Go east, young man: QuickSchools.com cracks the code in Boston
By Karamjit Singh July 6, 2012
- Founders feel they have cracked the hiring puzzle
- Boston stint to focus on maturing their HTML5 platform and build app store
QUICKSCHOOLS.COM founders Azreen Latiff and Aris Samad are an excitable duo, but when Digital News Asia caught up with them via video conference last week, they were a lot more excited than usual.
They had relocated from San Francisco to the South Bay in March, which is further south, and are working from a Plug N Play center in Sunnyvale. The effect has been electrifying. Or, to quote, Azreen,“extremely electrifying.”
QuickSchools.com is an online school management system based on the cloud.
There are around 300 companies in the building they are at, and the turnover is very high they say. This is turnover caused by companies exiting, meaning they have been bought up. “Just two weeks ago we were at a celebratory lunch because the company two cubes down from us got acquired,” says Aris (pic).
And opposite their cube [work space] is another hot start-up which has attracted a lot of high fliers to join them. The definition of highfliers means senior executives from established companies or those who were previously with other tech companies which had been bought out. One’s social prestige is high if the person had been part of a start-up that had been bought out. You don’t have to be one of the founders, either.
This particular company is in mobile payments, a space that is very hot in the United States. The start-up has gone from zero to 27 staff in a matter of months.
Besides all the exciting, smart and crazy entrepreneurs they are surrounded by, throw into the mix a steady stream of people they are exposed to: The author of Black Swan, the founders of Spotify and Dropbox, via networking events, and visitors to the center they are working from – and the QuickSchools.com duo are all ready to carve their own breakout story and pop the champagne (the non-alcoholic type of course).
Their main pain-point thus far has been the speed at which they can execute. And this leads to the second reason for their higher than usual excitement levels.
From a product standpoint, Aris shares that they are now moving away from Flash to HTML5. But hiring people is not easy in the Valley where it is “absolutely intense.”
So the guys tried a new approach which worked way better than they had expected and which is why as you read this, they are in Boston working with a group of talented people they are very excited about.
“We started putting ads all over the place to hire people remotely to work with us, but not full time. Rather we just gave pieces of work out for a few people to do the same work, and we would then compare to see whose work we liked the best. We would interact with them over the time it takes them to complete the work, which is important as we get to know each other a bit,” says Aris.
In other words, “Interviews and resumes were completely out the door, it was all about how well you could do the work we gave,” says Aris.
They call this their ‘fail-fast hiring method’ as at the end of the day, they have a really good idea of who they want to hire full-time. It has gone so well that they are using this approach to hiring for all aspects of their team, not just the engineers.
And, because some of the hires are part time, they can be used only when necessary and this has been extremely useful as a cost control tool for the duo.
The upshot of this approach is that they have a “fantastic team of three engineers and two designers who want to work for us,” says Azreen (pic). As they focused on one city, Boston, the next question was, would these people relocate to California? Could QuickSchools.com afford them?
The duo quickly decided that it would be easier for them to move up to Boston to be with their team. So, as you read this, they are working out of a shared working space called Intrepid Labs in the Cambridge area, in what Aris quips is “a month-long hackathon.”
The exercise will also be useful for all parties to really get to know each other and decide if they really want to work together, and if QuickSchool’s vision is compelling enough for them to want to be a part of.
The team in Boston is really excited too and Aris, for one, feels that they may just have cracked the hiring puzzle with the approach they have used to find their dynamic team from Boston.
In their existing market of 300 schools and below, QuickSchools.com has been doing very well, doubling its customer base every year, but it has also resisted the temptation to target the larger schools, defined by them as those with 500 to 1,000 students.
“We believe in focus. The more focused you are, the stronger your product is,” says Aris.
In programming lingo it is called spaghetti code, which means when you try to do too many things for too many people, the code goes all over the place.
But their move to HLTM5, a whole different technology, has opened up a space for them to be able to customize their solution and just layer it cleanly on their existing platform which they previously could not do with Flash. This means their existing customers who are happy with their QuickSchools.com software are not disturbed.
This has led to the next strategic move by them. They are going to build an app store to allow education providers to place their apps in the store while QuickSchools.com itself will be building an app customized for the needs of the larger schools they now want to target.
Hence the month in Boston will be all about maturing their HTML5 platform and to build out the app store.
Getting the app store up and creating traction for it will be a challenge but watch this space. If all goes to plan, QuickSchools.com is definitely poised for its own breakout party soon!