All it takes is an idea. Sharlene Barnes had exactly that — an idea that had stuck in her head ever since her children started attending school.
It’s never easy to change career paths, but after two bouts of melanoma, Sharlene decided life was too short not to chase her dreams and not so long down the path, she created one of the most in-demand education apps in Australia and New Zealand. The Skool Loop app is a tool for communication between schools and the school community, and something parents have been desperately calling out for.
“It leaves the children out of it. It is just teachers and administration staff, it just streamlines all communications. It’s not a one-on-one app, it’s the school to schooling community,” Barnes tells StartUpSmart.
Proving age is just a number when it comes to entrepreneurship, at the age of 45 Barnes put her ideas down onto an A4 piece of paper and started to formulate what she envisioned her app to look like.
“I knew there had to be a better way than what we were currently doing, I just needed better technology… I knew the technology I needed when the idea came to me wasn’t mainstream,” she says.
“My son introduced me to smartphone apps and as soon as I saw it, I knew this is what I was waiting for.”
Sharlene began the arduous task of finding someone to help her turn her A4 sketches into a well functioning app and business at large. Barnes “did the ring around” and finally found app development company Activate Design in New Zealand.
“Coding is like a whole other language … I tried to get a lot of information beforehand but I said to them, ‘this is what I want’ and left it in their capable hands,” she says.
“There were plenty of times where they came back to me and said we can’t do that, so I asked them, ‘well, what can we do?’, and made it work from there.”
Accumulating 15 years of sales knowledge in her publishing career, Barnes didn’t have too much trouble raising the funds needed to get the app off the ground, after investing $10,000 of her own money.
“Digital advertising was something new to me, having worked in print based advertising my whole life, but I did have to convince advertisers that this was the way of the future”, she says.
“I took a chance and it could go one way or the other … thankfully it went the right way!”
Growth and the future
Since its inception in 2012, the Skool Loop app has grown substantially and is currently being used by more than 700 schools in Australia and New Zealand, but Barnes is looking to push those numbers well beyond 5000.
With over 12,000 advertisers involved with the app, Barnes’ company has grown to 15 staff members and is reporting annual turnover of $1.8 million.
“There are a lot of functions that we can add to the app — we listen to school’s suggestions. All of a sudden, we will hear schools say, ‘actually we want this’,” says Barnes.
“We have push notifications to alert the entire school community of any event taking place. If a school bus breaks down and all children are going to be 20 minutes late, parents can instantly know.”
Despite such a successful first endeavour into the app development world, Barnes says she hasn’t got any more ventures planned just yet, as her attention is firmly focused on the Skool Loop app.