It’s back to school and if you’re a parent, you may feel frazzled just thinking about all the associated admin and logistics. KwaZulu-Natal dad Will Edgcumbe has been there.
He recalls, “Our children had reached that age where they were going to pre-primary school, and we were just astounded at how many requests there were to bring in R5 for a hot dog or R10 for civvies day.
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“Not only is it a pain to find the exact change in what is increasingly a cashless world, but it’s a challenge for schools themselves to administer these small amounts and determine which children have paid and which haven’t.”
Edgcumbe, the operations director for a technology company, and his colleagues – also parents – thought there had to be “a better way”. This sparked the idea for their secure, smart SchoolHub app, which “takes all the pain out of school payments, from paying school fees and ordering uniforms to ad hoc things like tuck-shop purchases and excursion payments”.
The existing business had already built a powerful e-commerce system, and had experience building mobile apps, he explains. “So, we thought we’d create an app and get it into our kids’ schools so we would no longer have to scrounge under the couch cushions for coins at the last minute. Before we knew it, we’d signed up a few schools.
“We’re very much a local business, and we want to support local schools,” says Edgcumbe.
The team – headed by Jared Krause, the “main driving force behind the business”, and comprising technical director Frank Dawson and sales and customer support agent Kim Botha, along with “an amazing development and ICT team” – piloted the app at Amanzimtoti Primary School (a school none of their children attend), after being told its uniform and tuck shops (separate businesses) could benefit from a technological overhaul.
Since then, growth has been slow but steady. SchoolHub is now used in five schools in the Durban area, says Edgcumbe. The initial phase of testing the market has proven that it works for parents and for schools, and the feedback has been “extremely positive”.
Being selected in 2021 as one of 12 enterprises supported by insurer Hollard’s Big Ads for Small Business initiative to provide SMMEs with marketing support to ensure their long-term growth – and create a knock-on effect of “better futures” for communities and the country’s economy – was “a big deal”, he notes.
“We’re a small, self-funded business, meaning that paid advertising is an expensive avenue to go down. Hollard’s support has given us so much exposure we would otherwise never have received.
A seamless, cashless solution
“For schools, administering cash that comes in dribs and drabs is a nightmare,” says Edgcumbe. “Our system not only consolidates all the monies that come through the system, but we also provide the school with a full set of books each month with a reporting pack, so they easily know who paid what and when. We also provide daily live reports with all sale and payment details.
“For parents, the wins are obvious – no scrambling for weirdly specific cash amounts, like R16 for civvies day – just a simple payment in the app. For tuck shops, parents can also load credit for their children, so they don’t run buck wild and spend all their money on sweets. Parents can also pre-order healthy tuck shop options.”
Because the team own and run the business themselves, they can “pivot very quickly to give schools what they want”, Edgcumbe adds. “For some, we’ve integrated with small POS [point-of-sale] printers; for others, we’ve adapted how products are scheduled …
“We believe in the personal touch, too – any one of us is just a phone call away for our customers.”
If a parent has even a basic smartphone, SchoolHub will run on it – and the potential customer target market is essentially as broad as the parent base of any given school. “That’s where 2023 comes in. We want SchoolHub to be available countrywide!”
The first goal is to broaden the app’s footprint in South Africa, but Edgcumbe believes the innovation could benefit schools further afield on the continent, “where app usage and mobile penetration – and comfort around transacting within an app – is generally quite high”.
“And for schools with few administrative resources, or stretched resources, we think SchoolHub is an amazing solution to ease some of that pressure.”
“Once we have a bigger footprint countrywide, we’ll be entering some awards – holding thumbs we do well! Ultimately, though, the biggest reward is just doing good business with the schools and parents we support.”
The journey has not been without its obstacles. “People in general are resistant to change, and there is great comfort in doing something the same way it’s always been done – even if it’s inefficient or difficult. So the primary challenge has been convincing schools and parents that there is a better way to handle school payments … but those parents who use SchoolHub love it!” Edgcumbe says.
“The other challenge is that there are one or two other school payment solutions with large footprints across the country, primarily thanks to aggressive corporate funding.
“We believe our app is the better solution, so taking on these big players will be a fun but challenging exercise!”