In a world where the tools for communication have become nigh endless, it makes sense this development in technology would carry over to the education sector.
SchoolVoice, an EdTech startup based in Abu Dhabi, has developed a comprehensive multi-platform SaaS solution to handle the communication channels between schools and parents, beyond the usual transmissions of hard copy announcement forms, WhatsApp messages, and emails, which can generate a lot of friction and miscommunication. In the past three years alone, schools have sent over 62 million messages using the SchoolVoice platform, with the total count expected to surpass 100 million messages by the end of the year.
SchoolVoice elevates the communication experience, and ensures full visibility on both ends. Its platform serves as the core hub through which parents can access school announcements, messages from/to teachers, payment reminders, deadlines, and much more. The platform also offers teachers control of the flow of messages they would usually be bombarded with over the phone or via WhatsApp, as this is funnelled through a safe and regulated medium. In the case of a teacher that is responsible for over a hundred students, he or she is able to know exactly whose parent is speaking with them, as all users of the system are identifiable at all times, which ensures clarity and transparency.
So far, the company has raised two funding rounds, a $1.5 million Seed round and a $2.1 million Pre-Series A round, with another round in the works in the coming months. Participating parties in the previous two rounds included angel investors, family offices, and Abu Dhabi-based fund Sundooq Al Watan.
The Abu Dhabi SME Hub spoke with co-founders Ali Bin Yahia and Eyad Salamin, who told us that the platform came to be as a result of a market gap both of them noticed as parents themselves. School communication left a lot to be desired, and so the pair set out to develop a solution, each equipped with around 15 years of software development experience.
Their idea was further validated when they conducted market research and discovered that many schools and parents in the UAE attested to the same problems.
“We have schools here paying somewhere between AED 60,000-120,000 annually just on SMS [packages], and for what [end]?” Salamin asked.
He noted that these packages often offer the bare minimum, with communication that is unengaging, generic and impersonal, indistinguishable within the sea of information we are overloaded with every day. This is where SchoolVoice’s solution makes a difference.
State of the education sector in Abu Dhabi and beyond
While both of the co-founders were already based in Abu Dhabi and knew the ins and outs of the market, they also chose the emirate for its ease of doing business and its modern, facilitative regulations, in addition to its growing position as a hub for SME and startup innovation. Salamin noted that this led them to incorporate SchoolVoice in international financial centre Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), which offered a near-unrivalled ecosystem in the region and benefits they are still reaping to this day, like being able to commence operations in Saudi Arabia without the need to incorporate there.
As for the overall education sector in the region, Bin Yahia noted that change is taking place on a grand scale. While schools have wanted to implement EdTech solutions prior to the pandemic, adoption was slow. Once COVID-19 struck, the industry shifted into high gear, and both “acceptance and adoption” accelerated. On their side, Bin Yahia noted their business wasn’t really impacted, as most of their customers were onboarded pre-pandemic. The ensuing crisis just served to reinforce their business model and further validate the solutions offered by their platform.
Challenges and obstacles
When asked about the most notable challenges their company has faced so far, Bin Yahia noted that those they encountered were similar to those faced by any other startup entrepreneurs. While the technical side of the business would usually pose a challenge to a SaaS company, the co-founders’ backgrounds in tech helped them overcome any major issues. One common obstacle Bin Yahia highlighted was funding, since this is an avenue any growing company has to revisit over time.
“Technology isn’t cheap,” he quipped. “If you want good people, good resources, and want to deliver high-quality features, you need to pay more.”
One pain point he highlighted was that reaching out and securing funds from regional VCs can be time-consuming, and compared it to the slow process of seeking funding from banks. In his opinion, some VCs are not willing to take risks, and often opt for the safest choice when it comes to funding a startup, which can hinder the ecosystem’s growth.
The balance between improving the product and securing sales
Looking back, Salamin noted that there was one particular error that they made near the launch of the venture: “Not focusing on sales as much as we should have done… We were inwardly focused on the product.”
He noted that they were too preoccupied with perfecting the product past their MVP, when they should have instead focused on sales as their MVP was validated and the demand from the market was proven.
In retrospect, he believes that securing sales and perfecting the product shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but parallel processes.
The red flag that he believes they should have paid attention to back then was that some schools not only paid to adopt SchoolVoice, but actually chose it over free solutions like ClassDojo, their biggest competitor.
“At that point, we should have understood that ‘yes, we do have a very good product, and we should start thinking about how we can generate more revenue, and meanwhile, we can look at perfecting [it].’”
“Recently we’ve shifted our focus towards sales,” he continued. “We’re now in Oman and Morocco, in addition to the UAE, and very soon in Saudi and Brazil. The moment we shifted the needle [towards sales], it took us a couple of months to [commence] a global expansion.”
Overall, it was not just the validity of the tech itself, but also the co-founders’ understanding of the local market and its idiosyncrasies that helped SchoolVoice succeed in its early days. Now, the team takes this knowledge globally.
Moving forward, the team will be focusing its efforts on expansion and securing further funding to fuel growth.