Omar (Founder)

High Impact Teachers

Omar (Founder)

Australia

Take action now! If you don’t, someone else will

Questions & Answers

Praveen

Hi Omar, please share something about your personal background, where do you come from?

Omar

Hi Praveen, I'm currently an actively practising secondary school teacher. I teach at an independent school here in Sydney, where the majority of the students come from a non-English speaking background. So you can imagine the dynamics of the school and the student population. In order for them to excel, they require extra literacy support. 

In the past three years, I've managed to complete my second postgraduate degree at university. My first degree is a Master of Secondary Teaching, which was my base into entering the education domain. My second postgraduate degree is a Master of Education in Evidence-Based Teaching. This is exactly where I had the idea of creating a software for teachers to make their lives easier in terms of assessment. 

So I'm currently an actively practising teacher. I'm also working as an education consultant with over 50, school leaders, principals, school executives around New South Wales and Melbourne.

Praveen

A second Master's alongside a full time job while you're trying to build a new business... That's quite an achievement, Omar! 

So, what's your elevator pitch for your business?

Omar

High Impact Teachers is a small education consultancy firm that my partner and I have set up in the past two years. It delivers professional development education to teachers, and also provides software access for teachers & school leaders to determine where students are in their learning and the next steps in their learning. Basically, we are trying to find out where students are in their learning progression, and where we can take them next.

Praveen

That’s fantastic. You mentioned... it's you and your partner?

Omar

Yes, my business partner who's also my wife, has funded all of the operations so far. In terms of the research behind this and the entrepreneurial idea, that’s all come from my end. So essentially, she's funding this and believes in this vision as much as I do. So, if you're talking about pitching this to someone, I first had to pitch this idea to my wife!

Praveen

So in terms of building the product, and you're working with that third party team from the technology side, but from scaling it from sales, pitching it and taking it out, you're doing it independently all yourself right now.

Omar

That’s right. So there are some educational consultants in NSW and in other states of Australia - academics and professors at university - who have expressed some interest in jumping on board and possibly selling this software to schools. However, because of COVID-19, it became a bit harder to get this around because schools are much more limited in terms of funding professional development for teachers. So it's all independent right now. 

My partner and I are just working on this, one school at a time and we've managed to get a professional development course approved by the Education Authority here in New South Wales. So we were able to deliver this five-hour course to teachers, school leaders, and school principals. This course is basically a springboard for the software which introduces teachers to the use of rubrics. It introduces teachers to the evidence-based rules behind creating these rubrics, how to analyse charts in Excel, and shows the automatic side of things through the software. We're basically showing them how we can do this through automated functions, which are presented through ZoneFinder, the software itself.

Praveen

Fantastic. So where did you get this idea from?

Omar

I was studying an online course at the University of Melbourne. The lecturer  was teaching us how to compose and analyse Guttman charts, which are the charts composed in Excel using ones and zeros, etc. I was doing that for maybe two or three months, and for that subject in particular, it took me so long to create and analyse these charts using Excel. 

So I went to sleep one night, and I thought to myself, there's got to be an easier way. And I actually saw it in my dream… I saw myself on my laptop, moving the mousepad, marking a rubric online and then clicking a button that automatically finds the zone. So I literally saw it in my dream two years ago. I woke up and I went down to Kmart, a local department store, and bought a sketch pad and a pencil and sketched what I saw in my dream. I sketched a web page called ZoneFinder. And then I shared that with my wife and I said, “Look, there's currently nothing like this on the market. We've got to find the way to do this.” 

Then I contacted several software development agencies here in Sydney. And they all said, “What you're asking is impossible, because we can't find an algorithm for this. It's going to take us too long.” So I contacted some guys in Melbourne and they said, “This is going to take too long, it's going to cost an arm and a leg… it’s good… but you might not be able to get the minimum viable product, it's too hard to achieve…” 

I was determined to make this work so with a quick Google search, I found someone who could get this done. That’s how I found you. I had never dealt with anyone internationally. I literally sent you an email and you sent it back. And I remember you spent around 40 minutes on a conference call with me. You were giving me advice and heard me out. So I came running to my partner and I said, “Hey, Praveen just spent around 40 minutes on a call and he said it's doable.”  You just took it on board and we kicked off from there!

Praveen

I'm very pleased it worked out that well! So, what's your plan long term?

Omar

My initial plan was to have 60 schools signed up by the end of the first year. And then COVID happened. We've just got a small hurdle that we have to overcome 

Two weeks ago, I spoke to the Dean of education at one of the universities here in Sydney, and she told me that if this product was available on their learning management systems, they'd be all over it. So she told me to try and integrate this product into existing learning management systems. There are only three or four big players here in in Australia in terms of those learning management systems, so when she said that, my plans expanded to “Why not integrate this with a couple of learning management systems so that everyone can benefit from it?” So my dream is to essentially have ZoneFinder integrated into Australia's largest learning management systems for education. To get there I need schools to use it, demonstrate its success, and then hopefully have it integrated. So that's the long term plan.

Praveen

Okay. What will be the USP that you'll be pitching?

Omar

The first and foremost aspect is that it minimises the teacher’s time spent in marking. Essentially it saves teachers a lot of time in relation to marking, grading and giving feedback on individual students assessment tasks. It does this automatically through the learner readiness reports, which is a feature on ZoneFinder, that creates a rule, generates a report and provides the teacher with a report on what the students can do and what they are ready to learn next. That's the unique selling point, because no other software can automatically translate information from a developmental rubric into learner readiness reports.

