Andy Jack is director and co-founder of elearning business Candle Learning, based in the University Business Centre in Halifax.
Why did you start your business in the first place?
Both my co-founder and I had been involved in elearning for a number of years, and we’d noticed the amount of untapped potential in the field, particularly for commercial training companies . So we decided to step in!
Many of the businesses we work with are ambitious and want to grow using online learning, but don’t know how to navigate the whole process, as well as make it work alongside their existing products and services. Our expertise lies beyond just creating the elearning product - we’re not happy until it’s having a positive impact on their bottom line.
What is your business motto?
We try and treat everyone as we’d want to be treated, whether that be a client, supplier, or someone taking one of the online courses we’ve designed. We found being nice and treating people with respect goes a long way, and just seems a better way to live!
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?
Try and find a way to start your business alongside some paid work. Some people advocate jumping straight in, but for us it was useful to road-test what we do while still being able to pay the bills. Also, just get started, ideas are fairly worthless unless they turn into something tangible. Finally, find a mentor that is going to challenge your thinking, it can be difficult to think clearly when you’re in the middle of it all and some outside perspective can get you back on the right track.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your business?
Building up our network, and trying to find our customer base. We knew who we could help, we just had to find where they were! We talked to as many people as we could, and inevitably started having better conversations over time. We’ve been a little surprised at just how much people want to help and how much support there is out there for new businesses.
What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?
We’re quite passionate about doing things a little differently with elearning, and having our own company gives us the opportunity to explore that. We’re also quite picky about who we work with, so we get to work on some fantastic projects with great people and avoid the dull stuff.
What do you enjoy least about being self-employed?
The hours can be long, particularly when you’ve got a young family but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Cashflow can be erratic at times too, but we quite like this challenge - it’s pushed us to find more regular income streams that complement the work we do as an agency.
Which business figure do you most admire and why?
I’ve actually been really lucky to work with some great people who’ve have been a big influence on me. Roger Masterson, who runs Celtic Castles, gave me first job at 15 creating web sites and it’s all developed from there. He’s grown his business from a couple of desks under the stairs to what it is today, and at the core has always been excellent customer service - that’s stuck with me. Further afield I love what people like Hugh Macleod and Seth Godin have to say - they seem to be able to cut through all the noise and help you focus on the things that matter.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
We really proud of how far we’ve come in the first couple of years. Our customers are delivering courses we’ve developed into some clients such as the NHS, Amazon and Portakabin as well as local councils in the UK and universities in Europe.
We’ve recently just signed a major contract to create online courses for an American company expanding into China, so we’re starting to find clients further afield.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
We try to avoid looking too far ahead - this helps us to stay nimble and ahead of the curve. We want to make our own little dint on how technology can help people learn and acquire new skills, so we’ll be gearing up the business to support this alongside growing our revenue.
If you could invent one new product, what would it be?
I don’t know why every piece of tech still needs to be plugged into the wall to work. So a wireless charger that could power everything in the room. Failing that, I still think savoury toothpaste could be a winner.
If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?
I think once you’ve built your own business, it’s difficult to ever imagining working for someone else! But working for someone like Elon Musk could be fun if it meant a trip into space. There are some exciting companies pushing the boundaries within elearning too, like HT2 labs and Filtered, but hopefully we can work with them rather than for them!