Exploring the power of engaged parents with simple, modern tools.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
There are more than 83,000 parent faculty associations (PTA/PTOs) out there that work tirelessly — and they all just got some very smart help. Bryn Boughton is the CEO and co-founder of Monday Envelope, an all-in-one communication, volunteering and fundraising solution for PTO/PTA communities. She is a digital media and marketing expert. She founded IRIS Distribution and grew the company to become one of the world’s largest independent digital media distributors before selling to a division of Sony Entertainment in 2012. As the mother of two, she also serves as her PTO Membership and Communication Chair. Ken Manning is product head and co-founder of the company. He is a pioneering tech executive and product creator who helped launch Razorfish, eMachines, Acer Online, and Soundtracker. He has led teams in end-to-end development on more than a hundred large projects including eBay (during startup), Intel, McKinsey, Hilti, Cisco, Global Fund, and W.H.O. In this exclusive EdTech Digest interview, they answer questions, share insights and hand us an empowered future.
Victor: What prompted you to create Monday Envelope?
Bryn: My daughter started kindergarten a few months after I had sold my last company to Sony. I was really excited to have the time to volunteer in the classroom and for the parents’ club but quickly got overwhelmed by the avalanche of duplicate and sometimes conflicting communication. A lot of the communication was around fundraisers (which seemed to happen constantly). I was shocked to learn how much money the PTO raises for the school and the type of things that we were required to fund. For example, our PTO paid for air conditioning units, the ESL teacher, the computer labs and even for soap in the bathrooms. We raise over 100,000 per year for our school and in the bay area that’s on the low side. Collectively, parent organizations are raising over 4 billion a year. Talk about public school no longer being free. When I joined the parents club board, I realized that organizing and effectively communicating with the group using current tools made things difficult to impossible. Everyone wanted to help but they were just spinning their wheels.
Collectively, parent organizations are raising over 4 billion a year. Talk about public school no longer being free.
Ken: Bryn called me up and we started talking about the problem and what was out there. We were both surprised there were no good solutions. Most people were stuck in the 20th Century — all paper. Others were daisy-chaining a bunch of different products together. We immediately saw the opportunity.
Victor: What has been the response from your Beta testing group?
Ken: We’ve been very lucky to have some very active PTAs and PTOs in our beta group. With their input, we’ve been able to identify the specific needs and build a platform that’s making a significant difference for our users right out of the gate. As the year progresses, we’re also getting to see where the overlaps are between the different groups and we’ll be able to start modeling new features around the most successful and engaged groups.
Victor: Parent volunteers and PTO/PTA leaders have different problems. How do you handle the needs of both groups?
Bryn: There’s actually a lot of overlap between the needs of the general membership (parent volunteers, donors etc) and the group leaders. Access to a single hub for all information is crucial for leaders who are tired of posting information to 10 different sites, sending email reminders and fliers and for tracking volunteers. Parents have also become blind to some of the communication because it was coming from so many sources and was so difficult to parse and put in context. Having everything in one place solves both of those problems. Now that the foundation of good communication is in place, leaders can focus on building their community and driving more engagement. We’re excited about building new features that facilitate that as well.
Victor: Does Monday Envelope work for both public and private school groups?
Bryn: For sure! There’s a lot of visibility around the lack of funds and resources for public schools right now and we’re very happy to make a difference for that sector. Private schools may not have as much difficulty collecting contributions from their parents but they didn’t have an efficient mechanism for doing so. Too much time and effort is still spent on managing information and managing communication.
Victor: What if the school population doesn’t have access to computers?
Bryn: One of the drivers for building a ‘mobile-first’ product was to give access to the greatest number of users. Even if parents don’t have a home computer, they can access all of the information on their phone or any mobile device.
Victor: How will the group leaders convince all their members to use a new product?
Bryn: Unlike other platforms and apps, there’s no convincing people to join or download anything with Monday Envelope. You really just need the group leader’s participation to get things started. They upload their members’ emails – sometimes as many as a 1,000 people – and everyone is onboard.
Ken: Right now, from a parent’s perspective, school communication and tasks are eating up a lot of time. So, once the group leader has put these people are in our system, it’s easy for them to see how painless school communication and tasks can be. It’s a pretty easy sell for everyone.
Victor: What do you see as the biggest benefit for parents? For parent organizations?
Bryn: For parents it’s the hours and hours that are saved. This is time they can spend, well, actually with their kids. It’s also freeing up a lot of mental energy that was being spent trying to remember dates or find information buried in emails. For the organizations, they’re now able to have direct access to their biggest asset, their parents!
Victor: Why aren’t other products on the market serving these groups?
Bryn: There are a number of products that parents have been using for one particular need. For example to manage volunteers for a specific event, to send email newsletters, to collect payments but none of them play well together. Parents were having to frankenstein together a system that often fell a part. There are also a lot of products on the market that serve the school sites or the districts but those are built with different needs in mind: monitoring attendance, eLearning, grading etc.
Victor: How do you plan on reach out to the thousands of parent organizations across the country?
Bryn: We’ve been lucky that our model is innately ‘shareable.’ Parents who are members of one PTA or PTO often have children at other schools. They’re also room parents, coaches, scout troop leaders. Since Monday Envelope lets you view your schedule and information across multiple groups in one place; parents are incentivized to bring Monday Envelope to their other groups. It’s created a lot of organic advocates. When your group raises money using our crowd-funding feature, friends from other schools see the posts in their social media feeds. We’re also in talks with other companies and organizations that support parents and schools. There have also been some great publications (such as yours) that have given us exposure.
Victor: Broadly speaking, what are your thoughts on technology enhancing education in general these days?
Bryn: In general, I’m a fan of using technology to create more access, efficiency and transparency in education. I can see how it’s daunting to teachers, administrators and parents though, especially with new curriculums being implemented. I think UX becomes more and more important to make every product as intuitive as possible and to shorten the learning curve. Also, younger parents grew up in a tech-enabled world. They’re used to products that work well. They’re comfortable with tech, and they’re demanding tech solutions to solve problems in the classroom.
Now that the edtech market has had some time to mature, it’ll be nice to see less time wasted on experimentation and more building on tools that have proven out to be effective.
Any other thoughts on technology enhancing and improving education in these last few years?
Ken: I’m very interested in the research being done by organizations like Knewton who are adapting curriculum on an individual level based on learning styles. It’s really about access to education, too. Technology allows people to break barriers associated with having to be in a certain location at a certain time. Anywhere/ anytime access allows people a lot more flexibility to make their own educational choices. They’re not be limited by work constraints or the part of the country they’re in. It’s very empowering.
Victor: What trends do you see in the near 1-2 year future?
Bryn: Now that the edtech market has had some time to mature, it will be nice to see less time wasted on experimentation and more building on tools that have proven out to be effective. Personally, I have a vested interest in seeing more transparency in the use of funds and greater involvement by parents.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]