Tag Archives: saas

The Search for Online Education

How iSPY Education came to be.

How did we come up with the idea to build a tool to search for online education? The idea behind the iSPY platform struck me far back in 2005. I had been hired as CEO in a turnaround situation by a UK/US stock photo and film business. They were a public company and had been on a buying spree. The business I inherited was a bit of a mess. The company had acquired 7 businesses and had no idea what to do next. Nothing had been integrated.  Each was in a different stage of moving to digital. They were being sued, had less than adequate tech,  no idea how to even begin to address the tens of millions of images that needed to be edited, digitized and made available online. So, I hired a small but incredibly talented group who came in, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

Early into our journey, the Creative Director came to me asking for help. There was no easy way to search our competitors and compare what we had to what our competitors offered. So we created a rough search aggregation tool that allowed us to do just that. However, it did the trick. Our team could search and compare content, look at options  side by side and compare with the competition. The tool was useful, saving us time and money, and allowing us to curate content in a much more effective way.  A light bulb went off.  How cool would it be to make this kind of tool available to customers. They could search multiple image providers simultaneously saving a ton of time, and compare results.  But then, life went on.

Fast forward.

Fast forward to 2016, I had started a small market strategy and consulting business. That company, VisualSteam, conducts an annual survey of creative pros on stock image licensing. In 5 years of surveys, the most common complaint was about how difficult and time consuming it was to search for and find images. Clients told us the average search for an image takes 4.25 hours. They generally searched at least 3 agencies. A little over a decade after my original idea, it was time, actually long overdue for a tool like iSPY.

I incorporated iSPY in 2016.  In 2017, we launched our prototype. This was followed by our beta site, and then in 2018 we launched our SaaS platform solution for visual content called iSPY Visuals.

The pandemic accelerates online education.

Two years later, the pandemic hit.  Our team, like many others, struggled with the new Zoom schooling. The quality of online education varied and parents began looking for alternative options to keep their kids engaged.  Our teammate, Karen, asked why there wasn’t a tool like iSPY Visuals for education.  (To read Karen’s story, click here) We loved the idea. We started to explore what existed in the edtech space, and if there was a need for a search tool for online education programs. We were surprised that there are no real education aggregators, let alone with the tools that we are building.  So the idea of iSPY Education was conceived.

We are passionate about wanting to make the world of education accessible to all. The pandemic has not created online education. However, it has certainly accelerated it. There should be a tool that allows students, parents and teacher to search for and find great resources for education programming.

If you build it.

We are building just such a tool with iSPY Education.  Search for online education programs like 6th grade math or language classes for your middle schooler.  What ever the need, you will be able to come to iSPY, search, compare and share what you find. You will be able to use the tools to manage your options, get feedback, even share with a counselor or advisor. We hope and expect that teachers may also see iSPY Education as a resource to find online programs —  to help supplement their in school education or to help a student find online education. We see schools that have cut funding being able to point to or offer online education in areas like music and art, for example.  Last but not least, we also plan on partnering with companies or foundations to help underserved communities (but more on that in another post).

Next Steps.

We are building a prototype now and yes, we are looking for funding.  Our hope is to find funding in early 2022 to build and launch our site. We are excited begin the journey to disrupt education and to help make education accessible to all.

So, that’s my story. I appreciate the tremendous support we have received from our early investors who supported iSPY Visuals. We love our small but mighty team. And we are eager to begin talks with the many people interested in what we are doing and willing to give us a try.  It has been a fun ride so far and we are just getting started.

portrait image of leslie hughes

Leslie Hughes is the CEO and Founder of iSPY Technologies, Inc. which first launched iSPY Visuals, an intelligent search tool and workspace for visual content users, and iSPY Education. Hughes has over 20 years experience blending content, creativity and technology. She was President of Bill Gates’ Corbis Images, and President of the Markets and Products Group for Corbis Corp. She became an entrepreneur 10 years ago. Hughes has consulted or been part of 6 start-ups and 12 acquisitions.  She has an MBA from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, is the proud mother of two and lives and works in New York.

Connect with Leslie: Twitter | LinkedIn | Angel List

Women raising start-up capital circa 2017 (Reprinted with permission)

Reprinted from iSPY Visuals – 

Raising money as a woman founder is tough.

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), women led startups raising capital are getting about 2% of the VC funding, despite owning 38% of businesses. According to Fortune (Fortune), in 2016, 5,839 companies with all male founders received venture capital funding compared to only 359 with female founders. The men received 16X more funding than companies founded by women. In 2016, women led companies represented nearly 5% of VC deals, up from 10 years ago when women led companies represented less than 3% of deals. While this was a bit of an improvement, sadly however, the average value for women led companies was down 25%; $4.5 million compared with slightly over $6 million in 2015.

The numbers vary depending on the source, but in no case are they any good for women entrepreneurs.

I am glad I didn’t know these numbers when I became an entrepreneur. They certainly would have given me pause. However, progress is made by the fearless. Being a woman in business means there is often a reason to pause, and we mustn’t. My company is hoping to raise $1 million in the next year, so while the numbers above are daunting, we move forward… fearlessly.

iSPY is a technology driven business that helps Creative Pros search for images (stills and video) across platforms.

