ClassCom is a tool that makes communication between teachers and students made simpler, faster and more effective, thanks to Khang Vo.
This is his entrepreneurial journey.
What is your business?
My business is ClassCom which is a mobile and web app. What we do is provide a communication platform to help teachers communicate with students when they have questions. It’s based on a chat function at the moment, in the future, we hope to branch out into audio and video communications.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Through market research in higher education, which we did for two years. I did that with one of my co-founders Lindsay who is a Learning Designer at Victoria University as well as Flexidata, which is a software company in Vietnam that provides educational solutions. We did market research together and talked to about two hundred people including; tutors, lecturers, students, academics and senior leaders not just in Higher Ed.
One day we met with a lecturer who spoke to us about how Slack is helping him in his class, but he was still experiencing some problems because Slack was very time-consuming for him. The most pressing thing for him was being able to consult with students and answer their questions when it came to assignments and assessments. I talked to my partner Lindsay and he told me they had trialed live chat at Victoria Uni, so we took on that idea and experimented. We built out our own communication platform, more specific to education.
How did you meet your business partner Lindsay?
When I started doing market research I met a lot of people and one of them was Lindsay and he was very interested in starting his own business in education, so that’s how we started working together. That’s how I connected with Flexidata as well, just by going out and talking to people.
What was the first step you took to get your business started?
The first step I took was to become a lecturer at RMIT, I lectured in Software Engineering and Cloud Computing. Even after a lot of interviews and talking to people, the best thing is being in your customer’s shoes, to experience that yourself. I used the ClassCom app myself, in my own class to test it. I was able to learn what works and what doesn’t and also talk to my students. After that, I was able to start building a more customised version of the platform for Higher Ed. The web version of ClassCom was integrated into RMIT’s learning management system Canvas.
What is your background before you started ClassCom?
I have a very diverse background, I started my own business and failed seven years ago. After that, I worked for another startup as the first employee there and the CTO. I helped grow that startup from one employee into seven employees with about five hundred thousand active users and about seven national organisations using it.
At the time when I started my first business, I didn’t have experience, I didn’t have a visa and I didn’t have the networks to make it work. It also wasn’t something I was passionate about. That’s why I decided to stop and work for someone else, to learn and build experience.
What lessons have you learned on your business journey?
As a tech founder, we always have the tendency to just do it ourselves, but I think the most important lesson is always to understand your customers as much as you can. That helps you a lot with marketing, building the right product and having the right connections to make sales. If we understand the market well then the time it takes to develop and sell the product will be reduced significantly
How important is it to have a business mentor?
Until we got into RMIT Activator we hadn’t had a mentor. Activator provided us with an excellent mentor, Dave Budge (Activator’s Expert-in-Residence). He helped us enormously. I wish we had got a mentor earlier, that’s actually a lesson I learned! I knew we needed to have a good mentor – somebody outside of the business and not someone emotionally invested in the business. We also needed that person to understand our core business. We needed a good mentor, but we didn’t have the time to go out and find one. That’s why it was amazing for us to come to Activator because we were provided with a great mentor and we didn’t have to spend time looking for one.
What are your top tips for starting a business?
Look for somebody to work with you. I think that’s a lesson I learned from my first startup. When you have somebody there to support you, especially when you worry about things – which is often daily. You need to know there is somebody there to help you. It also helps financially to have someone that can help put money into the business and help you to validate the idea from different perspectives. Some days are just so stressful and if you have a co-founder they can say “hey, it’s okay, it’s not a big deal, just go back to sleep!”
Understand the market. A tech founder usually assumes they have the capability to just build it out themselves and then when its built the customers will come. I think the key part of it is that when you understand the customer, you don’t need to build a complicated product. The customer has a specific problem that needs to be solved, and all you need to do is build a product that solves that specific problem. That means you only take one to two months to get out into the market if you’re spending six months on that it means you don’t understand the customer well enough to build a product that solves the key problem. If you wait six months to release the product and it doesn’t work, it can really damage morale a lot more than if you released it after a month or two.
This relates to the first one. When people are looking for a co-founder they look at their capabilities, skills, and level of commitment, but also look at their personal characteristics.
Are they able to work with you in the very tough times?
You also need to make sure you talk to them about difficult situations that may arise in advance. For example, if one of the founders wants to start a family – what would happen?
You need to do that in advance because if and when it happens, you won’t have time to deal with those situations.