Interview with Shani Dowell, Founder, Possip: www.possipit.com
Tell us about Possip. Our goal is to help schools get weekly feedback from parents. Schools can have big blind spots when it comes to knowing what they’re doing well or where there are problems. If schools do get feedback, it’s often unstructured or unplanned—like a parent mentioning something to the principal as they’re dropping their child off in the morning. Possip provides a way for parents to share regular weekly feedback via email or text prompts. For example, a weekly question might be “Did your child enjoy their week at school this week?” or “Is your child’s school a great place for your child and family?” Schools then receive a report that highlights data based on parents’ responses, useful tools and trends that might help problem areas, and whether parents would like to hear back from the school directly (if parent has provided his/her name). What motivated you to start this company? It was a combination of things. I’m the mother of a second grader and now four-year- old, both of whom are in schools. As a parent, I’ve seen my children have some very positive and then some not-so- great experiences at school. Like many parents, I’ve not always shared that because I get busy or I feel like I don’t want to bother the principal or teachers. The second thing that prompted me to start Possip is that my husband, who runs a network of schools here in Nashville, was in an extended period of stress with an unhappy parent. She had been complaining to teachers and principals for some time, and was getting more and more frustrated. Her issue was a relatively minor one, but because she was so frustrated it was hard for the conversation to be productive. I think many of the issues parents have with schools are around communication. I thought there should be a way for parents to give feedback—and for parents to respond —before things got out of hand like this. Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t have to be stressful, or at least can be less painful.
And finally, teachers and principals tend to hear a lot of complaints from parents, but as a parent, I’ve had lots of positive experiences with our schools and their staff that I had never thought about sharing or had a convenient way to share. I thought Possip would be a good way to counterbalance the complaining schools and teachers often hear. What steps are you taking to help get all parents responding—not just the ones who always speak up? We work with seven diverse schools. The reality is the data has panned out that more affluent parents do tend to share more narrative feedback and respond more regularly. That said we have also found some good news all around. We’re now piloting a quick two-minute phone call for parent feedback. We’re finding greater response from all parents when these phone calls are paired with the automated text or email they receive each week. What’s more, all parents have valuable feedback and seem to care about similar things even if it comes out in different ways.
We also provide translation to ensure that non-English speaking parents can read and respond to our weekly question. In some ways that has provided a few additional challenges to learn from but we’ve appreciated the ability to provide this service and the lessons we are learning from this.
Finally, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the number of fathers who are taking the time to respond to our questions. All of this is to say that response rates do vary, and the good news is we are finding there are still ways to hear from all parents. What successes have you seen so far? One success is that we’re landing schools who are generating revenue for us. As a startup, you can often get caught giving away your products for free, especially in the beginning. I’ve been pleased with the number of schools we have who are paying for our service.
Another success is the positive feedback I’m hearing from principals and parents about Possip and the communication it’s opened.
And finally, since we started the company, some of the issues that parents brought up as issues are starting to be resolved. It’s really exciting to see these positive outcomes brought about because of our work. What have been the challenges? A challenge for me is that I’m still working 80% at my day job, operational things like managing our tech provider, figuring out our long-term sales strategy, and marketing the product and getting parents to opt in have all been challenges. I’m also working on the idea of how far down the path I go to helping schools resolve problems they’re hearing about from parents. Possip provides schools with tools and ideas for follow-up with parents, but I’m still exploring how much more we should be involved there. Anything else you want us to know about Possip? We’re looking for new schools to work with. We find particular success working with schools where the principals are receptive to feedback and the parents are invested in the long-term future and success of the school.