Andre Feigler has always had a passion for kids. Having started off as a teacher, she soon realized that teaching wasn’t for her, but she had a real passion for engaging kids and helping them through education. When she saw the difficulties that schools have in finding inspiring (and the right) substitute teachers, she set up her business, ‘Enriched Schools’. Motivated by her passion for education, Andre’s business is about helping schools to find inspiring substitute teachers who exactly fulfill the individual requirements of the classroom.
Andy: Welcome everyone to another episode of Starting from Nothing – the Foundation podcast. Today we have Andre Feigler with us on the show. Andre is the founder of Enriched Schools, a company that is changing the way schools find substitute teachers by helping them find more qualified and more engaged candidates.
She started the company a little over a year ago without any outside funding or business experience and is already right around 20 grand a month in revenue and she’s here on the show to tell us how she did it.
Andre, thanks for being here.
Andre: It’s a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, Andy.
Andy: I’m so excited because generally when we have people on the show rarely are people going after government-based institutions like schools and stuff. We’ll get to that in a moment. But before we get into the interview and stuff tell us a little bit about what Enriched Schools is and how it works.
So we are a concierge-like service and web platform that connects fantastic people to schools who desperately need quality substitutes. So we’re sort of a flexible staffing service. It started really from my own experience teaching and has now grown. We’re in the New Orleans area and looking to expand soon. Helping schools really around the country find excellent folks to come in and enhance the day even when a teacher is out.
Andy: So, the school pays for it and they … you help them find substitutes. Is that right?
Andre: Exactly. Exactly. And you mentioned the difficulty in some of these government bureaucracies and educational system is one system that hasn’t changed in … crazy in a 100 plus years. So, we actually take a really painful problem and process for the school which is finding a sub who can come in and be engaging and they outsource it to us. They love it because it takes the work and the time and the quality search off of their hands. And then we enjoy it because we’re able to actually connect with the amazing network of people in a community who have skills to share but who aren’t always tapped to bring their skills into the classroom.
Andy: What do you mean by a sub that’s engaging? Because I remember middle school and high school and when the teacher is sick it was awesome because we didn’t have to do anything. For the most part, you know? You have somebody come in and you just kind of hangout.
Andre: For sure. It’s the warm body …
Andre: … business, right? It’s like the adult babysitter, the chance to watch Free Willy or some movie and everyone can relate to that. I feel like you hear the word sub and everybody has a story. It’s like, “Oh yeah, that day with Mr. Johnson where we had spitballs and love notes and …
Andy: You’re playing competitions and … yeah.
Andre: Exactly. Just as an example we’re trying to slip that on its head and say, “Let us get rid of the adult babysitter and let’s bring in the spoken word artist,” as an example.
Today, literally right now, at one of our partner schools, [Clover Park 00:03:29] High School here in New Orleans. We have a woman by the name of Tank. Her full name is I think Teriana Ball but she goes by Tank. She is a world-renowned poet, musician, singer, slam poetry artist who’s actually in there in place of a teacher who’s actually out either sick or on professional development day. Which is a whole another thing that I think we actually should encourage teachers to be able to do is take time, right, to go observe their peers like any other industry.
Andre: But when I say more engaging, Tank’s in there, she’s actually opening the day with one of her own pieces. She is telling the students, “This is who I am. This is how I got here. And if you have an interest in words and expression maybe you too can follow my footsteps and be an artist.” And the kids … I mean they like literally light up. I wish I had a photo or a video to show you. That’s sort of what we mean when we say engaging. And professions range, right? It’s not just the humanities but we’ve brought in yoga teachers, we brought in scientists. All different industries can enhance the day.
Andy: How does the schools decide what they want?
Andre: Yeah, that’s a great question because it sometimes hard to know what you want if you don’t … like, you know, who would think that you could have a scientist instead of a normal teacher for a sub.
Andre: So we’re working on that. We kind of have a menu of options that we say, you know, “Here’s a couple of the … types of individuals that we have and they’re able to actually look through and then search – based on the content of the teacher who is taking that day out. In some cases we actually help the school by kind of suggesting individuals – that would be a good fit. Naturally a poet works well in an English class, a scientist in a Math or Science class.
Andre: And there are cases where it just needs to be a more reliable person. Maybe a former … maybe a [inaudible 00:05:23] or former teacher who come in and just pick up so that the kids don’t miss a beat. We have those candidates as well.
Andy: So tell me how … where did you come across the idea for this?
Andre: You know I think, Andy, people get overwhelmed at the idea of starting something, right? It’s like everybody wants to be … Entrepreneurship is super sexy, right? It’s like everybody wants to have a startup and create this new, disruptive technology.
