Selling risk and treasury training online…The journey of one startup from text to iBooks for the iPad.
Here is an interesting plot for a business plan and a best seller novel.
Start with a successful risk consulting practice. Add two decades of consulting experience covering multiple markets, regions and hundreds of engagements. Mix an architect, a media specialist, an actuary and a MBA. Use them to create esoteric content worth thousands of dollars in the banking, financial modeling and insurance space. Build technology that crosses all sorts of boundaries between mediums, across IOS and Android, cut through the Web and streaming video. Throw in an Ivy league pedigree and executive MBA students in the Middle East and Far East as test audiences.
Sell the content (and the rights to the best seller) for hundreds of millions of dollars. Yawn! Right?
Wrong. Try giving it away…
The connection between New York, Karachi and the rest of the world.
Twelve years ago Jawwad Farid was blown away by his Finance professors at Columbia Business School. As a MBA candidate at Columbia’ fast tracked January (J-Term) program Jawwad wondered if he could take the lessons he had learnt and share them with the world.
This July he finally found out when an online training experiment he had been running for two years finally went critical. Visitors came from 190 territories and 7,000 cities across the world, spending as much as an hour (average time per visit – 5 minutes with 5 page views per visit) on FinanceTrainingCourse.com.
What do visitors to this site actually do? Students, regulators, practitioners, consultants browse through specialized content on risk and computational finance. Why? Because surprisingly despite the ruckus made about the role computational finance plays in our lives there really isn’t much out there when it comes to decoding and understanding the subject.
There are great opinion sites, research sites, summarized PhD thesis sites, communities and forums, celebrity authors and many trainers available on the web. They all have one thing in common. They are for users and visitors who already speak the language and they are not free.
There is very little free structured content available that a first timer interested in learning the quant language can use. If you are not a rocket scientist or a graduate student the chances of actually stumbling across a functional interest rate model or building one in your garage are quite slim.
When the site was first put together the intended audience was business school students across the world. It was designed as a ready reference similar to a Wikipedia for computational finance or a Khan Academy for Quant wannabes. 500 free posts and text based lessons provided basic and advance lessons on topics ranging from derivative pricing to building Monte Carlo simulators.
We thought the selection of topics would only work for finance fanatics. So it was surprising when teenage fans on our Facebook page crossed 40%. Earlier this year traffic and page views grew so much that we hopped across four hosts before landing at Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Seattle.
The top three cities in terms of time spent?
Newton, MA; Pittsfield, MA; and Mineola, NY. Mineola, NY also features in the top three cities with the most page views per visit with two international counterparts, Datong, Taiwan and Weifang, China. A broader geographical perspective identified Western Africa and Central America as the source of traffic spending the most time on the site (average time on site by top three locations – 90 minutes).
When they were done reading, they were buying study guides and sample excel spreadsheets. Turns out that Interest rate models and Asset Liability Management Guides are two most popular topics in the first world (Europe and North America) and the developing world (the rest of the world).
The sprint from text to apps on smart phones and books on iPad.
While textbooks have always been around our pattern of consuming content, knowledge and media has changed. We prefer simple bite sized pieces, ideally with easy to understand and digestible examples. The problem is that like all other fields of professional practice finance operates in layers of specialization. Each level of expertise lays the foundation for the next level of practice. Without deciphering the code that opens the door on the ground level you can’t progress to a higher level of awareness.
So how do you teach computational finance on the internet? Do you build a roadmap? Do you use text and html? How long are your videos?? How do iPads and Tablets contribute? What do you do with the differential equations?
The first requests for an online reference guide for computational finance came in 2008 from students in Jawwad’s live instructor led treasury training workshops. In January 2010 a simple Word Press site was put up. It became an ugly, yet popular free text dump for computational finance study notes and html pages.
In the beginning it cost a few hours on the weekend and a late night every few weeks. But within six months, traffic, content and expectations from the site had grown so much that serious outside help was needed. A request for downloadable study guides led to the first paid content, followed by excel templates, another paid feature. Then a request for video lessons created the video course stream.
With all this out there, the search was on for the most affordable and cleanest learning platform across demographics and geographies. A first shot was the FourQuant iPad application. The second was two iBooks.
Calculating Value at Risk and Understanding Asset Liability Management. Designed for the iPad both books integrated text, video and self assessment in an easy, downloadable, take it home with you format. More alive than a PDF file, more relevant than a standalone video. They brought together everything we had picked up about adult learning and education to the ideal content consumption device. At a tenth of the original price tag.
The decade long road of experiments.
It took 12 years from the original inspiration. One expensive failed attempt. 2 years with the conceptual prototype. 6 months with Google Analytics data and usability testing that led to 4 major site redesigns.
This tally doesn’t include lessons learnt during 17 years of instructor led training at conferences, workshops and business schools across the region.
The reason why it finally worked so well is because the content is largely free. There are no obligations for browsing it, no one hounds you for your email address. You only pay for downloads, excel templates and subscription. It is current since it is sourced directly from our risk consulting practice. We crack a new problem at work anywhere in the world, the model goes up for sale at the site.
FinanceTrainingCourse.com and FourQuants.com are e-learning sites created for financial services and retails customers by Alchemy Software (Pvt.) Ltd, a digital publisher focused on risk consulting and training based out of Karachi, Pakistan.
For more details please contact
166 Block 7/8, KMCHS, Karachi.
+9221 3 455 6431
Jawwad Ahmed Farid: firstname.lastname@example.org
Uzma Salahuddin: email@example.com
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