Rukuku begins where old webinars and e-learning run out of steam, providing a one‐stop‐shop, and a user friendly environment that gives trainers, coaches and instructors what they want: practical and easy‐to‐use functionality. KITE Invest spoke with Rukuku CEO, Denis Zaff, to get an in-depth look at a startup that is showing clear growth trajectory and is for sure ‘one to watch,’ which call the US home but also has found its niche in the UK and Spain.
KITE Invest: Before addressing Rukuku, please share with us a bit about your professional career path and the reasons why you created Rukuku’s software? What in particular brought you to find this niche within the corporate training market?
Denis Zaff: I live and work in San Jose, California and my daughter goes to school in Toronto, Canada, but I wanted to stay involved in her education. I have always been involved as an entrepreneur in the education sector, running and managing schools in three continents. So this was important for me to do.
When I started looking for simple yet efficient tools to do distance teaching/training with my daughter, I was surprised by how hard it was to find. There just wasn’t a simple set of tools for me to do this, which I felt would adequately fulfil this objective.
So, as a good entrepreneur, I decided to build a tool myself. I guess this was the genesis of Rukuku!
What happened then was I built a first, let’s call it an‘Alpha’ version of Rukuku to use with my daughter, and it worked just fine. So much so in fact, that my daughter’s tutors in Canada, when they saw the tool, took an interest and started using it – not just with my daughter but with their other students too!
It was at that point that I felt there was the seed of a business in this.
So I got a team together – top-notch engineering talent from Russia, Ukraine and Israel. Once the product had evolved, in late 2012/early 2013, we approached the university market to see what they thought of this first iteration of Rukuku. They liked it, but what we found was that the university environment was rather complex, bureaucratic and was using multiple Learning Management Systems. Things were not really taking off.
In mid-2013, we decided to shift our attention to the corporate training market, a sector where we were rather well connected. And immediately, we received interest, as what Rukuku was able to deliver responded to their immediate pressing needs and issues, namely:
- Being relevant in the digital age
- Preserving market share – many were losing clients as they did not have a ‘blended’ learning solution
- Gaining market share – if they had no digital learning solution, how could they gain market in that segment?
- Reducing cost of time, travel, money and energy
KITE: Rukuku, founded in 2012, has spent $800K developing its software suite. Please shed light on ways in which Rukuku can apply its technology to numerous and various education and training institutions worldwide.
DZ: To answer this question, a couple of words on what Rukuku is:
Rukuku is a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, providing very simple, very powerful tools on a super user-friendly dashboard. The user is the captain, the commander of his/environment.
Rukuku has been designed from start to finish for the professional corporate trainer, teacher, educator and coach, to equip these professionals with the only fully-integrated digital tools designed in the market today – a digital one-stop shop.
Rukuku enables this Customer Segment to not only exist as a business on-line, but to thrive in this digital environment.
Our clients can very easily and quickly put together their training content on Rukuku with our Composer tool – so simple, a child could do it! Then, the users can publish their courses/content on the Rukuku Market Place, for free or at a price they determine.
But there’s more:
Users create a Profile which will be visible to a global online audience, and which they can link to all their social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Google etc.
The icing on the cake, the killer application?
Rukuku Auditorium. We have built our own Skype, except it’s better than Skype! Indeed, our tests show that Auditorium consumes less bandwidth than Skype; what’s more; we can do many-to-many video. Auditorium is a fully-integrated web conferencing tool, where our users can conduct LIVE TRAINING and invite anyone they like to participate in their live sessions.
This Live environment is particularly attractive and exciting for our users: the ability to deliver their great content with all the trainer tools – worksheets, quizzes, polls and uploading documents, whiteboard…- without having to worry about the technology.
Trainers do what they do best, and Rukuku does the rest.
KITE: What is Rukuku’s market aim in terms of geographical location?
