CEO Stories: Cher Grant, CEO and Founder of Wazzio, Inc.
Software company Wazzio has its roots in a cloud-services company started by entrepreneur Cher Grant. Eventually Grant chose to focus on education software with WazzCards because she saw technology as a solution for bridging teaching/learning gaps that could help students, teachers, and parents, whether in online classrooms or in person.
The company’s latest application of WazzCards is focused on financial literacy, for students in grades 3-8. Grant says financial literacy is critical because it’s too easy for kids to spend money digitally without any real understanding of the true value of money: where it comes from, where it is going, and the implications of such factors as interest rates, debt, and credit.
The pandemic and the burden of at-home learning gave parents new insights into how their children were learning and into what areas their children may be struggling with. Products like WazzCards allow parents to supplement what children are being formally taught and focus on areas of particular need or interest.
WOMEN IN TECH
Grant acknowledges it isn’t always easy for women, especially women of color, in technology because of lack of representation. While she didn’t study technology in school, she found herself intrigued by its dynamic, solutions-focused nature and started working in the field. Working for big companies had its pros and cons, she says. Pros: The chance to learn, make contacts, and stay on top of trends. Cons: Red tape and bureaucracy can make it tough to bring new ideas to fruition. Wazzio was profitable in its first year and has Grant has been able to fund growth without outside investment.
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Q: Welcome to This is Capitalism, CEO Stories. I’m your host, Patricia O’Connell.
Today I am joined by Cher Grant, CEO and Founder of software development company Wazzio. Cher, thanks for joining us today on CEO Stories for This is Capitalism.
A: Thank you for having me, Patricia. I’m really excited to be here.
Q: Cher, talk to me a little bit about Wazzio, what Wazzio does, cool name, where that came from, and the software that you’ve developed.
A: When we started out in 2013, we launched a technology software [00:01:02.02] a cloud services type solution that was more of an aggregator. And since 2013, we pivoted a little bit and now we pivoted into the educational space because that has always been a passion of mine to get into the educational space and offer a solution and a technology that could be able to help students.
And we just launched our latest application in the educational space called WazzCards. And that is an online vertical type classroom, kind of like Jeopardy, Patricia, where a question is posed on the screen, a digital question is posed on the screen by the teacher or parent, and one student or an entire classroom of students can answer that card question – as I mentioned, its similar to Jeopardy – in real time so that the teacher or parent can see how each student is answering the card or the question on the card correctly, incorrectly, or not participating at all.
So we are really excited about this new tool that we just launched, WazzCards, and we are hoping it’s going to help a lot of students either in class or remotely.
Q: And correct me if I’m wrong but WazzCards is really aimed at helping teach and obviously then learn about financial literacy?
A: Correct. The difference between WazzCards and some of the other educational applications that are out there that are all great tools, some of them are specialized and specifically attack one subject where it’s one is.. some are math, some are English, some are about games or some are about finances and things like that.
But WazzCards, we have all multiple different subjects and by introducing WazzCards, we want to encourage students as young as possible to learn about financial literacy. And we are going to be pushing that a lot through our product.
Q: When you say as young as possible, how young is old enough to start learning?
A: We’re starting at grade three till grade eight we just launched. And we have subjects of science, math, English, geography, history. And then from grade three to grade eight we also have a huge financial literacy competent of that as well.
Q: Financial literacy is obviously something that is critical. I mean you see so many stories about people who are, shall we say, old enough to know better finding themselves in situations where they didn’t save, they had the opportunities to save but they didn’t understand the time value of money, for example, or just how important it was to not rely on programs like Social Security exclusively for retirement. So how did you get excited about teaching kids about financial literacy? Because it’s something that I never learned about in school.
A: You’re absolutely correct, Patricia. Financial literacy is extremely important and I wish that I was taught that and I’m sure a lot of my friends and family members wish we were taught financial literacy in school because some of the things that we did when we were younger we probably wouldn’t have done if we would have known about what we know now
And I think that because everything in the world is changing and being able to get access to funds or spend money has become easier. For example, when we were growing up, you knew exactly what was in your bank account because you had to go get your bank tallied up or you had to go get a bank statement or you’d go to the ATM. But now everything is tap, tap, tap and how do you keep track of how much money you’re spending unless you have some type of calculator that’s telling you how much you have in your account?
Q: And it also doesn’t seem real, I think, when you’re not actually laying out cash.
A: Exactly, exactly.
Q: I remember any cash that I got as a kid babysitting or a birthday or something like that there was something really exciting about taking that money and putting it in my safe hiding place or taking it to the bank. But there was a really tangible aspect to it.
