Sharlene Barnes has been described as a ‘Mum on a mission’. She’s beaten melanoma twice, and established a business with 15 staff members.
We chatted with the inspiring Sharlene Barnes.
Tells us about yourself
I’m a working mum and a grandmother. My kids are both in their early and late 20s now so my husband and I are empty nesters. I love to travel and I love to sail. I’m a bit of a restless soul at heart and these two past times nurture that part of me.
Why did you create the Skool Loop App?
As a working mum, I found it really hard to keep up with my kids’ school activities when they were at school. I was constantly getting phone calls in the middle of meetings, saying ‘Dylan forgot his runners and it’s the Cross Country Carnival today’, and similar things. Maybe my kids were just bad at relaying information but it’s a lot to ask of a 6 year old – to be responsible for the communication between the school and home. I knew there must be a better system and I was determined to create one! I just couldn’t see how to bring it to life. The technology wasn’t there yet.
Do you have a technical background?
No not at all. It was my 16 year old son who introduced me to the world of smartphone apps. He showed me what was possible on the apps he was using at the time and I realized this was the technology that I’d been waiting for. This is how I would bring my idea to life!
Does your previous background help you with your business?
In what ways?
I worked in advertising sales for a publishing house for 15 years, and through that I developed a sixth sense for spotting potential advertisers. So when I was looking at ways of funding the app, it was obvious to me that I should reach out to advertisers. Having the skills to do so is really what has made the business successful, as I’ve been able to offer the app to schools for free, whereas my competitors charge a lot of money for schools to use their app.
How difficult was it to produce?
It was a huge learning curve for me. And a huge challenge. It took a lot of phone calls to find the right developers. After speaking with a dozen or so, I finally found someone who I connected with. Who ‘got’ me. He and his team were really encouraging of my idea.
The biggest challenge was translating what I had in my head into their code. It’s a whole different language, and I had no idea what was possible and what was not. Luckily they knew enough for all of us, and would often say, ‘Well we can’t do that, but we could do this instead.’
It was an exciting moment when it all came together and we had the final product! – well, the first iteration of it at least.
What was the biggest challenge you had in establishing the Skool Loop App?
Developing the actual app was a huge challenge, and keeping it up to date in an ever-evolving environment is a constant challenge still.
Running my own business was also completely new to me. I had no idea about employment law, managing staff, marketing or anything like that, but I’ve learnt it all along the way and it’s been so rewarding.
Where is the App used?
The Skool Loop App is used in more than 700 schools across Australia and New Zealand.
Could you use it in other organisations?
It’s designed for schools, so all the features – such as a school calendar, absentee messaging, contacts list, permission slips newsletters and push notifications – are designed with schools in mind so I’m not sure it’s well suited to other organisations but in theory, yes it could be.
Could you have started a business like this 20 years ago?
20 years ago this kind of exciting technology was not available and I loved my job in advertising sales so I wasn’t looking for another opportunity back then.
It’s taken a lot of life experience to have the confidence to launch the business. I was diagnosed with melanoma a few years ago and underwent treatment for that – twice! That was really when I started thinking seriously about making a change. I realised life’s too short not to follow your dreams.
Has experience and wisdom helped you develop the App?
Absolutely! My professional experience was key to making the app work from a business perspective. I’ve learnt so much, and I think having the experience I had under my belt before I started has really helped.
What would you suggest for others wanting to do something else with their life?
I think if you’ve got an idea, and it doesn’t leave you, even after a number of years, there comes a time when you just have to bite the bullet. At the end of the day, what have you got to lose?! I had no idea which way The Skool Loop App would go, but I needed to do it, and I’d encourage others to do the same. Just give it a go. It might be the best thing you ever did.
Where to next?
People often ask me, now that I have successfully developed one app, am I thinking of any others? The answer is no. I have far from finished with The Skool Loop App. There’s a lot more I want to do. It’s in 700 schools at the moment, but I want to make it accessible for at least another 5000. There are more features I can add, and more requests to answer. I’ll be sticking with this project for a while yet!
Thanks Sharlene, you have a wonderful story, a creative mind……..and persistence!
You can find more about the Skool Loop here