ROI IN 2 DAYS AFTER AN EDUCATION STARTUP LAUNCH
That’s how successful eLearning platform stories begin
Giuseppe Ferrara is a young entrepreneur who got a medical degree from Bologna University in 2021. At the age of 19, he started a project to help
students prepare for the admission test in medicine in Italy, the
Pro-Med online education platform.
The project combining Giuseppe’s passion for natural sciences and technology returned the investment on development just two days after launch. In the interview, Giuseppe shares the success story of Pro-Med and explains why the earlier you start your business, the better.
Giuseppe, how did you get an idea of Pro-Med? What’s the story behind it and was it really your first undertaking?
To start with, there were four of us: I and three of my best friends slash business partners, Mario, Rico, and Gasper. We were schoolboys who wanted
to attend medicine and for that, had to prepare for the national test – Test di Medicina e Odontoiatria. It
took us months of studies, much theory, and all kinds of tasks.
Essentially, we were all being through what our current students are being through.
When we finally entered the university, we all agreed on how poorly organized the study was for us, and naturally, it boiled down to creating a more streamlined process for other students to prepare for this type of test.
And yeah, absolutely, it was our first entrepreneurial thing. We didn't have any experience prior to this project because we were really young. It was the first year of university, we were all 19 and had little time. The project that we worked on was adding up with all the studies so we were under much pressure.
Is this test really this hard? In what way Pro-Med helps students prepare for it?
Just for context, here in Italy, there's a big national test for all the healthcare-related universities and it's really infamous for its difficulty.
The test is divided into five different sections, one per subject - logic, general knowledge, biology, chemistry, math, and physics. There are 60
questions and you don’t really have much time to think. The minimum score to pass is quite high so a lot of people fail and end up trying again the
year after. Imagine: if we talk just about medicine, it's roughly 60 000 applicants every year, and just a bit more than 10 000 end up at the
So when we found ourselves in university, almost immediately we started to discuss how we could improve the situation around the test. We started really small with a Facebook page and a little website.
We were trying to break down the study process into simple steps and further identified three of them, all improved by now for sure.
The first one was the theory. You have to learn to answer all the questions correctly. And since we are very firm believers in peer-to-peer education, we have produced more than 100 hours of video lessons which were held by some of the best university students. We really appreciate the peer-to-peer concept and the fact that a university student is perfectly capable and even more capable than a professor to teach and to pass their knowledge to high school students because they probably attended and passed the test a year or two prior. No one but a student knows what other students need. So yes, the video lessons came first.
The second key point was exercising. After you learned a lot, you need to practice. In the current platform,
for example, we have an entire section just for this purpose - to simulate the national test as many times as you want and then follow your progress
with the statistics.
And the last point was the community. Every student needs to find study mates and tutors to share their journey with. This key step was lacking when we were preparing for the test ourselves, so we focused most on it thereafter. In our current software, we put a lot of effort into creating a community that was really welcoming and with a lot of advanced features like live lessons and polls.
Why do you think Pro-Med is such a success? We heard that in the first 2 days after it launched you practically returned the investment on the development. Was it thorough preparation and working with the target audience, or was it your gut telling?
I think the key thing was not marketing but the way we have established a relationship of trust with our target audience. In the first year of
university, we worked hard and put a lot of effort into choosing the type of communication that could speak to students as their peers and not to
their parents. And it was taken well because as students, we were understanding the needs and fears of other students. It was all about being able to
speak to the audience in a really effective way because we’ve all been there.
We were truly amazed by the success of this year's launch campaign. There’s nothing really that special, I think, but over the years we have improved
our marketing campaigns and our launch strategy. We work with social media platforms to create some hype about the new features we introduce. This
year, the entirely new platform came out, and we managed to create a lot of hype around it and concentrate it on the new platform launch.
I don't personally work with marketing, I’m more into IT stuff, so it was the idea of one of my business partners to launch such a campaign and distribute little bits of lessons or screenshots of the platform. This ended up like a really good strategy.
Please, tell us about the team working on Pro-Med. Who is responsible for what and did it change over time?
Oh, it surely did. For example, being very young when we started our business, we were doing a lot of things ourselves. We were basically like
Jack-of-all-trades, all four of us took care of everything: the website, marketing, and all business-related stuff. That was really a lot to do for
just four people, so maybe we should have grown our team earlier than we actually did.
I mentioned video lessons before. So in the first stages, we were shooting them ourselves too. We are really lucky to be passionate about photography
and shooting! For the new platform, this year, we have decided to ramp up the quality even more so we have hired a team that helped us create
top-quality video lessons filmed with cinema cameras and all the professional equipment. Like a mini Hollywood movie!
What do you think are key factors of a successful SaaS product using the example of Pro-Med and in general. What can you advise those who start a startup for the first time?
We started at a really young age which enabled us to make a lot of mistakes early - and avoid them later on. We failed a lot of times and we had the
possibility to fail at a very early stage, so even if we still fail sometimes, now we have already learned a lot from experience. So yes, an important
factor is to start really early to make mistakes as early as possible.
Another thing that comes to mind is that in a world where we can learn anything anywhere thanks to the Internet, the most difficult thing to do is to find your so-called unfair advantage. It's knowing that you have something extra because you specialize in a field that no one else does and try to exploit this skill as much as you can.
For example, we were knowledgeable of how the market was lacking such a business as the one that we created because we were its target audience. So having this unfair advantage enabled us to brainstorm how we could make an impact in this market.
And what about your experience with the development team working on the platform?
Initially, we were using side software to build tests, and it had certain limitations which was quite frustrating. So we contacted Anadea, an
educational software development company,
and they helped immensely with creating the new version of the platform.
In a few months, Anadea made the product we were dreaming of, something that can be changed in a way we wanted. It was going well, we had daily
meetings, they addressed all issues quickly, and overall, it was a beautiful experience to work with the development team.
Their work has made a huge impact on the platform’s success, and we finally were able to customize it so it is more useful to our target audience,
high school students.
Can you describe Anadea in just three words?
Well, the first one that comes to mind is competent. They are just great people to work with. Then
fast, because we built a huge ecosystem in really few months.
The last one would be friendly because I really eat it off with the development team! I feel that seeing each other daily created sort of bond and I got to know all the guys and girls that work on the project.
Giuseppe, what makes you proud of your project?
It’s the impact that we made on thousands of students. Thinking about the fact that we helped a lot of people achieve their dream to study medicine
and thinking that these people will become doctors and of service in the public health system gives me chills. It’s inspiring to think that over time,
there will be more and more of them.
Do you plan to grow to other countries later on?
Yeah, we have such plans with countries that have a similar test. We are now at the stage of scouting since moving to international markets is quite a
challenge - you have to redo all the business in another country, but yeah, we are working on it.
And you also wanted to switch to other topics in Italy, not only medicine, and focus not only on university students, right?
We have found out that this type of business model can really work with both high school and university students, so we have actually started another
project. It’s called ‘WeTest’ and it involves every other area of expertise apart from medicine and healthcare.
For example, we started to do courses and quizzes for engineering, that's one thing that we are focusing a lot on right now because it can grow exponentially. Yet again, we have other plans like to become a little bit more vertical in medicine because there are other types of tests that we can prepare for.
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