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Thinkific, an e-learning platform company, was way ahead of the curve

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Talk about the right place at the right time: in the realm of online courses, Vancouver’s Thinkific shot to the head of the class, spurred on by the pandemic Thinkific co-founders Miranda Lievers (left) and Greg Smith in the office (Photograph by Alana Paterson) During a May video meeting, Thinkific co-founder Greg Smith said something…

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Talk about the right place at the right time: in the realm of online courses, Vancouver’s Thinkific shot to the head of the class, spurred on by the pandemic

Thinkific co-founders Miranda Lievers (left) and Greg Smith in the office (Photograph by Alana Paterson)

Thinkific co-founders Miranda Lievers (left) and Greg Smith in the office (Photograph by Alana Paterson)

During a May video meeting, Thinkific co-founder Greg Smith said something that, in most boardrooms, would be shocking. The approximately 80 employees on the Google Hangout were casually dressed, many wearing jeans and T-shirts. The attendees, largely product engineers, and marketing, sales and support specialists, were listening to a presentation from the Growth Team, which tinkers with Thinkific’s online platform.

As the team presented their numbers, Smith quickly did the math. “Hey, do you realize we just lost $250,000 on that experiment?” he said. Then, Smith encouraged everyone to congratulate themselves. Virtual high fives and thumbs-up emojis poured in. “To me, part of ‘learn and grow’ is to celebrate and learn from failure,” says Smith.

Learning is the internal driving force behind Thinkific’s business: the nearly eight-year-old Vancouver-based software company offers e-learning platforms and resources so anyone from a hula hoop dance expert in Australia to a real estate broker in America can create online courses. Videos from former pro hockey player Jason Yee teaching students how to maximize their potential on ice or former pilot Kate Klassen’s multiple courses on flying drones aren’t just side gigs for the Vancouver-based creators, but income-producing businesses (Yee’s is called Train 2.0; and Klassen’s, Coastal Drone).

Thinkific (No. 17 on Growth 2020) supports 51,000 course creators in over 165 countries, “and [course creators] have students in over 170 countries,” Smith adds. Overall, the company generated US$340 million in gross merchandise value: revenue generated by customers selling courses on Thinkific. Smith projects “that number will be over $500 million Canadian” this year. In late September, Thinkific raised $22 million in new funding.

Creating a global “Shopify for online courses” wasn’t initially Smith’s plan. The road to Thinkific began when Smith was attending law school at the University of British Columbia in 2003. On the side, Smith taught LSAT prep courses. After hearing the same questions repeatedly (“What is a good score?” “Is the LSAT something I can study for?”), he set up a blog with the answers. The site grew in popularity, reaching many more students than his small tutoring sessions, inspiring Smith to create an LSAT course that was delivered entirely online.

“I knew from my time teaching and tutoring that the learning [format] was really the most important part,” says Smith, who partnered with his brother, Matt Smith, to build the site. The brothers wanted to invest more in the experience, which meant including quizzes that provided feedback on answers, or avoiding lengthy videos of classroom lectures in favour of two- to seven-minute segments.

The side gig brought in a few thousand dollars monthly, split between the brothers. With some development and marketing, the LSAT course revenue began to surpass Greg’s salary as a corporate lawyer. Then, others wanting to learn how to start their own online learning programs started reaching out with questions. That’s when Greg realized the potential of helping others to create and disseminate their own classes.

Thinkific launched mere months before the New York Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC” (massive open online courses), when major players like Udacity, Coursera, Google and A-list universities entered the market, signing up hundreds of thousands of students. “We started to see high-quality providers creating access to high-quality educational programming, but without the bounds of a degree or an institution,” says Amrit Ahluwalia, managing editor of the EvoLLLution, a Toronto-based online publication focused on non-traditional higher education. Ahluwalia notes that companies like Thinkific democratize the delivery of online classes so that “anyone can offer a course on anything to anyone.” As he puts it, “having a Ph.D. in something is not the exclusive arbiter for whether or not someone can teach something.”

With the online-course market on track to reach US$350 billion by 2025 (according to forecasts from Research and Markets), Thinkific entered 2020 on a wave. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “it went from a big surfing wave to a legitimate tidal wave,” says Greg. As companies rushed to transition their business online, Thinkific’s numbers surged, in terms of growth rates, signups and success rates. In the 12 months before COVID-19, the company was growing at a rate of 70% year-over-year, and with the pandemic, that rate jumped to between 110% and 150% year-over-year. However, Greg notes that at the height of the pandemic-fuelled demand, the monthly data represented an annual growth rate of 400%.

