Although the technology landscape is changing at an accelerating pace, with new hardware devices and software programmes entering the market faster than we’re able to comprehend their purpose, it seems that the simplest things are being left behind. For instance, given we’re diverging rapidly into a digital world, you’d think that paper-based forms in schools would be history. As it turns out, many Australian schools are still relying on them, and it’s proving to be a labour-intensive, unreliable, and inefficient process for teachers, parents and students alike.
In fact, if there are around 3.5 million children at school in Australia, and each year their parents are required to sign eight permission slips, excursion forms and other documents, that adds up to over 28 million forms being signed and returned by parents every year.
As parents to three children, Melbourne-based tech entrepreneurs Fiona Boyd and David Eedle knew all too well the inefficiencies associated with paper-based liability management. This is why they decided to do their own due diligence and create a simple, yet much-needed solution to one of the biggest pain points experienced in the education industry.
Startup Daily spoke with Eedle earlier this year, who explained that his startup ParentPaperwork is essentially an online platform that automates forms in education – whether it be for excursions, school camps, in-school or extra-curricular activities, head lice inspections, or more. Although there are a number of tools in the market that allow schools to stay in touch with parents, most are app-based and focused on newsletters and alerts.
In June this year, Eedle identified three primary problems with other apps in the market: 1) adoption relies on parents owning a smartphone which they may not; 2) they use a social network model to get parents to sign up and register, making it difficult to get the entire school community; and 3) they rarely include functionalities that allow parents to complete and submit forms.
ParentPaperwork comes in from a completely different angle. We integrate direct to the school’s student and parent contacts database, meaning the school can reach the entire community from the beginning. We use email and secure web pages not apps, yielding lowest friction and greatest accessibility,” Eedle told Startup Daily in a previous interview.
The key values in ParentPaperwork’s offering lies in its customisable forms, email delivery and tracking functionalities, as well as its ability to report answers in real-time (like ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to permission forms).
It sounds simple – because simplicity is the purpose – but what’s interesting is how scalable ParentPaperwork’s solution is, especially when considering its potential beyond Australia and the education industry.
Startup Daily spoke with Boyd recently, who said that although their initial plan was to go the common route of launching in Australia, then expanding into the US and UK, they found themselves being approached by a number of government officials in Asia. The Malaysian government, for example, is currently looking to establish a licensing a deal with ParentPaperwork; and a government official in Pakistan has reached out to ParentPaperwork, asking whether the team would be able to create a version of the software specifically for school enrolments.
“We realised there was more opportunity for us closer to home … For instance, Vietnam is currently open to [implementing] new education technology as they rebuild the backbone of their education systems,” said Boyd.
“We’re not going to ignore the local market, but we don’t want to say no to opportunities in Asia.”
ParentPaperwork has also engaged in initial conversations with a technology development firm based in Mumbai and San Francisco about establishing partnership deals in India and potentially Japan.
Boyd acknowledged though that these growth opportunities are presenting themselves at a time when the startup is still in its infancy in Australia. Thus far, ParentPaperwork’s subscription-based software service has been integrated into 13 schools across Victoria – including reputable private schools like Melbourne Girls Grammar and Oakleigh Grammar. Six international schools are currently trialling the product, as well as a further 35 Australian schools. To date, around 6,900 permission forms have been distributed to parents via ParentPaperwork and 50 percent of parents have completed forms within 24 hours.
Startup Daily asked Boyd whether, like other startup founders, she has found Australian schools to be ‘reluctant’ or ‘unexcited’ about adopting new education technology. She said there hasn’t been any notable lack of interest, but admitted that at this point in time, the Asian market is more exciting for EduTech startups.
Interestingly, if the core of the product is to streamline and systemise paper-based forms by overlaying a digital model, then there are opportunities for ParentPaperwork to expand into other industries. When asked whether they plan on diversifying their offering, Boyd said they’re already in the initial stages of expanding into the aged care facility market.
“We did some early pitches with accountants and lawyers, just to get feedback – and they said [our model] would work well in aged care. David has created a different window into the platform and we’re calling it GuardianPaperwork. Our first step into the aged care industry is to help streamline resident onboarding,” said Boyd.
The reason for this, she explained, is because when people put a family member into an aged care facility – usually after a hospital stay, when it becomes clear that the relative can no longer look after themselves or live on their own – they are required to sign about 12 forms.
“In those 12 forms, there is so much duplication – and for families, this is traumatic. So what we’ve done is worked with home-style aged care facilities to go through and simplify all of their packets and forms. A family member who’s signing in a resident just have to answer a question once. If a question has been answered, it’s pre-filled in another form – it’s all about reducing the amount of information that people have to answer over and over again,” said Boyd.
“Once we’ve reached traction in the education and aged care markets, we will look at corporate versions.”
Another opportunity Boyd discovered from feedback was the startup’s potential in various parts of the legal industry. Parole officers, for instance, have to send reports on parolees back to the Department of Justice – like their attendance and participation in counselling sessions and group work. In Australia, at the moment, reports are not done in a methodical way. It’s usually done over a phone call, fax or email.
“You end up with parolee reports that aren’t up to date and this is why nobody really trusts that system. It’s in need of real-time information updating,” said Boyd.
Boyd and Eedle are fully cognisant of their startup’s potential in diverse industries from legal to logistics, but have learned from past experience that focus is important, given the education market is large in itself – approximately 770,000 schools across the Asia-Pacific region, UK and North America.
If ParentPaperwork is able to reach its goal of signing up 20,000 schools worldwide at an average of $1,700 per year, the education arm of the startup would be generating $34 million in annual revenue.
“The potential is big but we have to be really careful not to toot our horn too much,” said Boyd.
“It’s really helpful having done it before because we blew out all our egotism then. This time around, we’re more philosophical. We’re a lot more emotionally calibrated to be able to embark on this journey and take up opportunities to make it work long-term.”
Update: ParentPaperwork’s number of current paying customers has been updated from 8 to 13.