The Sunday Times finds Earwig disrupting classrooms

Earwig has landed in the Business Section of today’s Sunday Times.  In a large article on page 8, we are featured as a ‘disruptive’ influence in the market for school photos.

They suggest that, by making the candid photos taken every day in school available to parents, the company is creating a whole new market, estimated to be worth £100m in the UK. The disruption they refer to occurs with our inevitable move into professionally taken school photos.

This will hit school photographers, who will be affected both by the diversion of parents’ discretionary income into the much cheaper and more frequently available candid images, but also by the inroads made by Earwig into the official school photos market, worth an additional £100m.

So, this might be a really good time to get your stake in Earwig established! Click here to see Earwig’s Crowdcube pitch.

Here’s the full article from The Sunday Times

And now for something completely different . . .
To be a disrupter, innovation on its own is not enough — you have to change how things are done. We find out what it takes to join the club

Emilie-Kate Kidd’s software has made the lives of teachers easier and she hopes to cash in on parents too

Emilie-Kate Kidd wants to disrupt as many classrooms as she can — more than 500 schools by 2017, if all goes to plan. The 35-year-old co-founder of Earwig Academic Reporting has created a software package that lets schools do away with the scrapbooks in which they laboriously record lessons and achievements — necessary preparation for school inspections. In their place will be a smartphone app that allows teachers to take photographs and videos of children in lessons, which can be automatically uploaded to a secure site and immediately deleted from the teacher’s phone, as required by child protection regulations. The images can then be used to create a record for inspectors.

“At the moment, teachers take photos, print them out and then add them to a scrapbook that can be shown to inspectors,” said Kidd, whose business is based at Ripley, near Woking, Surrey. “It takes a lot of time. Our approach means schools can create a continually updating timeline for every teacher, subject, pupil and class, which allows schools to assess pupils easily and school management and Ofsted inspectors to manage staff performance and teaching standards.

“It also allows parents to log in securely to see their child’s timeline, which improves parental engagement and pupil motivation.”

This brings her to part two of her planned disruption: selling these pictures to the parents. “There are 9m schoolchildren in the UK. If each parent spends only £11 per child on these photos and video clips, this is a completely new £100m market.”

Creating a market for a product that did not exist before is one of the fundamental differences between genuine disruption and simple innovation, according to Costas Andriopoulos, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Cass Business School in London. “Disruptive innovation is not a refinement of something that already exists — it is something that changes how we do things, how we create things,” he said.

It is also a rather fashionable idea, meaning plenty of entrepreneurs claim that their business is disruptive when, strictly speaking, it is not, added James Hickie, a lecturer in enterprise at Manchester Business School: “Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, has argued that disruption has turned into a self-congratulatory buzzword for anything posing as trendy or new.”

This matters because the expression was coined to describe the threat posed to incumbent businesses, so start-ups that insist on using the word are “seeing themselves through older firms’ eyes” rather than concentrating on finding their own paths.

Equally, there is no way to tell in advance whether a particular business model or product will actually prove to be disruptive, so concentrating on disruption at the expense of the core business can be a distraction, Hickie added. “You start by attacking a niche, then taking over adjacent markets. Your product gets better, cheaper . . . more people can buy it than at the original price and gradually it takes over.”

He predicts that the medical sector will be one of the next to go through radical change. “It is such a staid industry with a business model that hasn’t changed for a long time.”

At the moment, much of the action is taking place in banking and finance, with crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending two of the best examples, said Hickie. He highlighted Market Invoice, which gives businesses the chance to gain access to cash by selling individual invoices on its eBay-style peer-to-peer (P2P) platform. “They had a niche but they have changed the model for finance. It means you no longer have to give up control of all your invoices to the bank if you want to raise cash.”

Another P2P business, Transfer Wise — which offers a quick, cheap way to send money abroad by matching people who want to convert, say, pounds to dollars with others doing the opposite — demonstrates the value of looking first for a large unmet need, said Andriopoulos. “In Transfer Wise’s case, it is addressing a huge problem that has not been addressed by big players. It is offering a solution that will change how things are done.”

Hannah Williams wants to change the rules for the UK’s 9m private tenants through Rental Raters, which she describes as “Trip Advisor for private rentals”.

At the moment landlords hold all the information; prospective tenants have to cross their fingers and hope their new home does not suffer from noisy neighbours, a temperamental toilet or any of the other problems that only become obvious after moving in. “Having a rental reviews site won’t solve everything, but it will give people more knowledge with which to make better decisions,” the 42-year-old Londoner said. “It will also reward good landlords who do the right thing.”

If former Mind Candy executive Ed Relf has his way, those landlords will not have to worry about maintaining washing machines for much longer. At the start of this year the 36-year-old launched Laundrapp, a business that, he hopes, will lead to people scrapping their machines in favour of swiping their smartphones for a collection and delivery service that can do an average person’s washing and dry cleaning for about £20 a week.

“This is a business area that hasn’t changed in four or five decades,” Relf said. “We’re doing for laundry what Uber did for taxis. This won’t just disrupt local ‘bricks and mortar’ launderettes — it will also disrupt washing machine manufacturers, maybe even laundry detergent brands. If people use us, they won’t need to buy detergent any more.”

One of the biggest challenges in creating something new is that it can take a while for people to come to terms with the idea, Relf said. “We have to re-educate consumers to do things differently. Once people use it, it changes their lives — but the challenge is getting them to use it once.”

Kidd agreed. Earwig has signed up 100 schools since launching its teaching-record software last year, with help from funding raised through Crowdcube, and it plans to be in 500 by 2017. But persuading parents to spend will take some work.

“In some ways, as the disruptor we hold all the cards because we have created an entirely new market, but we also suffer the disadvantages of any new business going into an established industry with a completely new idea. We have to overcome a credibility issue — ‘Who are these people?’ — and the natural fear that many people have of new technology and change.”

The usual way around this obstacle is to describe the new product in older terms, said Andriopoulos. “Airbnb was once eBay for houses,” he said. “And as we moved from VCRs to DVD to streaming TV, the technology changed but the remote control that people hold did not. Making something familiar means that people are more willing to give it a try.”

In other words, entrepreneurs might enjoy thinking of themselves as disruptive, but potential customers seem more comfortable when they feel they know what to expect.


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