Hengjie Wang and Alliv Samson discuss rolling out their education software in New Zealand and North American, and starting a business to solve their own problems.
What does your business do?
Hengjie: Kami takes documents that teachers have and send out to kids and turns them into digital versions with our file and document reader. For example, when a teacher sends out worksheets the kids can complete the work and send it back off to the teacher again on their device.
Kami is a piece of software people use on top of their devices. Most schools today have Chromebooks, and we're a web app that runs on top of that. We're almost six years old and we've got 17 people working for us, six million people around the world using us and over 20,000 schools in the US use the software.
What was the motivation for starting it?
Alliv: We wanted to create a product that solved our own personal problems. When we started we were still in university - I was doing arts and the two guys were doing engineering.
We were going through a lot of readings and worksheets and needed a collaborative way to create notes and share them with the rest of the class so that was the first gen of Kami.
We started selling the software to universities here in New Zealand, unfortunately that didn't grow as fast as we wanted which is why we pivoted, after a year, to focus on the United States and tweaked our product to fit there needs.
We got a lot of interest from different industries - doctors, lawyers, businesses, however, we saw the biggest need was in the education market which is why we decided to re-focus and try to solve the problems of teachers and students in kindergarten all the way up to year 12. We're still a small team and so focusing solely on education has helped us a lot.
Are New Zealand schools using your app?
Hengjie: Yes, we have something like 75 per cent of Australia and New Zealand private schools market. Diocesan School in Auckland is using Kami and there are a number of public schools throughout the country using us. In total, around 830 schools in New Zealand use Kami.
You recently closed a round of seed funding - how much money did you secure?
Alliv: We raised NZ$1.5 million with a valuation of $19m, led by an Australian venture capital company called Right Click Capital. We're already cashflow positive but this seed funding will boost our growth and help us hire more people.
The digitalisation of learning in New Zealand is still in its infancy - is this something Kami is hoping to hone in once it is widespread?
Alliv: This year we want to focus on North America as we are still only scratching a really large surface. Australia and New Zealand schools are now adopting Chromebooks and developing their partnerships with Google as we're going to look into that as well. We're getting close towards seven million sign ups now, for the end of the year we are to aiming for 15 million.
New Zealand schools are in the very early stages, American ones are around five years ahead. Here they are still figuring out who is going to buy the Chromebooks, where they will get the funding and which students get the devices - most have been using the bring-your-own-device system for a few years now. Many schools in the US, however, no longer have textbooks - even publishers no longer sell physical textbooks, they are in PDF formats, and a Chromebook per student.
What's the hardest part about running a software company like Kami?
One of our biggest challenges, because we're based in New Zealand and most of the team are Kiwis and we are trying to build, market and sell this product to Americans, is trying to get to know our customer. We want to design the right features for them so how we're solving that is the team travels every to three months and we try to make sure everyone in the team gets inside an American classroom so that they can absorb, talk to a teacher and understand their lives.
What advice would you give to people wanting to start their own business?
Go big on day one. Our growth has been great - but only after we started looking at the bigger picture.