucial move, according to Westher, that enabled Lurn to grow at a much faster pace:

The benefit of incubators such as Chalmers Innovation is that you get a reason to really take the time to develop your company and not only satisfy customer needs. We had the privilege of signing a big client before we barely even existed, which of course is a dream start, but it also lead to us having a hard time focusing enough on business development. The Startup Camp made sure we did just that and I am very grateful for the opportunity.

The product and competition

The educational market is booming and new products are being launched almost daily. But an important lesson that should always be remembered, Hellqvist points out, is that you should embrace competition. There are many e-learning platforms out there, most of which are based on outdated technology, but are kept because companies believe the transition costs are too high:

We have come in contact with many different solutions in our scrutiny of the market, many of which are really going to be a tough challenge. But I am confident when I say that our solution is the best when it comes to connecting the expert with the learner and getting the most out of their collaboration, Hellqvist explains.

The product itself focuses on breaking down large pieces of information into small, graspable pieces that the user interacts with. By doing so the user confirms that he or she has understood the information and is not left with the feeling of “what did I just read?”, which often occurs after plowing through pages packed with text. On the other side there is the course administrator who gets a clear picture of what progress the users are making and what they need assistance with. The feedback can then be used to create much more efficient face-to-face sessions.

We have come in contact with many different solutions in our scrutiny of the market, many of which are really going to be a tough challenge. But I am confident when I say that our solution is the best when it comes to connecting the expert with the learner and getting the most out of their collaboration

The environments in which Lurn can be used are many, but one of the best use cases found so far is in the consumer goods market. Here, distributors need salespeople to be experts on their product right away, which rarely is the case shortly after a new product launch. In this case Lurn is perfect for easily creating a course that can be accessed right away in the salespeople’s phones, directly from the store:

The retailers can even create custom “carrots” that encourage the salespeople to finish the course fast and with high results. The annual educational summits, which retailers often host, can then be used for addressing hardships that have come up through Lurn, or not be used at all. All in all, the salespeople can present and sell the products better and the distributors can assist them in doing so, Westher describes.

Challenges for a new startup

As is the case for many innovation based startup companies, Lurn faces the hardships of changing deeply rooted behavior. Westher explains that even though the product is superior to what organizations are currently using, the decision to actually start using it must be an easy one to make:

We try to make it as simple as possible for companies to start using Lurn. Soon you will be able to create a course using Lurn just as easily as you create a mail campaign through MailChimp. The time where companies pay huge licensing fees for large platforms with tons of functionality, that are then implemented top down, has come to an end. Nowadays software should do one thing and do it really well and instead communicate with other specialized software. Also, companies can now pay for the actual users they have per month, no more, and can get started within minutes.

Goals and the coming years – a bright future?

Lurn aims to become the thought leader in effective learning. They are currently building their best practices in pedagogy, while simultaneously developing the product at a fast pace. The goal for what is to be achieved is clear:

Lurn should be the natural choice when it comes to knowledge sharing within and between organizations. We want to be in a role where other companies want to copy our solutions and strategies. Our goal is to change education, Westher declares.

As a startup with a unique and scalable concept, do not be surprised if Lurn plays a pivotal role in changing the way we look at education.

Westher and Hellqvist have mixed feelings on the question of whether they will remain Gothenburg-based or not. On the one hand the startup community in Gothenburg is strong, but on the other hand the work consists of many trips to Stockholm, where most headquarters are located. Hellqvist points out that the location is not really an issue, as long as they can maintain their team philosophy:

Our goal within the team is to continue to impress each other, and to have loads of fun. We love what we do, we are ridiculously passionate about learning and we are determined to create a product that makes a difference in people’s lives. If that takes us to Stockholm or somewhere else in the future then so be it.

As a startup with a unique and scalable concept, do not be surprised if Lurn plays a pivotal role in changing the way we look at education.

  • Company
Subscribe to our mailing list