Between difficult children, budget cuts and attendance problems, being a teacher can quickly become overwhelming. IO Education‘s software helps make their jobs easier by crunching data like the number of failed courses, behavioral issues, attendance, and other relevant factors, and providing early warning indicators to aide those students onto a path of success.
The A+ Atlanta startup is growing fast. Recently expanding beyond their office in and, therefore, graduating from the Atlanta Tech Village, IO has acquired complement companies around the country, including EADMS. These acquired companies help them boost their features — which include teacher workflow, aggregate student data, teacher evaluations and others. Their mission to empower educators around the country is catching on fast, too, as they are now in 48 states.
Michael Williamson, CEO of IO Education, saw the void in the educational market about five years ago, and, now, sees success stories popping up all over the country with thanks to IO Education’s software. “It’s really all about early intervention, predicting which kids are going to drop out or which kids are going to fail and finding those kids early and intervening.”
From their new office space in Buckhead, Williamson talks about their expansion and how they help newly acquired companies assimilate to IO Education’s core values.
What are the main features that would highlight what the software does?
One of the things that we try to do is take this broad idea around bringing together data to help educators better use it, to very specifically apply it to certain cases. For example, a district may have a goal, “We want to improve our graduation rate by 10% this year.” One of the things that we can do is early warning indicators. We can take multiple pieces of data and predict early which kids are most likely going to drop out. If we can find those kids in 7th, 8th grade, when they’re in that really transitional part of their life, if they start to go off track, and the data will tell us that early. We can identify those kids, then we can prescribe an intervention to really fix those issues, whether it be attendance or discipline or maybe they failed a course.
Your main customers are schools, so how do you get involved with them?
We sell to school districts. Like here, Fulton County has about 80 to 100 schools, so we would sell to the district. We do a lot of different things to get in front of them to demo, from outbound prospecting with our SDR team to traditional marketing to get the message out. We do a lot of trade shows and conferences and just try to tell our story to convert them to a full demo.
As you grow, now that you’ve graduated from the Atlanta Tech Village, how have you felt that your company has evolved?
We’ve had a very different journey than a lot of other startups. I started this company about 5 years ago, just me and a co-founder. We built it in the traditional, bootstrapped, startup way. It took us about a year and a half to build the first version of it.
When we moved into ATV almost 2 years ago, we had about 8 to 10 people. We’d gotten really good traction and built the company up to about $2 million of annual recurring revenue and were doing great and growing really fast. Then we had the opportunity to merge with another company that was doing very similar work in a different part of the country. It was very complementary, so we decided to bring those companies together, which took us from 10 to about 50 or 60 employees.
We’ve got a great private equity partner, LLR Partners, that backed us financially through that transaction. The strategy has been how can we continue to spread our message and grow as fast as we can. The part of the market we’re in is a very hot part of the market. A lot of districts really need what we have. Then our latest acquisition, which was about a month ago, we found a complementary product that we really needed that would add to the story, so we were able to bring them into our IO family.
Who are your competitors and how do make IO Education stand out?
The education market is a very competitive market. There are a lot of players doing a lot of different things. There are more and more companies that are up and coming that are doing similar things that we’re doing: analytics and data visualization and data management. I would say we’re probably the #1 player in the market, or close to #1 for what we do.
The main thing, the way that we try to stand out, is around ease of use. Teachers have really hard jobs. They work long hours, and they have a lot of demands on them, and so a big part of our story is how can we make their life easier and better? How can we save them time? We’ve spent a lot of time on the ease of use of what we do, and we think that is a differentiator.
Do you have any particular success stories from school districts using your product?
We have a New York City school that we just wrote up a case study on that was focused on graduation. Their graduation rate went from 56% to 80% graduation rate in, about 3 years. Then another district was focused around discipline, around behavioral measures such as suspensions. They wanted to change their culture around behavior, and so they implemented a part of our product that does badging around behavior incidents, and they reduced their suspensions dramatically in doing that.
As you grow fast and all these things are happening from everywhere, how do you keep your company’s initial goals and values in place?
That’s always a challenge, and it’s more of a challenge for us in that we’ve grown rapidly through merging and acquisitions. When you acquire a company, they have their own culture, their own history, and their own way they do things, and we’re bringing them into the IO family. Part of that selection process is do their values match with what we’re all about? We’ve been very purposeful about what our core values are, and we’ve been very transparent around what those are and how important those things are to us. When you’re adding on a bunch of employees at a time and growing like we are, it’s really important to just stay true to those things.
We have 4 core values. We do a bunch of different things, but these are notebooks that we give away to our customers even, and the first page are our 4 core values — Innovative, Energized, Knowledgeable and Dedicated.
At the company meetings I do, we talk about core values. We send out emails. If someone really does something that’s very supportive to our customers or really innovative, we like to promote and say, “Look what Stephanie did today. She’s living our core values of being so supportive to our customers or to another employee.” We go through these with every new employee and even candidates we’re interviewing. Then we talk about them as much as we can, and we really want to celebrate when people live these core values.
Why do you feel this is essential, aside from keeping true to the initial values?
With any business, the people are the most important part of it. You can have the best idea and the best timing of the market, the best kind of strategy, but if you don’t have people that live all of these things, it’s not going to do as well as it could. Then the other way, if you have really smart people that live these values, they can pretty much accomplish anything that you want. My experience in the 2 startups that I’ve been involved in, the people side and building the right culture is the most important thing. We’re big believers in it and try to live those as much as we can.
What’s next for IO Education, following the recent acquisition?
It’s been a little bit of a transition to have our own office versus ATV. There’s a lot of things about it that we miss, being part of the community, which we’re going to stay involved as an alumni as much as we can. We’re hiring and recruiting a lot of people, and so we’re expanding here as well as our other offices. We’ve got 4 other offices — we have New York City, Charlottesville, Virginia. We have one in Pennsylvania, and then our newest one is in California, the San Diego area.
The big thing that we’re focused on now is taking these really 4 companies that we’ve brought together, and continue to do integration work to make it a seamless experience across all of these portfolio of products. Then with each one of them, there are roadmaps of things that we’re doing, innovative new things that we’re bringing to the market. This part of what we’re working in, analytics and education, is a rapidly changing part of the market, so there’s a lot of opportunity to really be innovative and continue to go. We’re still looking for other complementary companies that we can bring in with us.