Diagnosed with a deadly disease, this founder built an edtech platform to connect teachers and parents
Believing that every student 'Bloomz' at a different pace, Chakrapani Appalabattula’s Seattle-based edtech startup connects teachers and parents to improve children’s academic performance.
Chakrapani ‘Chaks’ Appalabattula was an ordinary man with ordinary dreams. A near-brush with death, however, changed all that. Five years after he was diagnosed with idiopathic hypertrophic cranial pachymeningitis, a rare inflammatory disease, Chaks, who worked with an edtech company in Seattle since 1998, turned his life around. He now runs Bloomz, a free mobile and web app that connects teachers with parents, in a secure, private, and easy to use environment.
The journey may not have been easy, but Chaks’ enduring optimism took him through. This despite the fact that doctors gave him six months, and said he would gradually go blind and eventually become immobile. Contemplating what lay ahead for his family - since he was the only breadwinner - he began to think about how he could give back to society.
Working in edtech meant problems in the field struck him first. He realised all apps shared information on children’s progress, but never told parents how they could help them. Teachers, meanwhile, had multiple communication channels to keep up with. “Parents needed to have one-on-one communication with teachers, in a secure way,” he says.
As his treatment progressed, Chaks began working on the blueprint of a startup to keep himself busy.
“I was an optimist when darkness set in. There was no medicine to save me. But new research by a scientist and my chance meeting with him turned my life around,” says Chaks, the Founder of Bloomz.
The new drug was tested on him, and Chaks was back on his feet in eight months. But he had run out of money. “That didn't stop me because I knew I could raise money on an idea,” he says. Chaks met some angel investors with his pitch: an interactive platform that could let parents and teachers connect and together increase students’ academic prowess. The investors didn’t buy his idea at first. But Chaks worked with two schools in the Redmond area of Washington State in 2015; over eight months, the tech gradually helped improve students’ grades.
The idea behind Bloomz was to allow teachers to document each class, and track the progress of every student. Live teaching and classwork was then available to the parent, who could work with the child. Looping the teachers and parents helps them focus on and boost a child’s progress.
Four years, 25,000 schools, and 3 million users (parents and teachers) later, Bloomz is all set to raise Series A funding. The Redmond, Seattle-based startup has already raised $5 million and has an ARR of $1 million in FY 2018.
What all does the app do?
- Connect: Provides class updates and photo and video sharing
- Coordinate: Offers class calendar and reminders, sets up parent-teacher meetings, and helps both stakeholders to volunteer to promote education in the neighbourhood.
- Communicate: Works as a two-way messaging platform between the primary stakeholders, and as a tracking platform for students.
Bloomz lets teachers schedule classroom volunteers, parent-teacher conferences, communicate directly with parents, and share pictures of students when they are at work or play. The app also allows parents to discover other parents and find extra-curricular activities that children are taking outside of school.
The app is widely used in schools across the US, including at Waters Elementary School, Chicago; PS 125 Ralphe Bunche School, New York; the NY Kids Club, and others. In India, Bloomz is being used in a couple of DPS schools and Canadian International School in Bengaluru.
Bloomz offers a free app for teachers and parents with limits on storage and features. No school admins are allowed on this.
How do they make money?
Bloomz, which is now a 16-member team, has monetised an eighth of its user base.
The firm makes money in three ways. The free app lets parents upgrade individually for better experiences like downloading media and getting more information. Bloomz charges between $6.99 and $20.99 depending on the features chosen during the upgrade. In the same manner, teachers can also upgrade to a premium version that lets them do more. Finally, school administrations can consolidate all school and class communications on Bloomz by upgrading to the school-wide premium service that offers admin tools, bulk onboarding, reporting, and support along with premium features for teachers and parents.
The app will soon have an ad-based model that will allow services related to school students (education and sporting retailers) to advertise.
Shirish Nadkarni, angel investor and TiE Seattle co-chair, says: “Bloomz has just scaled up by word of mouth, and that makes the product valuable to millions of people. It has solved a problem that other apps could not.”
Eyeing a blooming future
Bloomz competes with other similar apps like Remind, Class Dojo, Sign Up Genius, Parent Square, and Living Tree. However, these apps offer single services such as information in a static mode and manage only meetings. Bloomz, on the other hand, uses its data to involve parents in their children’s coursework by sharing daily details of classes.
According to research organisation Children Trends, the percentages of students whose parents reported attending a general meeting at their child’s school, a parent-teacher conference, or a school or class event reached their highest recorded levels (89, 78, and 79 percent, respectively) between 2007 and 2016. Clearly, parents want to be more involved in their children’s education.
The outlook for the edtech sector remains upbeat in India. According to YourStory data, since January 2017, edtech startups raised $94.21 million through 34 deals as against $107 million across 46 deals in 2016. A report by KPMG and Google pegs the edtech market to touch $1.96 billion by 2021.
What’s in the future for Bloomz? Chaks’ sole focus is cracking the US and India markets over the next couple of years. Bloomz is aiming for a large Series A round over the next 18 months and expects a $22 million ARR from 2022. Your Story met Chaks' on the invitation of Tie-Mumbai to Seattle.