A: Absolutely. Well now we have made it very easy for all of us to spend but we haven’t made it very easy for all of us to, especially young ones, to learn what it means, the value of money, and to safe and to have.
When we were growing up, you saved all your money from doing some type of small job to buy that special bike or gift for yourself. Everything is tapped and everything is spent easily and you get access to money as quickly as possible.
That’s what we want to teach our kids — about credit, getting yourself into debt, what that means, what that does to your credit score, what do interest rates mean. When you get that credit card, you actually have to pay that money back. It doesn’t go away; it will follow you for many years afterwards if you don’t. So all of these things I think are important for our kids to learn now. I mean we should have learned it before but it’s even more so important now.
Q: How are you getting WazzCards out there?
A: Right now we are doing ads, Google ads in social media. And we’re working through some of the partnerships that we have, existing partnerships that we work with, with schools and [00:06:23.27] companies that we work with as well that’s also in the educational sector. But we are definitely doing a lot of advertising and marketing through that.
Q: Do you see the opportunity more through school systems or do you see it also as parents trying to help, as you said, almost play this Jeopardy-like game with their kids to teach them?
A: I see it both ways. What this pandemic has shown us is that we can do things a little bit differently now. Where before we really didn’t have young kids working from home and doing remote learning and now that we had to be thrown into that, the perspectives have changed. I think that teachers have the ability to now use tools that enable them to be successful, to teach online and remote learning as well as make it collaborative so that the students will want to participate or keep their attention and focus.
And parents, finding the curriculum has been a challenge over this last year and a half. And having WazzCards is that ability for parents to go in where the curriculum is already there, they just have to select the decks that they want to use and then have their kids participate. That is fantastic. And I also think that parents will be able to make it fun at home, make it learning. If you get a certain amount of questions correct, let’s go get ice cream. So they can always put their different spin on it.
Q: I have not been teaching at home during the pandemic, I don’t have children. But I of course know that that’s been a challenge for many parents. But I imagine it has also been an opportunity for some parents to see maybe some gaps in what their kids are learning?
A: Absolutely. What has happened, I think, is that prior to the pandemic parents weren’t really up to speed on how their kids were having their challenges with certain subjects or maybe they weren’t understanding things the same as other students that are in their class. And I think by having the kids home during a pandemic they got to be part of that classroom now, the parents.
It’s almost they got a glimpse of what is really going on and how their kids may be struggling or what areas.. or not and maybe they’re not struggling at all, maybe they are completely excelling actually better remotely learning than being in class. So I think there’s a lot of different things that parents have got to see that they weren’t able to have access to before.
Q: So you said you have been in business since 2013. How did you come to become a woman in technology? It has not always been easy for women in technology. you are also a woman of I believe you said Caribbean descent?
A: Correct. My family is from Barbados.
Q: Was there any desire to go to Barbados during the pandemic? I know Barbados was one of the islands that was trying to attract people to go work.
A: Oh no, I would love to but we had to come back home to deal with certain things here.
Q: Yes, real life, real life. But technology has not always been friendly, appealing, attractive, welcoming to women let alone women of color. How did you find your way to found a technology company and do you feel that there were any barriers that you encountered?
A: The technology industry is predominantly male dominated. And yeah here’s definitely been some challenge throughout my career but I love technology so much because it’s always innovative, it’s always changing. Every customer that you encounter has a different business issue that you would be able to kind of solve in some way, how to make that business challenge that they have go away. And that’s what interests me about technology, it excited me in the ever changing way things are.
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, sometimes you face sexism or misogynistic.. There’s all of that as well. But what I have done to get past it by working in my previous company before venturing out on my own was to act like Teflon.
Everything that’s thrown at you or you hear those comments, or snide comments, or you’re not part of a club because you’re a woman and you’re not part of the boy’s club, you kind of just, like I said, act like Teflon and don’t let it stick to you.
And then I always found that there was opportunities to do things differently when I worked with companies and I found that I was not able to take that to the next level when I worked for employers. And I worked for some great companies and we just weren’t able to.. I wasn’t able to get those ideas to come to fruition because of many obstacles, red tapes, or for whatever reason.
And that’s when I decided to take this on my own. I had enough experience in technology, I’d been there for many years – without totally aging myself – but I wanted to do something on my own where I’d get to say okay this is something that’s needed, let’s do it, versus having the push back.
Q: Did you ever imagine that you would be an entrepreneur, that you would start your own company? I mean, was that the ultimate goal when you started out – I’m going to learn as much as I can and someday I will start my own – or was it a gradual realization?
