Like many entrepreneurs who pursue innovation and disruption, Pat Bhava freely admits his education and previous work experience have little to do with what he’s doing today. He spent nearly 13 years in the Indian Navy as a fighter pilot and deep-sea diver before retiring in 2006, moving to the United States and launching businesses in a variety of sectors, including logistics, real estate and quick-service restaurant franchising.
Bhava’s career took another turn about eight years ago when his wife asked him to pick up their daughter from Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa — a task she usually performed.
“I was like, ‘How hard can this be?’ It was chaos,” Bhava recalls. “I didn’t expect that. There were hundreds of cars snaking through the neighborhood, teachers running around with walkie talkies, hundreds of kids in the corridors. And nobody's happy: parents are swearing at teachers, teachers are yelling, kids are running around — safety is up in the air.”
That experience led Bhava, 49, to launch PikMyKid. The company debuted in 2015 as a school-dismissal platform but has since evolved to manage many other aspects of school safety — the hottest of hot topics in the wake of the tragic shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and other U.S. schools over the past two decades.
“School administrators have over and over again told us that [dismissal] is their most anxious time,” Bhava says. “They hope and pray that nothing goes wrong every single day.”
PikMyKid uses GPS-powered technology to create a “geofence” around a school campus, similar to how GPS tracking can limit where e-scooters can travel and how fast they can go. When a parent, legal guardian or other authorized user enters the area to pick up a student, that triggers a notification on his or her teacher’s smartphone. “There’s a digital handshake, they’re authenticated and then seamlessly sequenced into the pickup line,” Bhava says.
The tech-enabled orderliness allows students to remain in their classrooms until they’re called to the pickup area instead of flooding into the halls and across school grounds. It can also notify teachers when a student’s bus has arrived, in addition to being adaptable for carpools, where a single driver is picking up students from multiple families.
“The chaos that used to happen outside is gone,” Bhava says. “It’s like a conveyor belt. Everything runs smoothly.”
PikMyKid has evolved to include a panic button for teachers, tip line for emergencies, inclement weather warnings and reunification functionality that allows parents to instantly notify school officials when they’ve collected their children during an emergency. Bhava says the service can also be customized to meet specific needs, such as in the case of a northern school whose campus is often visited by bears. “They have animal control on that panic button,” he says.
Challenge to Market
Bhava went through several false starts in the early days of PikMyKid, saying he didn’t market the product correctly. Initially, he courted parents of schoolchildren as the primary paying customers for the service while offering it free to schools. He figured if enough parents at a particular school used it, other schools would come onboard, creating a whole new base of customers.
“I had no background in edtech,” Bhava says. “The only thing I do is get people together to solve a problem.”
But in the smartphone era, people are reluctant to pay for apps, Bhava found. So, he revised his strategy and began to target schools as revenue generators while offering the service free to parents. He came up with a Software-as-a-Service business model in which schools pay about $4,000 per year, per building, to use PikMyKid.
Although Bhava declines to disclose detailed revenue figures, he says Kid.io, the parent company he created for PikMyKid and future technologies he plans to develop, is on track to exceed $5 million in sales this year, and it recently secured $10 million in a Series B funding round from San Francisco-based Growth Street Partners. Revenue has been growing about 50% to 60% year-over-year, he adds.
Another challenge, Bhava says, is interoperability, meaning he wants to make PikMyKid more compatible with student information systems commonly used at K-12 schools. Schools use SIS to keep tabs on everything from attendance and discipline to grades, test results and medical data.
“Our clients have told us that yes, our product is great and yes, we are addressing all safety aspects,” Bhava says. “But what we would also like to provide for our customers is interoperability within their existing ecosystem.”
The next three years
Bhava anticipates rapid growth for PikMyKid and Kid.io over the short term. Some 2,000 schools in all 50 U.S. states and Guam are using PikMyKid, as well as schools in seven foreign countries. More than one million parents use the platform on a daily basis, and that number should grow to two million by the end of 2022 as more schools sign on. The company has about 45 employees, 30 of which are based in Tampa, and Bhava expects to add several more staff members as the company gears up for the new school year.
“Every year,” he says, “we grow in anticipation of the school year. The past three, four months, we’ve been hiring.”