David Smooke

@DavidSmooke

Building to be the Airbnb of International Education

Founder Interview

Disclosure: ODEM.IO, the On-Demand Education Marketplace, has previously sponsored Hacker Noon.

If you missed Part 1 with ODEM CEO Richard Maaghul, check it out here: Can an Education Token Unlock Higher Learning?

In addition to earning a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and serving six years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a combat engineer and explosives technician, Bill Bayrd leads ODEM’s day-to-day operations. As COO of ODEM.IO, he’s committed to using blockchain technology to expand student access to high-quality education. Today, we’re going to catch up on the behind the scenes of an ICO and learn ODEM plans to execute its vision for more accessible and affordable education.

David: ODEM.IO’s public crowdsale launched on Saturday, Feb. 17. How was the response?

Bill: It was not as strong as we expected. You have to understand, we raised more than twice as much as our softcap in the pre-sale. Our Know-Your-Customer pre-registrations were very robust ahead of the crowdsale launch. But, when it came right down to it, we feel that recent weakness in global cryptocurrency markets eroded demand for our tokens. We also believe some potential buyers were spooked by scammers. Since the launch we’ve aggressively moved to remind participants about security best practices. Despite it all, we’re still excited to continue telling our story and welcoming more participants to the ODEM community.

How crazy was it at ODEM headquarters as you prepared for the launch.

It was very busy and fun. A few of us lost some beauty sleep. Just kidding. We’re all still really psyched about the sale and what we can achieve with the proceeds.

In your announcement about raising 2.2 Million Euros in Pre-Sale, it said ODEM aspires to be the Airbnb of International Education. I realize that no cross-industry comparison is perfect, but please elaborate on how ODEM will function like AirBnb? And as the primary unit of Airbnb is lodging properties, what is ODEM’s primary education unit?

Well, like Airbnb, our standard unit is anything but standard. Our courses range in length from one day to a few weeks or couple of months. Our subject matter varies from a refresher course in anesthesiology to an introduction to solar power and even a primer on blockchain technology. Our main focus is giving students the tools to collaborate with educators to create courses that are relevant at a particular time in their career development. And, I shouldn’t forget, we are providing professors and lecturers with a tremendous opportunity to market their personal brands to a global audience.

Could you share more details about how your token is being allocated? What are the laymen’s terms for the main ICO?

As you can see from the circle chart above, 45 percent is available in the main crowdsale, 18 percent will be held by the company, 15 percent was allocated to the pre-sale, 11 percent for bounties and other rewards, six percent for advisors and 15 percent for our ODEM team members.

How are you going to use the funds from the token sale?

The proceeds will be used to fund development of the blockchain-based platform. Our specific plans are dependent on how much we raise in the crowdsale. There’s a full breakdown of our proposed spending options in the ODEM white paper. It’s available on our website, ODEM.IO.

What I’d like to emphasize is that we will set new standards for transparency among cryptocurrency projects. We’re committed to a calendar of public disclosures about how the money is put to work. Both CEO Richard Maaghul and I will be available to answer any questions about actual spending and platform development.

Could you share a bit about the tech team?

Our technology team is lead by Dr. Adel El Messiry, an innovator who is known for thinking outside the box. He’s worked with a number of technology startups including Utilize Health and InVivoLink. He’s a really impressive man. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science, machine learning and natural language processing at North Carolina State University and speaks six languages. He is working closely with veteran software developers Sergio Diaz and Jose Castellanos.

Also working in an advisory capacity is Dr. Michael Zargham. Mike’s a Ph.D. in systems engineering with a focus on optimization and control of decentralized systems. He’s working to embed the discount token model into the ODEM platform. We’re excited about working with Mike because he has more than a decade of experience applying data solutions to business decision-making applications. He’s also a founder of BlockScience, a firm concentrating on applying rigor to the design of the socio-technical network systems that will help build transformative products on the blockchain.

Could you describe the platform’s expected technical milestones over the next year?

Sure, to begin with, here’s a chart your readers might find interesting.

We are psyched about focusing more on the technical side of ODEM after we complete the crowdsale in March. We still plan to release a beta version in July of this year, and go live on the platform in September. By the end of the year we aim to release version 2.0 of the beta. We realize we have a lot of work to do.

Let’s go back to the beginning at ODEM? How did it all get started?

At Excelorators, we were delivering international education to students around the world and working through a number of intermediaries and completing paper contracts for all the elements that it takes to deliver in-person education — professors, classrooms, flights, hotels, accommodations, food, media services. And what we saw was a huge opportunity to streamline that through blockchain technology and smart contracts and really build all of this in.

What we also began to see was that our customers and students began to ask us for international programs. They wanted us to host programs not just among people their origin and culture, but with different cultures. But to do that was a challenge that required multiple currencies, multiple payments, translation and interpretation in various languages. We began offering these programs and we saw that we could solve the complexity by using blockchain in Excelorators’ current business model. It was a solution to the complexity issue that also solved a need for our customers by providing transparency and lower-cost education.

What’s your approach to on boarding professors/teachers to the platform? What types of education opportunities/classes do you see gaining traction and why?

Our approach to on boarding is to build lasting relationships of trust with our educators. We have a head start in on boarding with Excelorators Inc., our partner. Step one for us is to bring all of our current professors on board, including the nearly 250 professors Excelorators has at elite universities around the United States.