Praveen

I think it makes sense because teachers are under a lot of pressure nowadays, in terms of how the work needs to be done, especially with remote working. So if there is any tool to reduce the amount of effort, then they can be out there teaching.

Omar

Of course! So these rubrics act as feedback points. With some teacher training and school training, people can start to see the benefit and uniqueness of ZoneFinder in terms of delivering effective to students, teachers, parents and principals.

Praveen

Do you see this as something that can grow globally?

Omar

Yeah, absolutely. There are two places I intend to take this system in the future. Number one is Finland, because they're currently leading the world in education and will value such a progressive teaching tool. The second place is Dubai because I've heard that they have a lot of international schools. It would be very interesting to see if we can expand to those countries.

Praveen

Very interesting. Okay, so, when I speak with people who want to go out and set up a business, a lot of them have what we call the “entrepreneurial fear.” Did you have any fear as a founder when you started this?

Omar

Honestly, there was so much fear in terms of starting this, it took me three months to accept the fact that my wife was willing to fund this. I was so fearful of what people might think if I failed. Then I had a fear - why will education consultants who are twice my age listen to what I have to share? 

Eventually I did a lot of reading on neuroscience, how the brain works and how to overcome this perceived fear. I transformed my readings into a course. It's being sold by High Impact Teachers as a course to students on how to overcome the fear of failure. I've also started delivering this course myself to schools around Sydney.

Praveen

So you not only overcame your own fear, but converted it into an opportunity. That’s awesome!

Omar

Yeah. When we were making ZoneFinder, I stopped and asked myself, “What if this software doesn't sell to anyone because they might not see the value in it like I do?” But then my partner reassured me by reminding me not to think negatively.

Praveen

It’s amazing that your wife believed in you, and that makes a lot of difference.
So, have you ever felt the failure fear for something else?

Omar

Up until five or six years ago, it's been about studies. I've just been pursuing my postgraduate degrees and also working full time. I guess that fear of failure was probably stemmed from my performance in my studies. However, reading up about the mind helped me overcome this fear.

Praveen

And how would you rate your success? What would you want to achieve as a minimum, that makes you say “I've got what I wanted to do.”

Omar

It's so interesting you ask that question, because success changes at every milestone. Initially, it was getting the idea out on a sketchpad. Then my level of success changed to “Can we actually build this?” So I’d be happy with the success of building it. The next level of success then changed to “How am I going to inform teachers?” So it changed again to wanting the professional development course to get approved. Now my level of success is, “Can we get one school on board?” So far we've got probably two or three highly likely clients to sign up as soon as we go live. The plan was to get 60 schools in the first year, and that has now changed with COVID. Overall my level of success has always been about the kids and students. ZoneFinder was built with the intention of helping children progress in their learning, rather than just stay stagnant and stuck where they are. So impacting thousands of children's lives through this software... I think that's how our success is defined.

Praveen

That’s great! So you said you’ve already tweaked your business plan around COVID. But how do you see it? Do you see any major impact, or it's just a question of time?

Omar

Hopefully, once things start opening up, things should go back to normal. It's just that schools receive funding from the government, so they become more hesitant to spend towards anything around education at this point. They're waiting to see what's going to happen. So, that's also put a spanner in the works. Apart from that, the courses that are intended to deliver face to face had to be transformed into an online course. So I've managed to be flexible in all those ways.

Praveen

Okay, okay. You've also mentioned that you've read a lot. So what would be your favourite book? Perhaps from an entrepreneurial perspective?

Omar

It’s a book called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She's a Stanford University professor in Psychology. Dweck highlights that we have two types of mindsets when it comes to different things in our lives. We've got either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People that have fixed mindsets will tend to think that their brains are fixed, their intelligence is fixed, and there's no change to their abilities, and that they were born this way. Whereas, people who have a growth mindset towards things, they tend to think that challenges help them grow. They think that their brain is actually malleable and changes, and they learn from that. So when I read that entire book, I changed my perspective, in terms of not fearing presenting in front of academics or people who are much more experienced than me. It helped me develop a growth mindset, one where I could really see myself in a positive light.

Praveen

I’m definitely going to take a look at that. The last question - what advice would you give to someone starting their entrepreneurial journey?

Omar

I would say, go for it. If you are thinking about your idea and you don’t act on it, then someone else is going to think of it and act on it. One of my relatives, a couple of years ago, had an idea for an app. He didn’t work on it. Then an app was released in Australia, which became one of the most downloaded apps in Australia. So, yes, you need to take action now, because if you don’t, someone else will.

Praveen

So true, absolutely. Thank you Omar, I’m sure new entrepreneurs will have a lot to learn from this.

Praveen

I’m definitely going to take a look at that. The last question - what advice would you give to someone starting their entrepreneurial journey?

Omar

I would say, go for it. If you are thinking about your idea and you don’t act on it, then someone else is going to think of it and act on it. One of my relatives, a couple of years ago, had an idea for an app. He didn’t work on it. Then an app was released in Australia, which blew up, and I shared this with my relative. So, yes, you need to take action now, because if you don’t, someone else will.

Praveen

So true, absolutely. Thank you Omar, I’m sure new entrepreneurs will have a lot to learn from this.