Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Interview with Zareh Baghdasarian, 15desks
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Zareh Baghdasarian is the CEO of 15desks (www.15desks.com), a new startup focused on the education market. Baghdasarian was co-founder of Monterey Networks, which was sold to Cisco Systems back in 1999, has been an active angel investor in Southern California. We talked with him on why he decided to head up this startup, and what 15desks is all about.
First of all, what is 15desks?
Zareh Baghdasarian: 15desks is all about managing your educational lifestyle, all the way from early education to your graduate work. If you look at what you go through, starting high school, and maybe even middle or grade school, you go through your educational life managing courses, relationships with your teachers, and relationships with your parents. Later on, when you are at a university, you might manage things like your resume and portfolio. 15desks is trying to make that whole part of your life more efficient, and much more manageable and organized for everybody. We've basically taken advantage of all the new technology out there--especially, the web-based service model. It's started with managing courses and grades, on to a whole array of other services.
Can you talk about some concrete examples of what you're managing?
Zareh Baghdasarian: For example, in grade school or high school, students and teachers can communicate, and we allow them to submit homework and forms, do their grade work, post assignments, and receive assignments. That cuts down on paperwork and submittal of assignments. As a student, you can communicate with your teacher, and they can communicate with you. As a teacher, you can share documents with colleagues, or visit and forum and have discussions with other teachers. For parents, if you're interested in how your kids are doing, you can find out what their schedule is like, what homework is due when, what their grades are, and how they are progressing, plus you can communicate with their teachers.
For college, or maybe even high school, you can take a look at what courses you've taken, how we'll you've done, and you can even submit your report card or portfolio to college. When you have everything online, you can share all of that electronically. When you are in college, there's a whole array of things that open up. You can collaborate with other students, and do projects. There's an online whiteboard which teachers can teach you. Plus, you still have course management and grades. At the end of the day, you want to be employed and you want to get a job, and this allows companies to look at what you've done, what your portfolio is, and speed up the interview process. They have more knowledge of what a student's life is about, which is much better than a one page resume.
The other part of this is an app store. If you've taken a course, and need an application to do chemistry or math analysis, there's a store where you can write, share, sell, or buy those applications. Teachers can also put the list of books for their course, and students can buy directly from their session or account. If you can imagine, you can have your entire educational life online.
Talk about your background?
Zareh Baghdasarian: My training is as an engineer. I worked as a software and hardware engineer, and did lots of software development for networking and telecom firms, mainly networking. I co-founded Monterey Networks, which was involved in fiber optic networks and routing, which we sold to Cisco Systems in 1999. After that, I was involved in a lot of angel investing, starting companies, and helping entrepreneurs to get going. This is the first company I have become directly involved with, because it was near to my heart, so I got involved in the day-to-day working with them. I have my degree in engineering from the University of Santa Clara, and also have executive management degree from the Anderson School of Business, along with a Global Executive MBA from the London School of Economics/NYU Paris.
You've been making investments locally, but haven't been involved this closely with other firms--why did you decide to get more involved with this company?
Zareh Baghdasarian: I met the two founders, Chad and Hamid, at an entrepreneurship sessions. They have developed this from a need. They were at UCSB, which needed a tool like this, and after they had developed it, they were trying to see what next steps to take. They were looking for someone to help and guide them. In the meantime, I was getting frustrated with the software being used at my son's school. I met Chad and Hamid, and we started talking about it, and I thought we could provide a bigger vision, and take on all aspects rather than one specific need, to cover all of your educational life.
What's the market opportunity here?
Zareh Baghdasarian: The market opportunity and timing is perfect. There are a couple of things happening right now. Class sizes are getting bigger, especially in lower grades, middle schools, and high school. As budgets are cut, teachers are having to do more work. Lastly, computers are now very easily accessible and networked. This tool helps in all of those aspects, and reduces the amount of work, improves productivity, and helps teachers to do more. It allows students to have better communications, and cuts down the cost of IT to any school They don't need to staff anyone, because we're SaaS based. If you look at the future, we want to build something which will help students who want to be recruited by companies from college. This will give them a better view of what's happening to their portfolio, and position them better for companies. With all of this movement in the market--increasing productivity, better communications, educational books going online--why not also put your resume, and information about your education online and manage it electronically?
What's the revenue model here, and who pays for it?
Zareh Baghdasarian: Right now, there's a multitude of services. With our basic service, you can do almost 90 percent of what you'd need to manage your courses for students, and for teachers that's free. Pretty soon, we will have application specific tools and premium services--for example, buying educational applications and online and electronic software--and for that, we will charge. The basic functionality will be free, with additions being charged nominal prices. That might include charging companies who want to search for resumes or portfolios, specific tools for parents, and additional services for teachers beyond the basic services. Also, if school want to adapt the tool to their environment and administration, there would be some fee. Anything beyond basic features, the customer will pay for it, depending on the use.
How is the company funded?
Zareh Baghdasarian: We're privately funded, and we will be starting some funding activity pretty soon, basically so we can expand and build features and get our tools faster to the market. Last week, we just added 700 users, and now have 7000 live users on the system. The company is currently in Santa Barbara, and we're possibly going to move it into the greater Los Angeles area.