UIUC Team Profiles: Activity Assist

Founders and College Entrepreneur here with another team profile. Every week we’ll be providing you with a profile on a UIUC student startup. This week, we’re chatting with Joe and Evan from Activity Assist.

Image via AngelList

Description

Activity Assist is a K-12 platform that automates permission slips & school payments for field trips, proms, and sporting events. They empower teachers to create & customize field trips online, invite students and chaperones, and take attendance on the go. Started by two high school students, Evan Kay and Joe Gleason, who saw the inefficiency of field trips, school dances, and other activities, Activity Assist brings the school form process into the 21st century.

Teachers don’t waste class time tracking down every last signed permission slip while parents sign permission slips & pay from their email, without having to log in.

Mission

Teachers spend an average of $500 a year out-of-pocket on paper & supplies for processes that should be done online. Permissions slips, receipts, handouts, and forms are out-of-date and they’re burning teachers’ class and prep time. Activity Assist, soon to be Paydra Inc., is a K-12 platform that automates these payments, permission slips, and forms for schools at no charge to them. By enabling parents to sign off on forms & pay school fees online — right from their email — we’re giving teachers an immense degree of freedom and control over their classroom.

Districts burn time and cash on internal audits, school-level accounting, and vendor portals that are prehistoric, inefficient, and unusable. They’re on their way to becoming the digital wallet for parents, schools, and districts — so they can collect money and pay vendors all in one place. School finances, reimagined.

Founders and background

Joe Gleason, co-founder (Cal, Materials Science & Engineering, Sophomore)

Evan Kay, co-founder (UIUC, Computer Science, Sophomore)

They have 10 team members in total, covering everything from product to sales to engagement.

Joe (left) and Evan (right)

How did you meet?

Evan and I met first in pre-K in South Orange, NJ, a diverse suburb of NYC and we went to school together up until freshman year of high school. Friends for years, we always complemented each other and we’ve been through our share of laughs & fights. Evan came to me in high school with the idea for a permission slip tool that would help his physics teacher save time, and I was intrigued. It was only when we starting mocking up a would-be platform that I started to ask my teachers what they thought, and their response was overwhelming. From that point on, we were determined to ease this pain for as many teachers as we could.

Almost two-and-a-half years later, Evan and I have raised $20k in pre-seed funding, built out the entire Activity Assist web app, brought together of team of about 10 likeminded edu-preneurs, and are now raising a $1M Series A financing to fund our growth into urban districts all across the country. Despite not charging to use the platform, we take a percent on all transactions that go through the site as commission. This way, we’ve tied our revenues to the actual efficacy of the product in schools, which is hard to find amid the noise of EdTech.

If you could give your past self advice, it would be to….

Joe: I would definitely tell my past self to (1) build out the team earlier (this is the most important), (2) be gutsy (that’s how you stand out), and (3) be patient (because when you work with schools, impatience can be a weakness). I think Evan would reiterate these and more, plus he likely has his own three tips.

Evan: Just get it done. I used to have this idea that every piece of code I wrote would need to be perfect and worthy of showing off to other developers. But this isn’t productive. Especially when starting a new product, there’s so much iteration that a feature built one week could be completely scrapped the next. Through fast prototyping we can play around with a lot more ideas and get real feedback instead of locking ourselves into a single solution at the onset.

If you could go back and change anything about Activity Assist, what would it be?

Joe: Generally, I wouldn’t change too much. We’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have an extraordinary degree of advice and direction. We are where we stand today because of Evan’s passion for design, our persistence, and everyone that has heard us out along the way. The only decision I would change would have been our failure to recruit likeminded doers who would have advanced the project. As a result, we built most of our what we’d call our philosophy from mistakes and rejection. Our process and expectations have transformed remarkably in two years, I think for that reason.

Evan: I’m still amazed by the amount of progress Joe and I have made together in the past two years, but I do wish we would have built out the team earlier. Being the sole developer on this project was an incredible learning experience for me, as I had to learn every tool necessary to make the product as strong as possible, but I can only imagine how much faster we could have moved with more people working and to bounce ideas off of.

Progress

  • Developed Activity Assist’s main web platform with multiple iterations and redesigns
  • Partnered with Clever, an advanced data aggregation platform to help activity assist reach over 50,000 schools digitize their permission slips & payments
  • Secured pre-seed funding from Dorm Room Fund (read the announcement here)
  • Prototyped mobile application to allow the platform to be taken on the go
  • Currently expanding team in all areas. If you’re interested in joining the fast-moving team, shoot a cover letter and your resume over to joe@activityassist.com!

What are the next steps for Activity Assist in the coming months?

We’re currently seeking $1M in series A funding to spark the growth of the next twelve months…We are on track to be in 50 schools by the new year, and we’re projecting to close 1000 schools by the end of 2017. We’re zeroing in on direct sales in 2017, after which we plan on pushing the button on strategic sales partnership with a major EdTech player that would use their sales reps to sell Paydra into their customer base of 60,000 schools.

By facilitating all manners of payments between schools, parents, vendors, and districts and cutting down the workflow of paperwork, we can become a marketplace to other vendors for school district financial data and expand horizontally with other products.


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