A: It was gradual. There was always this burning flame inside of me to do something on my own. But like most entrepreneurs or people who are thinking about venturing on their own, there is that fear factor of can I do it, what happens, what if I don’t succeed and will I have a paycheck. All these things that go through your mind before leaving something that is stable to go venture on your own that there’s a lot of unknown.
But I felt that.. I was confident enough to be able to start my own business. And fortunately for us, because of the experience that I had in the industry and the contacts, our first year starting out we were profitable.
Q: Wow, impressive. This leads me to want to talk to you about two things. You talk about that burning flame, that burning passion. How important do you think passion is in not just for being an entrepreneur but for work in general?
A: I think it is extremely important. We don’t hear very often enough from our friends or family members or significant others that I love my job, I love what I do. We don’t hear that enough. And I think especially if you’re going to be venturing on your own and starting a business, if it’s going to be a small business or you’re going to be the next great solution that’s going to be a multi-billion dollar company, you have to be passionate about it.
Because that’s what makes you get up every morning to be able to push through what entrepreneurs have to deal with, which sometimes is significant highs and then significant lows. And when you have those significant lows, you have to be able to pick yourself up and continue to push forward. And that’s where you have to push all the negativity aside and do what you gotta do. And I feel that you have to do that when you’re passionate. And you have to have perseverance as well.
Q: Yes, when you talk about getting up in the morning, let’s also not forget about staying up late.
Q: That is something else you have to do as an entrepreneur.
A: Well, ya know, you don’t really have nine to five hours anymore when you’re an entrepreneur. It’s whenever your business calls you kind of do it. So you have to let your significant others and your family members know that there’s going to be times that I gotta do this at this specific time or hour.
Q: Yes, it’s not always as easy and glamorous as some people would like to think. You say you were profitable in your first year, which is incredibly impressive and I hope that’s a trend that has not only continued but in a very upward, on an upward slope. How have you capitalized your company?
A: We have had contacts where we were able to.. When we started out, we started out providing cloud services and technology solutions before we ventured down to the educational space. But we also provide our software with devices.
So, for example, our latest software, WazzCards, we were offering our software in the U.S. with a Chromebook device or a tablet. So if you purchased our software, a WazzCards subscription, you get the opportunity to get a discounted price on our Chromebook device as well for schools.
Q: You haven’t had to really seek out capitalization let’s say from investors or get involved with looking for a lot of outside funding?
A: Not at this moment. So we have been pretty successful without any outside funding definitely we have been fortunate enough with the business that we’ve had over the years to be able to do so on our own.
Q: What are the advantages, and again we’re certainly not going to talk about the notion that outside funding is a bad thing because, as you say, often investment is what is needed to grow. But I would imagine having started out without the external funding, I’m wondering what kind of freedoms it gave you or if it allowed you to do things more your own way if you thought that was an advantage?
A: I definitely think it’s an advantage to stay to your core and what you really want to do when you’re able to have that complete control of where you want to take your business, where you want to work on the strategies. And not that investments is a bad thing, it definitely is great, it’s just that it depends on the type of investor you get with and it’s just kind of if you’re going with a specific bank you want to make sure the bank has your back or whoever you’re working and doing business with or partnering with you want to make sure it’s the right partner, the right bank, the right investor. So I think that if you have those right components then I’m all for going forward with investments.
Q: It sounds like one of the things that it’s really important to do is to really also be clear about who you want to be as a company.
Q: And the mission that you want to have, what your value proposition is, because that way you can find out if investors really are aligned with you, if they understand what your vision is.
A: You’re absolutely correct, Patricia. That’s the thing that’s most important when you’re going to be partnering, especially when it comes to getting investments. You want to make sure that the investors that you’re aligning yourself with have the same vision as you do, have the same goals, the same morals, there’s a whole bunch. It’s almost like you’re getting married. You want to make sure that who you’re marrying is someone that you’re going to be with for the long time.
Q: I haven’t heard it put that way but that makes sense. So we’ll just put it this way, you’re not married yet on the business front, Cher.
Q: Okay. Any other products that Wazzio has done that you’d like to talk about?
A: We created in Canada a product called Riley that enables you to get access to services in real time, instantly, when you need it. So, for example, if you have a wedding coming up and you have your hair stylist appointment and for whatever reason that stylist had to cancel and you’re obviously in need of an urgent hair style appointment you’d be able to go on Riley, see the hair stylist that’s close to you who was available either at a salon or at home and you’d be able to purchase their services immediately and have them come see you.
Q: What other kinds of services? Is it strictly in the wellness, beauty personal service..?
