From Double Vision to Clarity: An Edtech Founder’s Story

Chaks Appalabattula thrives to create a better school communication platform. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

If life hands you lemons, make lemonade. This edtech founder did just that: Chakrapani “Chaks” Appalabattula never thought about starting a school communication app until he was diagnosed with idiopathic hypertrophic cranial pachymeningitis, a rare inflammatory disease. In a bad stroke of luck, suddenly his wife also developed health problems. With both parents ill, their young children were stuck. There was no one to get them to school and the family wasn’t connected with other parents or teachers who could help. 

‘There was no one to get them to school and the family wasn’t connected with other parents or teachers who could help.’

Chaks wanted to develop a solution so no parent would feel so isolated again — a complete and comprehensive communication app that connects the parents with the teachers.

As founder and CEO of Bloomz, Chaks (pictured) developed a unifying parent communication app that is transforming district-parent, school-parent, teacher-parent, and parent-parent communication in today’s social and mobile world.  

Before Bloomz, Chaks worked as VP of Strategic Partnerships at GlobalScholar and was responsible for P&L of the channels. Prior to joining GlobalScholar, he was Vice President of Consulting and Product Planning at AskMe Corporation, where he was instrumental in the development of the initial consumer business model. During his tenure at AskMe, he held a variety of roles in areas as diverse as product planning, program management, development, consulting, and sales. Prior to AskMe, Chaks worked at Microsoft where he was responsible for shipping Microsoft Word 2000 and Publisher 2002 to South Asian and Middle East markets. 

In 20 words or less, what is Bloomz?

Bloomz is a unified communications platform that increases parental engagement by connecting everyone with one easy-to-use tool.

You have an interesting story on why you started your company—how did this unfold?

In 2013, I was sick for nine months with abnormal thickening of the brain covering. It was an autoimmune condition that immobilized me; I was in and out of hospitals with paralysis, double vision, spinal taps, etc. During those months, my daughter—who was in second grade—changed schools. She was being bullied at the new school and didn’t know how to handle it. She didn’t want to add to her dad’s problems. Her grades suffered; she wasn’t following instructions or handing in homework and was being rude to others. 

Hear more of Chaks’ story. LISTEN HERE

Once I was healthier, my wife and I wanted to meet with our daughter’s teacher and thank her for her support. We were stunned to learn about our daughter’s situation. There are many symptoms associated with being bullied that in hindsight would’ve been obvious, but we had received no communication. Had her teacher reached out to us or shared any data, we would have realized that something was wrong.

All of this made me start to rethink 21st-century parent engagement. It needs to be quick, insightful, timely, and actionable. I began connecting with parents and educators on social media. Parents indicated they would love to know more about school; teachers and administrators said they wanted to share what is happening without being a burden. I decided to create a communications tool that would be like social media in the best ways: easy, engaging, secure, and private. Out of the double vision of my illness came the clear vision for Bloomz.

In your view, why exactly is communication so important for school districts?

Every 26 seconds, a student in this country drops out of high school. That’s from a 2015 Department of Education report, so the numbers are even higher today. Among developed countries, the U.S. ranks 22 out of 27 for high school graduation rates. These statistics are staggering, and I believe that communication is one of the main ways to address these challenges. 

Parents need data to understand what is happening, especially with younger children who are learning formative skills. Most of our schools capture the necessary data but we need to make sure the right people have visibility, the data is timely, and the two-way conversations are actionable. 

‘Parents need data to understand what is happening, especially with younger children who are learning formative skills.’

What’s your favorite thing about what you’ve created—any particular feature or benefit?

Visibility! Parents tell us Bloomz gives them a window into their child’s classrooms. Teachers tell us Bloomz helps create strong bonds between parents and children, teacher and parent, and child and teacher. Bonds are based on trust, and trust is based on transparency. When all stakeholders understand what a child needs and wants, it’s a foundation for success.

Any new or upcoming developments, features or highlights that we should be aware of? 

We’ve seen the platform evolve into a stronger connector at the middle-school level, where students are struggling with so many changes related to adolescence. They want their parents in the loop but they don’t want to admit it. Bloomz helps that happen organically.

School districts have so many communication challenges, but perhaps the largest is the potential language barrier. In the fall of 2020, more than 4.9 million English learners were enrolled in K-12, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s why we offer two-way AI-powered translation in 133 languages. Families can receive what they need in their preferred language and modality (app, text, email, voice) with just one click. After the pandemic, this need became even larger. As a result, we are continually improving this feature.

What is technology’s role in education – or what should it be? 

Technology needs to bring quantifiable value to educators and students. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and effort. It needs to save time or allow us to make improvements.

‘Technology needs to bring quantifiable value to educators and students. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and effort. It needs to save time or allow us to make improvements.’

How is AI factoring into your work, if at all?

We are already using AI in a significant way in our services. We leverage AI for automatic translation into 133 languages in text as well as 33 languages with human-like voices while making phone calls. We are introducing AI to make the communication templates and messages quicker. We look forward to making it intuitive for parents to have meaningful dialogues with their children using AI-based prompts.

What trends are you looking at as you move into the future?

We will continue to find ways to bring AI into Bloomz to increase ease of use and functionality. In addition, we are going to expand into a student-wellness platform that brings various aspects of emotional, behavioral, and social health into the system to ensure optimal outcomes for all students.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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