- September 25, 2018 8:25 pm
Our lead designer, Corie Johnson, sat down with one of our users, Audrey Taylor-Akwenye of Schoolio, to talk about her company and her experience using ZenBusiness. Schoolio is a website that creates a community where administrators, teachers, and parents can communicate and stay up-to-date with homework, activities, and events. They use individualized student success data to help teachers and parents better support students.
Corie: Hey, everybody, this is Corie with ZenBusiness in Austin, Texas, and today I’m here with Audrey from Schoolio. Is that right?
Audrey: Yep. Hi, my name is Audrey Taylor-Akwenye. I am the CEO and co-founder of Schoolio.
Corie: I have Audrey here today because she is one of our users, and I’m really excited to learn more about her and her business and what’s going on. So, can you tell me what were you doing before you started Schoolio?
Audrey: Schoolio is a husband-and-wife team. We relocated to Austin in March of this year. The last 12 years before that I was actually living in Windhoek in southern Africa and, over the last eight years, I started a low-cost private school in Windhoek that just serves as more education options for local low-income to middle-income families in Windhoek. A lot of the foundational things that we do at Schoolio are based on my experience working in southern Africa with low-cost private schools.
Corie: Did you grow up in Namibia or were you visiting?
Audrey: No, I’m actually from Mississippi, so I met my husband in college, and after college we moved to Namibia. He’s from Namibia, so he was getting his MBA. It was a government-sponsored MBA program, and one of the things is that you have to promise to go back at least for two years just to kind of pay it forward what you’ve learned. So, two years ended up being 12 years.
Corie: That’s really interesting. What really inspired you to start your business?
Audrey: Schoolio is basically giving teachers in low-tech environments access to data, data-driven instruction. There’s been this huge push for data-driven instruction, and it is really an awesome way to teach kids because we know what they know and what they don’t know and how to best address their specific needs, but a lot of times, if you’re in a low-tech environment where kids are not able to access computers on a regular basis, you don’t get the full fruits of this data-driven instruction. Our platform helps teachers benefit from data-driven instruction. We also have a machine learning component that not just gives them reports but also gives them recommendations. For example, in developing countries teachers are chronically undertrained, so they don’t really know all of the different possibilities that they could use as far as lessons. We just give recommendations like, “Hey, you can try this and you can try that.” Just to kind of open up the possibilities of what they’re doing in their classroom.
Corie: Part of the reason why I picked Schoolio to interview is that I have a master’s degree in education and I taught for four years. I wanted you to come in to talk to because I actually thought your concept was something that was helping the world versus someone that was helping only themselves. So, I think you have a really good mission.
Audrey: Yeah, our target market now is low-cost private schools in developing countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, and there’s just under a million low-cost private schools in those countries because it’s really booming. The government can’t really keep up with the population demand. A lot of communities are just creating low-cost, fee-paying schools, but they are really catered for very, very low-income communities. So, we see being able to digitally impact over a billion students through this process.
Corie: That’s really cool. That’s a great mission, too. Can you tell me, when you first started this business and when you formed your business, what were you most afraid of?
Audrey: For me, being away from the United States for 12 years! I’m an experienced entrepreneur, but I’ve never actually started a business in the United States; all of my businesses have been abroad. So, it was really intimidating, like, oh gosh, you know, all of the regulations and all of those things. So, I was really nervous about the process because you don’t want to mess it up. It took me a long time to figure out what was the best way to incorporate, should I do it myself…you know, like just the different options. And it was about three weeks to four weeks before I really settled on ZenBusiness. I did a lot of pre-questions on the chat like, “If I do this, is this going to happen?” And then someone will be like, “Yes, yes, you got it. That’s exactly what it is.” That’s how I got with ZenBusiness, and I was really happy with it.
Corie: I’m so glad that you found us. Did you look around? Did you do a lot of research?
Audrey: I did, yeah. I researched different online platforms because with a start-up, especially in a tech startup that plans on taking in outside investment as far as a VC investment or angel investment, there’s a very specific way that you should establish a company. If you don’t do it this way, then it’ll cost you a lot more later; that’s why it is so important. There were a few online places that I went to. They were either really, really expensive or they really weren’t a good fit. I ended up making a Delaware C Corp.
Corie: Would you say that the formation was the hardest part of starting your business? Or was it fundraising? What was the most difficult at the beginning of your business?
Audrey: I think just doing the research…it was a lot of research, but once we settled on ZenBusiness, it was really easy. It was less than a week before we had the documents and everything.
Corie: Did you do expedited service?
Audrey: Yeah, because we were applying for an accelerator.
Corie: So, you wanted to get it done!
Audrey: One of the things that they ask is to see your incorporation documents, so we needed them to be able to apply before the deadline. That was really easy. Right now, I’m in the middle of fundraising a pre-seed round, so that’s challenging, and I wish it was as easy as ZenBusiness, but it’s not. That’s what we’re in the middle of now.
Corie: Fundraising can be stressful. What do you think has been the easiest part of starting and running your business, or what’s the part that you enjoy the most?
Audrey: We launched our beta version in middle of July .
Corie: Congratulations, that’s a big deal!
Audrey: So, just engaging that moment where you’re like, “Oh, wow, people want this!” We launched in the middle of July, and we have about 36 active users and five paying users. That moment, “Wow, they want this.” You’re messaging them, engaging school owners, and I can say “I get it, I know what you’re doing.” And they’re like, “I’ve been waiting for this! I needed this!” That moment where you’re like, “Ah, yes, people get it and people want it,” and you can connect. Initially when we launched we wanted to just be in southern Africa, South Africa, and Namibia because that’s where I was. Then, just out of a hunch, I was like, “Let’s advertise to all of Sub-Saharan Africa and not just Southern Africa” and we have a school in South Sudan, just starting out in a really, really rural area. And it is like, “Wow, we can help this school,” and we have schools in Nigeria and just all over Africa, and it’s just so amazing to see all of these different schools, and maybe we can impact them with Schoolio.
