With 35,000 newsletters produced for almost 500 schools and 170 childcare centres across Australia, the Sunshine Coast’s Schoolzine is an online publishing force to be reckoned with. Yet there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the Queensland-based company, despite the fact that it’s about to celebrate its ten-year anniversary.
Founded and run by CEO Phil Reardon, Schoolzine has been plugging along, absent of any startup-stage glory, since the company’s humble beginnings in January 2007. Since then, Schoolzine has grown from a small team based out of the University of Sunshine Coast’s Innovation Centre to what is now a large team working in Maroochydore on the doorstep of the Coast’s emerging Smart City precinct. It’s a growth that looks to be continuing, with Schoolzine recently announcing their expansion to the UK and Ireland.
“Our goal is to sign up 2,500+ schools in the UK and Ireland over the next three years,” said Reardon, who expects his workforce to double in the next few years and already serves international customers in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Falkland Islands.
It’s an ambitious plan. If Schoolzine succeeds, their UK and Ireland arm will be five times bigger in 3 years than what they’ve built in Australia in 10.
To execute Reardon’s international vision, Schoolzine has appointed UK-born Emily Halderthay, a former Business Manager at Nestlé, as the company’s UK and Ireland CEO. Commenting on her new role, Halderthay sounded excited: “PDFs instantly disengage me, while Schoolzine’s interactive newsletter content keeps me informed and continually engaged with the school.”
When quizzed on why they set up in the Midlands, and not 170km to the south, in London, Reardon explained, “The Midlands provides easy access to an international airport in Birmingham (England’s second largest city) and it’s where many of the major motorways connect.”
For Schoolzine, conquering the UK and Australia – the world’s fifth and thirteenth largest economies, respectively – is only the first step. According to Reardon, the company’s “goal is to become the world’s largest digital school service provider by 2020.”
Despite this success, no business is immune to speed bumps. When asked if he’d ever wanted to give up on his dream, and what lessons he’d learned, Reardon reflected:
“2007 to 2010 were very difficult times and we could have closed the doors on a couple of occasions. Our model at the start relied completely on advertising revenue and that dried up in 2008 with the GFC. We quickly pivoted, introducing a subscription model. Our customer retention is now so high that our subscription revenues outstrip the advertising revenues.”
“Since then, we have worked closely with our schools to continuously innovate a range of inclusions, such as apps, calendaring, and websites, so that a school can manage all of their communications under a single log in.”
“In mid-2008, we also launched our formatting engine, which transformed the production process from hours to minutes and gave us scalability. But we were still very early for the market, so we learned that it sometimes takes longer than you expect to generate momentum for a new technology.”
“In October 2015, when we moved premises, we learned how important the physical move was for our team, who took a great sense of pride in what we had created in our nine years at the Innovation Centre.”
“And finally, with our recent expansion into the UK, we learned what a positive impact an international expansion can have on the team at home too, who now really get a sense of the opportunities, not only for Schoolzine but for their own careers as well.”
With the recent hype around Australia’s government-sponsored startup landing pads, Schoolzine’s expansion stands as testament to the fact that if you have a great idea, there’s no need to wait for a landing pad to launch abroad.
With Schoolzine, Reardon’s approach was more direct: “Build an awesome product and don’t quit along the way. Research where your best customers are and just get on a plane and do it.”