Amber: Hi welcome to The BusinessMakers Show. I’m Amber Ambrose and today my guest is CEO and Founder of Cardstock for Teachers Lanny Bose; welcome to the show.
Lanny: Hey, how’s it going?
Amber: Excellent. So what is Cardstock for Teachers?
Lanny: We’re trying to solve a problem and that is the problem that parents don’t know what’s going on with their kids at school. There’s a lot of communication that happens from schools to parents, whether it’s when open houses are or the bake sales, but most parents don’t have the answer to the question how did my kid do at school today.
Amber: What we really want to know as parents.
Lanny: Exactly, that’s what it really comes down to; behaviorally, academically, socially is my kid okay and what do we need to do to get better in that regard? There’s just a lot of survey data that shows that schools are falling short; not because they want to but they’re just falling short. There was a recent survey of parents that said only 50% of them had received personalized communication about how their student was doing from a teacher in the past calendar year.
Amber: Because it’s really hard for a teacher to communicate at that level with every parent, is that correct?
Lanny: Absolutely. There are a lot of obstacles that get in the way of teachers communicating effectively and honestly the biggest one is time poverty. Teachers just don’t have time in the day and you can sit down for a planning period as a teacher and say I’ve got 45 minutes, I’m going to call 5 parents and you get through the first phone call and you’ve got 4 minutes left in that period because you spent so much time talking. And not that that’s a bad thing, but it just shows that parents are thirsty for that kind of communication and when they aren’t getting it there’s a lot of catch up to be done. So the idea behind Cardstock is really how can we make parent communication habitual for teachers and easy? Because again, they just don’t have that time; they’re on call in their classroom.
Amber: And you have background. You literally know how tough it is to be a teacher and try to communicate.
Lanny: Absolutely. I was a teacher and an administrator for 9 years at a network of charter schools here in Houston called Yes Prep and so I’ve been the teacher who communicated ineffectively, I’ve been the teacher and the administrator who worked really hard to communicate effectively with parents. Especially when you’re working with students who struggle, that regular parent communication can be the lever that flips a student who’s a no and turns them into a yes.
Amber: That’s amazing. First of all what is the platform and how does it work?
Lanny: It’s a web-based app. You log into it just like your webmail account if you’re on the teacher side. You have your list of contacts, you can send messages, you can see that running message history of all the text messages you’ve sent home. And I say text messages, which is really important because that’s mapping onto the technology most parents have in their households. Pew Research Center did a survey a couple of years ago of what kind of technology were in family’s homes and nationwide it’s about 50% have a smart phone with an email account on it. Now obviously that number is going to keep going up but if you’re talking about a solution to parent communication that requires a parent to log into a thing or download an app you’re just not going to be hitting…
Amber: They’re not going to do it.
Lanny: They’re not going to do it and the schools I was used to working in are parents from under-served communities where there are a lot of other marginalizing factors that might lead to them not having the kind of technology that I have in my household or that you might have in your household.
Amber: Sure, makes sense.
Lanny: And so kind of that common denominator – it’s something like 98% or 99% of those parents – have a cell phone that can get a text message; even if it’s a flip phone on a prepaid plan they can receive a text message.
Amber: I remember texting with the numbers.
Lanny: Yep, 111, 555, exactly. So whatever tool it is they have they can receive those text messages.
Amber: So you have a broad way of communicating that is almost universal.
Lanny: Absolutely. And again, most families are more likely at this point to have a cell phone in the house than they are to have a landline in the house.
Amber: Absolutely, that makes sense.
Lanny: But I think by focusing on text messaging they also get a couple other benefits which is it allows for asynchronous communication. During the middle of the day there are some people who can’t pick up their phone and will miss out on that communication that needs to be timely. When you text message someone you can hit them when they’re ready to be received.
Amber: That’s right.
Lanny: And I know it’s simple, right. We all text every day and to talk about the highlights of text messaging doesn’t sound exciting, but when you talk about a teacher who knows the message is going to get received by a parent that can be trans-formative because now you can have these running conversations about how students are doing.
Amber: So it’s two way?
Lanny: Yeah it’s two way.
Amber: So how does it work on the parent side?
Lanny: On the parent side they just get a text from a phone number that they can save in their phone as a teacher. Every teacher gets a unique phone number assigned to them.
Amber: That is not their personal phone number, important.
Lanny: And it’s not their personal phone number. And that’s the thing, you hear so much about teachers using personal resources in the course of their job and I don’t think that should have to be the case. And specifically both for teachers’ safety and for students’ safety you don’t necessarily want a teacher using a private phone number to be communicating with parents or students. You want them to be using a tool that the school has provided for them.
