I’m staring at the kitchen counter top, there are five piles of paper lined up and my partner in life and work Fiona is explaining how she’s delegating responsibility to me for dealing with each of the piles. Perhaps ‘explaining’ is too mild, maybe ‘instructing’ is more accurate.
Fiona and I have three children at school – a 17 year old daughter in her final year; a 14 year old son and an eight year old daughter. Between them they also participate in five sports activities including footy (yes, the real one, Australian Rules); soccer (what the rest of the world calls football); tennis; swimming; and basketball. They also variously participate in a range of other activities such as scouts, and dance, music and singing classes.
There is nothing particularly special about our family, other than we’ve managed to out-perform the Australian national average of one point something children per family. Fiona and I at the simplest are reduced to being taxi drivers and ATMs, doling out transport and $50 notes at random. I even have a laminated sign I hang on my study door at home during school holidays captioned “This is not a taxi depot, if you require transport you need to book in advance.”
What we share with every other family we know is that we drown in paperwork. Not a week goes by without several missives arriving, most requiring our completing a form and returning it to school or whoever is organising the activity. These forms range from the short (“Sign and return”) to complicated (“Complete this two page medical details form plus one page personal details form”).
Our son was a scout for five years. Almost every week his scout troop went on an excursion – by which I mean they walked from their scout hall to some close by location. And under the Scouts Australia rules you have to complete a two page medical information form EVERY TIME. Which is emailed to you, you are expected to print the form and take it with you to the scout meeting. Of course I was the one who turned it into a PDF form and started emailing them back.
I have lost count of the number of times Fiona has called, texted, emailed or stuck her head around my study door to ask “what’s our ambulance membership number?”. In our home state of Victoria everyone pays an ambulance membership fee, it’s less than $200 a year for a family, and is a darn good insurance given even a short ambulance ride can set you back more than $1,000 – with multiple kids playing contact sport it’s inevitable at some stage we’ll need to call an ambulance to some wet, cold playing field one winter.
Because I’m a smarty pants I use Evernote to hold all the essential information in my life, I even have scans of the kids’ birth certificates for when we need to complete new sport team registrations. And of course the ambulance number is in there – so I act as the collective memory for the family. Hence I often wind up completing all the forms.
Back to the kitchen counter. We had one of those synchronicity moments most long term couples share, because we literally looked at each other simultaneously and said “how come none of this is online?”.
What’s even weirder is we actually DID have the same idea six or seven years ago, although more focussed around the issue of collecting payments from parents as well as permissions. We made it as far as registering a domain, building a few sample pages, and meeting with a couple of schools, however it seemed the world was not ready, as we found little interest at that time.
Fast forward to late 2013 and again we approached schools in our local area and said “we think you have a problem with paper forms. Is this true? And if so, would you be interested if we attempted to create a solution?”. This time every school answered “yes” and “yes”.
So we spent a couple of months drafting a basic system and went back to the schools and asked “what do you think of this?”. The responses were encouraging and during the first few months of 2014 we continued to iterate and develop the platform, and tested the ideas with local schools.
Thus ParentPaperwork was born.
Our mission is simple. We want to replace paper forms in schools worldwide. We’ve spoken with schools and parents in many countries, and every single one has confirmed to us that paper forms are a time and cost burden, it makes no difference where you are– Australia, UK, New Zealand, USA, India, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Ireland – we have schools piloting ParentPaperwork everywhere.
In August 2014 we participated in StartUp Victoria’s inaugural pitch night, and won, adding further confirmation that ParentPaperwork resonates with almost everyone we speak to.
— Scott Watkins (@DrScottWatkins) February 9, 2015
In December last year we closed a seed round of just over $350,000, and now we are knuckling down for the long journey to helping schools everywhere save time and money, and improve liability management, by dumping their paper forms and transitioning to our online forms platform.
We’re excited by the future for ParentPaperwork, we might be building a commercial business but when schools and parents tell us our system is making their lives so much easier, then that’s a great reward.