A Week in My Life: Stuart Hales, CEO of Wand Education
Wand Education is a technology platform that supports primary and secondary school teachers by providing access to a growing marketplace of high-class online content and learning support materials, automated marking and one-click reporting.
Their CEO, Stuart Hales, takes us through a week in his working life...
Monday starts early, thanks to the alarm clock that is my son, who still appears to be on GMT.
After a leisurely stroll down the hill to Tunbridge Wells station, I find myself standing in my usual spot, hoping to get a seat on the fast train to London. In truth, I don’t mind the commute. It gives me time to think and, as the CEO of an EdTech startup, that time is precious.
The commute is especially valuable on a Monday, as it gives me a chance to order the scattergun thoughts and ideas I have come up with over the weekend. As my colleagues will attest, these thoughts usually come in the form of a string of questions. Where are we with the new platform upgrade? The new website? The CRO strategy? Authoring contracts? Do we understand the crucial 10 seconds of interaction with customers when they first land on our site? What will make them press the subscribe button? How many trials and subscriptions did we pick up last week?
Today, the answers are more informed as we have just completed a focus group with a number of schools. Inevitably, this identified a whole host of positives. But, with these always come a few caveats - especially when speaking with teachers; ‘good but could do better’! Indeed, we appreciate any form of feedback as this is what helps us continually improve and evolve.
Today is all about interviews, providing feedback to the board and processing service contracts. My favourite things! Actually, we are extremely lucky with our board as both our principle and investor shareholders are very supportive.
Now we have completed our first monthly report, there are the inevitable clarifications and questions to deal with.
Getting the right people on board, especially within customer support, is crucial for any tech company. This is a vital component to our strategy, as supporting schools with the instalment of disruptive technology is key if you want them to subscribe. Indeed, large numbers of time-strapped teachers are often sceptical to try new technology, in the fear this could add to their already overwhelming workloads, so trying to onboard and support them requires a skilled team.
Another question that has been on my mind for the last month is how can we provide such support with a limited team and schools scattered across the country? Our solution is to combine people and technology in the form of a small customer support team supported by ‘Jeff bot’ - our automated chatbot from Drift! I have been nagging Ed, our Head of Marketing, to give him a moustache, but, for now, he is still clean-shaven.
Today, I am on the road. I am visiting schools across the South West - both current subscribers and those trialling the platform - to deliver training and feedback sessions. Marius, my platform lead, who first came up with the idea behind the Wand platform, is accompanying me on my journey. I’m sure he is looking forward to being trapped with me and my questions all the way down to Shute! I give Marius a break when we stop for a coffee and to make a job offer to the successful candidate from Tuesday for our Customer Support Manager role. Another piece in the puzzle filled.
We arrive at Shute Primary School and begin setting up (after managing to find a working Wi-Fi!). After the usual problems with forgotten passwords, the teachers get to run through the newly updated platform. Introducing any disruptive technology or concept into a market is always difficult and risky, but watching teachers play around with our platform and see the possibilities it presents, is a real pleasure and an invaluable insight.
Marius studiously takes notes on where we could improve functionality and user experience, as well as ideas for future ‘killer apps’ for next year’s updated version. The concept of providing a marketplace and tools for teachers to acquire, change, deliver and report on content is simple, but very different from our competitors.
After a quiet evening out with Marius, we are ready to see more schools today. But first, I must answer a barrage of emails and Marius must work through our recent upgrades with our Op Dev team in Europe. Luckily, the hotel Wi-Fi and breakfast are up to scratch. Today, our most important meeting is with a large, regional Multi-academy Trust that is an early adopter.
Modern academies are the antithesis of small primary and comprehensives, with their new gleaming buildings and embedded technology. This is the natural home for Wand, and it is no surprise that the academy we visited today has run with the concept and developed a full curriculum testing suite. We manage to convince them to use our platform to let wider schools access the regime and we leave happy.
Then, it is time for our last training and feedback session of the day. This is our most enthusiastic school yet. They cannot wait to get started after half-term. I wonder if they are demob-happy? Only time will tell. The drive is a race back to get Marius on his appointed train into London. We lose, and I feel slightly guilty as I chose to ignore Google Maps. However, I do make it home in time to put my son to bed and complete my training swim. For some reason, I have decided to complete a double marathon swim this summer and find this a great time to think up more ideas and questions to share with my team with.
Friday and Saturday
Unfortunately, Friday is not the end of the week for the team and I, as we have the last of our focus groups taking place over the weekend. In preparation, we take on feedback gathered from previous groups and discuss how Saturday’s session could be altered.
We decide to focus on customer conversion optimisation (CRO) questions and the black arts of maximising sales from a website - which is effectively our shopfront. This is particularly important as we are about to launch our newly built website with a full content management system. We had inherited a site based on Create, that was neither visible nor changeable - not ideal! Ed brings up a frightening statistic that if we do not catch a customers’ attention with 10 seconds, they would leave.
The Saturday morning and afternoon sessions go extremely well. With teachers loving the concept and functionality of the platform. Importantly, their insight into CRO is invaluable. The key is to understand their search criteria and how to give them what they want. This turns out to be content – which they need immediately, with easily understandable instructions for a reasonable price and a big red button. Who would have thought it?