“Learning isn’t easy,” admits a rugged Dylan Evans, who is more like fighting over crocodiles in the backcountry than promoting an edutech platform. Online learning is perhaps even more difficult.
Beeline’s co-founder and managing director told Hypertext in an interview that to start making it easier, at least for Africans, his company aims to bring “free, high-quality education to the masses.”
Started by three entrepreneurs from Cape Town all under the age of 30, Beeline is an online platform geared towards young people and professionals focused on work readiness and employability. “Changing the unemployment rate is the number one priority,” he told us. Unemployment, Dylan believes, “…is the biggest challenge facing South Africa in the short term.”
While mainstream education across the country is undergoing reforms, it’s just not fast enough for Beeline and its creators who recently wrapped up the company’s initial funding round with a cool R3 million with a view to a beta launch.
The platform recently had a soft launch in July and is still under development by the company. “It’s a ridiculously complex app,” said an almost bewildered Dylan, “..and we launched it within eight or nine months of building it.”
With Beeline, efficiency is the word of the day. The platform was designed with a number of unique features borrowed from social media, video games and of course other online learning platforms.
The platform exists to address the lack of effective online learning spaces available to South Africa’s low-skilled workforce. It is completely free and easy to access on all app platforms and online. All users will need an email address.
Once registered, users can navigate the many learning paths quickly and efficiently, due to the company’s desire to eliminate as many friction points as possible. “The tricky part is having the content in the right order to achieve the goals you need to achieve, hence the name ‘Beeline’ – the fastest way to get from point A to point B,” we told he said.
According to Dylan, who has been in the training space in South Africa his entire career, the initial idea around the platform was to create a “personal use platform to store learning resources”. . However, this later evolved into a way for users to access other people’s personal platforms and thus share online learning resources.
That’s why users can create their own learning paths for other users to use. Indeed, as the community grows, the educational content of the platform will increase in an evolutionary way, such as YouTube or AirBnB. Beeline opted for this community curation as a means of aggregating online educational resources.
While it’s easy to search Google for educational materials, it’s hard to find exactly what you need when you need it. There is also the problem that most of the material will be focused on an American or European perspective, for example, South African learners having to adapt. With Beeline “there can be a lot more niche programs for groups that need them. With a community approach, the content can also be very scalable and viral,” he says.
Dylan hopes Beeline’s community curation will funnel all the best and most relevant e-learning content on the internet into one place – itself.
However, the question then arises, with all this user-created content, how will Beeline ensure that its educational material remains solid?
The solution, according to Dylan, is an in-depth community assessment and rating system that is currently being worked on. At present though, as the platform is still in its beta phase with only around 1000 users involved in pilot programs, Beelines is being reviewed and rated by a community manager at the company.
In the future, as more users sign up for the platform, Dylan envisions a method for users to identify particular creators with high ratings and popular Beelines. This will ensure that the creme de la creme rises to the top for the benefit of platform users and the straw stays near the bottom.
This method will ensure that “it will be very quick and easy to find quality content rather than low quality content,” adds Dylan.
We think Beeline might have something here with its unique, revolutionary community curation system for learning platforms and its intuitive online learning paths. If we were younger, we wouldn’t mind studying some of the more boring subjects thanks to the multimedia Beelines.
Aside from community generated content. Companies that want to use Beeline for staff training, where developers most hope to monetize the platform, will be able to pull professional-grade Beelines from specific libraries. These programs will either be vetted by Beeline staff or verified corporate trainers and content creators.
While South Africa and even Africa as a whole experiences inequalities in terms of who can access the internet and who can use connection technologies based on socio-economic factors – known as the digital divide – we asked Dylan if Beeline has any plans to zero-rate its platform, allowing users to access it without being charged for data consumed by the platform.
He told us that although zero-rating is a future plan for the platform, through a partnership with MTN’s Ayoba, the platform is currently not zero-rating.
Instead, Beeline works with minimal data consumption. Dylan explains that everything uploaded to the platform is optimized to be “data-level”. Other future plans to increase accessibility include one for the platform to have “fully offline” capabilities.
With this, users will be able to download the application, for example if they are using a hotspot or public WiFi, connect and then download a Beeline where they can work offline later at home without the need for Internet. The company is looking for ways to make its e-learning algorithms work natively on smartphones rather than in the cloud.
Recently, the company also received a grant from MTN and Ayoba to create a lite version of the Beeline app. This version, Dylan says, will be zero-rated.
“So you can access all your Beeline content for free via Ayoba app data via MTN.”
Dylan says Beeline’s deal with MTN was strategic. Telecom is Africa’s largest cellular service provider and Beeline has big dreams of expansion.
“The problems we face in South Africa are very similar to the problems faced in the rest of Africa. Europe and America have different problems, and their solutions don’t solve the same problems we do,” he said.
That’s why Beeline is pushing in Africa to hopefully solve these same problems. Beeline’s plan, as Dylan notes, is “Africa first, before moving on to other developing countries.”
He adds that Beeline is looking to expand across sub-Saharan Africa over the next six to eight months, starting with local neighbors Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Kenya is also a target for the near future, as Dylan says his company has connections in the rapidly developing tech-focused state.
“Beeline gives me goosebumps at least once a week,” Dylan laughs, “Dive into new potentials about what this platform could bring.”
He says he has passed the reins to his other businesses and projects to be able to focus full-time on Beeline as he believes it is this platform where the maximum impact can be made.
Tentatively, he tells us that he thinks Beeline might be a unicorn company in terms of financial aspirations.
Unicorns are private startups that have a valuation of $1 billion and above. In Africa, there are very few unicorn companies, including Andela, OPay, and Flutterwave.
The first African unicorn was Jumia, Nigeria’s e-commerce powerhouse. In 2022, Jumia’s revenue was $53 million.
“Solving a big problem with a product is what I’ve always wanted to do, I haven’t seen any other product that can do what Beeline can do on this scale.”
For now, Dylan says the “funding hat” is off and developers can just focus on building the app, “at least for the next two years.”
We’ll have to wait and see if Beeline ever achieves the much-loved “unicorn status” as Dylan believes, but passion, mission, and drive are a powerful combination indeed.
The Beeline application can be downloaded for Android devices and for iOS. Alternatively, it can be found online here.