Head of the class: Procurify helping AltSchool Rewrite Education

Based in California, AltSchool is a fast-growing chain of schools with locations throughout San Francisco, as well as a new campus in Brooklyn, New York, set to open in the 2015-2016 school year.

There are many companies that profess to be disrupting their industries – but few have truly earned that claim. That is not the case with AltSchool, a revolutionary community of independent micro-schools rewriting education from the ground up.

With a keen focus on personalized learning, AltSchool is devoted to providing a tailored education to its students.

But even the most groundbreaking institutions need help with their purchasing process. In steps Procurify.  Since AltSchool began using using Procurify‘s cloud-based purchasing management software, its purchasing process has been stabilized and streamlined.

We’d like to start off with a discussion about your company. Can you describe what AltSchool does? And, can you give us a sense of the history/vision/mandate of the company?

We are a mission-driven startup. We are focused on re-designing school education. Our point of view is that a lot of the education technology startups out there tack on a technology app or software on to an existing school. Our view is that schools are already fundamentally broken. So, we designed a network of schools where we can actually have users – parents, students and teachers – test our technology platform so that we can set up AltSchool up correctly from the ground up.

We understand that AltSchool is also a fairly new education startup in San Francisco – what inspired the idea for AltSchool?

Our founder, Max Ventilla, founded AltSchool when he went through the preschool admission process with his daughter. He was overwhelmed by the different types of schools, the different pedagogies, the different price points, the different offers and the competitiveness of the selection process. You could apply to 10 different preschools and not get accepted to any. And, within that competitiveness, there is a lack of understanding of why you didn’t get in to one, or why you got into another.

Then, Max started researching public and private school Kindergarten through Grade 8 education, and the processes in conjunction with that. He was just overwhelmed at the lack of user-friendliness in the entire process and the lack of a coherent idea towards personalization and child service in any of the schools. With all of the technology available today, it was astonishing to him that technology wasn’t being used to improve the lives of our children.

We’d like to start with a three-part question about your organization’s purchasing process: Can you describe the size and scope size of your purchasing process? What do you order? Who does the ordering? And, who oversees it all?

The scope of our purchasing process is mainly to deal with the purchases in our classrooms. Specifically, we have a lot of curriculum and classroom supplies that need to be purchased by our teachers. So, procurement is important to all of our teachers so they can get what they need to deliver a good education.

In terms of requirements, I can think a few. The first is the ability for our teachers to communicate back with HQ and making sure our teachers have budget transparency so they know how much they have spent versus the budget they have been given, in terms of each classroom level. This is very important for our corporate goals, one of which is to deliver a high-quality education at the lowest cost possible. The reporting function is very important for the back end, myself, to be able to show what that cost of education is. Procurify helps reconcile what our purchases are, in what department they are made and what account to charge them to.

Lastly, making sure operations as well has good visibility into what teachers are spending money on. The experience in the classroom is reflected in the purchasing so we can say ‘this classroom design really works and we are getting really good utility out of it.’

And, who oversees it all?

It is a joint operation right now between operations (procurement) and finance.

Because you’re in education, are there any nuances or distinctive characteristics to purchasing in your field? Is there anything unique to purchasing requirements at AltSchool?

I think the four things we are focused on is the actual classroom experience, and tying that back to the classroom design and making sure teachers have budget transparency. Also, a lot of our purchases are one-time, non-recurring. So, we do a lot of credit card purchasing at random websites from different vendors – that makes purchasing a little more tricky than having existing vendor relationships.

Alt Schools has grown – and continues to grow – rapidly. That is a great “problem” to have, but can you elaborate on some of the operational stresses that brings?

The biggest operational stress that we have is executing high quality as we scale quickly. Specifically on the procurement side it has been very much an ad-hoc process. In the last year, procurement was basically a bunch of emails to people at HQ saying ‘I need this and I need that.’ This year we said ‘okay, this is not scalable, let’s think of a different way where we can track it for our budget purposes.’ So, we looked at a bunch of different procurement vendors such as Procurify and whatnot and that’s how we ended up choosing Procurify.