Thinkific was a 100-person team at the start of 2020, and hired staff quickly, growing up to 150 at time of writing, and still hiring rapidly. Dalena Nguyen, talent branding specialist at Thinkific, says when the pandemic hit, they received 2½ times more customer support tickets than normal. So, “100% of [staff] were jumping in . . . We had days where every single person at Thinkific was in there answering at least a ticket or two.” The strength of that team is essential to coping with the company’s rapid growth, says Nguyen. During onboarding, every employee is trained in customer support and encouraged to regularly “hop into the queue” of support tickets weekly.

That sounds like a scramble, but Thinkific happens to be really, really good at team-building. Sure, the company has the hallmarks of a tech start-up, allowing office dogs (Instagram account: @dogsofthinkific), an open vacation policy and $1,500 to put toward learning opportunities. But Thinkific co-founder and COO Miranda Lievers says it’s not the perks that make its award-winning culture, but core values. “Everything [Thinkific has achieved] is because of our team,” Lievers explains. “We’re people first.”

Nguyen has been with Thinkific for a year, during the company’s growth spurt. “When you grow that quickly, a lot of processes and things can break,” she says. That is why, when Thinkific hires, it uses the topgrading approach to hiring, which digs deeper into candidates’ history than typical corporate interviews. The average age is around 32 and includes everyone from tech veterans to former teachers and travel agents. So while the volume of applications has blown up since the pandemic, Thinkific’s hiring process allows its team to get a better sense of motivation, and find candidates who align with the company’s core values.

Around 50% of the leadership team and staff identify as women—notable, considering in 2019, women made up only 20% of Canada’s tech industry, according to the Brookfield Institute. Further, one-third of the team are newcomers to Canada (representing 25 different countries). According to Lievers, welcoming this wealth of perspectives has contributed to the company’s own ability to learn and improve. She points to the impact of a recent hire, Cole Sanderson, on the question of accessibility. “We thought we had been doing an okay job,” says Lievers. But Sanderson, who is deaf, noted several ways to improve features—like closed captions on marketing content and on social media videos—which have since been implemented.

“There’s a real opportunity to grow and scale,” says Greg. “So, really, the only limiting factor. . . is: What is the impact on the culture?” The answer, Lievers explains, is continually checking in with their teams to find out what works, what doesn’t and what could be better.

In other words, keep on learning.

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UEX responds to Denison’s JCU (Canada) offer

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UEX Corp. [UEX-TSX; UEXCF-OTC] has responded to Denison Mines Corp.’s [DML-TSX; DNN-NYSE American] May 4, 2021, announcement, which said it has delivered a binding offer to Overseas Uranium Resources Development Co. Ltd. (OURD). If the bid succeeds, it will result in Denison acquiring 100% ownership of OURD’s wholly-owned subsidiary, JCU (Canada) Exploration Co. Ltd. In…

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UEX Corp. [UEX-TSX; UEXCF-OTC] has responded to Denison Mines Corp.’s [DML-TSX; DNN-NYSE American] May 4, 2021, announcement, which said it has delivered a binding offer to Overseas Uranium Resources Development Co. Ltd. (OURD). If the bid succeeds, it will result in Denison acquiring 100% ownership of OURD’s wholly-owned subsidiary, JCU (Canada) Exploration Co. Ltd.

In its press release Wednesday, UEX said it has the right to acquire JCU, not Denison. UEX went on to say that as announced on April 22, 2021, it entered into a binding agreement with OURD to acquire its wholly-owned JCU unit.

It said OURD cannot deal with or respond to the Denison offer and is bound to complete the sale of JCU to UEX, pursuant to the terms of the UEX agreement, which it said is subject only to the approval of shareholders of OURD at a meeting which is scheduled to be held on June 18, 2021.

It also said the UEX transaction was approved by the board of directors of OURD who are obligated to recommend its acceptance to OURD shareholders. As those directors represent shareholders of OURD who hold the majority of shares of OURD, UEX said it is confident that shareholders of OURD will approve the UEX agreement.

UEX is a Canadian uranium and cobalt exploration and development company involved in an portfolio of uranium projects. Its portfolio of projects is located in the eastern, western, and northern perimeters of the Athabasca Basin in Saskatchewan.

On Wednesday, UEX shares rose 2.6% or $0.01 to 39 cents on volume of 3.2 million. The shares are trading in a 52-week range of 49.5 cents and 11.5 cents.

JCU holds a portfolio of uranium project joint venture interests in Canada, including a 10% interest in Denison’s 90%-owned Wheeler River uranium project in Saskatchewan.

