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Startup life: Q&A with George A. Pappas from Epignosis

How can you fit learning into your daily schedule? Actually this is the wrong question.

Learning should be part of your daily routine, especially at work. And instead of asking yourself how can you fit learning into your busy schedule, the question should be simpler. Like how much time can you devote to active learning on a daily basis. You should think of it as forever going back to school.

Epignosis, one of our high-performing scale-up businesses in the Starttech portfolio, is helping small and medium business solve this problem. How? With its versatile e-learning products which can be customized to suit the needs of virtually any company.

It’s latest gem is TalentCards, a fun and light e-learning platform specifically for mobiles. But don’t just take my word for it. Read this week’s Startup life Q&A series, and learn all about it from George A. Pappas, Epignosis’s in-house UI/UX design expert and globetrotter.

Startup life: Q&A with George A. Pappas from Epignosis

Q1: So George, how would you describe life working for an e-learning specialist company like Epignosis?

It’s been interesting for me, coming from an early career background in training and teaching to have pivoted to the ‘other side’ of designing digital products aimed to help the kind of person I used to be. I find designing a product akin to going on a long journey, and it’s certainly felt like one so far. It’s important that we’ve gelled as a cohesive product design team – we’ve checked our egos at the door and try to build each other up, and never tear each other down. That kind of cohesion goes a long way in making daily work life not just productive, but also pleasant.

Q2: What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love the fact that, as part of my role, I know and have spoken with every single member of every team in every department here at Epignosis. Everyone has information to share about the current products, the people who are interested in the latest product etc and I find that an important part of being a UI/UX Designer is collecting and connecting all these threads, these valuable pieces of information, and weaving them into a single end-result.

Q3: Epignosis is widely known in the market for TalentLMS, a versatile 3-learning platform focused on small and medium businesses. It recently celebrated its 5th birthday. What steps did the team take to help make it a success and scaling up?

They worked hard, kept up with advancements in both tech and design, listened to their users (!!!), and paid attention to details. I would also say that they realised how valuable it is to invest in the people you have working for you, and that investment has paid off in spades. There are people behind products, and when those people pour a little piece of their heart into their work, it shows all the way through to the end user. No word of a lie. (Damn, that part about putting your heart into it is giving me the feels – Ed)

Q4: The latest product to roll off the production line is TalentCards, which is expected to be released towards the end of the year. So what’s it all about?

TalentCards is a micro-learning app that allows learners to consume knowledge using a learning metaphor that has stood the stand of time: that of the ‘card’. Learners study decks of beautiful, curated cards that have been created by their Instructor through the web-portal. These cards can be studied on the go, from their mobile device, on planes, trains, and automobiles. (Wow, memories of flashcards in nursery school coming back to me! And of John Candy and Steve Martin trying to get back home for Thanksgiving – Ed). It’s quick, it’s easy, and it looks great.

Q5: How would you describe the typical user-experience of TalentCards?

There’s two users of TalentCards; the Learner who consumes knowledge using their mobile device, and the Instructor who creates and curates the Card Sets.

For the Instructor, we’ve created an easy-to-use, powerful, what-you-see-is-what-you-get Card Creator that allows Instructors to create gorgeous cards that combine text and images, and allow videos, audio files, or web links to be attached to Cards and further enrich the learning content. Tests, either quick pop-quizzes or larger end-of-set tests, are just easy to create and place exactly where you want the assessment to occur within the deck. Finally, we’ve made user management a dream, with simple ways to invite users to your app and monitor their progress.

The Learner has a mobile-optimised experience and all the learning content at their fingertips. They can scroll through the deck at their own pace, in their own time, inside a classroom, on the tube, at home, or anywhere else they may need to access their content. Furthermore, we’ve gone the extra mile and injected pretty cool gamification elements; a competitive leaderboard, stats breakdown, and some neat ‘achievement’ badges (and maaaaaybe an easter egg or two for those lucky few who find them). It’s 21st century learning in the digital flesh, and I’ve a good feeling Learners are going to love it.

Q6: Sounds excellent ! Now, how about some other maybe less obvious pain points and challenges. What makes your life difficult at work? (Come on, this is your platform to get it all out – Ed)

You know, when we started out, I was highly entrenched in the designer v. developer war – stuck in the belief that like cats and dogs, chalk and cheese, or night and day we were destined to never truly understand each other and constantly be at one another’s throats. Before we started being a lot more open in our day-to-day communication misunderstandings were definitely an issue. At some point it felt like we were speaking different languages, and then I realised that we genuinely were speaking different languages.

