Susan Burton and Clare Wright of Classlist, winner of the GWG Awards Startup category, talk about the go-to site for parents of school children.
Founders Susan Burton and Clare Wright talk us through their business journey.
Susan: I came up with the idea when... I was faced by armed guards at the school gate when my chidren were at the International School in Bangalore, India in 2008. New to India, desperate to meet like-minded people and integrate into a new culture, I really needed contact with other parents. Returning to the UK in 2012, the new barrier to contacting other parents was data protection.
Clare adds: I had a very similar experience in finding it really annoying that schools won't give parents contact details for each other. When you are new and want your child to make friends, it doesn't help if you don't know how to contact the other parents to arrange a playdate.
Susan: The biggest challenge is... scaling the business with the huge demand we have experienced. Now that we have created a technology platform that is infinitely scalable, we need to build back some popular product features to support our schools. Before the summer, we had around fifty schools signed up; we now have over 500 schools on board.
Clare adds: There is so much to do, all the time. That is also what it makes it fun.
Susan: The average day is spent... understanding what parents want, managing the team and our cashflow. I spend time monitoring our KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and ensuring that we are complying with best practice around security, privacy, legal and tax.
Clare adds: My average day is spent talking to schools and PTAs about how Classlist can help their parent community, and ensuring that our ongoing website developments meet our members' needs.
Susan: The team consists of... fifteen members split across technology, marketing and community management.
Susan: My favourite quote is... ‘Done is better than perfect’ by Sheryl Sandberg.
Clare adds: Jeff Bezos of Amazon said, ‘We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for eighteen years, and they're the reason we're successful; put the customer first, invent and be patient.’
Susan: I am where I am today because... I believe failure means not trying and not giving something a go. Anything else is just a step on our journey of learning.
Clare adds: I like new challenges and always want to learn new ways of doing things.
Susan: I am who I am because... I’ve been an expat all my life. I know what it is like to start again and to try to make friends. I have put my children in the same situation by dragging them to live in India and also moving them around the UK. I know how important community is for practical help and emotional support.
Clare adds: I am very sociable and love travelling. We lived in Brazil with our three children for four years and the school community was a big part of our life there. Wherever I am, I want to be part of the community. Classlist is a natural extension of that. It helps families, wherever they are, to make friends.
Susan: The best advice I've been given... is from StartupGrind podcasts. I love their regular intro saying, ‘My friends think I am crazy being an entrepreneur.’
Clare adds: Regret what you do, not what you didn't do. Give things a go.
Susan: In five years, I’d like to... have Classlist in every school everywhere. Why not?
Clare adds: I’d like to see someone in the dentist's waiting room checking Classlist like they check Facebook when bored.
Susan: The thing no one ever tells you about running your own business online... is that although you know it is 24x7, the reality takes a bit to appreciate.
Clare adds: Some members never sleep, so you don't either! You think about it twenty-four hours a day and answer messages at strange hours, even when in the queue for the loo at an event.
Clare: Our biggest mistake and what it taught us... Early on we were hesitant about expanding internationally. We have remedied that now.
Susan adds: We are constantly making mistakes and learning from them. This year, we made a major decision to ditch our popular platform which we had full control ourselves. We started from scratch and built a new mobile-focused platform with our own in-house team. We hope this was the right thing to do. Perhaps we should have done this sooner. Time will tell.
Susan: The most rewarding experience we’ve had to date is... the user feedback. When we hear that parents and their children have made friendships and shared lifts with each other.
Clare adds: I spoke to a PTA Chair in New York who said, ‘I was telling a parent I'd read in the Daily Mail about a website for school parents, but had forgotten the name. She said 'Do you mean Classlist?' I loved the idea that we were the subject of playground chat in New York!