Wonderschool - formerly One Preschool - has been a loyal Compose customer since their inception. They have been on a mission to make preschooling both accessible and practical throughout the world. We spoke with co-founders Chris Bennett and Arrel Gray to hear about their startup, technology stack, and mission.
Finding a preschool or daycare can be a daunting task for parents. And it’s not just in North America; many people around the world face similar childcare dilemmas. There’s simply not enough quality preschools. Or if there is, it’s hard to find one when you need it. Arrel Gray faced the same situation when he was looking for a childcare. Being an entrepreneur, Arrel took this as a challenge worth solving for others. He partnered up with his colleague and friend Chris Bennett to explore why there is such a problem and if they can do anything about it. And so, Wonderschool was born.
“We wanted to create a solution for educators to start preschools, and for parents to more easily find them. We went in to figure out ways to incentivize people to start them and so we launched this company to do that. We realized that if we could find a way to provide early childhood education to every kid in the world, then we could have a really big social impact,” said Chris when talking about the company’s vision.
But being technologists and having no background in education, Chris and Arrel needed to “eat their own dogfood”, as it were, to start their initial venture. So they partnered with early childhood educators to work with teachers they would bring on. Their experience with a previous startup was also helpful in setting up a new business from scratch. For Wonderschool, the team opened two schools: one in Berkeley and another in Los Angeles. These were test cases without any technological platform. The duo wanted to understand how the system works, figure out marketing, how to help teachers, make pricing decision and policies, understand ramp up period, and a myriad of other details to get a school off the ground.
According to Chris, “Though parents are always looking for a good childcare facility, they’re a little hesitant to join something new like Wonderschool. But once they start to see their friends joining, they get more interested. They also love the way how Wonderschool lets them work closely with the teachers.”
Another learning was that many parents have misconceptions about what it means to be prepared for kindergarten. They think it’s about teaching basic math or learning the alphabet. But to Chris, what matters most is the social and emotional development of a child. Can they make associations? Are they communicative and able to mix with other children?
So, from early on, they started working with experienced teachers - teachers that would understand the pragmatic needs of a child’s mental growth.
As the company started growing, it’s been hard to keep up with the services that teachers need to do their job effectively; for example, they have a shortage of substitute teachers. There’s also a ton of work for licensing, curriculum, school setup, scheduling, payment, marketing, curriculum, networking and mentorship, and many more things that have to go right for the box model to work.
This is why Wonderschool was launched; to make the experience of starting a preschool and running it day to day easy for educators who want to start their own business. With the Wonderschool platform, experienced educators can start a preschool and get all the benefits that are built into Wonderschool.
The platform has three components. There’s a network of schools where teachers and parents can search for a school, schedule a tour and get enrolled. Then there’s a dashboard the teachers use to manage enrollment, do expenses and keep track of any schedule changes that occur in the school for a certain parent. Finally, there is a separate setup system that the teachers use when they first sign up to go from an idea to a full school. The system takes care of payment and support, provides access to mentors and professionals and even gives an estimate of how much earnings can be made.
Powering the platform is Phoenix/Elixir on the server side and React.js on the front end. For their data layer, Wonderschool selected Compose PostgreSQL for persistent data and Compose Redis as their message queue.
They chose PostgresSQL because they needed a powerful object-relational database that is highly customizable. With PostgreSQL, development is fast and easily scalable, plus one can develop in a language they are comfortable with. It's also a feature-rich enterprise database with JSON support, providing the best of both the SQL and NoSQL worlds.
“We rely a lot on the data consistency features and introspective searches for looking up performance data and diagnosing problems. I've built a couple of medium scale (tens of millions of records) services for event tracking and search using PostgresSQL before. At that scale it's still surprisingly fast, even for things like full-text search,” said Arrel who’s at the helm of the engineering.
Arrel also loves Redis because of its versatility, ease of setup and low maintainability. It's a blazingly fast, in-memory key/value store; perfect for Wonderschool's needs. On Compose's platform, Redis is pre-tuned for high availability and comes with additional security features.
At Wonderschool they use Redis for message queueing, but also use it for locking and caching of webhook data to know when to refresh or reset a connection.
Talking about managing databases in his long career, Arrel had a strong opinion. “I hate anything database-related with the word "patch" in it. I love that Compose keeps the database up to date, makes it super easy to upgrade versions, and scales for us automatically.”
When asked why Wonderschool chose Compose, Arrel said, “We used Compose in a previous project, which was always super stable and had a good web interface, so we were psyched when you started offering Postgres and we could switch over all our data storage.” He also mentioned that “as a software engineer, the most important features are the ones that let me stay focused on the software and forget about the infrastructure. It’s also about reliability. After sticking with Compose for several years I've learned that when things go wrong, you guys got my back.”
All the passion and hard work are paying off. Only at its second year, Wonderschool has already spanned 11 schools with more on the way.
To learn more about Wonderschool and their platform, visit https://wonderschool.com.
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