As we announced to our customers last week, English360 is now independent of Cambridge University Press, and we are now a wholly owned and fully autonomous organization. This is, of course, very exciting for all of us at English360, and not just from a business perspective: it’s exciting because it’s the next step in fulfilling our shared vision of where education is going, and how teachers will use technology.
How it all began
English360 was founded 6 years ago as a tiny, teacher-led start-up with big plans but few resources. We presented an alpha version of our web application at BESIG in Berlin in 2007 (it went live on the web for the first time the night before the session!). We had a clear vision, but as a tiny start-up we faced huge challenges when entering into a global ELT community dominated by big players.
Now, as it happened, Cambridge University Press was scouting new technology at BESIG that year. They attended our session, and to make an extremely long story short, English360 and Cambridge entered into a joint venture, creating Cambridge-English360 Ltd. It was an inspired partnership for a range of reasons: Cambridge got some cutting-edge technology, together with the team that built it. English360 received:
- a wide range of Cambridge courses and resources to re-purpose in the platform
- support from the global Cambridge sales teams
- financial support (we were now able to pay ourselves a salary)
- co-branding with the strongest brand in ELT
The partnership was successful. Together with Cambridge, we launched over 50 courses in the platform. We signed up thousands of users in dozens of countries and on every continent. We picked up the David Riley Award for Innovation and were shortlisted for an ELTon. We made the software more powerful and added some extremely cool content authoring templates. Many challenges remained, but we had managed to gain traction towards our goal.
So what happened?
And of course what happened is what always happens: this very success stressed the organization. We’d proven the concept: an open platform that gives teachers and schools unprecedented ability to work with publisher content, author their own content, and combine the two into personalized courses, to be delivered online, in class, or as blended learning.
And, now having proven the concept, we were inundated with new ideas and new projects for the platform, from ourselves, from our partner, and from customers. We worked hard to continue to prioritize and execute, but soon both partners realized that we were in danger of losing focus.
So we mutually decided to allow both partners to use the platform as needed, enabling each to dedicate the focus necessary for their own projects. It made perfect sense, and then about a week later we all realized that at this point there was really no reason for a joint venture any more, and that it would be better for both partners to maintain a strong strategic alliance, but without having the complications of a formal joint venture.
So that is what we’ve accomplished: an amicable separation that jettisons the problems but maintains what works. Cambridge University Press deserves tremendous credit for the enlightened, collaborative, teacher-focused business philosophy that provided the flexibility for this new relationship. English360 is now independent, but with the content agreements in place for the all the Cambridge resources currently in the system, and new agreements for new Cambridge content as well (we’re launching the first new course in October).
What does this mean for English360 going forward?
For us, independence has some intriguing advantages, some of which you can probably guess. Everyone on the English360 team is tremendously excited about this next step in our progress. We’ll discuss these advantages in “Part 2” of his post, coming soon.