As both an educator, an active member and volunteer of the education community, Alefiya Bhatia recognized that it was not always easy for parents to stay constantly engaged in their child's education, nor was it easy for nonprofit volunteers to be as involved with their causes as they would like to be. In 2011 Alefiya founded Crescerance, a company that helps educational institutions give their parents, alumni, staff, students and prospective students/parents everything they need to know about their schools into the palms of their hands and innovative programs for students.
Through their programs MAD-learn and Embr, Crescerance is able to harness the mobile technology movement with education to offer applied classroom programs and custom mobile applications. In Crescerance's short lifespan of just over two years, Alefiya has enabled over 100 educational institutions in America and throughout the world to better communicate with and engage their communities through the growing power of mobile. Alefiya is passionate about making mobile an easily available and powerful channel to thousands of schools worldwide.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Crescerance?
Well I have been in education my whole life. Be it as a student, a mentor, a teacher, an administrator, or now as an EdTech entrepreneur. Before we started Crescerance, I was helping a young school here in the Atlanta area get off its feet, get enrollment, market, teach, clean, and every other hat you could think of wearing at a young school. I had seen through my work in the classroom that there were some serious problem that I faced (and colleagues of mine across the world still face today), that needed solving. My varied set of experiences at a "startup" school enabled me to think about and gain the courage needed to start a business. Not to mention, my husband happens to be of the serial entrepreneur gene.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Crescerance?
When you go from a team of one (yourself) to a team of nearly 55, you better be sure of seeing your own set of ups and downs! Some of our most memorable highlights would have to be:
• The day we hired our first US employee, who worked out of our home with me for a year
• The day we moved in to our official "big boy" office
• The day we took our first company retreat (a day on the lake!)
• They day we won our largest deal (record soon to be broken)
• They day we realized that we had grown such a great team that we were now bursting through the seams of our current office space and need to get more space
Some of our biggest challenges since we started (believe it or not) are things as simple as:
• Figuring out our brand and product positioning, given we are a small company, with 2 product lines (Embr and MAD-learn)
• Figuring out the right and most affordable CRM to use (and transitioning to it the right way)
• Figuring out a flawless phone system that enables us to record calls, and track all activity in the best possible way
• Figuring out how to scale our sales team now that our product/technology and customer success teams are in place and AMAZING
• Figuring out the quickest path to get to our best customers
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Well, the Education Industry is one that has always had and continues to have a much greater percentage of women than men. The problem is that percentage disparity does not translate to education innovation and EdTech companies that exist or that are being started. To this, I have only one piece of advice to offer my fellow lady friends: don't second guess yourself. We do it all too often, and it kills us every time. We absolutely will fail, and if we work hard enough and smart enough we absolutely will succeed. We can't do either if we don't try.
If you have an idea (I know you have seen things that you wish you could fix or change and likely have ideas on how to do it) go for it! Talk to people, including me, who may have some ideas that can help you get started and help you turn your ideas into something tangible. And if starting a company isn't for you, come join ours! We're always looking for phenomenal talent to grow our company.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Grit more than any other quality or trait will get you where you want to be. Sheer grit. And the ability to make personal connections and form strong relationships with nearly any kind of person.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I work with my husband so there is none! But a more serious note, it's always a challenge. I think the notion of work/life balance is inherently flawed in today's world. Life is work, and work is life. I think it is more about work time vs. non-work time. We absolutely have to have a good mix of work and non-work to ensure that we are successful and well-rounded individuals. We work hard and we play hard. We ensure that we take at least one weekend day every week to decompress, revive, rejuvenate, and refresh. Most times, that includes time on, in, at, or near the water.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
One of the things that I have learned from my mother is the art of forming great relationships. She can walk in to a room full of strangers and leave an hour later with everyone being her best friend. I seem to have learned this from her somehow. Unfortunately, what I haven't figured out is how to maintain, foster, grow, and leverage those relationships over time. I have always had people in my life that I have gone to for advice, talked to about problems, learned from, and been inspired by. But I have never fostered those wonderful people to be and stay mentors to me through life. This is one of my biggest areas of improvement. I hope I can talk to you a year from now and tell you about the mentors that I have had and how they have helped. For those that have been patient enough to bear with me during my MIA spells, I thank you! You may not know it, because I have likely failed to tell you this, but your words, your shoulder, and your mind share, have helped me get this far. And there's so much more to go!
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I will caveat this with the fact that you will likely know none of these women. That's because they are unsung heroes that do great things every day, but never stop to think or care about recognition of any sort.
Ginger Jewell - former superintendent at Hainsborough School District in Alaska, now superintendent at Echols School District in Georgia. I admire her because of ever-evolving forward vision for what she wants education to be, and how she is helping the students in her district get to the next level.
Susan Bearden - director of technology at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Florida. I admire her because of her amazing ability to connect, stay connected, and always be in 1000 places at once (even with a loving husband and kids!)
Vicki Davis - teacher and IT Director and Westwood Schools in Georgia. Vicki has the ability to take a tool, stretch it to its limits, bend and break it, twist and turn it, get more creative with it than I've ever seen. This is what she did with our MAD-learn program and she blew us all away. Her students actually have apps that they made that have been published in app stores worldwide, and that were selected through a MAD-sharktank that she did at her school this past spring.
What do you want Crescerance to accomplish in the next year?
I want to ensure that we are working with schools and districts in all 50 states that we continue to grow our products and our team to allow us to reach 500% more schools than we do now, and to ensure that we can bring in enough success to warrant an all-team cruise getaway!