My Startup: Zen Educate
Zen Educate works with over 4,000 teachers in London and Manchester to provide an online alternative to ‘pen and paper’ recruitment agencies, connecting teachers and schools directly.
Founded in 2017, Zen is the only tech platform accredited by the Department for Education's Supply Teacher Framework. Given that schools are struggling under financial pressure only made worse by trying to find supply cover through regular agencies, Zen Educate makes the system easier and cheaper.
Having saved the system more than half a million pounds since its launch, Zen lets schools can spend more of their money on the students and teachers.
Founders: Slava Kremerman and Oren Cohen
We spoke to Slava about the beginnings of Zen Educate.
Why did you start Zen Educate?
Prior to starting Zen Educate, I was part of the Leadership Team at one of the UK’s most successful FinTech startups, and saw first-hand how a fresh approach, paired with innovative technology, could be used to disrupt more ‘traditional’ industries for the better.
I had a family member who worked as a supply teacher and saw the extent of the current problem - where everything was manual and phone and paper-based. As a result, the service was expensive to provide and hundreds of millions of pounds was wasted on agency fees that could have been going to where it was intended - schools and teachers.
My Co-founder and I saw an opportunity to modernise education staffing and recruitment, so that costs could be driven down and more money could be spent on books, IT infrastructure and quality teaching.
Tell us more about the tech behind the product.
Sourcing a supply teacher at late notice can be incredibly stressful and time consuming for headteachers. The current agency model relies on making an average of about a dozen phone calls per absence every morning, frantically asking multiple agencies if they have "anyone suitable”.
We thought discovering which teacher is available, their proximity, and their skill set through a series of a dozen phone calls didn’t make sense. Instead, we have an online platform where a school can see the best teachers for them at a click of a button on our platform.
We invest quite heavily into our match algorithm which uses various data points to predict the fit of a particular teacher with an opening.
One of the great features of our platform is that it allows schools to see exactly how much money they have saved by using Zen Educate. They can dive into their profile at any point and see the benefit of not having to pay draconian agency fees.
Where are you at right now?
Right now, we are the only online platform accredited by the DfE Supply Teacher Framework, which puts us in an incredibly strong position in the market. Our only real competitors are traditional ‘pen and paper’ recruitment agencies, which charge exorbitant finder fees.
Since launching in 2017, we now work with 10% of London’s schools and over 4,000 teachers. We’ve put together an incredible team, many of whom are former teachers and Education Leaders.
Our team's background in education allows them to deliver invaluable insight into the pain points schools and teachers are facing. Although we are a London-based company, we also offer our services to schools and teachers across Greater Manchester and will shortly be rolling out to other regions.
What are your aims for the next year?
We’ve just raised an additional £5.6 million of funding, so we’ll be bolstering our platform, tripling our headcount and cementing our position in London and Manchester. We’ve already saved the education system a total of £600,000 since our launch, and we’re aiming to save schools £2 million by the end of the year.
We’ll do this by onboarding an additional 2,000 schools and 20,000 teachers, while growing our 20-person team to 60 by year end. We’re also devoting significant engineering time into the development of our ‘match algorithm’, which will enable schools and teachers to achieve even better matches.
While our focus is still on solving temporary cover needs, we are also developing our permanent hire offering in both London and Manchester.
What's been the hardest thing about getting Zen Educate off the ground?
We are a two-sided marketplace. Like most marketplaces, balancing supply and demand can oftentimes feel like spinning plates. It’s not good enough for us to just find a school who wants to use the platform or just a teacher. We need to find both in the same area that need each other on the same day.
Why should more people be using Zen Educate?
To put it simply, we are a one-stop-shop that solves all of a school’s staffing needs in a cost-effective, high-quality and stress-free way. Unlike recruitment agencies, we are also available 24/7, seven days a week, so we’re the best option for last minute staffing needs, particularly during weekends.
What really gets me excited is the broader implications for the education service as we continue to scale. It’s no secret that British schools are facing financial pressure, with many struggling to balance their budgets. If we can drive down supply cover costs, we can put money back into the hands of headteachers so they can spend more on the children themselves.
How much will it cost users?
There are no up-front costs for schools or teachers. Schools simply pay for what they use. As we’re significantly better value for money, the average school who uses Zen saves over £600 per month.