Sam Clarke (Fr 2016) is the Co-Founder of Clipboard, an Extracurricular Management System app that is pioneering a new category in the EdTech Market. Touting the lifelong skills his own extracurricular activities provided him, his goal is to one day allow all students access to the same opportunities. Sam talks to us about his College days and his experiences with the ups and downs of launching a start-up.
Sam, where are you from originally and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Bilgola on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and attended Knox Grammar. Growing up on the Beaches, I spent most of my spare time playing sports and hanging out with friends in and around the ocean. Towards the end of Year 8, my life suddenly changed when I was diagnosed with predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma. Being diagnosed with this extremely rare form of cancer at such a young age was confusing and distressing, especially as I had no side-effects. For the next twelve months, I didn’t go to school and instead underwent seemingly endless rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and many operations.
After my treatment ended and I was in remission, I became determined to use my experience to make a positive impact on others and the world. This led me to take up public speaking. I started by giving talks to other students at my school, which led to more talks at other schools and community groups. In Year 11, I became an ambassador for R U OK?, having personally experienced the importance of having open conversations about my experience with friends and family.
Why did you choose to reside at St Andrew’s College?
St Andrew’s was really attractive to me because of the high calibre of people at the College. Everyone seemed to be insanely talented at something – tennis, the organ, or throwing schnitty’s across the Dining Hall! I figured that I would be able to learn from others, have fun, and make lifelong friends with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
What parts of College life were you involved in?
I participated in different activities here and there, although I made my greatest contribution to College life as ‘social glue’.
As Merch Sec in my second year, I learnt an important lesson about how not to run a retail business. I massively over-ordered from our friends at Classic Sports, hardly tracked our sales, and ran up an unprecedented bill in the process. Sorry Students’ Club, if you’re still working on getting out of the deficit…
What was your favourite part of being at St Andrew’s?
Definitely spending lots of time with new friends, getting into the camaraderie of College life, and going to events. I really enjoyed being surrounded by people who, each in their unique way, were much smarter and more talented than I was. I’m quite a curious person, so I loved sitting in the Dining Hall for hours chatting with others and learning about their degree or some other topic of interest. This experience exposed me to new ideas, knowledge, and ways of thinking.
How did being at St Andrew’s College help you achieve your goals?
Being at Drew’s really stimulated my imagination. Many of my friends were interested in entrepreneurship themselves and we would discuss all kinds of big ideas across different disciplines. In first year, my friend Kiran and I decided that VR was the future of retail and then spent months building a virtual reality shopping app. From a professional perspective, my first connections in the tech sector came through the Drew’s network. A lot of these people are still great mentors in my current start-up.
Why did you decide to start your company Clipboard?
Throughout my time at school I participated in a lot of different sports and activities. Like many others, these activities taught me critical life lessons like the importance of teamwork and collaboration. During my time at College, I then coached basketball at the school. My co-founder Ed Colyer shared the same experience. We both couldn’t believe how much manual work went into running extracurricular programs. We saw first-hand how many hours were wasted each week on admin work, how the use of paper caused attendance to be tracked inaccurately, and felt the frustration of parents who weren’t notified that their game was called off before they drove halfway across Sydney on a rainy Saturday morning.
So, what is Clipboard?
Clipboard helps students, parents, and staff have a great extracurricular experience by providing a single platform to manage all activities. Clipboard streamlines all of the administrative work associated with extracurricular programs (managing teams, marking attendance, logging incidents, adding match reports) and automates communication with students and parents.
We’re pioneering a new category in the EdTech market, the EMS (Extracurricular Management System). We recently raised an $830,000 seed fundraising round led by Jelix Ventures and graduated from the Startmate accelerator program which is run by Blackbird Ventures. We currently have 27 independent schools on the platform across most states (e.g. The Scots College, Joeys, and Pymble Ladies College).
What has been your biggest challenge in starting and running your own business?
Ha! There’s a lot of challenges, so I’m not sure where to start. In my experience, running a start-up has been a lot like ocean swimming; you’re never quite sure what’s lurking beneath the water or if you’re going to get clobbered by the person next to you. You just need to keep putting one arm in front of the other.
On top of the general uncertainty of growing a business, I’ve also had to quickly learn a lot of new skills. This included programming, enterprise sales, management, fundraising, hiring, and budgeting.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far – with your business or in life otherwise?
I think our recent fundraising round is definitely up there on the list! It was really encouraging to have a top venture capital firm back our vision, as well as Ed and I as founders.
Where would you like to see Clipboard in the future?
Our ultimate goal is for every student to have access to the life lessons and opportunities that extracurricular activities provided us. In the near term, we’re looking to rapidly grow our market share in Australia and New Zealand. We’re also soon going to begin expanding into other markets, such as Asian International Schools.
How are you managing at the moment during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like many businesses, the pandemic initially slowed a lot of things down for us. The shutdown of schools led to us being unable to make any sales for a few months and forced some really hard decisions about needing to let a few team members go.
As schools are now running activities again, Clipboard has actually become more important than ever! Schools all need to keep accurate records of attendance and are realising that their old paper systems just don’t cut it anymore. So, despite the negative impacts COVID-19 has had, for the most part, it will actually turn out to be positive for Clipboard.
What do you like to get up to when you’re not working on your business?
I love spending my free time with mates, doing fun activities like surfing or rock climbing, and learning new things through reading.
What are you reading/ watching/ listening to at the moment that you would recommend to others?
I’m currently reading ‘A Guide to the Good Life’ by William Irvine. The book is about the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and how we can use it to live happier lives, regardless of circumstance. With so much recent upheaval in people’s livelihoods, Stoicism teaches us how to worry less and find joy in life exactly as it is. I definitely recommend giving it a read.
What words of advice would you give to young Androvians wanting to branch out on their own?
As I had almost no responsibility during university, I could come up with ideas and have a crack at starting a business with very little downside. The various start-ups that I perused during College were profound learning experiences, even as most didn’t pan out. So my advice is that, if you’re interested in building a start-up, just give it a go. Whatever happens, you’ll learn new skills and be better off for the experience.