Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with cofounder David Eedle from ParentPaperwork.
In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.
ParentPaperwork replaces the paper forms exchanged between schools and parents. Each year around the world tens of millions of parents sign hundreds of millions of paper forms on behalf of their children. It's an insecure, inefficient and labour-intensive process. ParentPaperwork dramatically reduces the time and cost to a school, and improves their liability management.
We don't use mobile apps as not all parents around the world own smart phones. We use a combination of email and secure web pages, and offer a two-factor authentication option to confirm the parent's identity.
We give schools real time reporting and monitoring along with automated reminders to chase parents who have not responded by a due date.
What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?
Our market is effectively any school in the world — we've validated the problem via conversations with schools and parents in a number of countries and we currently have schools in countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Ireland and Italy trialling or using the platform. The business has been mostly bootstrapped by myself and my co-founder Fiona Boyd, with a small amount of family and friends seed money and revenue is just starting to pick up. So far we've used a combination of direct mail (to groups of Australian schools) and prospecting emails to small numbers of international schools; we're active on social media as well, and have picked up at least one school as a result of an enquiry via Twitter. Other strategies include chasing media coverage in publications that school administrators might be exposed to, and affiliate deals with other non-competitive edtech online products.
What's the biggest challenge facing your business?
We're still a very small business, with limited resources, so our marketing efforts are by necessity lean in nature. Creating awareness of the product is our number one consideration, we know that if a school learns about ParentPaperwork they often will make an enquiry — we're solving a pain point for them so that usually at least gets an email or phone conversation underway.
How do your differentiate your business from your competitors?
There are really only a couple of other businesses that cross over our value proposition, and we're confident of our ability to differentiate ourselves if a direct comparison is made. A particular strength is ParentPaperwork was created in consultation with schools right from the beginning — the way the product works, its feature set and functionality has all emerged from feedback from people at the coalface in school administrations. Our development roadmap continues to reflect feedback and ideas contributed from our customers.
What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?
Evernote has been my linchpin for years — I think I was one of the first users. I have thousands of notes both personal and professional. I use it to clip online articles, keep track of software releases, store scans of my kids' birth certificates - my entire life is in there. I don't actually use some of the more fancy features that Evernote has released in recent times like business card scanning, but when my partner Fiona asks me 'what's our ambulance membership number' because she's filling out yet another excursion form sent home from school I can always smugly bring it up in Evernote.
What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
A good friend who enjoyed significant success with an online company in the USA during the 1990s tech boom once told me the importance of constant improvement and tweaking of your product. You can never stand still — you need to be continuously looking at each part, reviewing customer usage and feedback, and tweaking incrementally. The joy of working with online technologies today is how easy the available tools make this. I laugh whenever I see a SaaS or online software firm still holding to the idea of a 'big bang' software release on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. We push changes to the ParentPaperwork platform almost every day and sometimes hourly if we're busy. Perhaps a customer points out a typo — we'll fix it same day and tell them. They love the responsiveness, and from a testing point of view we're only having to check a stream of small changes instead of one massive update.
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