Patrick Kayton on Cognician’s revamped self-coaching platform [Q&A]

Cape Town, South Africa-based self-coaching platform Cognician recently launched a new version of their software, entitled C3, which helps users collect and organise their thoughts.

The company has received local and international recognition in the Cape Town Activa Awards, Seedcamp Johannesburg, Seedcamp London, and being named one of Europe’s top 11 startups at the TechCrunch Europas Awards.

Cognician can be used to brainstorm ideas, plan essays, and outline events. Users may then collaborate with friends or co-workers on the ideas. This e-learning tool differentiates itself from the competition by incorporating a chat-like interface for users, designed to help stimulate thinking on the subject at hand.

The website allows curious users to sample one of the modules, or Cogs — the names of modules — in action. An example of the system in action is the free Assess your Life Cog. It begins with asking you simple multiple choice questions about your strengths and weaknesses, goals, diet, and sleeping habits. Users are also asked questions which require a text box to be filled in. This tries to help the user talk about and write down their thoughts on the issue at hand.

The software can integrate a company’s IP into self-coaching models for employees and simulates the experience of chatting to a guide or coach. Some of Cognician’s partners include Leadership Accelerator, Strengths Engage, and DiscoverYourCareer. The company works closely with others in developing specific e-learning software.

Ventureburn chatted with the CEO of Cognician, Patrick Kayton, to find out more about the new platform, its design, technical details, and benefits to users.

Read more: Cognician: A thought is a terrible thing to waste

Ventureburn: What sort of traction has the platform gained since it launched, and now with C3?

Patrick Kayton: When we launched the first version of our platform in 2010, we were focussed on B2C. At that time, success was all about user numbers and how fast you could grow that metric. When we started focussing on B2B, user numbers were no longer relevant. What became more important were client acquisition and engagement. Building trust with high-quality clients has created a foundation for great learner engagement with our platform.

Nowadays, we are focussed on working with top tier consultancies who service clients all over the globe, supported by our platform, or we work directly with large corporates. Our clients are spread across South Africa, the UK, Europe, Australia and North America.

VB: Would you be able to give us revenue growth numbers?

PK: I can tell you that we achieved last year’s figures in the first four months of this year and we’re projecting roughly 300% growth for this financial year.

VB: How have your numerous awards boosted the company?

PK: Awards have done different things for us at different times, both internally and externally. In the early days, the entry processes helped us to think through our strategy, and the awards themselves established a foundational level of credibility for our market.

Going to Seedcamp in London in 2010 and being nominated amongst the best startups at the TechCrunch Europa Awards helped out in that way. Those awards built confidence, but didn’t necessarily win us business.

More recently, when one of our products, Leadership Accelerator, won Best Soft Skills Solution at North America’s premier elearning conference, DevLearn, it helped us to establish significant credibility with US clients. And in that case, I believe the award actually has helped us to win business.

VB: What has the general growth been like?

PK: We grew slowly for the first three years, and we’ve accelerated in the last two and a half years. We’re currently at an inflection point and experiencing considerable growth. There is no single reason for the growth.

It’s the result of patiently building trust with clients and partners over time, to the point where the relationships start to deliver. It’s also partly because of our keenness to iterate and innovate our platform. And it’s because we’ve managed to build a really great team who believe in our vision and pour their hearts and souls into their work.

And it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without persevering through some very tough periods.

VB: What changes will C3 bring to Cognician?

PK: The big change is that C3 is mobile friendly. Our previous system was responsive down to tablet form factor, but we didn’t want to squeeze the interface any further. Rather, we made the decision to redesign from the ground up to be mobile first.

The ideal UX for our learning methodology has always been the experience of chatting on a phone and we wanted to get that right as the primary use case, rather than forcing a desktop experience onto mobile.

VB: What made Cognician decide now is the right time to release C3?

PK: Mobile has been on our development roadmap from the start, but the pull for mobile from our primary customers — large corporates — has not been as strong as you’d think when you consider the stats for mobile dominance in online engagement.

At least one reason for this is that single sign-on from secure corporate platforms to cloud-based applications like Cognician via a mobile device represents a lot of uncertainty for a large company. So if a client implements a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, they often have to do so by accepting the trade-off that their tech and security teams won’t allow them to integrate with existing systems.

On balance, many have preferred to execute their elearning strategies on desktop only. So when we felt the client pull getting stronger, and when we could free up enough time to focus, we put our mobile plan into action.

VB: Have you taken customer feedback into consideration when developing C3?

PK: Our entire platform is continuously refined according to customer feedback. From major functions that are built for real client needs, which then become part of the platform as a whole, to minor tweaks to interaction and graphic design.

We learned very early on that you can easily fall in love with features that no one else cares about, and that the best way to build is for real needs that a client cares enough about to pay for.

VB: What has the development cycle been like?

PK: C3 has been a whole-team effort, 15 months in the making. Our designer, Werner Vos, took the lead on the UX, collaborating closely with Werner Janse Van Rensburg from IsoFlow. We prototyped for eight months using a combination of Sketch, and InVision, getting continual input from our tech and management teams.

Nikita Prokopov wrote the first line of code on 2 March this year and we decided on a September launch shortly afterwards. Our tech team, led by our CTO, Robert Stuttaford, transitioned the system over the weekend, and apart from a few minor challenges, we’ve crossed over well.

VB: How will customers benefit?

PK: Our customers are both the clients we serve, as well as their learners. Our clients now have the flexibility that mobile affords them to extend their elearning strategies in new ways. Some of our major international manufacturing clients, for example, are excited about the prospect of making some of our performance support modules available to operators on the factory floor.

For our learners, the Cognician experience has just become as natural as the chat method that is our primary learning modality. Now you can learn in a taxi or on a train on the way home. Or in the queue at home affairs. Or in the corridor on the way to your next meeting. Mobile removes the physical boundaries of the learning experience.

VB: Where to from here?

PK: Our development roadmap extends for years. The next step is to give our customers the ability to make and deploy their own coaching guides (we call our learning modules “cogs” for short) on our system. A few of our partners do this already with our internal backend, but the intention is to create a commercially viable wysiwyg system for building powerful learning experiences on our platform.

VB: Anything else you’d like to add?

PK: I’d like to thank my entire team for the tremendous effort and passion they’ve put into building C3, which is a truly world-class learning experience.



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