We had a chance to sit down with George Amalor, founder and CEO of HighPoint Technology, to go in depth about his vision, why he started HighPoint nearly two decades ago, and how the company has been so successful.
What inspired you to start HighPoint?
I was working for years as a consultant, implementing PeopleSoft Campus Solutions. It was rewarding work but I became increasingly disenchanted with aspects of the business: unmet customer expectations, high costs, pressure to bill more hours and long deployments.
This frustration led me to do things my way, first as a consultancy and then eventually pivoting HighPoint as a products company. I grew more interested in bridging the gap between technology and users and at first, this meant students. I knew how hard it was for students to make an enormous financial commitment and then struggle to make thousands of decisions daily to complete their journey successfully.
I knew systems like PeopleSoft Campus Solutions had enormous potential for students but no one was focused on solving real problems through student-centric design. I saw the emergence of Amazon, Kayak, Paypal and I knew I could use their philosophy to tap into institutional data, deliver that to students and make an immediate impact on student success.
When the iPhone was launched, mobile became the new device and I saw a convergence of problems and needs that I could meet. HighPoint Mobile was born in 2009 and our first customer was Azusa Pacific University. Quickly thereafter we were on the cover of Oracle’s magazine with FAMU.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the beginning?
I needed someone to believe in our mission to help more students succeed. It was 2008, long before the venture community saw an opportunity in student success. Our client institutions, however, saw something in us and that was a pivotal moment. They loved our design philosophy, commitment to service and growth mindset. Now, we are the market leaders for PeopleSoft mobile in Higher Ed, and nearly 130 institutions and 3 million students use our mobile tool daily, as well as other products we’ve built.
How did you grow and evolve?
Mobile was our first big product. We had tremendous success deploying mobile across a variety of small to large 2-year and 4-year institutions like Duke, VCCS, UVA, NYU and even international customers. We then discovered there were other areas of inefficiencies we could impact, such as communicating securely between students and advisors. That’s when we built Message Center. It’s very similar to the message center you have with your banking institution but it’s integrated into the SIS functions.
Subsequently, we found other areas where we could move the needle for students and staff impact. For example, ISIR management could be made more efficient through our Financial Aid Automation tool. More recently, one of our most exciting products, Financial Aid Course Audit, enables us to give institutions and student immediate feedback to see if a course is eligible for Financial Aid before they go through the trouble of building a schedule and enrolling in a class. It’s this approach to a student-centric design framework that I think many other vendors fail to do and it’s why we’ve been successful and have grown dramatically year after year.
As for the future, we will continue to enhance our many products and apply design-thinking principles to maximize the incredible engine that is the PeopleSoft Campus Solutions system. Our focus will continue to be laser-focused on better outcomes for students. We’re very fortunate to have some of the largest PeopleSoft institutions in our family like VCCS, SBCTC, UVA and Lone Star College, to name a few.
How do you approach solving problems that may be different from others?
It’s this student completion mindset that drives our product decision-making and our customers love it. They consider our tools a best practice now. For us, having the deep PeopleSoft Campus Solution skill set on our team allows us to access and leverage all kinds institutional data and apply the latest research like mobile nudging and integrated planning and advising that is being promoted lately through the Gates Foundation and entities like Tyton Partners.
I will share with you one of our design principles that we strive for in our mobile device. It’s the 3-tap rule. Using any of our features in mobile, we try hard to keep the taps a student makes on their mobile device to three or less to complete a function. Any more than that and we’re reducing efficacy in outcomes.
In today’s world, we too often see Frankenstein solutions where the technology department leads the software evaluation and is attempting to check a box. Have an SIS? Check. Have an LMS? Check. Have a CRM? Check. Have a mobile product? Check. Unfortunately, they don’t always appreciate the student user experience and achieving real outcomes. That’s our focus and approach to solving real problems.
What does the future hold for HighPoint?
It’s definitely more of the same – same mission to help students and institutions and same design philosophy. We will provide the same level of service to our customers. If anything, we want to make a larger impact for students, particularly low-income, at-risk populations. Over 70 percent of our student users are from 2-year institutions and we want to demystify and simplify the postsecondary process for them, in particular. We admire the work that organizations like Achieving the Dream are doing and we want to do our part as well. Using mobile is the best way to meet traditional and nontraditional students where they are and give them a tool that is at parity with the features and functions you would see in everyday consumer apps like Amazon, Kayak and Paypal. This gives them the confidence they need to be successful.
It’s an exciting time in edtech. Lots of new investment, startups and research-based approaches that could contribute to improved outcomes. We are exploring these opportunities with many companies to accelerate their work through our mobile platform. Stay tuned for new innovation to come!