Andre: And I think that like … when people ask me like where do the idea come from, it seems almost like overly simple to say. Well, it’s something that I experienced so therefore I knew it and I built it based on what I wanted. You hear that like scratch [inaudible 00:06:11] itch story.
Andre: If I’m being honest that’s what it was for me. I taught, I moved down to New Orleans five years ago to teach and there was two things I noticed and one of them was subs were really shitty and the process of finding it was completely absurd. It was like this yellow paper that my school secretary had at the front office and she had to go through and call … you know. [Inaudible 00:06:34] that she brought in and it’s no fault of their own, were not prepped. They had no real interest in being there; they were on their phones the whole time. And the second thing I noticed is the teacher was like, “Gosh! We should have more role models in the building that are actually able to …” you know, inspire and empower the kids.
Where the idea come from is something that as a teacher … I was like this is not the way it should be and it would be interesting for me to try to create a model on the outside of this very bureaucratic system that is public education … unfortunately in this country to change it.
Andy: It’s so fascinating because half the people that come to The Foundation come because they don’t have an idea. I remember being an entrepreneur wanting to start a company and being so frustrated because … like just not having that idea and how hard it actually is to come across them.
Andy: But I think … I think honestly the best people are … people who are just looking to solve problems. Like that’s at the end of the day they’re just looking to solve problems and want things to be done more effectively and more efficiently.
When you see the sheet of paper, you see the secretary dialing these names every morning to find subs, the idea hits you. Was it a day where you were looking for a sub? Was there a moment when it hit you or like … do you remember what exactly it was?
Andre: Yeah. The moment. Right. That one particular moment. There’s probably a series of moments. I didn’t have that like one eureka like, “Oh, there it is!” Like this is horrible. I think the truth of any entrepreneurs or any that it’s probably much more of a iterative, pivoting, pivoting process. I’d be lying to everybody if I said like, “Oh yeah, there is the one day where I came back to my classroom and my room was a shit show and it was full of trash and I thought ‘Let me create a … uber for substitute teaching.’” It wasn’t as clean as that.
Andre: But that there were a couple of key experiences and, you know, I’m joking about that moment of coming back to my classroom but those moments did happen.
For Enriched I think it was also really informative to have conversation with principals in New Orleans to sort of like test out my hunch which is like … As the teacher I knew instinctively, and based on the feedback from my students, that this wasn’t the most effective system. What do you think? How are you guys doing this? What do you feel about the current process that you have? What’s the most painful part of that process? Through those conversations I was able to solidify some of my assumptions which is that … yes, this is a really archaic way of finding staff and bringing in community talent into the school day.
Yeah. I mean, you know, my experience teaching is what got the wheel started but, you know, the conversation with the school leaders and then frankly the actual testing. So I always say to folks that as you said are overwhelmed or don’t have an idea, just do something, right? Take some hunch that you have, get out of your office, get out of the building and I go test out.
I had a yoga teacher that I … basically I think paid to go and teach a yoga class at one of the schools down the road and said to the school … and I sort of like beg the school ‘let me try this too’ and it went so well and they were like, “Oh, we were really surprised at the way that the kids were responding and your person was really engaging and prepared,” and they’re now … they continue to be a customer of ours, a partner.
Andre: Had I not tried that I think it just … it’s too easy to get kind of stuck in your head and like caught up in writing this big long business plan and you have no idea if it’s actually going to work.
Andy: Was that the first thing you did to test the idea?
Andre: It is. So this is like summer of 2012. I got hooked up with 4.0 Schools which everybody should check out. It’s a really interesting education kind of incubator in New Orleans. 4.0 is full of people that are taking risks and also kind of mentors that were coaching me and saying like, really, what’s the problem? And who are your users and go test out your idea for a solution.
First two things I did were: one, interviews. Talk to a principal of a new school here called [inaudible 00:11:01]. And he said, “Andre, I have no idea.” He’s opening his school. He just opened it this year. “No idea how I’m going to find subs.” That’s one thing I did is conversations with real users. And then two was, yeah, I had a yoga teacher and a dance teacher that I recruited, I interviewed and then I asked ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy for us to go, have them do a guest workshop during their summer school program as kind of a substitute/guest experience to see how it went. And that feedback, that learning was invaluable fast forward to today.
Andy: Cool. I’m checking out 4.0 Schools right now. It looks awesome.
