This week I spoke with two time founder, Fiona Boyd. Currently, Fiona is CEO and co-founder of ParentPaperwork, a born global start-up that replaces paper forms for schools and automates data capture, empowering a better exchange of school and student information digitally using the cloud. Fiona has grown ParentPaperwork to now be use in schools across over 8 countries. Prior to ParentPaperwork, Fiona founded (and had a successful exit from) Arts Hub.
How did you develop the idea for ParentPaperwork and what drew you to this problem?
ParentPaperwork was an idea that came out of actual frustrating experience. For years I had complained to my life partner and co-founder, David Eedle, that I really hated the amount of paperwork coming home from our children’s schools that needed signing. I also really loathed having to rummage into my son’s school bag which would often have remnants of old banana and the like in there.
David and I spoke to all the teachers and principals we knew to get their take on the problem anecdotally and procedurally, and came to the conclusion that there was definitely a problem with paper forms in schools. They often didn’t arrive home, went missing, signed forms didn’t make it back to the teacher, forms got lost, forms needed to be archived for 7 years. The schools side of the problem was much larger than parent frustration and malcontent.
How did you find your first few hires in the company?
The first two hires are from two completely different sources. The Head of Business Development is a 35 year veteran of the private school space who was introduced to ParentPaperwork by one of our investors. The second we found through Seek.
What are some of your strengths that really helped you build the company?
- We constantly innovate the platform, we never sit still and think what we have right now is good enough to last forever, on the other hand we don’t customise. We won’t change something or add features and functionality unless it’s clear that a number of customers want that — the weight of numbers theory.
- We talk to customers — we’re easy to get hold of and we fix things and help people fast .
- We have in my opinion, the to-die-for startup founding team. And we all happen to like each other, which I think is magic.
What was the catalyst that made you take the plunge and start ParentPaperwork? What would you be doing if you hadn’t started it?
It was a real-life catalyst that got us going. I’m not sure what I’d be doing if we weren’t doing ParentPaperwork. Between the selling of a previous startup that I led with David, Arts Hub, and the start of ParentPaperwork I had been focussed on dealing with health issues of our youngest child who has Down syndrome. Getting her to robust was key for me. However at the time we were thinking of giving the startup experience another shot I was itching and scratching to do something entrepreneurial again. If I wasn’t running ParentPaperwork I would be really interested in participating in the venture capital space and working to enable more women and people of diverse background to start their own ventures.
How did you get your initial funding to get ParentPaperwork off the ground?
ParentPaperwork was initially bootstrapped by David and myself. At about the 4 months mark when we realised that this product had really good potential and we could see the way toward product/market fit we reached out to our family who kicked in a small amount that kept us going for a while. Our first seed investor was known to us professionally and had attended the first Startup Victoria Pitch Night to see us present at the invitation of our accountant, who he shared. We won the event and a few months later he invested.
I should mention that we made our first sale pretty much straight away and customers have also been a funding source for us. A successful entrepreneur I know who’s done the whole Silicon Valley journey says “customers are the best funding.” I partly agree with this. I think investors are really important too.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
It’s been really helpful having an affordable office space available to us that we can upscale or downscale at anytime. Part of our pitch prize was 3 months office space at Queens Collective in the city. That was really valuable at the time as we were starting to feel constrained working from a home office.
Another great resource has been our advisory board. We set this up at the outset so that we could test our thinking and ideas in an effective way.
What has been the most surprising part of running your own company? What were you not expecting?
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your view I am somewhat immune to surprises these days. I tend to have little or no expectation, instead I see the issue of growing our product and the market for it as an intellectual challenge that with the right team, I can solve. Having no expectations keeps your mind clear to deal with anything that comes up. Startups being too certain that things will roll a certain way I think is too risky. There are always intricacies to every issue you are handling.
What is a pleasant surprise to me though is how much our schools customers love using ParentPaperwork. We truly do solve an administration problem for them and whilst I thought the education space would be light on positive feedback given that teachers often are looking for problems and improvements, we’ve experienced the opposite. Our schools and kinders are fulsome with their praise and I must admit that gives me a kick!
Who have been your greatest mentors in this journey and what are the key things you’ve learnt from them?
My greatest mentor has been our second investor. He was just so thoughtful, considered and generous with his time at the point where David and I were really wondering whether we’d bitten off more than we could chew. We were experiencing self-doubt and he gave us confidence and really appropriate and valuable guidance. When people say that an angel investor brings more to you than money, they’re right. We are incredibly fortunate to have the experience of a wonderful angel investor in our mix. We’ve also had great emotional and practical support from Sean Ickowicz who founded Deskworx. He’s a like-minded ally who has been gracious with good quality introductions to other players in the Edtech space.
I’ve learned from these two that sticking to your knitting is a real asset. It is so easy to get distracted when you start, but if you can work with your mentors to maintain focus around the reasons you started your venture and stay true to them, this is just so valuable. The other thing I’ve learned is that intelligently delivered encouragement is absolute gold. Keep pushing forward and have courage are also key learnings.