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Aussie startup that lets teachers teach

in Culture/Interviews/Tech by

“We are going to disrupt a market that operates on software that hasn’t changed since the early 60s. It’s transformational, schools ring up after using the system for the first time because they have received over 40% response within 24 hours,” David Eedle and Fiona Boyd say. Together they are the founders of ParentPaperwork.

Melbourne based startup ParentPaperwork is tackling the sticky world of edtech. It’s mission is to replace all the paper forms that fly between teachers and parents – literally billions of pieces of paper a year – and make it a breeze for parents to give permission by tapping their mobiles or clicking an email. Forms don’t get lost, data is safe and secure, it saves huge hours for teacher workloads and countless trees. 

Disruption in any industry is not a new concept. Industries and executives love and fear it. Fortunately, the education sector globally is ripe for disruption. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet. Educators today have access to some of the most advanced tools to reach out to and influence malleable minds, yet none are being used efficiently to warrant actual disruption. Where is the Uber or the AirBnb of edtech?

ParentPaperwork Founders Fiona Boyd and David Eedle
ParentPaperwork Founders Fiona Boyd and David Eedle

It’s Saturday afternoon and we’re sitting in their office at St. Kilda. The four of us are split between two couches, Boyd and her nine-year old daughter Colette on the couch opposite to the one Eedle and I are sharing.

“We’ve got lots of interest coming out of Asia” explains Eedle. They recently arrived from Singapore after demonstrating to five schools, three of which were part of larger commercial networks. I’m told that ParentPaperWork currently have customers in six countries, “Singapore in particular shows promise to becoming early adopters,” he says. “They definitely understood our product offering and we’re talking more about network relationships with them.”

Eedle’s words take me back to 2012 when another Software as a Service (SaaS) company was beginning to disrupt an industry. Back then it was accounting and it was spearheaded by Rod Drury the CEO of Xero. The Xero team literally took the accounting platform to the cloud, stripped away the unnecessary clunk, streamlined and enriched the user experience. It was easy for Xero to carve out marketshare from a market that was in desperate need to be disrupted.

“We are seeing legacy players slap on a web-based interface into its enterprise solution and call it cloud, that’s not cloud!” Eedle explains. As was a similar case with Xero; its competitor MYOB also took a similar approach to slapping together a hybrid web solution to their existing platform. “The difference between companies like ours and existing legacy players is that they tick boxes for the sake of selling a product whereas our solution is the key value offering. The cracks are beginning to show and we are in a situation where schools are taking notice of our software.”

ParentPaperwork have signed up a number of schools including Oakleigh Grammar, St Columba’s Essendon, Sirius College, Albert Park Kinder and American International School, Riyadh. They are in an aggressive expansion phase at the moment, “We’re looking at targeting over 2000 kindergartens in Australia and are in negotiations with an international school network of over 130 schools,” he pauses as his phone buzzes.

For a moment, his attention is flanked. Boyd continues, “we’ve had a user create YouTube tutorials on how to use the software and it’s something that we are very proud to see develop organically.” It appears to be the sprouting of the company’s first few brand evangelists, every company’s wet dream.

The pair are in talks with schools in Pakistan, Canada and the Middle East. “I apologise,” Eedle says as he puts down his phone “I was just replying to a school in Guatemala, they are interested to talk.”

“We exist for teachers, administrators and parents – we seek to make their lives easier by automating paper processes that they find burdensome and often irritating,” Boyd says.

Systemic Failure

Ned Manning said it best in his article published earlier this month. In Australia and a majority of the world, teachers are drowning in paperwork and administrative tasks among a variety of other constraints. His article has oxygenated an issue that is everyday edging past the point of resuscitation. Our education system has transformed into a debate, a poorly constructed one that disinforms the masses and blames the frontliners.

The Australian education sector has turned increasingly messy and consequently, policy makers are looking at technological innovations that provide more engaging learning environments for students. First it was the laptop revolution and now it is the iPad’s turn on the carousel of failure. As a result, schools tend to be jaded from technology change. “Schools have very much focussed on technology change in the classroom and I think they confuse ParentPaperwork with that end of things,” Boyd says.