Yeah. I think the other thing I was going to say about your point on problem solving. I think it’s definitely like what’s the problem that you experience but then also what’s something that you’re really passionate about. I was a dancer growing up and the idea of like connecting often people to kids is something that I feel I was lucky to have had. And so if someone’s out there saying, “Okay, I have this problem …” but if you’re not really jazz on helping schools unlock technology, like no matter how great of an idea it is you’re not going to have the same hustle and drive that …
Andre: … people that are really excited about that are going to have.
Andy: Who was your first customer? Was it the school that you brought the yoga teacher to?
Andre: I don’t know if they were a customer because I sort of convinced them into having us come by. The real official, formal paying customer was … one of the actually most successful CMOs, the Charter Management Organization, that’s like a network of charter schools in New Orleans called Collegiate Academies. Sci Academy was the school and they were … they were our first customer kind of took a risk. It was a relationship based sale. They trusted me. They actually continue to be and now we’re expanding to their other schools in their network.
Good story. We didn’t mess up too badly. We were able to start a strong relationship that has continued so they were our first customer.
Andy: How did you get in front of the door with them?
Andre: It was a relationship. Yeah. You’re asking about the kind of how that started. It was a relationship and then I said take a risk and … Feedback is most important and grow with me and build this thing with me. She said okay.
Andy: What did you charge them?
Andre: I charged them $30 an hour.
Andy: $30 an hour.
Andre: Which is actually lower … $30 an hour. Yup.
Andy: And is that what you paid the people?
Andre: No. We paid Gwen that first time … I believe it was $20 an hour.
Andre: I got to go back [inaudible 00:13:50] but yeah.
Andy: Is that how it works now? It’s an hourly fee and you guys take a cut of the hourly fee?
Andre: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. It’s a sliding scale in terms of pay based on the teacher’s experience, are they certified, what’s the role. And then we charge the school the same thing. A varying rate depending on … is it a full time lead teacher or is more of a support role. And then we have a small margin that basically, you know, covers kind of our operational cost that we make in terms of revenue.
Andy: Beautiful. Beautiful.
Andy: So, how did you get your second customer? After you get the first one.
Andre: Yeah. I’m tracking back. Referrals are huge I think in any business but particularly in education and particularly in education in New Orleans. Reputation is everything. Particularly if you’re in that kind of service. Service and technology enabled space.
Andre: Because a bad reputation or a bad experience, if not handled well it can be detrimental. I think if handled well it can actually do wonders.
But I believe that our next, you know, second and third subsequent partners were really word of mouth. Schools in New Orleans they all talk … everybody talks to each other. Having a good word put in about us from Soria at Collegiate or from Mrs. Domingo at [Ash 00:15:20] can do wonders because I can fail I want about the value that we’re providing but to hear it from a fellow colleague is extremely valuable. That was for us, what let us to get in to other schools.
There’s actually one other thing that was able … that was a reason we were able to get into a next [inaudible 00:15:40] which was a teacher at the school who I knew socially as just a friend. And he said to me, “Andre, this is a real problem that I would love my school to use you guys. And in fact I will set up a meeting with my principal.” So he actually … Kenny set up the meeting with the principal which was a brilliant sales strategy. At the time I just said, “Cool. It sounds a good way to get that conversation started.” But having someone else pitch it as a user and say “This is something that we would really like,” and “I wish that you guys would use Enriched,” and not … me not having be the one that delivered that was extremely effective.
Andy: So you started this summer of 2012? Right around then.
Andre: Summer of 2012 was idea, incubation and bouncing it around. Fall of 2012 was when we had first I guess training wheels on. And then 2013-2014 this year has really been kind of like the real year where we’re actually operational, where we’re doing … business is operating as … you know, on a consistent basis. We think of last year as sort of the pilot beta year.
Andy: What’s been the hardest part about scaling to where you’re at? Going from nothing to, you know, right around 20 grand a month right now. What’s been the hardest part?
Andre: Yeah. And I’m actually excited to say that we did … we’ve quenched the numbers and I think we crossed 30K in February in revenue which is awesome.
Andy: Even better.
Andre: Even better, that’s right. We’re … little by little we have aggressive goals for March which will hopefully exceed. We’re on track to do about 15% increase in hours booked from February which is cool.
Hardest thing about scaling … someone wrote out really great blog recently about, you know, do things that don’t scale. I don’t remember if it was …
Andy: Jason Fried maybe?
Andre: Yeah. For us being in the quality business and the people business, how do you begin to shift to automate processes that customers and teachers are really comfortable with you handling manually? My teachers love talking … they love talking to us, they love hearing from us, they love texting us and same with our schools. Scale … one of the big challenges for us is how do we … in a really thoughtful way retain quality but begin to automate some of the things that we have done manually in our first year and a half or so.
