WILLOUGHBY: Russ Davis making difference with SchoolStatus
As a kid, I remember seeing people with metal detectors scouring the beach looking for “treasure.” I sometimes feel like those treasure hunters as I keep my eyes open for rising entrepreneurs in this state. In the late 1990s, I spent some time in Silicon Valley during the boom times. I really enjoyed the energy and big dreams that people had for changing the world. Since then, I have kept my look out for fast-growth companies and visionary entrepreneurs who are making a difference. I recently visited with Russ Davis, who is one of those passionate entrepreneurs on the path to success.
A native of Poplarville, Davis grew up in a family of educators. Early in his career, he went to work for the Department of Education. He left there and gained sales experience working with Howard Industries before returning for a second tour of duty with the Department of Education where he served as director of accountability systems. However, his entrepreneurial drive and vision led him to form his own consulting company — Blue Consulting Group. Davis’ background gave him considerable insights into the needs of schools and school districts. Soon after offering consulting services to the private sector, he began to receive calls from school districts wanting help in creating data analytic tools to help them operate more efficiently. This work led Davis to form his company SchoolStatus in 2012.
SchoolStatus licenses proprietary software to school districts to help them make effective use of the massive amount of data at their disposal. The company’s cloud-based software provides customers the ability to analyze this data and perform statistical analysis. Davis shared, “Our software allows everyone from the administrator to the teacher in the classroom to better utilize data.”
The company has grown rapidly and over half the school districts in the state now use one of Davis’ products. Earlier in his career, Davis had the opportunity to create another start-up in the education industry, but they were beaten to the market by a category-killer large competitor. Determined to avoid that circumstance this time, Davis is rapidly scaling his company with plans to expand throughout the Southeast.
Davis’ launch and growth of SchoolStatus is a great example of the lean startup model that has been very popular in the last few years. He shared, “We took a very laser sharp focus to our market and studied the competitive landscape before we launched.” Davis has kept the company’s overhead very low. He emphasized, “Recruiting and retaining the very best talent is a core challenge.” They look for people who have excellent skills AND a passion for education. Davis knows that the very best people in the marketplace are going to work for companies who have a higher purpose. The guiding principles of his organization are the following: (1) Do good work (create highly valuable and elegant products that solve real problem); (2) Know what matters (look out for the customer); and (3) change the world (make bold moves that change old thinking and truly improve education in meaningful ways).
Davis shared, “I am excited that we are helping to make a difference here in Mississippi.” The company is currently building out their leadership team and preparing for scale. Davis’ business is in a high growth sector of data analytics in K-12 education. The life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone. However, it is encouraging to me to see young leaders like Davis who have the courage and passion to step out and take the road less traveled to try to accomplish something great. I am sure we will be seeing and hearing more about Davis and his company in the years to come.
Up Close With Russ Davis
Title: Founder & CEO, SchoolStatus, LLC
Favorite Books: Art of the Start and Rules for Revolutionaries (Guy Kawasaki); Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
First Job: “In junior high, I had a computer consulting company and worked with school districts.”
Hobbies/Interests: Reading, flying and golf
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.
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