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Moodle - Opensource Learning Management System

Today we showcase the story of another successful entrepreneur, Martin Dougiamas, Founder, Lead Developer and Managing Director of Moodle Pty Ltd

Moodle is an open-source course management system (also called a learning management system). It's a completely Free web application that educators can install and use to manage all their online learning. The business model is based on services around the free software.
It has 2 portals/sites, the open source community is at Moodle.org the business side is at Moodle.com

Let us explore what Martin has to say about his venture Moodle and his thoughts on IT, Education and Innovation coming out of Australia. This is what he has to say:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I'm 38, live in Perth with my young family. Until I was 12 I lived in central Australia, learning via School of the Air (in those days we used shortwave radio). This probably had some influence on what I do now.

• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
I started working on it alone in 2000 as a reaction to commercial alternatives that were available at the time.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
The first complete version of Moodle was in August 2002. It's grown exponentially since then.

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
Provide free tools to help educators do the best job possible and thus support education around the globe.

• How many people are using your services?
Moodle is open source, so we only know about users when they choose to tell us. We know about at least 20 million users including nearly 2 million teachers worldwide. See stats for details.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
In the early days, I did focus on some SEO to get the word out, but now promotion is almost entirely generated by the existing users through their links on the web, local Moodle conferences, user groups and other activities.

• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
See stats for details. These numbers are generated automatically by our users registering their sites. All registered sites are checked by a human team to make sure they are real sites.

• What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
A certain proportion of our users need support services such as hosting, consulting, training, customisation and so on. These services are provided by about 40 Moodle Partner companies around the world (so far), who are part of a franchise-like scheme. They sign up to be allowed to use the Moodle trademarks in promoting their businesses and to get support from the central Moodle company. In return, they are subject to certain quality checks and balances and must pay 10% royalties on their gross Moodle-related revenue.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
Some of the ones we run into are
  • Blackboard
  • WebCT
  • ANGEL
  • ATutor
  • Dokeos
  • Sakai
• What are the main technologies used behind this venture?
Moodle is a PHP web application and can run on nearly any database or operating system.

• Are you using a lot of open-source tool sets for this?
Indeed, open source is our preference. Moodle can be run on a completely open-source stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). We also use development tools like Eclipse, vim, OpenSSH and so on.

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
  • Linux, Mac OS X, Unix, Windows
  • MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, MS-SQL
• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
I don't really have time to communicate much with people outside the Moodle community. I already go to 5-10 Moodle conferences a year around the world.

• What’s your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
To be honest, my head space was never in Australia even though I live here. As someone heavily involved in the Internet since the 80's I've always thought globally. It took a long time to get any recognition at all for Moodle in Australia but I was never worried.

The IT business is fortunate in that the main costs are simply time. Hardware is cheap and you can work from home (as I did for the first few years!). Now we have a decent office and a lot of people on the payroll, I have to say that my most challenging problem at the moment is finding and retaining good PHP developers in Australia. About half the people I'm paying to develop Moodle are located overseas and all the rest are immigrants!

• How do you see the opportunity in e-learning in context to Australia, as PM Kevin Rudd has laid out plans for delivering an Education revolution? Do you think Moodle has a place to play in this space?
Certainly. We are already doing it overseas (Moodle is used by 70% of further education in the UK, for example).

• What Government resources have you used to help your business? And have they made an impact? Have you sought any funding?
None, none and no.

• Do you have any thoughts on our TAFE/Universities and their curriculum in terms of promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation? T
hey should at least provide some case studies to make students aware of what is possible with their skills given enough persistence. I think with the internet these days students can work out the rest themselves.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation and the telecom industry?
Specify and use open source solutions for all their tenders (preferably local but anything open source is good). If open-source solutions can not be found, put some money into helping their development. Too much taxpayer money is going to pay very high license fees straight to overseas companies. Open-source software really opens up the whole software development cycle and allows our local industries and individuals to get involved and innovate in all kinds of exciting ways. Open source is a great fit for an open, democratic culture.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
Once you identify a problem, spend as much time as it takes to get a very deep understanding of it and then persevere, persevere, persevere with your solution. It'll pay off in the end!

Thanks, Martin for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Moodle. All the best for the future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, and tech trends check this out our coverage on interviews can be found here

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