Amber: Sure. So I know you’ve been doing this for 3 years.
Lanny: Solo, yes.
Amber: So you write the code?
Amber: You go get the users and find them and sell the product and…
Lanny: I do the sales and the training and the coding and the support and the oh this is broken; I do everything which is both joyous and sometimes really, really hard.
Amber: Sure, so what is the hardest part about coding?
Lanny: Honestly that to me is a really – it’s the most fun part of it and I didn’t expect that. I didn’t come from a tech background; I was an English/Political Science major in college. After leaving my administrative job I went to one of those coding bootcamps, the Starter League up in Chicago, and learned how to code and I walked out of that 9 month program with my very first version of the app and was ready to start selling.
Amber: So did you go to the coding school with the intention of saying I’m going to build this communication tool or did it come to you after going to coding school?
Lanny: So I came in with a couple different ideas but pretty quickly got to the idea of parent communication and figuring out how to solve it. But what was really good about that program and what I think was really valuable was we went through a process of prototyping different solutions. The very first prototype I did was with one of my best friends who is a teacher and basically I was his communication coach. I knew his planning period was at 1:00 every afternoon and everyday at 1:00 I would text him and say here is Jodi’s phone number, send her parents a text letting them know how she is doing, the next day a different student, next day a different student.
Amber: So it’s like you get them on a schedule.
Lanny: Exactly, just to try and see like is this habitual texting of parents adding value? And from that teacher and those parents…
Amber: So you were beta testing.
Lanny: That was my beta test. But the best part was that I didn’t have to know how to code to text my friend everyday at 1:00 and so as I was learning the skills I was validating my first assumptions around parent communication. From that that kind of spring boarded me into okay, I think this could be a thing and kept going from there.
Amber: That’s great. So how do you make?
Lanny: How do I make money?
Amber: Yeah, to be blunt.
Lanny: I think that’s the big question with education and selling into schools, right? I think there’s this myth out there that schools have no money. And it’s not that they have no money, it’s that they have budgets and they’re not going to waste their money. And so there’s this big gap between software for teachers that gets given away and software that sold on big multi-million dollar contracts into school districts. I’m trying to hit that middle point which is I sell to principals because principals have budgets and they’re more in control and more able to implement something with fidelity on their campus than someone at maybe a district level.
Amber: Because they know what’s going on in the school day to day.
Lanny: Absolutely. They know what’s going on, they know what problems it solves and they have the ability to figure out amongst the personalities how to best implement it on their staff. So selling to schools, right now I have 20 schools who are onboard using Cardstock right now.
Amber: That’s great, congratulations.
Lanny: Which isn’t a billion.
Amber: I don’t know, it sounds big to me after 3 years.
Lanny: It feels really big, yeah.
Amber: From you starting in coding school.
Amber: Yeah, I think that’s a big leap.
Lanny: And honestly it’s awesome because obviously it started people I knew and schools I was very familiar with.
Amber: Sure, your immediate contacts.
Lanny: Absolutely. But the fact that now I’ve got a bunch of schools in Austin, I’ve got some college counselors in San Antonio, I’ve got a school out in the Bay Area and Brooklyn. And so learning how the problems I faced as an educator here in Houston, what similarities there are in other communities, but also what different challenges other folks are facing and how the same toll can hopefully solve those problems for everyone.
Amber: That’s great. Last thing, what is your vision for the future?
Lanny: I don’t know. It’s growing and I want it to keep growing. I think there’s this pressure in the startup world that you have to keep growing and eat the world and all of these things and I’m not necessarily motivated by that. I’m motivated by doing good by schools and teachers and the families they serve.
Amber: Yeah, and I know you’ve teamed up with a researcher to actually find out…
Lanny: Yes, we’ve been looking at the data and have partnered with one of our schools to pull student achievement data out to look and see all right, there’s more communication happening, people are feeling good about it, but what’s the impact on the bottom line which is student achievement. So we’re still doing that work as well.
Amber: So mapping out how many – because you have a record now of exactly how many text messages, what those text messages said to the parents and then comparing it to the students individually, is that correct?
Lanny: Exactly. You can take where a student was, look at this intervention that’s been put in place – which is this communication program – and see the impact it’s had on students.
Amber: That’s great. After 3 years?
Lanny: Thank you very much.
Amber: And thanks for joining us today.
Lanny: Of course, thank you.
Amber: Once again this is Lanny Bose of Cardstock for Teachers and I’m Amber Ambrose and you’re watching The BusinessMakers Show.
brought to you by