Veteran entrepreneur shifts mindset ahead of milestone for online education firm
Brad Loiselle has a bold ambition: Educate an entire country. The serial entrepreneur is the president and CEO of betterU, an Ottawa-headquartered education technology company that’s taking a simple approach to its ambitious goal.
By establishing a digital marketplace for online education, betterU connects global educators and content providers with students in India, a country of more than one billion residents who have traditionally had limited access to high-quality foreign education.
Getting the business off the ground required patience; Mr. Loiselle said it took a year to open a bank account and obtain the necessary Indian business licenses.
However, those efforts are now paying off. With 22 trips to India under Mr. Loiselle’s belt, betterU now offers 6,500 courses in technology training, exam preparation as well as kindergarten to grade 12 courses. Armed with these successes, Mr. Loiselle turned his attention to securing additional funding that would help his firm continue to grow.
However, he quickly ran into roadblocks. “We’ve now shown that what we’re doing makes sense and is realistic,” he said. “But investors had a hard time understanding that what we are building is even possible. Educating an entire country is something that some people just roll their eyes at.”
Public offering preparation
The challenges securing private investments prompted Mr. Loiselle to shift his focus to the possibility of raising capital on the public markets. However, that presented a fresh problem. Despite having started several firms and even writing a book on entrepreneurship, Mr. Loiselle had never been through an initial public offering. He said he needed someone who understood the legal requirements, auditing exercises and how to protect the company’s interests.
To help him with the process, he met with Michael Gerrior, a partner at Ottawa law firm Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, who helped betterU with its due diligence process and prepared the company for the scrutiny it would soon face. “You have to be able to show investors that you have a real opportunity and real growth that is sustainable,” Mr. Gerrior said.
One of the first surprises Mr. Loiselle faced was identifying risks facing the firm – even those incredibly unlikely events that are completely out of his control. While Mr. Loiselle said he understood the need to be transparent with prospective investors, he said he didn’t expect to have to list every single threat imaginable.
He expressed his doubts to Mr. Gerrior, who explained that defining all the risks would help protect the company. The process changed Mr. Loiselle’s thinking as he realized his presentation to investors needed to be different than his sales pitch. “I’m always optimistic. But this made me more careful about how I say things,” he said.
As betterU continued to prepare its IPO paperwork, Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall continued to offer assistance. For example, the law firm connected the company with a chief financial officer who had experience in public markets and knew what regulators would be looking for in betterU’s application.
The biggest value, however, was Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall’s guidance that shifted Mr. Loiselle’s mindset. “It’s made me think about how to be a CEO of a public company,” he said. “They elevated us from a private-thinking organization to a public-sector thinking organization.”
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