How I Started an EdTech Business
Behind Life Based Learning
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Riccarda Zezza and I’m the founder of Lifeed. The company recently celebrated its fifth birthday in October! We combine digital and real-life experiences to unlock life’s learning potential, transforming employees’ life experiences into a training ground for soft skills.
Essentially, we do this through teaching people ‘transilience’, or rather, the ability to transfer and apply their soft skills from one area of life to another. Each learning experience is centred around the individual, honing skills that can be practised on a daily basis in real life situations, giving them continuous and concrete feedback on their progress.
Over 14,000 people and over 70 international organisations across different industries have chosen to use our platform to date, including companies like Accenture, Danone, Santander and Amgen. It’s a global concept that everyone can relate to, regardless of their background or culture. We all go through life transitions and we can all learn from them.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I had been working in large companies for 15 years when I had my first child. At this time, I saw a paradox. On the one hand, my employer was investing financially in training to improve my soft skills, while on the other I felt my real life was kept on the sidelines, even though it was training my skills in other ways. So I decided to create my own company, Lifeed.
We use our proprietary Life Based Learning Method to transform life transitions, such as motherhood, into training grounds for soft skills. Lifeed learning programs teach people how to “switch on” these new skills in different areas of their life – from home to work, and vice versa.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
In order to reframe parenthood as an opportunity, we needed to talk to three groups simultaneously: new parents, companies and society as a whole, which is quite a sizable challenge! We’re effectively creating and serving a market at the same time. There are many different ways we do this.
We collaborate with expert bodies, such as universities and independent organisations. In the UK, we collaborate closely with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA). We also work closely with Ashoka, and as a company we are constantly analysing the latest reports on workplace culture and leadership to keep our finger on the pulse. But perhaps most importantly, we listen to our users to hear about the issues that are most pressing for them.
Who is your target market?
We work with HR departments at a range of different companies. They will choose to activate training streams dedicated to specific life stages, such as parenting and care giving, or to people development goals, such as leadership and emotional intelligence.
Once the training subjects have been chosen, companies open up the platform to their employees. Our research shows that upskilling through life transitions can improve skills such as delegation, empathy, complex problem solving and time management by up to 35%. Companies reap the rewards with enhanced engagement, reduced stress levels for staff and encouraging employees to truly excel in their careers.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We leverage the quality of data we have about people engagement, skills and hidden talents to tell a new story to the market and provide value to HR. We’ve found that content that resonates on a personal and impact level really creates a strong connection with both businesses and learners.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We have a high retention rate, currently sitting at 94%. This is because we have a very close relationship with our client companies and we develop a relationship of trust over time. Moreover, we tend to scale the services we develop with individual clients, which often proves to be useful for the others too.
Take Unicredit as an example. It’s the second-largest Italian bank and has been our client since our first year in business. The first year they involved all mothers in our programs, then they included fathers. Now they have asked for flat access to all our programs, tripling the invested budget and involving over 1,500 Unicredit employees.
On top of this, we partner with them when they need it most. For example, we provided a list of online services available to entertain children during lockdown, as well as ad hoc training sessions for parents and children during this time. We then extended this to our other customers, and it was well-received.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We have a core team in Milan, as well as an International team spread across Europe. We try to be open and flexible with each other as much as possible. For example, we have monthly cross-company meetings to share progress and ask questions.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We are constantly reviewing our communications and CRM channels to make sure they are being used as efficiently as they can be, as things evolve over time.
Currently, we’re using HubSpot, Notion, Google Suite, Slack and WordPress. We make the most of integrations where possible – Zapier has particularly been a good tool in automating some of our processes.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
When starting a business, it’s important that you build a team that will openly share their experiences and contribute ideas to the business. On the whole, I would have done everything more or less as we have done. Sometimes our journey has seemed a bit random, but everything has unfolded in the best way possible.
I also think you have to be organized and set boundaries around your role so you can stay focused. When you’re launching a business, and especially one with innovative solutions, it’s easy to be pulled in lots of different directions. If you’re not careful, you can end up following 10 different threads at the same time, and this will burn you out. It’s important to be clear with yourself about what you want to do and achieve so you can follow your own path.
In general, I think it’s important to maintain my own work-life synergy. I like to be at home by 6pm, even though I run a growing start-up business, because being with my family truly regenerates me.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In the next 3 years, we would like to further expand the reach of our programs to a wider range of population. We’ll do this by focusing on different life transitions, building on our scientific research and investing in technology. We’re planning to open for funding next year which will allow us to do so. We’ll also be looking to partner with companies that share our vision of wanting to reframe the future of work and believe in the importance of skilling and listening.
Finally, on a macro-level, we also have long-standing goals to help reframe the discourse of work-life balance as work-life synergy, and we hope to make significant research contributions in the areas of life transitions, emotional intelligence, leadership and human transformation.