From Newspaper Insert to Social Network: TSL Scores With Teachers

Photograph by Roy Mehta

TSL Education is an important resource for teachers to share information.

More than a century ago, TSL Education began as a newspaper insert for teachers. Today it’s a digital media company with a a fast-growing social network that helped it make about $120 million in sales last year.

TSL Education is adding up to 18,000 users a week and is approaching 2.5 million members, said Louise Rogers, chief executive officer of the London-based company. Following a revamp in the last decade, TSL Education has emerged as an online resource where teachers can share ideas on how to best instruct their students. The company gets the majority of its user growth outside the U.K. and reaches teachers in nearly 200 countries.

“This is all based on what teachers want and what teachers need,” Rogers said in an interview. “Talking to other teachers is an incredibly fulfilling thing for them.”

The company, which expanded sales by 23 percent last year, is getting 60 percent of its revenue from digital-related products and should reach 80 percent in the next few years, she said. TSL Education’s EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — expanded 38 percent to more than $50 million last year.

Beginning as a supplement for teachers in The Times around 1910, the publication later broke away from the newspaper as it became a popular resource for teachers to learn about their industry and find job openings.

In 2005, News Corp., which then owned the business, sold it for about $400 million to Exponent Private Equity, a private equity firm based in London.

“It was a pretty old-fashioned newspaper business at that point,” said Rogers, who joined at the time of the purchase. “It had no real digital strategy behind it.”

The company, which was sold two years later to private-equity firm Charterhouse Capital Partners, saw an opportunity to expand its limited online presence and invested in its website. The social-networking service evolved from online forums that had quickly become popular with teachers, she said. Today, teachers share more than 500,000 resources on everything from math to history. Teachers also can post comments, follow other teachers or join specific groups.

Last year, the company struck an agreement for a joint-venture with the American Federation of Teachers, a union for educators, to provide class materials closely tied to guidelines used in most states. TSL is also looking to expand beyond English to other languages, such as Spanish, Rogers said.

The company, which competes with Curriki and LessonPlan.it, makes money from jobs postings and by charging for materials beyond what’s being shared for free on the service.

Rogers had no comment on what the private-equity firm might do with its investment.

“We’re more focused at the moment on building the business,” she said.

 

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