We started having designer/dev pair-up sessions where we would sit right next to each other: wireframes and mockups right next to control panels and lines of code. However, it wasn’t just working directly in parallel which improved our mutual understanding of each others’ work – I found that our cooperation, and in turn the product, levelled up when we started explaining – at least in basic terms – the hows and whys behind our arguments. For example, when I started understanding some of the limitations of xml code; exactly why it “couldn’t be done”: then I would start modifying my design process with a better understanding of the challenges the developer would face during implementation. Inversely, when I would explain to the developer the importance of a certain colour within the product or a certain spacing between elements, they too would understand that it’s not just “diva designer” talk but that there’s genuine, tangible theory behind every design decision we make.

We may still come from different spheres of thought, but there’s a better understanding of where the other party is coming from.

Q7: Wow, it all sounds perfectly therapeutic. And productive! When you’re not making sure the TalentCards UI/UX is in great shape, what do you like to do? Bear in mind we’ve heard you like to travel a fair bit.

I wander and wonder. At last count, I’ve wandered to 142 cities, across 32 countries and 5 continents, and it’s still not enough. I love meeting people from around the world and listening to their stories. I find the little differences and the surprising similarities across cultures absolutely fascinating. In the evenings, I tend to avoid sleep, and have recently started hosting a late night talk show on web radio called “Night Wanderers”, Tuesday evenings from 23.00-01.00 (UTC+3). What’s the web address? Why it’s www.pappas.rocks of course.

Q8: I’ll be sure to tune in! Obviously we live in the distraction era. We seem to have a very short attention span these days and this is an issue Talent Cards looks to solve. How does it tick the boxes and solve this problem?

The card metaphor, which is the core design choice of the product, works so well to counter this issue. I would advise Instructors to work with the concept of smaller, more manageable chunks of knowledge, focusing on exactly the information they want their learners to commit to memory and process into understanding. The card metaphor is not at all mentally taxing in the way that a copy/pasted wall-of-text is, making sure that a learner does not have to expend time and energy wading through the mire to get to the essence of the information.

Furthermore, TalentCard’s learning-on-the-go approach allows learners to slot their training in wherever and whenever they have the time to do so: in between reps at the gym, while waiting for their Uber to arrive, or while walking their dog.

Q9: Which tools do you use daily and do you have any secret tips and tricks, which boost your productivity? And do you live by the gospel of lifelong learning?

I’m a big advocate in favour of Adobe’s latest offering – ‘Adobe Xd’: Experience Design. It’s fast as lightning and has just what I need to get the job done. I’ve been using it daily over the last year and I am confident that it’s a design tool that is going to big places, very, very soon.

We use Asana for task busting and project management and it’s grown on me. A beautifully designed product that helps me, and the team, keep track of everything we need to get done and prioritise effort.

I live and die by the mantra that the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing at all. I devour information, trivia, facts, and am on a constant quest to learn the next new thing. Running water never grows stagnant, and the quest for knowledge is never ending. If I ever claim that I’ve learned everything there is to know, please, shoot me.

Q10: Are there any other productivity and/or work-life balance tips and hacks you’d like to share with us?

I love lists and I love crossing things off of lists, so task management software like Asana has definitely helped me ramp up productivity and stay on track. Personally, I like to breakdown my tasks to a detailed micro level using Asana’s more personal “My Tasks” tab – it makes the work load feel far more manageable.

As far as work-life is concerned, I’d suggest finding one thing totally not related to work that you love, and you go do that, and you enjoy it. Whether it’s sailing, spending time with your dog, playing chess, or listening to music – do it, and do just that when you do it.

There’s a time and a place for everything; for that one thing that brings you joy make sure to check work at the door and enjoy the headspace that activity provides you.

Q11: What would you say to anyone considering getting involved in a tech-based startup or scale-up?

Nah, j/k (Haha, you can’t beat a good Monty Python meme – Ed).

I would advise to take time during your research and interview stage, to try and glean as much about the environment you’ll be working in before committing. Be careful when things sound too good to be true, and make sure to ask just as many questions of your potential employer as they will of you: you’re interviewing them too not just the other way around.

Look to see if people in the office are smiling; it makes a huge difference walking into an open space office and seeing people with genuine joy in their eyes, as opposed to a glum, grey, blank stare. It makes a huge difference on my daily work life that I enjoy where I work (as a location), who I work with, and the overall “vibe”, that inexplicable energy that you can pick up on.

