The idea for building Small Batch Learning was born out of curiosity and frustration, says founder and CEO Adam Leibrandt. In a career that has spanned creating and delivering accredited hospitality training, managing group operations for hospitality companies in Australia and Singapore, plus running sales for alcohol brands, he consistently felt the pain when asked if a particular training program had actually delivered value.
“Scheduling staff, making content relevant and paying for external trainers – then having any of it deliver tangible results – is hard for managers and brands,” says Leibrandt. At the same time, he felt a responsibility to keep trying. “Upsetting customers makes me cringe. Throwing unprepared staff into situations where they feel embarrassed makes me feel ashamed.”
He also witnessed first-hand the power that training has to deliver real change in someone’s career. “A particular fire was lit in Singapore seeing a bar-back we had who didn’t speak English well, but was hungry to learn. After a year of a lot of team support and training he was running the bar. I love the idea that education can change lives.”
“Upsetting customers makes me cringe. Throwing unprepared staff into situations where they feel embarrassed makes me feel ashamed”
But there were further frustrations. As well as time and money, another training challenge facing managers is creating programs that both improve guest experience and drive revenue. One of the answers, he reckons, is product knowledge: “Not having it is one of the fastest ways to disappoint a guest; nailing it is the best way to increase sales. When a staff member understands a product, they sell more of it.”
Through his own experience, however, he realised it wasn’t viable for staff to log in to a particular company’s brand education platform to read up on five products, then go to YouTube to learn about another five, then for a manager to arrange five different brand ambassadors for face-to-face training, availability-depending. “It takes too long and is too disorganised.”
So, on one hand, Leibrandt wanted to fight back against that reality that people’s futures were being limited by a lack of budget or diary space, and, on the other, he wanted to make training more effective. “I decided that technology would be the answer,” says Leibrandt. “And the business side of me thought there must be a way to create a free online learning platform that could connect both sides of the industry – operators and alcohol brands.”
“Not having product knowledge is one of the fastest ways to disappoint a guest; nailing it is the best way to increase sales”
Next he researched a host of hospitality Learning Management Systems (LMSs), but only found high costs and a lack of suitability. “They all used off-the-shelf technology that wasn’t flexible enough to deal with the complexity of the bars, restaurants and hotels. They thought, let’s upload one-size-fits-all content, charge a monthly fee and scale to the next customer. They expected us to change our operations to suit their technology and content. Ridiculous.”
It was the final frustration. “We are at the start of the digital revolution – but it’s supposed to simplify and empower us, not trap us in generic mediocrity.”
As a result he embarked upon a mission to build his own LMS – one that could handle the specific requirements of hospitality staff training and deliver product knowledge across hundreds of different brands. Small Batch Learning was born, complete with free service training content for outlets and the Virtual Menu – a tool allowing managers to gather all the brands available on their own real-world menu in one place, so staff can learn about them on a single platform.
"I love the idea that education can change lives”
For staff, that training is free to access (solving the problem of cost) and available through their smartphone at any time of the day (solving the headache of diary-planning). For brands, they can pay to teach large numbers of targeted hospitality staff with extra, in-depth product lessons – without having to send a brand ambassador to reach each and every one.
“There are fantastic people in our industry helping to engage the next generation of bartenders and floor staff – and face-to-face will never be entirely replaced,” reckons Leibrandt. “But it’s just too difficult and expensive to scale.”
The result is a new model for delivering beverage training for hospitality staff, which Leibrandt believes has the power to disrupt the training status quo. “I thought, if we can connect great industry training with great product training and make it free for hospitality venues, then we’d something really special.”