September 2017 Update
Mesa uses accrual based accounting but a check feels a lot better in your hand than a purchase order. We just received our Houston ISD check: it’s a small piece of paper but it's the heaviest burden of the company. Embedded in that check is a deep responsibility to every Houston high schooler and administrator that we get it right: that we earn our keep, that we keep going. The stuff keeping me up at night is the fear at scale - fear that nobody can log in, fear that our data is wrong, fear that our recommendations leave a wake of mistakes - but also the excitement: the excitement of keeping kids in school, of making public schools in Houston more efficient, of finding money in spots nobody’s looked before.
My biggest mission this quarter is to create a laser focus on Mesa onTime. Our possible opportunity with Denver Public Schools didn’t turn out. The scheduling algorithm we built for a school there was inconsistent, causing more work than if we hadn’t been involved. In retrospect this was a lucky moment for us: if our Denver pilot evolved into a bigger sale, then we would have been spread too thin and unable to give Houston all the attention they deserve as our first district-wide customer.
We’d like to spend the month of September working exclusively with HISD and listening to their assessments of the product: we’re confident that the extra time spent on our product will pay dividends for future rollout and integrations, facilitating our sales growth. Because of the chaos caused by the hurricane, our deployment was pushed to January with trainings in October, so we have no excuse for any bugs or missteps in the rollout. Our immediate sales goals are to target districts in Texas and especially the Houston area, while we continue to get feedback and iterate on the product. Three of the five largest school districts in Texas are in the Houston metropolitan area, and the 12 largest Houston area districts represents an addressable market of 200,000 high schoolers. By focusing on our own backyard, we can not only reduce travel overhead but build on our existing deep knowledge of the Texas school system. We’ve learned already from HISD that our ability to analyze the deep codes of Texas education law and automate its auditing can bring in additional money to the district, but it also lowers our barrier of entry into other Texas districts and compresses the challenging sales cycle in education. The product is inseparable from its deployment and implementation, and it’ll be easiest to develop those strategies while staying close to home and reducing overhead.
Harvey reminded us just how fragile and fluid our plans are. John Ruff, Mesa’s Chief Evangelist, lost most of his rental home, and the possessions of his young family of 4, in the flooding. I was blessed enough to avoid damage in the house (my 1995 Bronco had minor water damage), but also was lucky to find the people involved with Sketch City: a nonprofit Houston group of tech volunteers. With a small group I created oneclickrelief.com, a site that lets you buy something on Amazon (not through a wealthy multinational charity corporation) that a shelter in Houston badly needs. Our efforts got picked up by the Chronicle, and we’ve facilitated several thousand dollars worth of donations through our site. Throughout this process I’ve been reminded of the core strengths of our community: our inherent resiliency, ingenuity and optimism, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. As Mesa continues to grow and iterate towards something special, the circle of entrepreneurs and mentors around me has been my greatest strength. I showed up to a demo day at START Houston back in August 2015 and so many people saw a naive 16 year old and just wanted to help. Looking back from this inflection point, hopefully this accomplishment resonates not just with Mesa but throughout the Houston community: it takes a village to raise a child and I owe everything to mine.
“If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not doing anything” - David Bowie