The second step is to start expanding a large professor pool across Europe. That’s where our office and headquarters will be located. And then we want to move to what we call localization of getting professors to get professors to sign up for when people are looking for an expert or an educator. She may be halfway around the world or she may be down the street. You could find the course you want right in your own backyard. We would like professors from all over the world to sign up. That’s kind of a longer-term strategy.

As for the types of education programs, there will be a wide range, reflecting the diversity of students who will take the courses. I’ve already mentioned that our offerings are varied. Some of our most popular courses center around familiarizing foreign students with life and education in the U.S. before they begin formal studies. Through Excelorators we also offer courses on global communications and international affairs each summer on the campus of the U.S. Military College at West Point in New York State.

Will a teacher be able to make as much money as they do in their current jobs? Or do you anticipate ODEM to provide supplement income to their existing jobs.

At least at the beginning, it will be supplemental income for educators, but we have high hopes of significantly contributing to professors’ financial well being.

You worked with ODEM’s partner, Excelorators Inc., an educational incubator for more than five years. What was it like to work there? How are ODEM and Excelorators related?

Working at Excelorators has been a huge personal-growth experience for me and my colleagues. The team is fantastic. Everyone believes in what we are doing. It was through Excelorators that ODEM CEO Rich Maaghul and I really saw the potential to use blockchain technology and smart contracts to bring the world together through education.

ODEM and Excelorators share the vision of making education more accessible and affordable on a global scale. In my time working directly for Excelorators I travelled frequently and saw in up-and-coming countries like Indonesia and rural parts of China how the cost of higher-quality education is really prohibitively high for hundreds of millions of people.

How significantly do you expect to reduce the cost of education?

We’re pretty excited about being able to remove a lot intermediaries and deliver education in classes to students at lower prices. The way that we approach this is that we know currently in our business model and five years of experience with Excelorators and international education that we work through a minimum of three-to-five intermediaries per course program. We know that each one of the intermediaries, at a bare minimum, inflates the cost by at least 25 percent.

From our research and what we’ve studied, most universities are working on a gross margin of 60 to 70 percent when they increase the cost of the education for students to pay for all of the expenses for the campus and the administrative staff. We know that if there are three-to-five intermediaries in between, they increase the cost by at least 100 percent. That means that if a professor was to charge $1,000 for a class, by the time you get to the student within the current model, the cost has risen to least $2,000. Right now we believe we can offer than exact same class for about $1,100. That’s the type of savings we’re talking about like that.

What is the nature of ODEM’s partnership with Origin Protocol?

Well, we haven’t said a lot about Origin Protocol. The relationship is only just beginning. I can say Origin will play an integral part of enabling to enable development of the ODEM platform by using the Ethereum blockchain and the IPFS protocol.

Origin’s strong suit is providing technical building blocks of the sharing-economy to allow buyers and sellers of fractional-use goods and services to interact on the Web without costly traditional intermediaries. We’re very impressed with the Origin platform and the company’s people.

As a combat engineer and explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps, did you defuse bombs? Was there ever a time when you thought, this is it, I’m a goner?

Like anyone serving in a combat zone, I faced a few dangerous situations. They really made me think about the fragility of our lives and the importance of living up to our potential.

In a funny way, it was sometimes like the old joke about flashbacks and near-death experiences: “My whole life flashed before me, and I was unimpressed.” Ha.

I actually joined the Marines in 2001, a few months before the 9/11 attacks. I had finished high school and was looking for a way to pay for college. I saw the Marine Corps as something bigger than myself, something that I could be a part of, something that could potentially help to channel me.

As a kid, I’d always played sports. I always loved being on teams. To me, the Marine Corps looked like a big team. That was a big reason for joining out of high school. My parents were shocked. My decision to join the Marines came out of nowhere.

Looking back on your institutional higher education experience, how much of it could have been replaced — had a platform like what ODEM could become — existed then?

A lot of it could have been avoided. With ODEM.IO I feel like I’ve found my life’s work. After the Marines, I earned a four-year degree and then pursued a Doctor of Pharmacy, both at the University of Tennessee. When it was all said and done, I graduated with $140,000 of student loan debt. To top it off, I wasn’t very happy in the pharmaceutical industry.

To make a long story short, through Excelorators I took a course about digital currencies. I learned about blockchain technology and Bitcoin. And thanks to some early bets on Bitcoin that performed pretty well, I was able to pay off my loans.

It wasn’t lost on me that it was through informal education that I acquired the knowledge that allowed me to retire the debt — the debt that was caused by my formal education. It nearly destroyed me. So I’m sincere when I hope that the ODEM platform can be a tool for students to build their education in short, affordable bursts of learning that won’t leave them saddled with huge loans to repay. I’m living proof that the ODEM approach is valuable.

Five years from now, if everything goes according to plan, what does ODEM look like?

I hope that five years down the road we will be a household name and having a significant positive impact on students and the education industry. I expect you’ll hear people say they “ODEMed” their education and careers by strategically building their qualifications over a lifetime in affordable stages of learning. We really feel the best is yet to come.

Where to connect with Bill Bayrd: Email & LinkedIn.

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