Building networks with the Queen of community

An on demand learning platform flourished during lockdown, building a community of users and supporters. The co-founder of Mumsnet offered ‘positive criticism’ to help Walter Kerr perfect the offering. Meet Disco.


Oppidan Disco Mumsnet

A lot has been written about the negative effects that successive Covid lockdowns have had on school children. Oppidan Education, which offers one-on-one mentoring programmes for children aged 6 to 18, thought they could contribute positively to the situation. They launched Brain Labs, live online interactive classes during the first lockdown.

It went well – children loved the social interaction and the content model – so the decision was made to put flesh on the bones of an idea and a business evolved. Disco, a live and on-demand learning platform that supports personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) and future skills, both in schools and at home, was launched in 2021.

Kids can interact in forums on the platform; indeed, co-founder Walter Kerr describes it as a network community. And he was aware that there was a very successful pioneer in building online communities in Carrie Longton, one of the co-founders of Mumsnet and an Expert Impact mentor.

“Parenting was only really becoming a verb when Mumsnet started; Carrie essentially captured that zeitgeist of parenting and turned it into a highly successful business” said Walter.

The two met for a mentoring session in July 2021. Walter wanted to understand more about the experience of parenting and the value parents ascribed to different forms of education. He described Carrie reacting to the business proposition of Disco with a positive, critical eye. Her initial help centred on the product-market fit.

“How does this fit into a school day? How can you see this fitting into the schedule of a parent who needs this but also needs to spend time on homework, allow for Roblox and have a cozy time over supper together,” said Walter, describing Carrie’s questions.

Carrie also offered further advice on simplifying the navigation of the content and on using the community they have built to test new product offerings.

“A lot of the things she talked about centred on social listening – using your customers as focus groups. Let them become researchers for product testing. Don’t think that you have to have the right answers the whole time,” said Walter.

“What these kind of lessons can do to a kid’s mental health, happiness, well-being, sense of ownership … in terms of impact, it’s working out exactly where kids need to benefit. And fine-tuning the content model to produce a social benefit.”

Carrie and Walter have stayed in touch and, as Walter’s first business, Oppidan Education, is a mentoring business for children, it won’t be a surprise to learn that he is a fan of the process. While he describes the mentoring he received through Expert Impact as important, he is also quick to credit the team who have done the day to day work of building Disco as a business.

“There’s a lot of crossover in terms of Expert Impact and Oppidan and the strength of both is the value of human capital, which can sound incredibly trite. But it’s the key to so many good things that happen,” said Walter.

“Reduced to its core, mentoring is incredibly simple. It provides a platform to feel listened to; it allows for mirroring to take place; it gives you somebody in your corner. Is there anything more important?”

If you’d like your own sounding board for your business, take a look at our mentors here.

Photo by Ralston Smith on Unsplash