In a 2016 survey, a majority of Connectiv members said that by 2020, they will no longer think of themselves as “media” organizations but rather “business solutions” or even “technology solutions” providers.
One company that has successfully made the transition from media to solutions provider is Praetorian Digital, which launched in 1999 as a digital media business for first responders and over the years morphed into a learning and content platform for the public safety and local government market. In February, Praetorian merged with Lexipol, which provides state-specific policies and training solutions to first responders.
The newly combined entity (which retains the Lexipol brand with Praetorian founder Alex Ford as CEO), is owned by private equity firm Riverside and generates about $50 million in annual revenue according to Crunchbase, with 75% coming from learning and compliance solutions and the remainder split between software solutions and marketing platforms (which includes the digital media business), says Ford.
“We see ourselves clearly as a platform business,” says Ford. “For a long time, we were a digital media player. But we built up our tech expertise and our audience to the point where today we no longer think primarily in terms of delivering impressions or about connecting buyers and sellers. Instead, we are able to use those capabilities to focus on solving complex problems across a wide spectrum and being a thought leader on topics like risk management or the role of evolving technology in improving public safety performance. In the B2B space, that is very powerful.”
Becoming Part of the Customer’s Workflow
Lexipol’s content arm is the initial touch point, with a library of 200,000 articles and reports, 16,000 state-specific policies and procedures and a network of digital communities, including PoliceOne.com and FireRescue1.com.
“The front end of the business is our set of digital media communities,” says Ford. “Through them, we’ve created strong brands and channels allowing us to engage with our audience and generate opportunities to work directly with police and fire departments to solve the problems they are facing.”
Training and e-learning is the next step. Starting from humble beginnings with re-purposed video content (including officer dash cams and body cams), Praetorian ramped up its original video production and created training programs that delivered hundreds of thousands of course credits each month, opening up new recurring revenue opportunities.
In 2017, Praetorian acquired EVALS, which offered field training and tracking of skills development for fire departments and EMS organizations. The addition complemented Praetorian’s existing content and training business, connecting online educational content (news analysis, expert article and short videos) and online training content and management (long-form courses, micro learning) with delivery/tracking of in-person training.
With the Lexipol merger, the combined company now offers nearly 4,000 training courses via SaaS-based learning management platforms such as the PoliceOneAcademy, which features more than 350 hours of training content and serves more than 200,000 officers.
“First responders are faced with unprecedented threats and a rapidly changing environment, and in that space, we have identified workflows and SaaS solutions that help mitigate the risks that come with addressing those challenges,” says Ford.
Historically, Praetorian focused on making sure officers were trained and certified on the latest techniques. Lexipol addressed some of the same topics but in different ways—such as providing state-specific policies that are legally vetted.
“Leveraging the combined reach and audience penetration is where the interplay of this merger lies,” says Ford. “On the digital media side, a first responder going online for content sees it as PoliceOne, which we like to think of as a combination of ESPN and Harvard Business Review. That’s one end of spectrum. At the other, you may have a three-hour course on human trafficking and associated set of policies that helps the officer stay certified and better operate.”
Lexipol applies that same philosophy of solving problems, not just delivering impressions, to its marketing services business.
One example is a SaaS workflow platform that connects advertisers with departments looking for grant funding. Advertisers underwrite grant assistance through product category sponsorships, which are then provided as a free service to agencies. The company has helped secure more than $250 million in grant funding to date. “Accessing grant funding is a major pain point for departments of all sizes and our digital media communities put us in a great position to insert ourselves into the process,” says Ford.
What’s Next: Opportunities with AI, Predictive Analytics
Ford sees emerging opportunities in data and technology to serve Lexipol’s markets quicker, in real-time and more dynamically.
“If you look at our digital communities and the amount of content and training solutions that we offer, I’m excited about what we can start to do with additional data sets. The vision is to create an environment where we are providing predictive analytics and content to dynamically address what’s happening in the field,” says Ford. “Predictive analytics and AI will be really important as we build out a larger database and meld that more tightly with the content and solutions that we already have.”
Taking Principles from High Tech
In his new role as CEO, Ford has shifted his own base from San Francisco to Lexipol’s Dallas headquarters but says Praetorian’s San Francisco roots have had a major influence on his philosophy.
“We saw new tech launching all the time and it challenged us to look at the world differently,” says Ford. “We wanted to try new things, throw things out there and make a lot of little bets. Our online learning platform started as a little bet. We had 150 training videos and officers were saying, ‘Hey, we need training for our roll call.’ Netflix came out around that time and we thought about how we could wrap up these training videos and sell a subscription product. We listened to customers who asked if we could add training objectives or quizzes, could they login from home, and can we get it accredited.”
Ford and the team followed the customer requests down a path of running tests to see if they worked and then thought about the business model underlying it. “I think that’s where we’ve been different and focused not just on creating solutions but on the right revenue model—I’m uber-focused on recurring revenue and subscription revenue,” says Ford. “The more you’re selling on a one-off basis the harder life will be.”