The core of what we do is simultaneous search. We save our users a lot of time. In addition, we are connecting our users to legally, licensable content, unlike Google and other more general search aggregation tools. Creative Pros can search their favorite image sources, or find new creative resources. In addition, we offer our users a creative workspace full of collaboration tools to make the journey from concept to campaign far easier. Not only can they collaborate with team members, but through iSPY they can gain direct access to the image providers; making requests for similars or variations simpler. Users are able to manage projects, all from their iSPY dashboard, including uploading documents, project briefs, storyboards, and image licenses. Also, companies are able to manage teams with administration and enterprise rights. In addition, we offer access to resources with one click that the user might not know existed. We offer advanced search to aid in finding the best content that meets the users needs. In the end, we are a tool but also a creative resource.

To date, iSPY has raised $150,000.00 and we are in beta. We expect to begin generating revenue in the coming months, and are positioned where we can start raising growth capital in a Series A round. I know that we need to grow quickly to be able to cement our position in the industry. To do this, I will be seeking $1 million.

So, in light of the statistics above, how do we move forward? By using our network, connecting with clients, and proving that we are meeting the needs of a dynamic marketplace. Proving we have a good product, however, may not be enough. It is difficult to understand why women founders are so underfunded. But, I am not sure it really matters. As women, we must deal with it. The question I am more interested in is how we change it. One way is to get more women involved in investing. I am pleased to say that of 7 early investors in iSPY, 4 are women. I am looking for funding from investors that see the value in what we are doing and aim to support a more diverse entrepreneurial environment. So, while raising money as a woman founder is tough, it is a challenge I am tackling with enthusiasm and confidence.

Stay tuned as I will be documenting this journey; sharing the trials and tribulations of raising money as a woman founder. We may or may not succeed but I will be sharing it all – what we do right, the misses, and in the end, if we accomplish our goal.

Leslie Hughes is the CEO and Founder of iSPY Technologies, Inc. and iSPY Visuals, an intelligent search tool and workspace for visual content users. Hughes has over 20 years experience in digital media licensing, content production, and distribution, including having been President of Bill Gates’ Corbis Images, and President of the Markets and Products Group for Corbis Corp. She became an entrepreneur 10 years ago. Hughes has consulted or been part of 6 start-ups and 12 acquisitions.  She has an MBA from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, is the proud mother of two and lives and works in New York.

Connect with Leslie: Twitter | LinkedIn | Angel List

Education in the time of COVID-19

Education in the time of COVID-19

Who would have thought that we would have a global pandemic in 2020 that would last for two years (or more)!  Sheltering in place, masks, and hand sanitizers have all been front and center. Learning from home and “Zoom education” was the norm in 2020 and has re-emerged in 2022 due to the Omicron variant. The pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in education as well as a significant acceleration in online programming.

Can you imagine if the pandemic had hit before the internet? Thank goodness for tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets, Discord, What’s App, and Signal. Technology has truly helped to connect people who could not otherwise be together.  While we are all hoping to get back to normal, Covid may have other plans. But regardless of what happens, education has been transformed. 

While there had previously been a move toward more online programming, the change was slow and steady. The pandemic threw gasoline on the fire. While it was a bumpy transition for many, schools built online programs using tools like Zoom and Discord to deliver education to our kids. The number of education platforms has grown quickly. And now, 75% of  schools say they plan to operate online, at least in some capacity, going forward.

Issues facing education

This paradigm shift has shined a bright light on a couple of very important issues facing education.

  • The first is the high cost and how digital technologies
    can bring those costs down. This is at a time when young people
    have already been questioning the cost of education.
  • The second is that online programming can offer an exceptional
    opportunity
    for students and parents seeking the highest quality
    education, regardless or borders and boundaries.
  • The third is the inequity and digital divide that exists. Studies
    show that upwards of 33% of students have limited access to digital tools
    or broadband, or both.

If, as a student, you had access to digital tools and broadband during the pandemic, you were probably ok. At least, you were starting with a solid foundation. For children who did not have access to digital tools, they had greater difficulty and many fell far behind.

Post pandemic, most experts believe that this shift in education will continue. We will continue to have a hybrid environment from kindergarten on up. Education choice will become more important to individual parents and students. Ensuring that students can get access to the education they want for an affordable cost will become a critical driver in the future.

But how do we make sense of the massive number of online education programs available? Do a search on 6th grade math. On Google, you will see over 130 million results. This is insane.

Enter iSPY Education. iSPY Education is a powerful tool to help make education accessible to all. It is an AI drive, intuitive SaaS platform that allows the user to search across education platforms, and collaborate with their trusted advisors to find the programs best suited to their needs.

So why are there no aggregators currently?

  • The task is complex
  • Supply is not sufficiently modularized
  • Success requires significant effort from the user

iSPY Education addresses each of these difficulties using a combination of  advanced technologies and human resources. iSPY Education will simplify the complexity and make the process more user friendly. Click here to learn more about iSPY Education.

iSPY education grew out of the pandemic and a real need that parents and learners have to be able to make sense of the massive number of online education programs. Online education will continue – for supplemental programs, for core programs that need to offer students an at-home alternative, for homeschooling, and even for schools who want to supplement their in school classes.  If you would like to learn more about iSPY Education, email hello@ispyeducation.com to be added to our mailing list and to get on the invitation-only list for beta access.

portrait image of leslie hughes

Leslie Hughes is the CEO and Founder of iSPY Technologies, Inc. 
She has expertise blending content, creative and technology to build new companies that deliver for users. Her strategy, operations and P&L experience spans start-ups to $100MM+ corporations.  Public and Private Board experience. MBA.

Connect with Leslie: Twitter | LinkedIn | Angel List