By: Leisa Grace Wilson
I am convinced that teachers make excellent entrepreneurs. The qualities required to be a good entrepreneur are the same needed to be a good teacher, a good entrepreneur needs to be flexible, resilient, resourceful and a good communicator, just to name a new. These are the same qualities that a good teacher normally possesses. In this article I speak with Atif Mahmood, an entrepreneur who made the leap from teaching, to the world of business and entrepreneurship.
Atif was born in a small town in the Midlands in the United Kingdom, his father emigrated from Kashmir at the age of 14. He was the eldest brother of 6 siblings, he had the responsibility, very early on in his life, of going to work in order to earn an income to help his family to survive. His father loves to learn but unfortunately he never got the opportunity to gain a formal education.
Atif attended a very multicultural state school. Mr. Williams, who was his IT teacher, instilled in him a love of Information Technology (IT) and he went on to sit the IT examination at the GCSE level where he was awarded an A. Atif’s love for IT continued as he became a teacher and later the founder of Teacherly.io.
In this article we learn more about this passionate educator, turned entrepreneur and the Teacherly.io platform, which is designed to help educators collaborate and plan more efficiently.
Who was your favourite teacher? Why?
I actually had two, Mr. William my IT teacher and Mrs. Bond my Geography teacher. They were both passionate about their subjects which motivated me to go beyond what was taught in the classroom. I believe it’s my interest and curiosity in these two subjects that led me to having a career in Computer Science and education and also ignited my desire to travel and experience different cultures.
What or who inspires you most?
My 7 year old daughter, Huriayya, inspires me most. When I need motivation or the extra hunger to succeed, I think of her. She actually talks about Teacherly.io with her friends and teachers at school. When asked what she wants to do when she is older, she says that she wants to have her own business. She loves drama and dance and her dream is to create a dance app.
What prompted your move from being an educator to becoming an entrepreneur?
I have always championed the use of technology in education, as well as being involved with teacher training in schools. After working in the field of education for some time, I realised that the majority of education technology solutions on the market were aimed at the students and that there was very little technology aimed at the educator. While studying for my Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), a number of students dropped out because of the workload. It was then that I began to think of ways of preventing this from happening.
I wanted to develop a product that embodied a good user interface and user experience aimed wholly at teachers. My main aim is to eliminate workload and develop a closer teacher community. Many sites allow teachers to take other teachers’ resources but there is no real collaboration taking place, an issue which Teacherly.io, addresses.
Share two major challenges that you faced. How did you overcome them?
One challenge was recruitment, very early on when I started, with little money, trying to get talented people to help me was hard. I was lucky to have a good network, and I was able to work with school improvement officers, teachers and head teachers, who helped with product development. They also became our evangelists and spread the word. This helped us get early sales and generate some revenue, which in turn enabled us to recruit more great talent.
The second challenge was ensuring that we did not run before we were able to walk. Early stage startups can easily get distracted and start adding too many features to their product or start expanding too early. I am a huge believer in staying true to your core value proposition. Keep asking yourself one key question, ‘what is the core problem that I am trying to solve?’. Focusing on this and making sure we did not get distracted, helped us establish ourselves in the UK and now expanding to other countries.
I’d like to add a third, having gone through the cycle of founding and trying to fund my start up with external funding, I found being a single founder very hard. I am of the view that, there still needs to be more funding options available to Black and Minority Ethnic Entrepreneurs (BAME). Some reasonable progress has been made to help women entrepreneurs, but not enough, in my opinion, is available to support BAME entrepreneurs.
What Is Teacherly?
Teacherly is a collaborative lesson planning and peer to peer coaching platform. It connects teachers across departments, schools and countries, by creating clusters of teacher communities. Teacherly improves workflow and efficiency and drives up the quality of planning, reducing workload and saving teachers time.
At a school management level, it also helps with compliance and understanding the quality of teaching that is happening on a day to day basis.
What is the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?
Making sure that as an entrepreneur you transition from just thinking and executing an idea, to running it as a business. It is important to have a mind set of wanting to continue to learn and better yourself as an entrepreneur and Founder, and finding time to do this.
What is one of your proudest achievements to date?
My proudest moment as a Founder was making it to the top 10 of the Founders and CEOs of tech startups 2017 in The Northern Stars/Tech Nation Annual Awards. This was a great achievement because the award was judged by some amazing CEOs, as well as an audience vote, too. It was streamed live, and my daughter and wife watched me for the first time on TV.
What are three fun activities that you do to relax and take your mind off work?
I love running. I get up at 05.30 am and run every morning, this helps me to reflect and relax. I love playing with my daughters Huriayya and Haniya, who is 1 year old. We love dancing to Kids Bop. I also enjoy watching football, I have supported Manchester United since I was 11.