“Teachers go into their profession to teach – things that aren’t related to teaching, like compliance and other paperwork, are going to take them away from the core of what they trained to do, and what they’re paid to do. It’s time that paperwork processes were automated. We feel the most precious work a teacher does is face-to-face with students.”

Unfortunately in Australia, we seem to have forgotten (or have selectively ignored) that poor performance is directly attributable to executive decisions. Just like in any organisation, administrators and policy makers need to be held accountable for poor performance. Schools need to up their game and invest in administration in order to solve this issue.

The Pretenders

Eedle tells me about a speech he heard recently about how Australia is in “absolute crisis”. He was referring the speech given by Matt Barrie from Freelancer.com at Knowledge Nation last week.

“Well I think we should abolish State Governments,” Barrie said, “The problems we face in terraforming Australia to be innovative are systemic. They are a result of regulatory duplication, confusion and duplication of responsibilities or the mindless populism of absurd policies of the State Governments.”

“How do you fix K-12 education in this country? It’s the remit of the bureaucracy of the State Governments. Trying to get them to all agree to modernise the curriculum is an exercise in futility. Or sadomasochism. I genuinely believe the Federal Government wants to fix K-12 education and understands the issues, but it can’t.”

Matt Barrie, Chief Executive at Freelance.com
Matt Barrie, Chief Executive at Freelance.com

In his speech, Barrie explained how nobody from Silicon Valley wants to come to Australia for any role. “I called the top recruiter for engineering in Silicon Valley not so long ago for a Vice President role. We are talking a top role, very highly paid. The recruiter that placed the role would earn a hefty six-figure commission. This recruiter had placed VPs at Twitter, Uber, Pinterest.”

The recruiter explained that Australia was seen as a backwater and they consider it as two moves – they have to move once to get over there but more importantly when they finish they have to move back and it’s hard for them after being out of the action.

Eedle agrees with Barrie and explains that the reason for greater acceptance of ParentPaperwork in Singapore is simple “their government is fundamentally dedicated towards driving innovation.”

Last December, the Singaporean government announced its innovation policy which is centred around becoming a Smart Nation. They’re investing SGD19 billion over 5 years to achieve their goals. “For a population of 5 million people in a geographically dense location, that is extraordinary and shows commitment to the creation of new enterprises and new technologies. They’re investing for the future of all their citizens,” he says. “Meanwhile here in Australia we are spending $28m on an advertising campaign to sell its innovation agenda with none of that money actually going towards any innovation at all,” he says.

This lack of foresight by the Australian government is common knowledge and its repercussions are being noticed by top tech companies as well as startups in Australia. Their remarkable lack of investment in schools’ administration as well as in business innovation culminates into media fodder where journalists and bloggers opine over what needs to change and eventually blame the workforce in a debate that never resolves itself.

Ultimately, there needs to be a shift and if it doesn’t come from government it will come from private companies. Case in point: How Uber is making Pakistan a safer place for women, in order to exist in a ride-sharing ecosystem, something that the Pakistani government could never solve.

Edtech is a rife with layers of issues that need to be addressed but Eedle and Boyd are confident that we are on the cusp of reform. I asked them why they chose to embark on such a hard road. They both looked at Colette, their daughter “it’s essentially for them” they were referring to the next generation of thinkers. It is very clear that today’s victims of a flawed education system become the antagonists of tomorrow’s technological, political and social system.

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Why Millennials want to leave your company

in Culture/Interviews/Tech by
At Envato

What do Kodak and Blockbuster have in common? If you guessed a business model that wasn’t future-proof then you are correct. Both companies, along with a list of many others were torn apart over the last two decades because they didn’t adapt, reposition and capitalise on emerging technology and trends.

Kodak was slammed multiple times by the photography digitization revolution and later by the social wave movement that furiously birthed billion-dollar company, Instagram. Blockbuster was initially crippled by pirates that continually reincarnated in the forms of Napster, Limewire and now Torrents. The final blow came from legal streaming services Netflix and its competitors. If there was any lesson to learn from these companies’ failures is that future-proofing your business model is imperative to remaining market leaders.

Most companies today have learned to future-proof (to some extent) their business model, but they are about to face a rude awakening in talent retention and internal communication. The winners and losers in the next race will be those companies that Millennial-proof their human-resource strategy.

