Mighty Totara teaches staff world over

Totara Learning Solutions chief executive Richard Wyles expects his company's growth to double next year.
Totara Learning Solutions chief executive Richard Wyles expects his company's growth to double next year.

Staff around the world - including at companies such as McDonald's, Vodafone, Toyota and supermarket Tesco - use software from Wellington to learn how to do their jobs.

Open-source software Totara, made in Willis St in downtown Wellington, creates customisable learning management systems for businesses. It has secured 1.7 million users and turnover of about $2 million in less than two years, with 2013 earnings on track to top $4m.

Chief executive Richard Wyles formed Totara in 2010, with his earlier business Flexible Learning. Local open-source specialists Catalyst IT and British learning technology company Kineo all having equal ownership. Training institute City & Guilds, based in London, recently bought out Kineo, giving it one-third ownership in Totara.

Based on interactive open-source teaching software Moodle that Wyles had worked with since 2003, Totara took six months and $1.5m of capital to develop.

The software allows companies to create customised interactive learning systems for their staff. Some firms and government departments use it to make online training manuals while others use it to communicate their health and safety or compliance processes.

Sport England used it to teach London Olympics volunteers about procedures while Sony upskills European sales executives with it. Fast-food chain McDonald's, Toyota Mexico and American supermarket chain Safeway use it for training.

About half of its income is from Britain and 20 per cent comes from the United States.

Totara is sold overseas by partners who earn around 30 per cent of the commission from subscription service fees clients are charged. It has partners throughout the world including Germany, France and Malaysia.

"Our business model is around subscriptions for support of our code. It's quite a similar model to a very successful open-source business called Red Hat. We think that's the future of how enterprise software should be delivered because it comes with a lot more freedom and has a lot more benefits," Wyles said, adding that updates made to open-source software can be received by users on the same day.

"As an example, we've worked really closely with Coles, Safeway and Tesco and locally Inland Revenue where they have wanted additional features. We build those features then add them in to the core product so everyone can use them. It can seem counter- intuitive, making everything readily available, but I think the timing is right and results that we are getting to date are proof of that."

He estimated Totara had a cost of ownership about 80 per cent cheaper than proprietary software that could not be customised. Turnover was expected to double next year to $4 million. It had been securing several new clients a week, often companies with more than 250,000 staff.

"I'd be very disappointed if we were to have a year with less than 100 per cent growth in the foreseeable future."


175 organisations are subscribers

Around 1.7 million users

Distributed in 30 countries

Used by 10 NZ Government agencies

$1.5 million development cost

$2m turnover

Contact Jazial Crossley
Wellington business reporter
Email: jazial.crossley@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @msbananapeel

The Dominion Post