5 Questions That Matter with Jess Gartner

Jess Gartner is the CEO and founder of Allovue, an education resource planning platform for K-12 schools and districts that empowers educators at every level to allocate resources to best support the needs of students.

In addition to launching a company, she is creating a new business category. From their website, “Allovue creates edfintech solutions, because educators deserve the best tools for the complex calculus of optimizing limited resources. Edfintech connects education, finance, and technology to meet the needs of education decision-makers.”

Jess’ superpower is articulating a simple clear and compelling vision that gets passionate buy-in.

Who are you leading and where are you taking them?

We have created an industry called edfintech. So, right now I’m leading people who are specialists in each of those areas to create this edfintech industry where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As an edfintech organization we are better than any one of those siloed industries on its own.

We are also trying to lead school districts into that shared vision where financial data is more transparent, more actionable, and dollars work harder for kids. A big part of that is showing people what’s possible with the right tools, the right training, the right technology, and helping them to execute on it once we introduce them to it.

A leader sees a way something should be in the future, a potential alternate universe, hopefully, a better one that in the beginning, only they see. If the leader is effective then they do a great job of getting other people excited about that potential future universe, and they help to bring it to reality.

I see a day when teachers are not buying their own supplies. A day when teachers are really supported by their schools and districts, and have every resource they feel their students need to be successful in learning, and that the teachers need in teaching. That should be the norm not some extraordinary thing. When that happens our learning outcomes will sky rocket.

If Allovue is the solution, what’s the problem?

We spend $600 billion annually on K-12 public education in the United States and I don’t think we have a $600 billion education system to show for it. So, to me, that’s a really big problem. Every one of us, as citizens, makes an investment through our tax dollars, through our participation in communities, volunteering with the school system, or participating with the school board. It’s an investment in the future for our children and we’re not getting a great return on those investments. We should be optimizing that $600 billion to get an education system that kids deserve.

We want public education people to find and access their data, understand their data, and we want them to be able to take action on it in an informed and strategic way. It’s a product and a platform we sell, but it’s really informed and strategic decision making.

Is there a belief, value or concept that guides your decision making?

It comes down to, does it serve our vision? Does it serve students and schools? At a much more macro level, is it good?

In the early days, when Ted (Ted O’Meara, Chief technology Officer) and I would talk about the kind of company we wanted to build, we wanted to stay good kind people. We wanted to work with good kind people. We wanted to be a force for good in our community as a company. That’s built into the DNA of the company. Be nice. Be friendly. Be a good person.

That serves as a good filter for us in a lot of ways. When it comes down to fundraising, are these people who share our values? When it comes to hiring, are these people we think will help share our values and continue to grow throughout the organization? When it comes down to product decisions, is this something that will further our mission? Part of it is mission- vision-driven. And part of it is just, let’s make sure we are good kind people.

How does a leader show what they care about besides making money?

Where you spend money shows what you care about. We say this to our school leaders all the time. What you put resources behind is what you value.

One of our core values is diversity. I just hired a Director of Diversity, which is a bit of an unorthodox hire for this stage of our business. A big part of her job is going to be ensuring that we have recruitment, hiring and company culture practices that support a diverse and inclusive environment.

Putting resources behind that validates it is important to us. We put resources first and foremost behind our people. We just started a partnership with Live Baltimore so any Allovue employee can get up to $10,000 to buy a house in Baltimore city. We want people to come to Baltimore, stay here, build lives here, and contribute to community. We’re also going to be providing financial services to our employees for their personal lives. We have to practice what we preach. Investing in your people and your values is a really good way of showing what’s important to you.

How has the Allovue story changed?

This year marks a transition from survival to growth. We raised Series A funding at the end of 2015 and it was like flipping a switch. Now, we are aggressively hiring so we can capitalize on the success with districts we have so far and catapult that to a whole new level. Our theme for this quarter and broadly for this year is “10x.” We need to take everything from 10 to 100. Everything has to go ten times better, be ten times more efficient, employ ten times as many people, and working towards ten times as many customers.

Everything needs to grow very quickly. This is going to be a big baseline year in terms of what that growth will look like, and then setting a baseline for that growth trajectory in the future.