After 15 years as an executive at Macquarie Capital, Shazia Juma-Ross was itching to get her hands dirty again when she realised she wasn’t the only banker working long hours and frantically scrambling to book her kids into holiday programs as the end of the school term rolled around.
By 2017, Ms Juma-Ross was stunned that as other industries moved forward — you could pay for a coffee using your watch — school holiday programs still wanted parents to scan and fax documents as part of their enrolment process, and in many cases finding interesting activities in the local area was almost impossible.
So she decided to leave her role as global chief operating officer at Macquarie and launch Skills and Thrills, which offers week-long school holiday programs aimed at primary school kids who want to develop skills in areas like business, coding or science.
“I got to the point where I’d got quite senior and had a team below me and I basically managed people, but I needed to really get my hands dirty again,” she said.
Now at the helm of an eight-person company, Ms Juma-Ross does everything from producing Facebook ads through to doing the accounts and spreadsheets.
“The hours are not much better, I really thought they would be,” she said. “But they’re not because you’re never off when you own your own business, but it’s mine so it just feels different because I’m owning and driving it, so I’m absolutely loving that.”
What began as a platform connecting parents to school holiday camp providers quickly grew into an employee benefit offering for corporates, where parents could take their kids to a holiday camp in the office.
“Corporates also understand that this is a real issue for their staff and when the holidays come around they know that a lot of staff have to take time off or they have to work from home,” Ms Juma-Ross said.
“Unfortunately it’s often the women who take the time off and work from home and so their careers are impacted, so there’s a real diversity angle for corporates trying to solve this problem.
“What we brought was not just the knowledge of kids’ activities space, which obviously we had by then, but also we were ex-corporate so we understood what corporates were looking for around the legal, risk management and insurance and all that kind of stuff.”
Now, Skills and Thrills has 21 corporate clients and more than 50 smaller companies that are accessed through its building manager clients Dexus and CBRE.
The business was growing at 300 per cent revenue growth each quarter right up until COVID hit, when Skills and Thrills made a swift pivot to Zoom camps.
“We needed to pivot really fast and because we were going to lose all of our corporate clients,” she said. “So we started working really closely with our providers to move their content online.
“Virtual classes is something they do a lot of in the States but in Australia it really didn’t exist, so we were kind of like creating this almost from scratch.” The move online proved incredibly popular with parents during the lockdown periods, who were able to work while their kids stayed occupied, doing fun, skills-based classes, that aligned with the school curriculum.
Having developed the online platform, the company has now expanded internationally, offering workshops all over Australia, in New Zealand, Singapore, London and New York.
“Macquarie was an amazing place to work and an amazing group of people to work with, but I always knew that I wanted to leave and do something myself. I wanted to make sure that whatever I started was something that I have a passion to solve the problem for and it took me 15 years to find that,” Ms Juma-Ross said.