By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: Are there other thoughts you have on entrepreneurship and how cloud computing could make a difference in the field of education? Say, from an administrative system’s point of view, the area that you are working on, related to the process of finding a college that is a good match? This process has become very cumbersome, and I can tell you based on my experience here. I applied for college in 1988 from India. At that time, we had minimal Internet or desktop computer penetration. I typed my applications on a typewriter. Since then, college admissions have come a long way. A lot more information is available more easily, but at the same time, the college application process has become very stressful and competitive. [Among some socioeconomic classes], there is a huge amount of money being spent on college consultants. What are your thoughts on this scenario?
RB: Well, that is our core business, and that is where we are really focused on. I remember back in 1984, it was the same thing when I was applying to college – having to fill out one application then go to another school and fill out the entire application again. I think it was the typewriter that was being used, then the application was mailed in. [In fact, most people still did use typewriters at that time – Macintosh’s “Big Brother” commercial first aired during the 1984 Super Bowl, drawing new attention to PCs, and the previous year Microsoft had begun working on Windows 1.0 for PC. But PCs were expensive – close to $4,000 – and few people had them.]
What we have done, and there is tremendous opportunity, is taken the existing college applications and created a technology that looks at the fields to fill out and comes up with the common fields among all of the applications. We have more than 1,300 colleges, and they take the information to SIS systems and pre-fill out what we have to create an interview for the student to go through and fill out the fields that are specific to each college. Then [the technology] it provides these applications to the colleges as PDF, XML, .csv, or whatever format they want. But there are still many colleges out there where there is opportunity. That is one of the things we are focused really sharply on, and we have a solution.
Anything that helps students to find the right college, [we are interested in]. As we work on these technologies and try to improve them, we increasingly find that what matters to students most is, do they feel like they fit in at the school? Will they really feel like they belong there? You may remember when you were in school – if you feel that you belonged there and were doing well, you were more likely to make it through and graduate, but if you didn’t, chances were that you wouldn’t finish. Continuing to improve these technologies will continue for a lifetime, but to make sure that students feel they are making the right choice for them is important.
SM: How much penetration do you have in the market today? You said there were 1,300 colleges, right? What is the percentage of penetration on college side and on the high school side?
RB: It is about 4,600, somewhere around that number, for colleges and universities. We are expanding, we have 1,300 that we can send documents to. How many there are on the high school side? I have to get you the exact numbers because it changes as we grow, especially for the state portal, our marketplace. But I could follow up on that. It is in the 20% range in terms of high school penetration nationally.
SM: No problem! This was a very interesting discussion, and I enjoyed listening to you and how you are thinking about cloud. You have identified an interesting problem and are building a solution to it – that is what we are trying to get our entrepreneurs to zero in on. We would like them to identify a real problem, solve a real problem, and create value. There are a lot of these open problems in various industries, especially in education.
RB: Oh, absolutely. When you see problems, you see opportunities, and that is why I am excited. I think it is a good case view through your program [1 Million by 1 Million] that you are working on. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity in this industry. I think some will turn over faster than others and provide faster results, but I hope, from the student’s perspective, it will be done sooner rather than later.
SM: Well, thank you very much for your time, Rick.
RB: Thank you. I really appreciated talking with you.