Andy: Has it been hard getting customers at all? Or have they been … it sounds like you’ve got a lot of referrals.
Andre: We’ve gotten a ton of referrals and we actually haven’t done much by way of strategic marketing or sales in terms of advertising or online or written marketing materials. Word of mouth for us has been … Honestly, I mean, almost more than we could even handle. [Inaudible 00:18:56], “Oh, we have so much demand. We can’t keep up.” But honestly we have been really fortunate to have, I think, hit on a real need and people resonate that this is a problem that they have. And I’m not here to create some solution that I’m attached to but really I’m about solving a problem for my partners, for my customers.
For that reason we haven’t … we haven’t really struggled with finding … with finding customers as a matter of … On the supply side finding enough supply, enough staff.
Andre: Then also the systematic efficiencies: how do we do this in a way that’s … that streamline, that is replicable and that is scalable.
Andy: What …
Andre: I have a lot of work to do on that front.
Andy: Yeah. You got the whole aspect of scaling people which is always hard to do, I think. One thing you guys started doing was building technology out to help with you. To help with that, it sounds. But you don’t’ have a background in technology, right?
Andre: That’s right. Zero technology background.
Andy: Zero tech background. So how are you going about that?
Andre: This is a huge piece of our business and it’s, I think, a huge … any entrepreneur who is looking for talent will probably say, “Yes, it’s super hard to find awesome developers. Especially those that understand the passion and the problem they’re trying to solve but also have a tech [chop 00:20:38].” I always tell people that if I could go back and switch my English and French major to a CS background I would do it in a heartbeat. So I wish I had that.
What we’ve been able to do is actually partner with a really neat company called CoVenture and may essentially have been our technology partner. So they are building … they have built our platform and … and it’s worked really well. New Orleans has a couple … and I think, again, like any city there is a shortage of often technology and developer talent.
So, we’re using CoVenture and they’re serving as kind of our in-house CTO and we’ll see how that goes in the future. We probably, at some point, are going to need to think about expanding our tech team. But for now [inaudible 00:21:26] and his team have been a great addition to our team on the web and the platform front.
Andy: At the beginning we talk about going … going for … going after customers that have so much red tape traditionally that you have to get through to actually get approval, to get people to sign up, to get buy end, to get them to write you a check which sounds really difficult at times. But that hasn’t deterred you. Why not?
Andre: I couldn’t tell you. I think that probably all entrepreneurs have some crazy gene that, you know, you see the wall and you … for some reason get fired up and you get like stubbornly excited. So, I don’t know. I think the determination, the piece of this that’s about grit and actually being motivated by people telling you no.
I’ve been really fortunate to be in New Orleans in the education system here. Ninety percent charter for us means that there is a flexibility in our customer’s staffing decisions. I don’t actually have a lot of the red tape that you would have in a district because a school leader is able to make a decision pretty fast. So I think we have a good customer segment, a good market segment and I would encourage anyone to make it as slippery and as easy as possible for their customers to use it. If it’s like, okay, I’m going to do a free day for you tomorrow. You don’t have to do anything more than just say yes. Make it super easy for them to get that first taste.
Andre: But then I think … yeah. I think the most important piece of this is just about believing so deeply in what you’re doing while also, of course, being responsive to feedback and not being blind about it. But just saying, like, I’m going to swing for the fence and I’m going to run through the wall and I’m just going to get this done … even in the face of the crazy ups and downs and the … I mean we have … We’ve had a ton of mistakes and have made missteps along the way. When you’re sitting there worrying about making payroll it gets very real.
Andy: Yeah, it gets very real.
Andre: Yeah. So I think just having like some … either … we call it stubbornness or blind determination or grit. That is essential I think for anybody that’s going to make it beyond …
Andy: I feel like there’s a deep passion from you around education as well. Where does that come from? Has it always been that way for you?
Andre: I think from my own time teaching … I’ve studied English, French. I was planning to go to Law School, a lot of college. Didn’t think about teaching as a real profession. Loved kids obviously but never thought about it as profession. And then moving here, teaching for two years opened my eyes. I think you build relationships with youth and I knew that I wasn’t cut out to be a lifelong educator, as a teacher myself, but I love the students.
And I also love the idea that I could make an impact and so for me it’s like, okay, 30 students in my classroom at Chalmette High. That’s impact of 30. It is a non-profit work, impact of 300. And now the idea of being able to impact, you know, triple that base on the kids our educators are touching is really motivating.