One foot out the door

Earlier this year Deloitte released some rather interesting results from their Millennial Survey 2016The report outlines that 44 percent of Millennials say, if given the choice, they would like to leave their current employers in the next two years. Furthermore, a perceived lack of leadership-skill development and feelings of being overlooked are compounded by larger issues around work/life balance, the desire for flexibility, and a conflict of values. This issue is only amplified when we realise that in a decade, over 70 percent of the workforce will be Millennials.

Firstly, let’s clear the air. Millennials are not necessarily a new concept. In fact, it is the same repackaged concept of every generation that has preceded it. Like Millennials, their predecessors had to go against the grain to drive innovation. Furthermore, they gained opportunities and advantages that the previous generation snarled at as being a sense of entitlement; The cycle goes on.

Source: Deloitte
Source: Deloitte

What’s different this time around is that Millennials in emerged economies are genuinely disengaged and it is not because of technology but a reflection of macro factors that are exacerbating the situation. One reading could also co-relate economic outlook and the relatively absent drive to settle down with buying a home or a family.

The report also found that Millennials who are parents show somewhat more loyalty than those without children. Australia in particular is home to one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world and few Millennials find themselves in positions to make long term commitments particularly in housing.

Millennials also provide a useful barometer of economic confidence and their current views of future performance. Off that idea, the report found that global economic confidence is optimistic particularly in Italy, Argentina and The Netherlands. However economic outlook by Millennials is negative and declining in Australia, Canada and Malaysia.

Senior talent churn

The report highlights that even those Millennials in senior positions express the intention to leave their organizations relatively soon. These Millennials feel like they no longer have the potential to shape the fortunes of their organizations; while many are already in positions to do so. 57 percent believe they will leave their current businesses before year-end 2020. This is a significant amount of senior talent (and investment) to be walking out the door.

Jamie Pride, managing director and co-founder of REFFIND said “The only time it is too late to address employee engagement problems is when employees have already left the company. While they are still part of the team, it is always possible to take steps to improve engagement.”

Jamie is among a group of visionaries competing within the HR-Tech space that hope to address the issue of disengaged Millennials. Operating within the same space is Culture Amp, who consider themselves ‘people geeks’ and have some interesting approaches to improving company culture. Both companies offer solutions to test, shape and amplify culture and engagement.

Managing Director and Co-founder of REFFIND Source: REFFIND
Managing Director and Co-founder of REFFIND
Source: REFFIND

With REFFIND, Jamie seems to have approached the issue holistically, with a platform that addresses, talent acquisition, engagement, training/leadership and motivation through their various product offerings.

The philosophy behind REFFIND is refreshingly simple: “It’s all about communication and appreciation. Be invested in your employees, and they’ll be invested in you” Jamie said.

“Give people inside information. There’s no better way to make an employee feel valued than to clue them in on management’s goals and challenges, as well as keep them up to date on the company’s products and services.”

Jamie believes that the future needs to be focused on the employee. It doesn’t matter how great the organisation’s technology or systems are; if they are not tailored to the employee then they simply won’t engage, and millions of dollars of investment can potentially go to waste.

“When the employee shows a decline in performance, this is perhaps the most obvious red flag. If an employee doesn’t plan on being with your organisation for much longer, then why give 100 percent?” he said.

Source: Deloitte
Source: Deloitte

According to the report by Deloitte, more than six in ten Millennials say their leadership skills are not being fully developed. Furthermore, Millennials believe businesses are not doing enough to bridge the gap to ensure a new generation of business leaders is created.

Jamie adds that traditional methods like one-on-one feedback, annual engagement surveys and email communications don’t necessarily go far enough in demonstrating the value to the employee.

“It’s also important to celebrate personal wins. People want to be acknowledged when they’ve accomplished something, no matter how small. After all, every tiny victory contributes to your success as a business. The future is even more social and much more connected than it is now, especially when it comes to employee engagement,” he said.

Large organisations like Qantas, UBER, Bupa, Staples, The Iconic and Domain are already on the REFFIND platform which might signal that they are already on the offensive to try and retain their Millennial workforce.

