Teachers are expected to wear so many different hats these days. There’s not enough time in a week for teachers to plan, create, teach, assess and analyse, as well as fostering and maintaining relationships with their students.
Enter Teach Starter, a Brisbane-based EdTech company that creates digital Preschool to Year 6 teaching resources and tools, which save teachers hours each week preparing for class.
The idea of Teach Starter emerged when husband and wife team and co-founders Scott Tonges and Jill Snape met while working at Nova 106.9 in Brisbane. Jill was studying to become a teacher and Scott was working as a digital producer.
“We began dating while Jill was teaching and shortly after the idea for Teach Starter emerged as I was creating resources for Jill’s classroom,” Scott says.
“Her friends were interested in the resources we had created, so we thought there must be a market out there for well designed, creative teaching materials which students love.”
They spent 2012 creating teaching resources and sending them out for free via email to slowly grow their mailing list.
“By the end of 2012 we had developed 200 resources and had received great feedback from our growing community of teachers,” Scott says.
“We were ready to launch our subscription website in January 2013.
“On launch day, a teacher paid the $29 per annum subscription fee and that first subscription felt like complete justification for all those late nights and weekends spent pouring all of our effort into Teach Starter - we thought we might just have a business.”
Fast forward six years and Scott and Jill are happily married with two boys and a growing business, which is almost like their third child.
Teach Starter saves teachers a tremendous amount of time each week.
“Instead of having to create their own teaching resources, they can simply discover what they need on Teach Starter and often customise it to suit their needs,” Scott says.
“Our resources are developed by teachers, designers and illustrators, ensuring that the content is spot-on and aligned to the curriculum and the design is engaging for children.”
For Scott, Jill and the Teach Starter team, the highlights have been many.
“We have had so many highlights and alongside those many challenges over the past eight years,” Scott says.
“Reaching 1 million resource downloads in 2014 was a huge highlight for our small team (we now have over 1 million downloads each month). And passing 100,000 members was also a massive milestone and we are happy to say we now have over 750,000 members.
“Launching our latest product, Assess, which helps you create, edit and share any type of classroom activity, was a big team achievement, which was nine months in the making. Plus, creating a set of free learning-from-home packs to provide to teachers and parents during COVID-19 was also a massive moment for the team to show how we could quickly adapt to support teachers at scale, with over 250,000 downloads in six weeks.”
Scott says there have also been challenges over the years, but the team have learned so much just by ‘doing’.
“We had no idea how to hire someone, how to lease an office, how to develop business processes, how to scale our technology - the list goes on,” Scott says.
“In the early days, the website would crash frequently and I would have to stay up late at night to switch servers to handle the growth in traffic.
“More recently, we expanded into the USA and set up an office in Austin, Texas. We had no idea how to establish a US corporation, but we did it. I spent six days over in Austin finding an office, setting up bank accounts and meeting our first employee, who we had hired over Zoom only a month prior. It was a crazy experience.
“For Jill and I, we have learned to embrace the unknown and to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s the place where we learn and grow the most.”
The business has been completely self-funded.
“Jill and I invested $2000 in Facebook ads when we launched in 2013 and have been incredibly fortunate to have been cash-flow positive and profitable since then. The best kind of capital is revenue, so we made sure to invest what we earned back into the business,” Scott says.
“We didn’t get paid until after we had hired our first few staff members. We were incredibly disciplined about this and knew the stats around business failure and the primary reason for it - insufficient cash flow - so we made sure that we put money aside to safeguard the interests of the business.
“We haven’t ruled out the possibility of taking on external capital, however it hasn’t been a focus for us up to this point.”
What’s next for Teach Starter?
“The team is focused on continuing to support Australian teachers. We want to ensure that we have the most comprehensive collection of resources, perfectly aligned to the Australian curriculum. We also want to continue building our suite of tools to support the teaching cycle, of which Assess is the first,” Scott says.
“Running parallel to this is our growth in international markets, beginning with the USA. We are laser focused on Texas, in particular supporting the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) curriculum. The US is a huge place, so taking a state-by-state approach is the best way for us to gain traction.”