Panos is the co-founder and CEO of LearnWorlds, an all-in-one platform to Create, Sell & Market online courses and provide online training for partners, employees, customers, and more. LearnWorlds is much more than a business; it is the passion for academia of the company’s founders -Panos, Fanis, and George- three scientists, educators, and researchers who have developed numerous eLearning projects since 1999.
LearnWorlds empowers online trainers, educators, and enterprises to create unique, interactive, and social learning experiences. This all-in-one solution is ideal for any business and any course creator. Unlike an on-premise LMS, LearnWorlds is a 100% cloud-based LMS always up-to-date, with no versions to worry about. This allows school owners to focus on what matters to their business, namely teaching and passing on their knowledge.
Panos has a Ph.D. in Educational Technology, and he has been researching and designing e-learning applications for over 20 years. He has worked extensively as a computer science educator, software engineer, IT manager, and e-learning researcher in many EU-funded research projects.
Before launching LearnWorlds with George and Fanis, his long-time friends and fellow researchers, he worked in the European Parliament as a policy adviser for research and innovation.
Panos loves mountaineering, photography, and traveling. He is always happy to work under extreme pressure in multinational environments.
Where did the idea for LearnWorlds come from?
This idea started with us going back to our Ph.D. studies period, our research university days, when we used to study the state of the art of elearning. As we looked into the best possible ways to use education to teach and learn, we felt a significant disconnection between theory and practice: the tools that people had access to were so far behind the state-of-the-art ones we were working with in academia space. So, our passion (mine and my co-founders’) became to create the cutting-edge learning tools and put them into the hands of actual teachers to foster more impactful relationships with their students.
This is how LearnWorlds started, which led to a powerful yet lightweight, user-friendly, fully customizable, white-labeled cloud-based LMS with eCommerce capabilities, empowering educators of all types to share their knowledge in a uniquely interactive and effective way.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
With so many things happening daily, it can sometimes be difficult to be as productive as one would want. I guess the thing that makes the biggest difference is working hard. A typical day usually starts by waking up at 6:30, sending my daughter off to school, arriving at the office at around 7:20, dealing with lots of emails, and staying organized by following the tasks at hand. Then, a quick meeting with my co-founders, and from there on, lots of other meetings with my team, co-workers, customers, and investors.
Another thing that helps me is finding some quiet time to dive deep into some bigger problems that we may face weekly.
How do you bring ideas to life?
That’s an exciting question. I guess this changes depending on the stage where you are as an entrepreneur or as a business.
As an example, a few years ago, my preferred way to bring ideas to life was to start with a prototype. As researchers, we were very hands-on, and we always built educational tools. So, if we were thinking about something, whether it was a tool in the platform or a marketing approach that we would look to test, we used to just go out, create a little prototype, see how it works, and try to improve it.
These days, with a much bigger team, others can usually bring ideas to life much better than I could do on my own. I try to have a very clear idea, very accurately described, give people the necessary information to engage them, and get them to opt-in. That way, it’s not just an idea that nobody can implement, an idea that they don’t believe in.
It’s definitely much more complex than doing it on your own, but also, you can obtain amazing results by involving great professionals who will be able to help you bring an idea to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One trend that excites me is the digitization of e-learning; the fact that actual learning is going digital. Our lives are becoming increasingly connected, from the way we work (remote working and digital nomads have been on the rise for quite some time now) to the way we socialize (everyone who has access to the internet can communicate with anyone in the world). It was only normal for it to also revolutionize the learning industry and to generate an exponential growth in how e-learning is being used.
As a business, we’re not here to replace traditional schools and universities. We have an educational background, and we very much believe in the role and impact of conventional education.
However, we also understand that on a large scale, e-learning can be an amazingly efficient and effective tool. What’s most exciting is the actual benefit of e-learning: giving billions of learners, students, and professionals around the world quick access to things that they would like to know and, thus, improve their situation or skills. We believe that we’re in a place now where we already see it happening around us.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The most important, for me at least, is to find some free hours without any meetings and interruptions and try to delve deeply into a subject. This way, I dedicate time to research and make sure we’re thinking before acting. With today’s style of work, constantly being remote and interrupted by emails, social media, Zoom, it’s very difficult to maintain these clear hours. But once you can do the research and deep-dive into a subject, you start getting insights into what is actually more important.
So instead of simply banging around and completing tasks, you can think more, prioritize, and have a much clearer view of what is essential in what you’re trying to accomplish.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Luckily, this is not possible. And I’m glad about that. Because I think that you have to make your own mistakes at every stage of your life, as there are some things you learn only by making mistakes.
It’s like kids with fire, you know? Unfortunately, sometimes the best lesson is to get slightly burned, not scorched. You know, to get that minor burn, especially with entrepreneurship.
But one thing that I would like to advise myself would be to be more ambitious, early on, especially about the business. To think bigger, be more ambitious about our capacity as a team, as a product, and strive for larger objectives.
Ambition, I guess that’s the one.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe that humans have at least one real superpower: the ability to learn anything we put our minds to.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would say measuring and having clear objectives as much as possible. That’s always a work in progress, so you can never be at an optimal level. But having, as much as possible, clear, measurable objectives and KPIs, following them closely, and being able to act on them.