DZ: We are focusing on the US, UK and Spanish markets for now. The US is the #1 corporate training market in the world in revenue terms. In Europe, the UK and Spain are #1 and #2 respectively.
KITE: Rukuku formally launched its software suite at the SXSW exhibition in March 2014, and has since secured agreements worth $50,000 with anchor clients. How will you continue to evolve the welcome received by customers since the launch of Rukuku only a year ago?
DZ: By relentlessly focusing on what our users need and want, and ensuring we deliver it to them efficiently, affordably and with the best user experience possible.
Fundamentally, by continuously listening to our clients and embracing their feedback so we tweak the Rukuku tools ever more specifically to solve their problems and anticipate their needs.
KITE: What are the advantages of Rukuku in terms of competing with other corporate training software providers?
DZ: First off, Rukuku is a fully-integrated technology built solely with corporate trainers in mind: this means that every design, product and marketing decision has this specific group of users in mind – unlike other well-known ‘brands’ that are really conferencing services, we saw an opportunity in corporate training and then later came up with a version of their product to grab this market – as an afterthought, if you will.
Rukuku has grown and evolved by being bashed, critiqued, pulled apart and ultimately supported by the Corporate Training community – we were born from within this environment; we are a part of it. So we understand it, we ‘get’ these users. And that’s one of the things they say they greatly appreciate about us.
More specifically: all our technology is in-house, so we do not outsource anything to 3rd parties, meaning we control quality, cost and the entire process from beginning to end – the clear advantage to users being that they do not have to suffer from the consequences of one or other 3rd party app no longer being available, or breaking down. It’s a 100% Rukuku product, service and customer experience. The buck stops with us. The user has only one number to call, and one account manager to shout at if something goes wrong!
KITE: Global corporate training is a $140 billon market, part of the much larger education market, sized at $4 trillion. Please briefly shed light on the company’s business plan to penetrate potential markets in the upcoming years. Is there any area where Rukuku sees a major need for the use of its software?
DZ: The plan is clear:
Track 1: focus on corporate trainers and give them the best possible set of tools and customer experience available in the market today.
Track 2: evolve our product set to corporate users, i.e. consumers of corporate training in medium to large enterprise. We are running tests and validation in this segment, and indications are very positive. Watch this space in 2015 for some significant developments!
Track 3: the consumer market; this is the Big One! Our vision here is very clear, and will begin emerging in Q2 2016, but saying more at this stage would be saying too much. It is quite possibly the most exciting part of our plan.
KITE: Rukuku is currently raising £1 million Series A round. What methods/strategies does Rukuku intend to use in order to reach this series A round?
DZ: Yes, we are gearing up for this for Q2 2015. It will be a mix of existing investors who have shown great faith and commitment to Rukuku’s success, and we will seek a ‘name’ in the VC segment to lead with a significant slice of this investment.
KITE: What are the areas of focus and growth in the company that need investing?
DZ: We want to beef up our engineering team for front end, back end and mobile, especially Android; our iPad application is now ready.
There will also be a big push in marketing and growth.
Last, but by no means least, we will set the foundations – human and systemic – for world-class customer service.
KITE: Why is Rukuku a smart investment?
DZ: Education is a $4 trillion market. E-Learning is a $90 billion market. And Corporate Training is a $140 billion market. All have significant growth projections for the next 5-10 years.
Rukuku sits squarely at the intersection of these markets.
No company in the market today can claim to:
- Offer a fully-integrated set of digital tools designed specifically for the corporate trainer
- Provide a seamless, ‘many-to-many’ Web conferencing (audio/video)
- And all of this is in a one-click, one-login, turn-key system!
Finally, we are going after a market segment that no one has paid much attention to at all, feels somewhat abandoned and confused in this highly competitive digital marketplace.
We believe there are about a million of these corporate trainers worldwide, with about a quarter of them not using any professional digital tool at all. At about $90/month for our service, you do the math!
And that is just Track 1.
Just the beginning.