Work life balance is important to Millennials Source: Envato
Work life balance is important to Millennials
Source: Envato

Work work work work work

Unsurprisingly, the Millennial Survey report uncovered that when salary or other financial benefits are removed from the equation, work/life balance and opportunities to progress or take on leadership roles stand out. Those factors are followed by flexible working arrangements, deriving a sense of meaning, and training programs that support professional development. An employer that can offer these is likely to be more successful than its rivals in securing the talents of the Millennial generation.

Priorities for Millennials
Source: Deloitte

One Australian company that is spearheading the way forward in this regard is Envato. Based in Melbourne, it was named “one of 2015’s best places to work”. Envato offers flexible work arrangements, the ability to take up to three months to work and travel and many more perks.

Envato Founders, Collis and Cyan Ta'eed Source: Envato
Envato Founders, Collis and Cyan Ta’eed
Source: Envato

So far, it seems like a strong strategy to retain talent and nurture leaders. In an interview last year, Envato HR director James Law said “The Envato founders have spent a lot of energy building a business they themselves would like to work at, and we are striving to continue that focus as we grow.”

“Everyone at Envato plays a role in making Envato a great place to work. It’s a dedication to attracting and engaging great people that allows us provide those people with an environment they can be proud of.”

Like it or not, Millennials are going to be the backbone of the world economy within a decade and if there was ever a time to develop a strategy to attract, encourage and retain the leaders of tomorrow, now it that time. The truth is that if organisations however mighty, don’t Millennial-proof their HR strategy, they may face the same fate as Blockbuster, Kodak and the others whose only purpose is to serve as lessons to be learned.

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Can Uber and Careem help women in Pakistan?

in Culture/Tech by

U.S. based ride-sharing company Uber launched in Pakistan last month. It’s goal: To bridge the gap between the undersupply of good public transport options in the country with its ever-growing smartphone users. Pakistani consumers have disposable cash, smartphones and access to the web – perfect candidates for ride-sharing, right? Wrong.

Pakistan’s market is different and both Uber and its competitors know this. In fact, EasyTaxi failed and subsequently slipped out of the market last year. Adam Ghaznavi was EasyTaxi’s country manager for Pakistan and is now general manager of Careem, a UAE based ride-sharing company with a slightly different outlook.

“We were ahead of our time, and while traction was building, we needed more support to prove ourselves,” he said in an interview with Techinasia. It is not uncommon for first movers to fail, especially in the sharing-economy space and Ghaznavi is seemingly aware of this.

Careem, now direct competitors with Uber will compete for marketshare and last week acquired competitor Savaree. However, Pakistan has another issue that both these companies need to address before they can successfully gain almost 50% of the serviceable market.

Lady Problems

In a market such as Pakistan’s, ride-sharing will never flourish like it has in developed countries if there are any safety concerns. Pakistan is rife with sexual crime, particularly towards women and it often goes without being reported or punished. This is an obvious problem in a ride-sharing ecosystem.

Pink Rickshaw driver Parveen Bibi walks to where her rickshaw is parked in Lahore, Pakistan. Photo by Mohsin Raza
Pink Rickshaw driver Parveen Bibi walks to where her rickshaw is parked in Lahore, Pakistan.
Photo by Mohsin Raza

This month, Reuters reported that after a year of business, Pakistan’s first women-only rickshaw service the “Pink Rickshaw” in the city of Lahore, is struggling. The service was meant to provide its staff with a new way of gaining financial independence and its passengers with the chance of a ride without being groped and harassed by male drivers.

The service is struggling because of the cost of acquiring the rickshaws. Help has been promised by a Scotland-based charity, run by pop star Annie Lennox. Pink Rickshaw founder, Zar Aslam said she hopes to get the money for ten rickshaws by September.

The Uber and Rabtt partnership will aim to start a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment in public places and in transport.

Uber, aware of the situation in Pakistan has teamed up with Rabtt to train all Uber driver partners to take positive action against sexual harassment. The Uber and Rabtt partnership will aim to start a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment in public places and in transport. Uber claims that this process will also help strengthen their driver partner training and screening process even further.

In order to succeed in capturing the ride-sharing market in Pakistan, both Uber and Careem will need to sink millions of dollars to best address this lingering issue of women’s safety. Ultimately, Pakistani women stand to gain the most in this circumstance if either company manages to create a safe environment for women in public spaces; and that is an endgame worth watching.

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