I also believe that education as an industry is kind of a fundamental. Kids are the future of the world so what industry … My friend who’s in the environment sector [inaudible 00:25:13] … and then what is more important than that. I can make a strong argument why education, I believe, is one of the most foundational sectors to be in. Because literally the world of tomorrow is going to be led by, shaped by, run by kids who are sitting in kindergarten classrooms right now.
That’s exciting for me be a part of education, innovators or entrepreneurs or … just teachers that are working to create that … that vision for the future.
Andy: Do you have … How do you feel like … I’m curious … So I’ve been somewhat put off by the education system, I think.
Andy: Do you see it being more friendly to entrepreneurs in the future or do you see yourself doing any work in that space at some point? Because I feel like traditional education stifles the creatives and the entrepreneur type. I don’t know if you know … Cameron Herold has a great Ted Talk on it of how to raise kids to be entrepreneurs.
Andy: Yeah. Do you have any interest in doing something like that? Or what are your … just thoughts in general?
Andre: Yeah. I appreciate your honesty on that and I have felt that too. The idea that … gosh, there’s so much wrong; it’s such an archaic, stifling system that … it can almost be just an easy route to become, I think, cynical and say like …
Andre: We’re so screwed, we’ve got this so backwards. And so I definitely have those moments. I guess the problem solver in me again find some motivation in that because there are so many pieces of education system. From access to healthy food, to transportation, to parent engagement, to lack of stem, to helping kids be more makers and do hands on project, and technology in the role of imaginative game. There’s so many things within education that I think are really messed up, right? But that’s also … I see as a chance to … it’s like a crack in the system that you can then begin innovate in.
I don’t know. In terms of the future for me … I like the startup space. I like the zero to 60 of the … see a problem, test it, grow something space. I could see myself continuing to stay in that kind of education reform and reform in a way of, like, here’s a problem that’s messed up in our system, how to make it better.
The other thing is part of the reason that I started Enriched was … because I did feel stifled by the systems that I was teaching in and my school is actually quite well-functioning and strong. Even though it was … had been around for a long time and hadn’t been [inaudible 00:28:14] doing things. But I did feel like it was better for me to actually innovate outside of that school rather than try to propose some new system at my school. I guess that’s the way that I’ve also avoided the feeling of red tape within the broader educational system.
I don’t know but I hope people will … Even with all of the problems like maintain some level of … maybe it’s naiveté, you know, but kids deserve us to like be really bold because there are so many cool things that we can do from … again, like pop up maker spaces to … What if we did this really cool like home school model? There’s so many different things I think that could be try. We still put enough resources or … human resources in terms of humans and financial into that kind of work which is why somewhere like 4.0 is somewhere that I really feel great to be a part of.
So, last question. You just mentioned it like the idea that you may have to be a little naïve and I think you also talked about that in the pre-interview of how you have to be naïve to be an entrepreneur. What do you mean by that? And for people who are listening to this like how does that apply to where they’re at if they’re just getting started?
Andre: Naïve is an interesting word that I probably would never want to have myself described as, right? It’s sort of like, oh, you know, this person who has no clue what they’re doing. This is really, really hard. Like harder than you could ever imagine. If I knew now what I knew then, I don’t know. I probably still would have headed down this [task 00:29:57] but … this does take a certain level of just, again, wide-eyed belief that what you are doing matters and it’s possible.
Naïve, yeah. I think you have to be just like sort of recklessly brave and bold to do it. And if you knew all of the things … all the reasons why it wouldn’t work or all of the things that you were messed up, it might make you decide to go in a different direction. That’s what I mean by that. And for people that have some idea or some kind of urge in their belly or idea, hunch that they want to begin to tinker with, I think you just, like, try to be careful about the advice that you’re getting.
Andre: And people that are going to be too critical. Critical is good but critical from people that you trust and that you see as examples because they’ve done it themselves. And it’s important, I think, to kind of block out too much noise because otherwise you’ll … you’ll just stop before you even get started.
Andy: Got it. Well said. Andre, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
If people want to reach out to you, get in touch with you, follow what you’re up to, where can they find you at?
Andre: It’s a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. I’d love to hear from anybody. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and then my Twitter is just my first and last name: andrefeigler.
Andy: Beautiful. And we’ll put all of those in the show notes at thefoundationpodcast.com. Andre, thank you so much.
Andre: It’s been a pleasure. Great talking to you, Andy.
Closing: Thank you for joining us. We’ve taken this interview and created a custom action guide so you know exactly what action steps to take to grow your business. Just head over to thefoundationpodcast.com to download it for free. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.