Corie: It must be work you’re very proud of, too. It is something you can go to bed happy about.
Audrey: Yeah, and the schools are low-cost private schools; they don’t have big campuses like you would imagine a private school being. So, a lot of times they say, “Oh, but we’re just so small. No, we can’t do this” and I’m like, “No, we made this for you. This is for you.” So, it’s also that pride to say, “Yes. Okay. You made something for us.” So, yeah, we were really enjoying it.
Corie: I’m going to switch gears a little bit, and I want to talk to you about your experience with ZenBusiness. Can you tell me, how did you find ZenBusiness? Was it a Google search? Did someone refer you?
Audrey: Yes, we first heard the name at a Founders Lunch-and-Learn at Capital Factory [with] Gordon Daugherty, who is amazing.
Corie: I love Gordon. He’s so nice!
Audrey: He was guiding by just saying if you need to incorporate, here are some options that you can look into, you know. So, that was the initial search, and then one of the Founders that was in the Lunch-and-Learn said that they had used ZenBusiness and enjoyed it. So, then that started. But obviously you can’t just go with that. So, there were a couple of other names on the list that were given. So, we went through that list as well.
Corie: You took a look at what worked for you. You kind of talked about this earlier, but did you have anything that you really loved about using ZenBusiness and your experience with our website?
Audrey: Yeah. So, I believe the best thing is about ZenBusiness is that you guys know the start-up life. You know, we don’t have a lot of money, and you know the types of structures that we need. There’s other websites that could do an incorporation, but that’s like one of the gazillion things that they offer, all of these types of legal support or whatever. So, they don’t really know specifically what you’re looking at, but you guys really seem to know a startup and what we’re doing and what we need. That was really helpful.
Corie: I appreciate that. Did you have anything that you felt we could’ve done better?
Audrey: If anything, I think maybe something dealing with the cap table.
Corie: We were talking about that today. Someone asked, could you do cap tables?
Audrey: Then just kind of going the next step after that, but obviously you guys are focused on your thing, but the cap table and then, also, some more support with establishing the board because those are the two things that I’m working on now that I need to do. So, yeah, that would be helpful.
Corie: Thank you so much. That’s great feedback. Yeah. I’m going to switch gears again away from ZenBusiness, and I just want to talk to you. For anybody who might be listening or reading this article and wants to be an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to them?
Audrey: I think the best advice is just to start. A lot of times we feel we can’t start until we have a million dollars in the bank, or we can’t start until we graduate, or we can’t start until we leave our job. But really you can start anytime and just start with what you have. I really believe that if it’s on your heart to do business or to start something, everything that you need is already inside you. You just have to tap into it. It will be difficult, but just start.
Corie: That’s actually a really great point. I want to put that on my wall. “Everything you need is already inside you.” That’s really good. How has your life changed since you formed and started your business?
Audrey: I would say the biggest change is I am really kind of a quiet introvert, but being a CEO and fundraising and launching a product, doing interviews, you just have to step out of your comfort zone. You have to be the first to try to engage in a conversation with people, and you have to have uncomfortable conversations where you ask people you don’t know for money. So, yeah, that’s been the biggest change. Just stepping out of my comfort zone more.
Corie: What’s next for Schoolio? Do you have some big stuff on the horizon you want to talk to us about?
Audrey: Well, I don’t know when this interview will come out.
Corie: Me, neither. Hopefully, next week!
Audrey: October 5th is World Teachers’ Day. So, we’ve actually organized a teachers’ appreciation breakfast for teachers in low-income areas in Cape Town, South Africa. We have 35 teachers that we’re going to treat to a really awesome breakfast and nice speakers, just to say thank you, and then we’re also launching our innovative education ambassador. We’re choosing one teacher from each of the 15 countries in Southern Africa, and we’re going to give them a paid a weekend away at a really awesome resort in Southern Africa just to show our appreciation. That’s what’s coming down the pipeline because with what we believe, we’re partners with the schools. We’re not just trying to sell into a school. So, one of the biggest things is that we support teachers and we really want them to know that it’s not about trying to replace a teacher. The best is really just there to support teachers and help them do their job more easily and to help them have more fulfillment in what they’re doing. So, that’s what we’re trying to do to show them that we appreciate them.
Corie: That’s really good. Like I said, I used to be a teacher, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. They used to bring in technology and say, “Hey, this is going to be the future!” As a teacher you’re sitting there like, “Okay, yeah, right. If you say so. Can the technology calm down 30 children, no?”
Audrey: Or, “Can the technology make them do what they need to do on the computer?” Yeah. I’ve seen that a lot, and I think that’s one of the things that Schoolio can address. Because I am a tech person, I developed the beta version, but I’m also an educator, so I feel having both of those hats makes it a very well-rounded platform where we appreciate the teachers, but we also know how technology can help them.
Corie: That’s great. Is there anything else you want to share with anybody listening or reading this?
Audrey: If people are in Austin, Texas, and they’re really interested in what we’re doing, especially if they are educators, we’re in the process of building a resource database for teachers in these developing countries. So, if they’re really interested in helping to develop awesome low-tech lessons plans for these parts of the world, they should give us a call or email me.
Corie: Thank you so much for doing this interview with me. That was Audrey from Schoolio, and thank you for coming into our office in Austin. I appreciate it!
Audrey: Thanks for inviting us!
This interview was edited for clarity and readability. For full transcription, please listen to the included podcast.
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