Aruni S. Gunasegaram is the Vice President of Client Services and Operations at Querium, a mobile-ready web service that quickly diagnoses student competencies and trains students on step-by-step procedures and critical cognitive skills required for modern careers. Designed for digital natives, Querium’s mobile learning software platform delivers smart diagnostics and personalized, bite-sized lessons. Its unique, Rackspace cloud-hosted, artificial-intelligence (A.I.) software products are designed for high school and college students in the United States.
Gunasegaram is a University of Texas Austin MBA coach and helped launch the first undergraduate entrepreneurship class there. Most recently, she held the Director of Operations title at the Austin Technology Incubator. She has also consulted for numerous start-up companies in the areas of operations, client services, fundraising and growth. Her entrepreneurial accomplishments include founding web and mobile application companies Isochron Data and Babble Soft.
A true learner, entrepreneur and founding parent of the Magellan International School, Gunasegaram took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with the Rackspace Startup Program about providing great customer support and finding the proper funding to build a startup. What follows are Aruni’s thoughts on how Querium was able to build relationships with 18 Texas colleges within 12 months:
How was the Querium go-to-market strategy developed?
What’s amazing about Querium is that within a year, we went from being nobodies in the educational technology market to having relationships with 18 Texas colleges! This was primarily due to an idea our “Ideation” (Strengths Finder strength – I know Rackspace is a big Strengths Finder proponent) Chief Marketing Officer, Patti Smith, came up with to host the state mandated Pre-Assessment Activity (PAA) free of charge to Texas colleges. Many Texas colleges did not have the time or technical resources to meet that requirement in a way that was mobile, easily accessible and secure, and were thrilled that we could help them meet that requirement.
By providing a PAA and giving them great customer support, we had an automatic gate opener and we built great relationships with them such that eight of them chose to work with us to evaluate our first product: TSI Math Prep. Preliminary results show that students who use our TSI Math Prep program significantly outperform students who don’t! In fact, 90 percent of participants from whom we collected before and after TSI Math scores had a big enough score increase to allow them to skip a couple of developmental education (aka “remedial”) courses, saving them hundreds of dollars and countless hours in courses they didn’t need.
What is your startups approach to client services?
Like Rackspace, we at Querium believe in fanatical support of our customers. Our users are students who may be the first in their family to attend college and they don’t have a strong network to help them navigate the college process. If a student needs help with our PAA or TSI Math Prep, we respond as quickly as we can to get them back on track studying. We’ve designed our products to be easy to use, intuitive and mobile/tablet friendly, which is critical to keeping our support staff to a minimum while delivering great service.
We also work closely with the amazing college administrators who devote their lives to helping students achieve college success so that they can break the cycle of poverty! We prioritize being responsive to our college partners (just ask them!) because we know that in order for them to do their jobs well, our solutions must work extremely well and not cause additional headaches.
What business lessons were learned building Querium?
Too many to write about here!
What business challenges did you run into building your startup?
One of the biggest challenges for most startups these days is finding the right funding to support key staff and resources needed to achieve often aggressive sales and product development goals. We are always looking for great funding partners to help us achieve our mission of assisting 24 million students in achieving their career goals!
What business wins has Querium achieved?
Because of our novel go-to-market strategy I described above, we quickly gained the adoption and trust of many state colleges and universities in Texas! Building trust early on is very important because, I believe, without trust there can be no great leaps of faith to work with a new company.
What best practices did you incorporate into your startup?
We’re a startup. We are still trying to figure those out!
What kind of support would be most helpful in the early days of Querium?
Funding support that comes with experienced and smart people as well as promotional support on a limited budget with our target market.
What straight up business advice would you give to a startup?
I think each entrepreneur and founding group is different, so taking the time to understand and reflect on everyone’s strengths for the betterment of the team is important. You want to be in a team where when you toss your team member a ball, they are there to catch it and move it quickly toward the goal line. You also want to be ready and waiting when your team member kicks you a ball so you can run with it towards the goal line. In my opinion, trust, speed, communication and efficiency can mean the difference between winning and losing. I think I watched too much World Cup soccer this year!
The Rackspace Startup Program thanks Aruni S. Gunasegaram for taking time out of her busy schedule to enlighten us on the importance of understanding and reflecting on everyone’s strengths for the betterment of the team. For more insight into hosting your startup on the Rackspace Managed Cloud backed by Fanatical Support, contact the Startup Team