If you can measure something, then you can improve it. So you have to make sure that you’re following the right metrics and that you act on these numbers so you influence the situation. That’s something that we were suspecting, and we were doing early on, but the more the business grows, and the more the team grows, the more activities the team can do. That’s when the importance of improving those metrics becomes even more clear.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One thing that, incidentally, we saw improving our business very much is education.
And I mean not only learning ourselves and getting informed about all the new trends, deals, and developments that take place out there, but especially about educating others.
We realized very early on that education can be an amazing form of marketing, because it can be very subtle and effective. It is informative, so people get value out of that. It’s not salesy, it’s not pushy, it fits better with our mentality and character as a business. So we provide value, share the knowledge that we get, and people appreciate that and get more connected with our brand and what we have to offer. Everything we know and learn from our most successful customers, we always try to disseminate back to the community and the general public through courses, webinars, ebooks, and all this stuff that we’re constantly making available for free.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we started this entrepreneurial journey, one blind spot that we originally had is that we weren’t listening enough to our customers. Of course, when we started, we had zero customers to listen to, so we were moving ahead only with what we knew from a scientific point of view about the important steps that people should take in the e-learning space.
And in fact, we spent the better part of a couple of years creating the best possible platform as we imagined it. But during all this time, we didn’t pay enough attention to contacting actual customers to show them, explain, and get their feedback after they had used the platform. We were seeing this more like a research project – trying to create the best platform possible, but our view of the best platform, in the end, was quite different from what others had in mind.
Of course, once we realized this, we started listening aggressively to customers, showing them the platform, adding features based on their feedback, removing features, so our customers eventually became the co-creators of the platform. Obviously, not all feedback is relevant, accurate, correct, or should be followed at that particular time, so you have to be very careful when selecting and filtering this feedback. But we see that within this information, there are amazing lessons to be learned about how to improve a product and a business. Listening to customers can also bring to light many insights on future trends and where the entire market is heading.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ll go with the one idea that I’m sharing with lots of my friends as well: launching your own online school can be an amazing way to create something very meaningful.
Try to think about what you know very well and you could teach to other people and see if you can convert that knowledge into a business or at least value for your main business. It can just be offering free courses, but this can elevate your status as a professional, entrepreneur, and expert or help you grow your impact in society.
It might not be a huge business, but it can add value to any business. We live in the knowledge economy era, and, within this society, the exchange of knowledge and the demand for expertise are inexhaustible.
For everything you know very well, and care about passionately, there is somewhere, somebody who would love to learn it. This way, with no budget, hardware, logistics, or factories, and nothing but your intellectual capital, what you have in your brain, and perhaps a laptop, you can create a full-blown digital business that doesn’t need your attention 24/7. It can simply be there and bring you income which can provide for you and give you freedom – freedom of space, freedom of time, whatever matters most for you.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A personal expense – I bought a set of bone conduction headphones, which are amazing. I mean, I knew the concept, but I couldn’t believe that they were so effective. It’s something that allows you to be out running, biking, cycling, or anything else, and you can listen to music or an interesting podcast while you can still hear everything around you. That was one little thing where technology can change the way you function on a daily basis.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
One thing that we came to rely on a lot within our business, and also personally, has been Zapier – an amazing little piece of software. It’s also helping a lot of our customers accomplish some amazing automations when using our platform.
Zapier is a little agent automation wizard, a little elf on your side, that connects different applications on the internet and helps you automate tasks and save loads and loads of time. Overall, a service that can be very handy for every digital entrepreneur.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m not sure how unique I would be with that, but I wouldn’t like to propose a business book. I would like to suggest my favorite book, a humorous science fiction book called “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
I find that science fiction in general, and this particular book, more specifically, opens your minds to divergent thinking. It flips around almost every everyday concept that we have and gives you a different perspective on things you take for granted and that are happening around you.
Every entrepreneur is a small revolutionary, whether you’re revolutionizing the entire energy or financial system or just the way people wash socks in their neighborhoods.
This book shows you how to filter things and perceive reality differently, think in divergent ways, and question what you see around you. This can open up some great ideas, help you connect totally disparate things, and think creatively.
Sometimes the best entrepreneurial ideas are flipping reality on its head, which this book does. And even if it doesn’t help you and you don’t get your next super amazing entrepreneurial idea out of this book, you will at least have spent a few fantastic hours reading it.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is “Getting better every single day.”
That’s something we’ve done with our business, and we’ve seen having a remarkable impact. In business terms, we might call it compounding growth. Over time you can compound exceptional growth, whether it’s through improving a personal habit like walking a few extra steps, or on the business side, getting one extra lead per day. Think about what is most important to you and just try to do it slightly better every day. A few months from now, you will not believe the impact this will have on what you’re trying to achieve.
- Passion can be the driving force behind a business, and LearnWorlds comes to show just that: how three researchers passionate about education can build a powerful yet lightweight, intuitive eCommerce-ready white-labeled LMS, packed with advanced features to sell online courses, educate customers, or train employees.
- Find some free hours without any meetings and interruptions and try to delve deeply into a subject. Once you are able to do the research and dive deeply into a matter, you start getting insights into what is actually more important for your business.
- Be more ambitious early on, especially about the business. Think bigger, be more confident in your capacity, and really strive for bigger objectives.
- Think about what is most important to you and just try to do one tiny step ahead every day. A few months from now, you will not believe the impact this will have on what you’re trying to achieve.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.