Sometimes a chance encounter can open up new opportunities. It certainly did for Emily Halderthay when she met Phil Reardon, Global CEO and Founder of Schoolzine in 2015. Phil setup Schoolzine in Australia 10 years ago in response to a school principal’s frustrations around communicating with parents, and was looking for an opportunity to grow the business by launching it in the UK. Emily was living in Australia and looking for a business opportunity to take back to the UK with her family. Boom! Serendipity in action.
Schoolzine has a suite of products designed to better connect schools with parents and put an end to screwed up paper newsletters in school bags, the frustration of never reaching the same group of parents and a heap of unnecessary, costly admin in the school office. Schoolzine includes a digital newsletter, website and app which shares information, reminders, calendars, video and photos in an interactive and dynamic way so that parents no longer have to rely on their children bringing letters home in their bags, which is hit and miss at best, is cheaper than relying on text messages and less time-consuming than the class Whatsapp or Facebook group and of course the ongoing mystery of who took home little Johnny’s PE kit by mistake
Part funded by a grant from the Australian Government Emily set up Schoolzine in the UK in August 2016.
However, the UK team learned quickly that establishing Schoolzine UK is not as simple as just replicating the approach that is working in Australia in the UK market.
One obvious difference between UK and Australia is geography. There are more than 30,000 schools in the UK. Australia is 31 times the size of the UK with just 9000 schools. On paper this makes the UK a great opportunity, a much bigger market over a much smaller geography. At first the team thought it might be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but they were wrong for several reasons.
Firstly many UK schools are becoming Academies, funded directly by the Department of Education. There are also several multi-academy trusts which in theory facilitates greater independence and scope to innovate, but in reality many are tied in knots of red tape and systems of governance that results in slow and complex decision making.
“We’ve tried working through academy trusts, but the added complexity means that it’s often better for us to approach one school at a time”
The team have also learned that, “Selling to schools in the UK is really hard. Whilst Australian schools are not rich, it seems that many UK schools simply don’t have the same level of funds available to them.”
In addition to budget constraints, school stakeholders are so very time poor. Whilst they always love what we offer, the challenge to get them to account set up stage can often be immense!
Schoolzine’s solution is to break their package down into smaller parts, and reassure schools how straightforward and swift the onboarding process is. In Australia schools want the newsletter as priority – in the UK it’s the App, partly because school technology seems more advanced in the UK and they want it to integrate with current systems, and partly because the cost is less.
Thinking differently – a mind set shift
“A big learning curve is about understanding who makes the decision, and working out how and if we can speak directly with them”
Also it’s important the schools using the platform use it well, so Emily and the team have a job to do to help encourage teachers and parents understand how their products could help them. “parents will download the app when they know the information contained there is relevant and useful for them”
The schools that are having success with Schoolzine are also led by Head Teachers who think differently; who can see a problem and then do something about it and are prepared to test out something new to make an improvement rather than tolerating the status quo.
Often, part of the challenge for Schoolzine is to change mind sets from ‘not broken no need to fix it” to ‘how can we make life better for our parents, staff and children’
Focus on growth
The focus for Emily and the team moving forward is to continue to grow their UK customer base.
Social media has proved a powerful marketing tool for Schoolzine combined with conference speaking and a bulletproof methodological approach to following up every lead. They are also looking at how they can both rationalise and increase their new business development. They are exploring new routes to market which help to keep costs down, whilst also providing schools with the most useful and relevant information about how Schoolzine will help them improve engagement.
“It’s mostly sheer gritty bloody mindedness right now and the belief in our amazing service to schools”
Emily’s innovation tips are…
- Be bold – lose your inhibitions and be resilient
- If something doesn’t work – think differently about how you approach it. Don’t be scared to do something another way
- Take feedback from your markets and from your customers and use it to improve your approach, messaging and results.
- Tailor your messages for the needs of different audiences
- Take any and every opportunity you can to market your product
- Keep open minded as well as an element of realism (open minded is very different from mindless optimism!)
- Things change and you have to change too. As your organisation grows roles and responsibilities will evolve – keep on top of the changes necessary
- Face your fears and face tough decisions
- Grit your teeth and do the stuff that’s not enjoyable
- Take time to sit back and take stock and look at how far you’ve come
- Relinquish control and hand over what you can to other people so you can focus on where you can add most value
- With decisions remember it’s not Armageddon – really think about what’s the worst that can happen? It’s unlikely to be as bad as you think.
Emily Halderthay is CEO of Schoolzine UK.
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