Founders Series – Nikki Th’ng, CEO and Co-Founder of ClassForKids

SBNN Founders series is sponsored by SureVoIP -A SaaS provider of business grade VoIP and business phone services


 
We caught up with ClassforKids CEO and co-founder Nikki Th’ng and asked him about his motivation, the aha moment and how someone who didn’t like computers ended up running a tech firm.
Nikki sold his valeting business and raised a small amount of seed-funding from family and friends along with one of his former clients who became investor.
With a background competing in various sports, he did a degree in Sports Science and initially went into tennis coaching, and became racquets manager of two large health clubs.



Tell us about the ClassForKids business
ClassForKids is a secure, cutting-edge online booking and payment system for children’s activities.
Used by parents, clubs, coaches, class providers and children’s franchises across the country, the modern platform is simple to use and designed to save both parents and businesses hours of time.
Using any device, parents can quickly organise, book and pay for their child’s clubs and classes all in one place and at the touch of a button.
Children’s activity providers can also access the platform on the go, via any device to professionally run and manage their business online.
From taking bookings and payments, to communicating with parents (via accurate automated messaging), to issuing invoices, managing registrations, class schedules and waiting lists, ClassForKids helps to speed up the payment process while providing full financial reporting.
What is your target market –  Who is buying your product / service?
Any organiser who runs a club or activity classes for children and young people.
These range from gymnastics, football, dance, arts & crafts, drama, music, parent & toddler, swimming, through to karate, cricket, languages, computer skills and just about anything else you can think of.
We also design for parents, so that their experience of booking, paying, and keeping updated about their child’s activities is first class.
What was the aha moment that led to the company founding?
It was while listening to a conversation my partner was having with her friend about how difficult is was to book our children into their gymnastics class.
The system the club was using just wasn’t fit for purpose and the experience was far from what I knew was possible with modern software.
As a former tennis coach I knew the difficulties club organisers also faced in staying on top of bookings, payments, and registers. I could suddenly see the problem clearly from both sides and the answer seemed obvious.
I knew there was a huge need for a solution, both with parents and club organisers, and my past experience of starting and growing a successful valeting business had given me a taste of entrepreneurship and a hunger to do something on a much bigger scale.
Give us a brief history of the growth of the company to date
My co-founder, Kevin (CTO) and I launched the business in 2014 more as a listing site than a management system.
The site grew rapidly and gave us good validation of the size of the market and the need for online solutions. It also allowed us to build some strong relationships with clubs.
From there we began to learn more about the way different clubs ran their businesses, and built the first version of our booking and management platform in 2015.
We hired two more developers to help with maintenance and building the feature set and we began to sell the product.
Quickly we could see that we needed to offer more support to our growing number of customers so began to build the customer support team.
In 2017 we were six people strong and showing great market traction. We secured a major deal with a large national franchise, which helped boost our client base and our product.
A further investment round allowed the business to grow further and we now run as a much larger operation including marketing, sales, training and support, product development, design, data, and strategy.
Tuning the machine so that these departments all work well together and in pursuit of our strategy, is a new experience, and one that we’re relishing.
We’re currently experiencing huge growth quarter on quarter and are continuing to hire staff.
Tell us about that further investment round and any other external funding.
We have raised over £1million so far from Angel Investors. The majority of the investment has come from London-based networks, through E100 London Business School and Insead Events.
We also have support from Scottish Enterprise as part of their High Growth Pipeline.
So what does it look like now with regard to staff and turnover?
In the past 18 months we’ve processed over £11.1m in club fees for our clients, and we expect to record a company turnover of £1m within the next twelve months.  
What’s the difference between when you started and now in your marketplace?
Even over the past five years the market has matured considerably. When we started, the vast majority of clubs were using pen, paper, and spreadsheets to run their businesses. Now, if clubs aren’t already using a management system, they’re certainly aware of them as an option.
What are your goals for your business?
To bring the children’s activity market in-line with other brilliant online experiences, both for the business owners and the parents to book and pay for classes. I also want us to expand internationally in the near future.
What are your biggest current challenges?
It’s really about people. Hiring and training at the rate we need to support our growth, and keeping the culture the same so everyone can continue to thrive and improve by having the freedom to push themselves everyday.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Hard to say as there have been so many and they are all very different.
Starting the business in a sector in which I had no experience was tricky. I grew up not liking computers so moving to running a tech company was a challenge and a steep learning curve.
Another big challenge is coping with the pressure on other areas of my life, and the people closest to me.
When I decided to go for major funding I knew London was the place to go so I was there Monday to Friday for six months to network and secure the funds I needed.  
Running the business and being away from my family was difficult at this stage.
What do you do outside work?
Like my father before me, I work 🙂 I have two sons (aged 8 and 4) and spend as much time with them and my partner as I can.
I still play five a side football and a bit of tennis too, but not very well these days!
To unwind I really enjoy a glass of wine, which is the one thing I make sure we always have in the office on a Friday afternoon.
What’s the secret to good leadership?
Good man-management.  I don’t mean micro management.  I believe everyone needs different management and you can get more out of everyone by trying to find out what motivates them.  
Finding what they love to do setting a challenge and giving freedom to succeed is one of the reasons ClassForKids has been so successful to date.
Where do you see the company in five years?
Developing our product further in the UK is our 1-2 year plan. There are many sectors we could still improve our platform for. International will be the next target.  The challenge to succeed overseas is a big ambition for me.
How can the Scottish startup/entrepreneur landscape be improved to help more businesses start up and grow?
My experience to most Scottish tech startups is probably a bit different. Having been able to raise money and put a team together through my own connections, I haven't really experienced the incubators/Scottish angel networks or pitching events.
From my perspective, connecting growing companies to the right talent, and ensuring that the next generation workforce is well-equipped for the challenges and mind set required to scale a business, would be a great ecosystem to invest in.


Nikki Th’ng is CEO and co-founder at ClassForKids
This interview is part of the Founders Series for SBNN sponsored by SureVoIP – A SaaS provider of business grade VoIP and business phone services
If you would like to take part in the Founder Series please email founders@sbnn.co.uk
If you are interested in sponsoring the Founder Series please also email founders@sbnn.co.uk