A: Wellness, beauty, contracting, it’s mostly for freelancing companies or freelancing individuals that wanted to place their services online. We started out with beauty as well as cosmetics, anything like that, and then as well as household goods as well. So if you’re looking for a contractor or a plumber, an electrician because your furnace just gave out and you need someone to look into it, you can be able to find somebody who happens to be in your building that happens to be a mechanic and can come help you.
Q: And is Riley still going as well?
A: It is, it is as well.
Q: Is that something you would ever see expanding down here into the U.S.?
A: We definitely can see that expanding into the U.S. in the future, for sure.
Q: And just to clarify, WazzCards are not unique to Canada?
A: No. You can purchase WazzCards anywhere in the world. The software, the Chromebook offering that we have where you can purchase a Chromebook, a device, a brand new Chromebook device, as well as our subscription of one year is only available in the U.S.
Q: Terrific. What other advice would you have, Cher, for would-be entrepreneurs, especially frankly female entrepreneurs in the technology space? Because we don’t get a lot of opportunity to talk to them because frankly there aren’t as many of you, so congratulations.
A: Thank you. I would say don’t fear the tech. If anything, embrace it. Because we use it every day, all day – some of us too much of it all day – but don’t be afraid of technology and getting into this space, no matter if it’s not the traditional jobs that you may think that women should go into. We should be encouraging all women to get into the tech space because it’s exciting, great, fresh ideas, it’s always changing, huge opportunities in different areas where you can provide solutions and services to different businesses. So if you feel like you have that entrepreneurial burn that I had when I was younger, I think you should push forward and take a look at technology.
Q: Was technology what you studied in school?
A: Absolutely not. [laughs] It wasn’t what I studied at all. When I got into the tech space I had no idea what technology was. Obviously I knew what it was but I thought you needed to be an expert or you had to study in school. And when I started on technology, I started out as a sales rep, an account manager, at very large American companies, great American companies, and after my first week of seeing what the possibilities were being in technology just being a sales rep, not necessarily an engineer or anything else, I saw huge possibility and I was intrigued and excited. And I haven’t left this industry since.
Q: Howdid you bridge that learning gap though? You hadn’t studied it, you came to understand it sounds like very quickly the opportunities that were available. You’ve mentioned several times the idea of solutions. So obviously you were able to see that technology is just another way of offering solutions to companies, individuals and frankly in our world it is often the most efficient way and the most cost effective way. But what did you have to learn about technology or how did you learn enough to be able to go forward confidently?
A: The good thing about the companies that I’ve worked for, there was a lot of great training, just constant training and certifications and additional certifications that you go for. So any time there was an opportunity for me to learn more I kept going and learning more as much as I could. And if I never understood something or I didn’t know anything, I’d always research and find out as much as I could.
And then it got easier when it came to learning about anything new as I went through different types of jobs because I also became a cloud specialist and a technology specialist as well because after being a sales rep I wanted to learn where I can specialize and where the industry is going, which is cloud technology.
Q: It’s interesting because probably so many people start off saying I’m going to start my own company without realizing that they have an opportunity to learn by working for other people. Earn while you learn.
A: You can talk about eBay, PayPal, a lot of these other tools that you’re hearing about, they all started working at other companies and then the idea just hit them somehow. And they thought okay, this is an opportunity to either test it while we’re working or start out and do it on our own. And a lot of this, at the time, that’s how these great things come about.
Q: Well maybe there will be a module at some point to teach people about how to start a company for WazzCards.
A: Definitely. For WazzCards, yeah, we have a great roadmap coming. We eventually will also have a product that’s in WazzCards that will be coming available for the corporate space. So yes absolutely there will be an opportunity to teach corporations, their employees, about different types of solutions or trainings that they’re looking at doing. And then definitely there will be a component for individual users as well.
Q: Where can people find out more about WazzCards and Wazzio, Cher?
A: You can go to Wazzio.com or you can go directly to our product page at WazzCards.com.
Q: Cher, thanks so much for telling your story today and telling us about Wazzio and WazzCards and wish you the best of luck and please, please let us know how things go.
A: Oh thank you. It was great speaking to you. It’s always nice speaking to you, Patricia.
Q: Likewise, Cher. Bye-bye.
A: Thank you.
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About Patricia O’Connell: Patricia O’Connell serves as Editor in Chief of “This Is Capitalism,” a content site sponsored by Stephens Inc., and is host of the site’s podcast series, “CEO Stories.” Patricia, a former editor at BusinessWeek and a New York Times best-selling author, brings her experience as a journalist and her passion for storytelling to “This Is Capitalism.”