OWNA founder talks about innovation, application, and giving back
From a conversation over dinner, about the frustrations of communicating with parents, app developer Kheang Ly has created a popular “one stop shop” for centre owners, managers and directors. Designed to maximise efficiency and compliance, with minimum effort – and free of charge – OWNA has the potential to reshape the early childhood education and care (ECEC) landscape. Mr Ly talked to The Sector assistant editor, Freya Lucas, about the journey to create OWNA.
Interviewee: Kheang Ly, Co-founder, OWNA
Organisation: OWNA Childcare App
Freya: Hi Kheang, thanks for speaking with me today. Shall we begin at the beginning? Can you tell me what inspired you to create OWNA?
Kheang: Originally the inspiration for OWNA came from a dinner conversation my co-founder (Phong Trac) and I were having with our respective partners one night back in 2016. During our conversation about children and childcare, our wives complained that when we collected our children from childcare in the evening, we neglected to look at the Daily Information/Routine chart to see if our child(ren) had eaten, slept, had their nappy change, or any other general information that our respective centres had left for us.
Our partners mentioned that they would remind us constantly but it always fell on deaf ears. So that’s how the idea for OWNA started. Being in technology and in the Internet and app space, I thought, “Why not build an app that enables centres to do all this so our partners can check the information throughout the day and not rely on us men to convey that to them once we got home?!”
Although that was the initial plan, the OWNA app and platform has morphed into a complete solution/platform that all centres – no matter how big or small (or anywhere in the world) – can use on a day-to-day basis.
Freya: Thanks Kheang. You mentioned your personal connection above, but can I ask you to reflect a little more on the thinking about early childhood education and care (ECEC) as a space for app development?
Kheang: I’ve personally built many apps and ECEC wasn’t my first choice – it just happened to fall into my lap because of that pivotal moment described above. Other than having our children in childcare, we had no idea of how the ECEC space worked, from an educational point of view, compliance point of view, and the day-to-day operations side of things. We’ve learnt a lot along the way via feedback from our loyal centres as well as doing our own research in the ECEC space.
In hindsight we did wing it a bit at the beginning as we were starting (we acted like we knew everything about ECEC when it reality it was a work in progress). But that hunger and willingness to learn all we could about ECEC and how to make centres more efficient and compliant was what drove us to keep improving and building upon our product.
To date it has been the most fulfilling, exciting and fun-filled project/business that I have personally ever worked on. To see our happy centres and their remarkable feedback to what we have built and accomplish in the small amount of time we’ve been around has been outstanding. It really makes us excited to imagine what we can further achieve in the next two to three years.
Freya: The energy of ECEC can absolutely be inspiring, I agree! Can you tell us a little about your background? What were you working on prior to OWNA?
Kheang: I have always been in the IT and finance space. Although well rounded in many areas in technology, predominantly I am a software developer specialising in web applications as well as apps. I was working on many different app projects building such things as celebrity apps, social networking apps, messaging apps and more.
While some were mildly successful a lot ended up failing. I learnt a lot during this time which I’d ultimately put to practice once we started working on OWNA which is why we have such a fantastic product. We were able to build quickly what we had envisaged without many pitfalls due to the prior experiences.
Freya: Thanks Kheang. Can you tell me how OWNA is different from other products on the market?
Kheang: OWNA takes an holistic approach where we incorporate every facet of childcare into the app – whether it’s compliance, parent communication, children learning, and soon to be billing, CCS etc.
We offer two products – a completely free app that does so much for a centre, as well as our more upmarket ‘Premium Plus’ app where we work with centres to build their OWN app (hence the name OWNA).
Here we customise the app with the centre’s logo, branding, colour schemes as well as customise certain functionality so it suits their centre. We know not all centres are the same so we offer this to allow centres to distinguish their unique features from one another. With a generic platform this is harder to achieve obviously.
Our free app is available to any long day care, family day care, outside school hours care and vacation care services internationally.
It’s completely free in the sense that there is no subscription fee.It’s not a ‘free app’ on the App Store that asks for a paid subscription behind the scenes. It is completely free (not a free trial, no subscription fee, free forever). Since it’s formal launch in late 2018, we’ve seen a dramatically uptake in it and many happy centres using it for their day-to-day operations.
Freya: Can you outline some of the key points of difference with the OWNA platform?
Kheang: Other than having our core components built into the app platform, we have started to look at building more of an ecosystem for the childcare centres that use our service. A good example of this is the launch of our Educator Forum that allows educators from any centre using OWNA to be able to share, collaborate and learn with one another.
Similar to the EYLF Facebook page – it fosters the ability for our educators to not only communicate within their own centre but to reach out to all other centres seeking answers, sharing things and most importantly collaborating with one another to better themselves in their ECEC journey and career. They can also go beyond the scope of centres here in Australia and also communicate with those in other countries such as New Zealand, the US, Singapore and Malaysia to name a few.
Freya: Sounds good. Kheang, can you tell me what’s on the horizon for OWNA in 2019 and beyond?
Kheang: OWNA has big plans for 2019 and beyond. We can’t divulge too much as we don’t want to allow our competitors to know what innovative ideas and solutions we are rolling out, but we can mention one of the following that we have released early this year…
We didn’t stop at the end of 2018, we worked around the clock to build our Digital Resources platform for our centres. Our digital resource feature is what we call the Etsy of ECEC Content and Resources.
There are many individuals and organisations creating resources for the ECEC sector. They create eBooks, how-to guides, colouring sheets, fact-sheets and much more. But there has not been a marketplace set up for these creators to be able to sell their resources other than via their own website.
We’ve broken down this barrier and have opened it up to anyone to be able to sell or give away their resources directly to our centres or anyone using the OWNA website.
OWNA vets the resources that are put up to ensure only the best and most helpful content is available. So from a creators point of view, they don’t have to worry about the tech side of things, and from our centres point of view they are constantly supplied with fresh resources they can use in their centre all the time.
Freya: Thanks Kheang. Sounds like OWNA has hit the ground running in 2019!
Kheang: Although we are a little late to the space, we think we have out-innovated the current players in our very short amount of time in existence, and we can see OWNA only growing from strength to strength as we onboard more centres and also roll out our product pipeline for 2019 and beyond. Watch this space!