Why did you choose Procurify?

It was simple – it was three things that determined it. Simplicity: it was easy enough to understand so that it wouldn’t require a huge integration and education. That’s from a user perspective. But from a back-end perspective, it was simple enough for us to execute on our own as quick as possible where Coupa was really, really long in terms of an integration process. And, Procurify was more cost effective.

How did Procurify help? What specifically has Procurify meant to Alt Schools?

The biggest thing is giving teachers autonomous ability to manage their own budgets – which is huge. It is obviously much more scalable for someone in finance to have Procurify tracking all the spend versus budgets, and then me running reports at the end of the month and giving our teachers an update. That has been the biggest element.

And things are easier for procurement. We are still working on improving it – it is a never ending battle and it can never be perfect. Still, things are much better this year than they were last year and we are happy with how much more streamlined procurement has become in terms of an actual process. Procurify has helped us with that.

Okay, now for another three-part question: Now that some help has arrived what does that allow you to do?Does this open up potential capital cost savings down the road? Or, have savings been found in areas such as increased employee efficiency or a decrease in admin time?

I think the biggest thing, at the classroom level, is being able to say what the cost of an education is for our students. This allows us to identify faster what we are doing really well on in executing against our margin goals, cost saving goals and our efficiency goals. And, we can identify classrooms that need additional encouragement for executing against that. That is huge.

Also, teachers are becoming a lot more budget conscious and developing a fiscally responsible mindset. Just by doing that, given that that is our largest expenditure, that automatically saves us money.

Finally, as we get bigger it will help us in employee efficiency, but we are still working on that. From a process perspective, we are still working on our procurement processes, creating more standardized purchasing bundles and whatnot.

Was there anything in particular about Procurify that most impressed you, or you found most beneficial? 

Procurify’s huge focus on user experience. The company has been very receptive to our feedback – which we really appreciate. As the product roadmap rolls out, we look forward to the iterations of the product.

On the design, it was super clean. Procurify was so much easier for us to just pick it up over something like Coupa. That’s been really awesome – our teachers are not the most tech-savvy people, so for them to have something that they picked up easily is very valuable to us. The easier a product is the better the user experience. If I imagine trying to roll them out on something like Coupa it would have been a disaster given the tight timeframe we had. With Procurify, it was a lot easier to get them up to speed because the user experience was clean and easy to understand.

Can you elaborate on Procurify’s customer success team? Along with our dedication to design and user experience, we never waver in our dedication to customer success. How have your interactions with our customer success team been?

You guys have been holding our hand and helping us through the the entire integration process. Additionally, you were helping us while we were still doing new school formation procurement, which was quite a lot. I know it was very time consuming for people on your end and we really appreciate that you guys really helped us so the integration and the launch was as smooth as it could be.

How important is having remote access to Procurify for your company? As AltSchool continues to grow, will you have employees ordering and purchasing from various locations? 

It is very important because often our teachers design lesson plans and work from home. So, if they need something when they are designing a lesson, then it is important for them to be able to log onto their computer and make that request.

If you were the star of the next Procurify commercial and you had to deliver a final message on why Alt Schools uses Procurify – what would that message be? 

A big thing that we’re trying to do here at AltSchool is bring down the cost of education so that it becomes affordable to everyone. And, if we can bring down that cost so it comes in line with the cost of public school education, AltSchool becomes a very compelling alternative to public school. That is huge.

So, the reason we use Procurify is because we have a couple of big costs – supplies for teachers such as furniture and items teachers want for classroom design. Being able to track that, monitor that and make sure we are executing on our budgetary goals at the classroom level really helps us in achieving that ultimate goal, which, again, is to bring down the cost of education so AltSchool becomes a true alternative to public school.

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