Get involved with the people; no person is an island. Especially within the start-up/scale-up scene team work makes the dream work. Get to know your team mates. You’re in this venture together, for as long as you’re there: the quality of your work will improve as your bonds within the team grow stronger.

Q12: Intriguing stuff. Now, time for a few quick fire questions. What’s the last message you sent on Slack (We want the truth – Ed)?

“Smoke break?” (No thanks mate, but as soon as we’re done here I’ll do a chocolate break and join you anyway – Ed)

Q13: The Simpsons or South Park?

The Simpsons up until about ’99-’00, but I find South Park has managed to maintain better momentum and relevance even up until today.

Q14: Pizza or Souvlaki?

I traded my soul for a slice of NYC pepperoni pizza back in 2009 and haven’t looked back since.

Q15: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

May 2017: I started training to earn a Skipper’s license and first stepped on board a racing yacht. So, now, that’s Captain George A. Pappas for you. Achievement unlocked! (Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! Yes, that’s my pirate impression. Best I can do I’m afraid – Ed)

Q16: Who would you like to sit down and have a chat and a beer with, if geography or time wasn’t an issue (Yes, it can be with a person who has passed away)?

I would love to pick the brain of the late, great, Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis (A man after my own heart! He’s my favorite Greek author – Ed).

My life changed for the better after reading his novel “Zorba the Greek”, and half the novel is the titular Zorba and the nameless Narrator discussing life, death, love, war, money, work, men and women around a dinner table. I have a feeling Nikos would make interesting conversation after the second round of drinks.

Q17: And you’re favorite reaction MEME or gif, and when do you usually use it?

That feeling when we get together with the dev team and implement that cool feature we thought up of…

…and when you find that first bug.

Q18: Back to the more serious stuff, what are your top work-related (or non work-related) book recommendations?

Seriously, I know I’m repeating myself, but stop everything you’re doing and order a copy of Zorba the Greek.

Numerous discussions in the novel revolve around work and work ethic, and I quote the following passage as just one example:

“This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right and to realize of a sudden that in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale.”

Sounds a lot like the Unicorn all start-ups are chasing, yeah? Trust me on this one, and read this one book (Yes people, do it. Listen to George. George reads good books and knows things – Ed)

Q19: If you could start your own business/startup, what would it be (It’s OK, you can tell me I won’t steal it or tell anyone about it – Ed)?

As a volunteer blood donor, one of the first things I made sure to do when arriving at Epignosis was get the whole company signed up for routine voluntary blood donation.

Blood is in tragically short supply all around the world, and it is absolutely vital that more and more people sign up as regular volunteer donors.

I would want to create an application that facilitates this process, linking hospitals and blood banks around the country with new and existing donors, bringing new volunteers into the fold, dispelling the myths and fear that do indeed exist around the idea of donating one’s blood and generally helping this one particular section of the health industry which, I’m telling you, is sorely lacking into the digital age.

Heck, I’d give it away for free – cause that’s how much I believe the world needs this kind of platform right now.

Q20: If you had 60 seconds in an elevator with an investor what would you say to persuade them to invest their money in TalentCards?

You ever played Dungeons and Dragons Graham? (Nope, but I did watch the cartoon as a kid. Does that count? No? Ok then – Ed)

I’m what they call Chaotic Neutral, and Chaotic Neutral gets things done.

If you promise not to let my secret go, I’d probably jam the elevator on purpose then pull out my phone which happens to be running TalentCards with a handy-dandy deck of cards on how to restart a failed elevator and survive plummeting to one’s death.

After saving the day, and being asked how I did what I just did, I’d hand out my card and say “Call me. You want to hear what I have to say.”

Q21: And if you had just 30 seconds to convince a large potential client to get TalentCards, what would you say or do?

I’d give them them the app, and tell them to shuffle through a deck of cards. The product has been designed in such a way that as soon as you go through it once, you immediately get an understanding of its potential. Actions speak far louder than words in this sort of thing, and I can’t think of a better 30 second pitch than half a minute’s time spent experiencing an innovative, focused, and exciting new product for one’s self.

Q22: Finally, you’re stuck on a desert island and you can have only music or movies, but not both. Which do you choose and why?

Yunno what, assuming an infinite supply of music I could probably come up with some pretty killer desert island star-gazing tracks. For me, music is company – and I figure that’s the one thing I’m gonna miss the most. Music. (Hear hear! – Ed)

Thanks so much for your time George. I’ll let you get back to being Chaotic Neutral.

Startup life: Q&A with George A. Pappas from Epignosis was last modified: January 7th, 2020 by Graham Wood

Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.

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