Under the terms of its offer, Denison said it will issue a $40.5 million cash payment and assume JCU’s existing liabilities. The cash payment includes a $10 million refundable deposit on signing of a definitive agreement, an additional $28 million on closing, and a further $2.5 million. The $2.5 million is expected to be paid within 45 days of the closing date and is subject to an adjustment based upon JCU’s actual working capital on the closing date.

Denison is focused in the Athabasca Basin region of northern Saskatchewan, including its 90%-owned Wheeler River Project which hosts the high-grade Phoenix and Gryphon uranium deposits (on the Wheeler River property).

Proven and probable reserves stand at 109.4 million lbs U3O8. That includes 141,000 tonnes at 19.1% U3O8 or 59.7 million lbs in the Phoenix Zone, and 1.26 million tonnes at 1.8% U3O8 or 49.7 million lbs in the Gryphon Zone.


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Rackla Metals acquiring DRC gold project

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Rackla Metals Inc. [RAK-TSXV] said Wednesday May 5 that it has struck a deal to acquire a 73.5% interest in the Misisi gold project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project consists of three contiguous mining leases, valid until 2045, covering 133 km2. It includes the Akyanga deposit, which hosts inferred resources of 3.1…

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Rackla Metals Inc. [RAK-TSXV] said Wednesday May 5 that it has struck a deal to acquire a 73.5% interest in the Misisi gold project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project consists of three contiguous mining leases, valid until 2045, covering 133 km2. It includes the Akyanga deposit, which hosts inferred resources of 3.1 million ounces averaging 2.16 g/t gold.

Rackla shares were trading at 40.5 cents before trading in the stock was halted at 8.07 a.m. (ET), Wednesday. The shares had been trading in a 52-week range of 50 cents and 12.5 cents.

In conjunction with the company’s shift in focus to Africa, Rackla appointed James Sullivan to its board of directors. “James brings a wealth of experience globally with senior mining companies and a significant depth of experience in the Congo and Africa,” said Rackla CEO Simon Ridgeway.

Rackla is a spin-out from Radius Gold Inc. [RDU-TSXV] and is led by Simon Ridgeway, a successful prospector and mining financier. Ridgeway is the founder and CEO of Radius, which holds a large equity position in Rackla. He is also the founder of Fortuna Silver Mines Inc. [FVI-TSX, Lima; FSM-NYSE; F4S-FSE] and is currently CEO of Volanic Gold Mines Inc. [VG-TSXV]

“The expansive 133 km2 property, which encompasses a 55-kilometre gold belt, is already host to a significant multi-million-ounce resource, which we feel has a tremendous potential for future growth,” he said.

Rackla will acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares from an arm-length vendor, Golden Mining Ltd. The project is owned Leda Mining Congo SA, of which Casa Mining Ltd. owns 73.5%, with the remaining interest in Leda held by MMG Ltd., which owns 21.5%. The DRC government holds a 5% free carried interest.

Rackla said Golden Mining has entered into an agreement with Golden Square Equity Partners Ltd. to acquire 99.43% of the outstanding shares of Casa Mining.

Under the terms of the Casa Mining agreement, Golden Mining is acquiring the outstanding shares of Casa for US$4.8 million in staged cash payments. Under the definitive agreement, Rackla said it will acquire Golden Mining by issuing up to 11.0 million common shares at 40 cents per share. It will also assume the obligation to make the staged cash payments.

The transaction is subject to Rackla completing financing that raises a minimum of $5 million.


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Argonaut Gold posts record gold production in Q1 2021

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Argonaut Gold Inc. [AR-TSX; ARNGF-OTC] reported financial and operating results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2021. The company reports record quarterly production of 59,704 gold equivalent ounces, record quarterly revenue of $105.3-million, cash flow from operating activities before changes in operating working capital of $27.7-million and net income of $27.0-million or earnings per…

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Argonaut Gold Inc. [AR-TSX; ARNGF-OTC] reported financial and operating results for the first quarter ended March 31, 2021. The company reports record quarterly production of 59,704 gold equivalent ounces, record quarterly revenue of $105.3-million, cash flow from operating activities before changes in operating working capital of $27.7-million and net income of $27.0-million or earnings per share of nine cents. All dollar amounts are expressed in US dollars.

Pete Dougherty, president and CEO, stated: “It was our second consecutive quarter of record quarterly production and revenue. We demonstrated strong cash flow during the first quarter, which underpins our strategy to harvest cash from the existing operations, replace depleted ounces and invest in our growth asset portfolio to transform Argonaut from a high-cost, junior producer with short mine lives to a lower-cost intermediate producer with long mine lives. With the cash we are generating, the recent announcement of an increase of mineral reserves by 43% and measured and indicated mineral resources by 26% year over year and the early progress of the Magino construction project, we are delivering on all three phases.”


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