Bennett Liss - Fast 50 2003

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Bennett Liss arrived at parent-teacher night only to find that he should have been there two nights earlier. So he started PACE. Its technology lets principals record, schedule, broadcast, and track a personalized voice message to thousands of parents in an instant. More than 175,000 parents are part of the system.

Bennett Liss
Founder, PACE
Los Angeles, California
http://www.paceamerica.net

FROM BENNETT'S ORIGINAL ENTRY:

Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
PACE--The Partnership for Academic and Community Excellence--is fast becoming the recognized leader in K-12 school-to-parent communications.

http://www.paceamerica.net -- 888-441-PACE

PACE allows K-12 principals to record, schedule, distribute and track a personalized voice message to thousands of parents in an instant. A proprietary Internet-to-Phone-based technology, PACE requires NO hardware, NO software, NO additional phone lines and NO formal training to operate.

K-12 Principals and superintendents use PACE to:

  • Remind parents of upcoming school events.
  • Connect instantly with parents during any crisis situation on or off school grounds; i.e.--school evacuation, bomb threat, health epidemic, and child abduction.
  • Rally support for alumni events and fund-raisers.
  • Raise student attendance and reduce truancy.

As K-12 school budgets continue to be slashed, PACE continues to grow. PACE now serves 310 schools in 5 U.S. cities and connects with over 275,000 parents each month. Local media, law enforcement and several national education associations have recognized PACE for their commitment to school safety, public service and to keep parents involved in their child's education.

What was your moment of truth?
One night in 2001, our Founder and President, Bennett Liss, and his wife (parents of 3) arrived at "Parent/Teacher" night only to find the school dark. Confused, they found a janitor and asked, "What time does parent/teacher night start?" The janitor laughed and said, "Two nights ago..." Frustrated, they raced home to find the "Backpack Memo" that listed the date and time of the event. Sure enough an apple juice stain had smudged the date. They had missed back-to-school night! PACE was born that night. Then came September 11th. "The horrific events on September 11, 2001 underlined that a school-to-parent communication system was a "must have" for Emergency Notification. All of our schools used PACE to immediately reach their parents, faculty and staff on that dreadful morning."

Three immediate challenges presented themselves:

1. AFFORDABILITY--Schools have limited resources and are hard-pressed to pay for new technologies no matter how innovative they may be. "I had to come up with a solution where PACE could easily be subsidized through a grassroots community movement. The PACE tool was too important for schools NOT to have it and I was sick of hearing schools say, 'We love it, we just can't afford it.'

It hit me at 4 A.M." said Bennett. The "Telephone Spot™!" A NEW MEDIA. A grassroots corporate sponsorship opportunity! "I thought, what could be better for a company then a principal reminding parents to 'sun screen' their kids for the field trip the next day and then THE PRINCIPAL thanking that corporate sponsor for making this important message possible? I knew that the 'other' message to the parents would be, "THIS SPONSOR CARES ABOUT MY CHILDREN." To date, over 100 corporate sponsors have jumped on the Telephone Spot™ and close to half of PACE's schools are subsidized through businesses who "get" that a message delivered into the home by the local school principal is not only "good will" but "good business."

2. INDISPENSABILITY. We knew that schools were busy and we were sensitive to the way schools operate. The system had to be super-simple and had to save time, money and energy. It typically takes our school clients 15 minutes to be trained on how to use PACE and 5 minutes to send a personalized message to hundreds of parents. Our vision is for PACE to become indispensably linked to school communications. We want our schools to think, "Why Fax it? Why Mail it? Save trees! Just…PACE IT!"

3. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY. Gone are the DOTCOM days of fiscal irresponsibility. PACE focuses on the business fundamentals. Revenue. Cost controls. Profitability. Bennett selected Marshall Abbott and John Gamba, Jr. to head the executive management team. Former CEO, Director and Co-Founder Marshall Abbott set a financial plan to raise investment capital, control spending and to emerge cash-flow positive within 12 months of the founding the company. He achieved his plan. Current CEO John Gamba focused on client care and how to continuously improve the technology to make it more compelling for school clients. "We've built PACE one school, one principal and one business sponsor at a time," said current CEO John Gamba. (The exact date? 7/15/2001)

What were the results?
To date, 95% of PACE's new clients stem from "referrals" from satisfied superintendents and principals. Integrating the interests of schools, parents and business sponsors, PACE has built an unprecedented business model. Bennett Liss is fascinated by how creative the principals have gotten in employing the PACE communications tool. He points to the following messages that have been recently sent:

  • On the one-year anniversary of September 11th, almost every school sent out a message asking their school family's to pay tribute by sending their children to school in red white and blue colors.
  • A local 10th Grader was "missing" from home so the principal put out a PACE message to all parents requesting any "leads" on where the 10th grader could be. She was found 7 days later un-harmed.
  • An Internet Bomb threat caused a school evacuation that required immediate police intervention. No one was hurt and parents were the first to know the details of the incident, and the first to hear the "all clear."
  • A local principal asked all parents to send letters, e-mails and phone messages to CA Governor Davis pleading with him to minimize certain school-based budget cuts that would have an adverse impact on the school's within that principal's school district.

To Listen to actual messages, go to: http://www.paceamerica.net/asp/halloffame

In terms of other measurable results, PACE has:

  • Re-upped 100% of our clients who signed on to PACE in 2001.
  • Acquired over 100 corporate sponsors--several of which are Fortune 500 companies.
  • Launched 2 versions of our proprietary technology and have never had any "down-time" that affected our client's ability to distribute messages.
  • Earned 0% opt-out rates from our parents--Most parents have called their principals and schools districts and have "raved" about the Power of this communications solution.

Bennett Liss and PACE co-founder Marshall Abbott have now spawned a sister company called School-Team. School Team, soon to be located at http://www.school-team.com distributes and subsidizes the PACE solution for local schools by utilizing the Telephone Spot™ to further integrate and align the traditional values of the Real Estate community with the core values of the School/Parent community. School-Team is a WIN-WIN for every Realtor and their local school.

What's your parting tip?
Acknowledge others. Being a part of this adventure has put me in touch with so many extraordinary people who make a difference in other peoples lives each and everyday. I realize that it is not important to "win" an award. What is important is to "deserve" an award. So many of the school administrators, teachers, sponsors and employees associated with PACE do."

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