#WIB – Q&A With Lauren Anderson, CEO & Co-Founder Koa Academy

Lauren Anderson - Women in Business
  • Save
1. Can you please tell us more about your business?

Koa Academy is a high engagement online school that has been intentionally designed to provide an IEB-accredited education that truly prepares digital natives for the real-world. We connect Koa’s learners to best-in-class global online learning resources while focusing also on high levels of socio-emotional learning and fostering a high-engagement school environment. 

Our students belong in 8-person Pods with a dedicated teacher, which ensures that every child is seen and heard. We take a mastery-based approach to learning and with the support of their Pod teacher and our team of subject specialist teachers, learners advance through the South African curriculum. This is a landmark year for us as we are delighted to have Koa’s first cohort of Grade 12 students ready to write their Matric exams.

2. When, how and why did you start your business?

My husband, Mark Anderson is a passionate teacher and over the years, we had many inspiring conversations about what to do about the frustrating shortfalls in traditional school education. My background was in Public Health, and I had worked on developing and implementing online training programmes for remote healthcare workers. Through this, I gained invaluable knowledge and insights into experiential and interactive learning methodologies supported by latest technologies.

The vision for Koa Academy developed out of wondering how online education could be designed to help children develop real-world skills that would be relevant and sought after when they were ready to join the workforce. So, this was something that Mark and I really wanted to do together. Then, the COVID pandemic substantially accelerated the uptake of online education in South Africa, and it seemed to be the right time to put our vision into practice. So, we launched Koa Academy in 2021, with Mark as Koa’s Principal.  

3. What is your role in the business?

I am the CEO of Koa Academy and so, my focus is on overseeing the business and leading my fantastic operational team.

4. Where did you study and what did you study?

I first graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with a nursing qualification before going on to do a post-graduate degree in Public Health from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am currently busy with a master’s qualification in Public Health at the University of Cape Town. 

5. How did you finance your business?

We received start-up funding from Enygma Ventures, which is a firm of purpose-driven funders focused on women entrepreneurs.

6. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.

I have an incredible operational team that I work with, and most days involve meeting with them, strategizing, prioritising and giving direction. I work closely also with our marketing and finance teams.  Between meetings, I enjoy keeping in touch with what is happening at the school. While Mark oversees the school and I focus on the business, I still find great value in being connected to our teachers and learners. I love to pop into classes every now and then when I have a chance and be there for school events such as expos, presentations and assemblies whenever possible.

7. How do you balance your home life and your work life?

Work-life balance is tricky especially when you are working from home and have three little children in the house, as well as a puppy. It’s a beautiful recipe for craziness and chaos. One of the important ways to find balance is to have clear end-of-the-workday boundaries. I work upstairs and the rest of the household is downstairs. So, it helps that I can leave phones and leave devices upstairs, and ‘go home’ and really be able to engage and be with the kids. During the time between the end of our workday and the kids going to bed, I make sure I have my full attention on them. We also make time over the weekends to deliberately switch off from work and focus on family life.

8. What drives you and inspires you?

I was raised in a close family deeply rooted in the caring professions, so I have always felt a strong pull to make a positive impact in the world. It drives and inspires me that Koa Academy is solving problems in the education sector. As the leader of my team, I am also motivated to open up opportunities for each team member to be an empowered collaborator in our school. Building an open and supportive culture is one my key focuses as the CEO. As a school, Koa Academy is breaking new ground. There is so much happening in the education space on a global scale, and it’s exciting to be part of a new and relevant way of education that is helping to prepare today’s learners for the real world of work.

9. Where and when do you have your best ideas?

My best ideas come up when I am outdoors and exercising. Once my mind is free from the day-to-day grind, my body is busy and I am enjoying being in beautiful surrounds, then it is easier for creative thoughts and solutions to arise. Best ideas come to me in a healthy adrenalin rush. It’s not easy to find the time to enjoy my mountain biking and surfing but I do try to carve out little slots in my diary for this. One of the ways I do this is to schedule like things a recurring once a month mountain bike ride with my Dad, and every second week I have a surfing time slot in my calendar to make sure that I get out and go surf. This also relates to one’s work life balance. I find that if it is in the diary, it happens. So, I don’t leave it to chance.

10. Where and how do you market/advertise your business for sales leads?

We do a range of marketing activities. We work closely with a marketing agency who helps to execute our plans. Our favourite way to grow as a school is through referrals. Choosing a school is such an individual and trust-based decision, so when we have families joining via referrals, we love that. It means that they know what they are getting into and what it is that we do, so we start off with their buy-in because they’ve made an informed choice that Koa Academy is good option for their family.

It’s also great for our school community if families joining Koa know each other and are in similar geographical areas because they can form in-person learning hubs. So, we do incentivise referrals and Koa’s families get a free month if they bring another family into the school. In addition to that, we do digital, print and social media marketing. We’ve got two upcoming advertising campaigns we are excited about, one on Espresso and another at Ster Kinekor over December.

11. What is next for your business?

Online schooling is in exciting growth phase at this time. It’s an expanding industry which is really exciting to be part of. A next phase for us, will be to provide a Koa education in different languages and offering different curricula. In South Africa, we’ve successfully established the foundation of what Koa is, what we believe in and our values, and so the time is here to start looking at other countries and other curricula.

12. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?

My advice is to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs. Develop a group of women around you who are cheering you on and who are able to give you great input as you go. I find it really helpful to have a group of women who I can bounce questions and ideas off, I can ask them anything.

The entrepreneur’s journey is always tough and will be lonely if you don’t intentionally look out for community. Making connections with others, building relationships, and sharing expertise and experiences with peers give you rich feedback and support, which makes you more resilient. Being open to mentorship has worked well for me, and also paying attention to the kind of leader you want to be.

Find more here:  https://www.koaacademy.com