Can software revolutionise childcare?

Mark Woodland, founder of childcare centre app Xplor. Photographer: James Braund.

Xplor founder Mark Woodland took a “very small problem” and came up with a very big solution to revolutionise the childcare sector.

Mark Woodland stumbled into entrepreneurship. The 33-year-old founder of Xplor, a multi-platform software system for the education sector, debuted on the BRW Australia’s Young Rich List in 2016 with an estimated net worth of A$54 million.

It’s a remarkable achievement, given that seven years ago Woodland had quit the army and was working as the receptionist at his mother’s childcare centre. He had no experience or training in either child care or business. What he did have was insight, and a determination to solve what he saw as a glaring problem with his mother’s business. 

The retired school principal had opened her childcare service in suburban Melbourne but found herself bogged down in administration and reporting, rather than engaging with the children.

Woodland took over so his mother could escape the office to be with her young charges. However, he became frustrated with what he saw as an archaic system of multiple data entry, numerous reporting systems and constant reassurance of parents. He resolved to find a better way.

“This is the first time for a very long time there’s been a brand in education that people have wanted to get behind.”

After an app developer quoted what Woodland calls “a stupid amount of money” for his “crazy idea” to incorporate all the operations into one, Woodland taught himself computer code and developed the software himself.

It was the skeleton for what has become Xplor, an end-to-end operating system that allows childcare centres to communicate in real time with the children’s parents by sharing photos, messages and videos while also accepting payments, monitoring data and managing reporting obligations.

Launched in August 2015, Xplor helped change the outlook for the childcare centre, which had been navigating rough financial waters. Woodland went on to open two more centres, but after people caught wind of the software he’d built, these were sold to fund the building of Xplor into a saleable product.

“It turns out my very small problem in a very small childcare centre was a problem everyone was experiencing,” Woodland says.

Xplor is given to childcare centres for free, and Xplor also gifts the associated hardware – an Apple iPod Touch – to each educator.

The cost is borne by the parents. For A$2.50 per week they get easier sign-in procedures, access to their child’s records at the touch of a button, and the ability to log in to see live-streaming or photo updates of their child’s day.

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Xplor’s growth has been mostly organic. Woodland was so busy coping with the rollout demand for Xplor that he turned away investors.

He even turned down an approach by one of Australia’s largest venture capitalists, AirTree, not knowing what it was or what it could do. 

AirTree persisted and locked in a A$6 million funding round in June 2016, adding the expertise to manage Xplor’s explosive growth. 

In eight months, Xplor grew from four staff to 40 and is now in 1200 Australian childcare centres, 350 in Malaysia, 100 in the US and 36 in the UK. It has expanded into schools, family day care and has had interest from the aged-care sector. 

On the back of the US success, Woodland will head up an Xplor presence in America from June.

“This is the first time for a very long time there’s been a brand in education that people have wanted to get behind,” he says. 

“No one has been willing to make education sexy and we have slotted into that spot, and people want to be involved. They can see the vision we have.” 

One piece of advice

“Don’t do it for the money; life is too short. Find your passion, back yourself and do it. And don’t give up.”

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June 2017
June 2017

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