When we founded ParentPaperwork a little over year ago we had one simple idea, to tackle the problem of paper permission forms sent home by schools to parents. Every parent of a school-age child understands this problem, we live with it every day of term. Of course we understand the reason for the forms, but the practical reality is each piece of paper emerging from our kids’ school bags is just another task to be dealt with.
Our goal with ParentPaperwork was to significantly improve this process both for schools and parents. The heart of the idea was straightforward, create an online tool that automated the paper-based process, and through the use of online forms and a database make life easier for all concerned.
Over the past year we have spoken with literally hundreds of schools in Australia and around the world. We’ve never passed up an opportunity to have a conversation with a school wherever in the world they might be located. Last Friday I had a 2am call with a US school, then another at 6.30am – the joys of time difference notwithstanding, and putting aside any need for me to sleep, both calls, which involved demonstrating our software, yielded nuggets of information we could add to our understanding of customer needs.
Our sales team calls probably 20 or 30 schools every day and we receive a stream of enquiries via email, phone and Twitter, and each and every contact also adds to that understanding.
Our objective of addressing a relatively straightforward problem has evolved into an increasingly sophisticated comprehension of school operations, needs and problems, and we have adjusted our goal and mission accordingly.
Schools are traditionally conservative environments from a business management perspective. The innovation that often occurs in their academic operations is not usually mirrored in the school office. In this aspect schools are not alone – a significant proportion of businesses large and small adhere to traditional management approaches.
The winners in business are the ones who can break away from legacy concepts. Often they are referred to as ‘disruptors’, they attack a market from a completely different direction from the incumbents – think SalesForce in customer relationship tools; Uber in taxi cabs; Xero in accounting software; AirBnB in accommodation bookings. These companies have become what’s known as ‘unicorns’, new businesses that have attained $1b valuations in relatively short periods of time. The key reason for that growth and success is the way they have upended traditional thinking and processes in markets with long term deeply embedded incumbents.
There is now a raft of companies tackling disruption of traditional methodologies in teaching and learning, and this is reflected in a significant growth in the quantity of venture capital flowing to the companies in this space. The realisation we have come to is that there is a dearth of businesses targeting the administrative side of a school.
What most people ignore is that schools are businesses, by which I mean, if you forget for a moment that they are educating our children, schools have all the attributes of a business, albeit generally a not-for-profit. They provide a service, they have staff, they have expenses, manage assets and generate revenue. A government-funded school might receive a significant part of its revenue via a subsidy or payment, but there is still a profit and loss statement, and money coming in and going out. There are still staff and all the accompanying human resource management issues. Yet schools for the most part lag behind commercial enterprise in adopting new methods and processes in their administration.
We believe our company and its technology can disrupt a part of that school administration function in way that will have a profound impact on not just the school’s day to day operations, but in the education of our children, and the preservation of our planet.
All of our learning accumulated over the past year, combined with our deep diving on the operations of schools around the world has led us to codify conclusions about our mission and goals as a business. They are simply expressed:
ParentPaperwork’s mission is to
replace paper forms in schools around the world.
ParentPaperwork’s goal is to
save schools a billion pieces of paper a year.
We’re going to achieve this by providing an online solution that enables schools to capture, manage and report data from across their enterprise to improve productivity and efficiency, and deliver a better experience for parents and staff.
The outcomes from this are tangible. If we achieve our goal:
- We’ll save a dramatic amount of staff time, and staff time saved is time that can be redirected to teaching students. By replacing paper systems we improve education outcomes for children.
- We’ll save significant costs from the school budget in areas including printing and copying, paper consumption, and insurances – money that can be redirected also to improving the education of our children.
- We’ll be making a valuable contribution to creating a sustainable environment for our children, and their children.
Where now for ParentPaperwork?
We’re excited and enthused by the mission we have set ourselves. It has taken time and money to reach what at first glance might seem face-palmingly obvious, but it underlines the importance of taking time to properly consider the true needs of a market, especially one that offers a truly global opportunity like school education. Not matter where in the world the schools we have spoken to are located, they all share a common problem – antiquated paper-based processes that take up time, take up staff resource, and inhibit the modernisation of their administrative operations.
Take the example of a large independent school here in Melbourne. Some of their internal paper forms have a distribution list of ten people – when the paper form is completed, ten photocopies are made and dropped to the in-trays on the desks of ten people in the management team. It’s a crazy system, especially when we’re told it’s because “they like to all have a copy ‘just in case’”.
Shortly we’ll be officially announcing the availability of our new School Forms module. This substantially expands our platform’s functionality across a whole range of paper form scenarios in schools, and has come about as a direct result of working with our existing customers and many prospective users.
Indeed, our original idea for the School Forms module was kicked off by an email from an existing customer asking “would it be possible for staff to fill out an online form as well as a parent”. We gestated on that for a while, and then a few months ago other schools started to pose similar questions to us about various processes and functions in their school – registrations of interest for a place completed by prospective parents; incident reports filled out by school nurses; professional development requests submitted by teachers. Three months ago we sat down and seriously scoped out a response, and the resulting Schools Forms modules caters for all these use cases and more.
The new module is not a perfect response. We know it will generally answer many of the demands made by schools to us, but it will be a work in progress, like the entirety of our product platform. I know our learning will simply begin all over again as we roll out the new module to schools in Australia and overseas. However, I also know the feedback, ideas, criticisms and (hopefully) praise will only serve to further deepen our understanding so we can continue to innovate and disrupt traditional mindsets and methods in schools, and thus fulfil our mission and achieve our goal.
Co-Founder and CTO