Startup Stories: Simon Pearson, Co-Founder & COO at Just Teach

Simon Pearson talks to us about the power of video as an education tool, investing personal funds to grow Just Teach, and what he looks for when hiring.

by hao-nguyen on October 18, 2021

Simon Pearson is the co-founder & COO at Just Teach, an Edtech company helping schools use video technology to improve outcomes for teachers and students alike.

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Hi Simon, great to have you here with us. For those who may not know, can you tell us a little about Just Teach and your role there?

Just Teach is an Edtech company that is focussed on enabling education with AI video technologies. Education is the bedrock for peace and prosperity. It reduces poverty, improves health, increases equality, and boosts economic growth. We believe that enabling teachers and schools through technology will create better students for a brighter future.

Imagine being able to give every child in the world access to the best teachers, all the time. We give students the tools to search for content, such as “the best maths lesson this year for key stage 4”. 

But to get to that point we need to have a presence in classrooms to start with, to have cameras in classrooms to record that video, securely upload and analyse the pedagogy and emotive responses by the students. This end-to-end approach, or class-to-glass as we call it, is what we do.

What sort of problems and opportunities were you seeing in the market that made you decide to launch Just Teach?

There were two separate drivers that coalesced, both driven by legislation. 

Firstly, we have a saying here that “every child matters”, which is a national program that requires any student not in the physical classroom to receive the same lesson as those who are in class. You can imagine that video is not the only solution, but we believe it is the right one when combined with other capabilities that we provide such as integration with school timetables, absence records and video conferencing platforms. 

Secondly, and again supported in law, the UK government mandates that all Early Careers Teachers must be given 10% off timetable to receive training and support from a mentor in their first year. Again, we see video as a valuable tool for doing this. Critically, our research investigated the mentoring methodology and how to use video to support the coaching process to ensure that “every teacher matters”. We created a unique and proprietary way to do this. 

What we also discovered during our research phase was that the use of video in education has increased tenfold over the last year, driven by COVID, providing us with the right opportunity at the right time to use video technology in classrooms.

Speaking of COVID, what changes did Just Teach have to make in the past two years to adapt to the pandemic? And how has your role as COO changed along with it?

COVID has been the driver for what we’ve done, so the very fact that we were in the middle of a full-blown pandemic has made the industry sit up and take note of video as an education tool.

I recently heard a quote in academic circles that the industry had progressed ten years in adopting video tech in under 12 months – that level of acceleration is fueling everything we do. My role is being defined day by day as we continue to formulate our roadmap.

For example, I see myself as creating both the operational and technology strategies for the business. But I’m totally hands on: in a team of two, you tend to get stuck into everything!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but is Just Teach the first company you’ve launched? If so, how do you think your career background has helped you? 

Well, it’s not strictly my first start-up but it’s definitely the first business that I’ve self-funded. I spent a decade with a technology organisation where I opened the UK offices, moved to Australia to run the Sydney office, before returning to London to help dispose of the UK entity. 

Throughout this time, I developed a people-first mantra in leadership, made a heap of mistakes in selling canned vs. custom solutions, and gained a momentous understanding about the customer experience. It also helps that I’m a technology guy by trade, having cut my teeth in both design and development of software.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced building Just Teach over the past couple years, and what lessons have you learnt from them?

Don’t get too attached to things. Pivot when you need to. When you get something wrong, be brave and be bold, change and try another way. We literally binned a whole corporate entity to rebrand ourselves to Just Teach!

Also, investment is hard to come by. When my business partner and I started this journey, we had a rose-tinted view of how to get funding, and that people would flock to our idea. We’ve spent far more personal funds than we’d ever imagined getting us to our first outside backers, but we got there with belief and focus.

One last question before we let you get back to it. When you’re looking to hire people to join the team, what sort of skills and traits stand out to you?

I love meeting diverse people who are characters in their own right, who bring their unique styles and viewpoints. If you were to pin me down to individual traits, I’d lean on three being most applicable.

Integrity – Be that person who does the right thing. With integrity naturally comes honesty, loyalty, trust, and fairness.

Coachability – Have a desire to learn. Be open to grow through feedback. Be resilient; embrace failures as a tool to develop.

Intelligence – Place a good emphasis on Emotional Intelligence and combine that with “oodles” of common sense. Academic and cognitive ability is undoubtedly up there as well.

Why those? Because we can teach skills, develop capability and give experience, but these traits are core to who a person is and how they’ve developed over a lifetime.

As a business, we’re incredibly passionate about what we’re trying to achieve. The right people will enable us to fulfil those dreams. And importantly, we’ll be able to fulfil theirs.

That’s a great place to leave it, thanks so much Simon, it was a pleasure chatting to you and learning more about Just Teach!

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