Name: Craig Fernandes
Company: Lock & Stock
Position: Co-Founder and CEO
Industry: Education Technology
Please tell our readers about yourself and your background?
I come from a very modest background, relative to most people I grew up around. I was born in Dubai in 1996, as part of the first full generation of true expat natives that came after the immigration boom of the early 90s. We used to live in Sharjah, which is basically a suburb of Dubai, in a tiny apartment that cost us AED 6000, or roughly USD 1650, in yearly rent. My parents spent more on my school tuition than we did on our rent, and I would be nowhere without the sacrifices that they made. They are the two most incredible people I know.
Entrepreneurship has always been part of who I am. I didn’t have much spending money when growing up, and I launched my first company when I was 15 years old. Basically, my business partner and I would skip school and find amateur footballers to participate in our monthly football tournaments around the city. Within 2 months, we were netting roughly AED 5000 per month, each. Not too bad when you’re 15.
I was fortunate enough to go to the United States for my undergraduate education, where I enrolled with the University of Iowa. At Iowa, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, and minors in Political Science, International Relations, Mass Communication and Business Administration. More than any of that, I wanted to understand American psyche. Americans believe they’re the best, and thus they are. Half the Fortune 500 is American, and no matter where in the world you live, American companies, from McDonald’s, to Disney, to Google, to Nike, to Netflix, impact your life every day. We’re all just basically living in extensions of America, and I wanted to understand this.
So, let’s get to it. What is Lock & Stock? And what is your guys mission?
It was at Iowa that I noticed a problem with our current education system. In an Economics 2000 level class one day, I was in the middle of a WhatsApp conversation with my dad when I looked up and noticed that everybody else was also doing the same thing. In our collective defence, it was a really boring class, so in hindsight we deserve some leniency. But, I remember thinking to myself – if everybody was on their phone, or tablet, or laptop, who was actually learning?
I immediately shelved my plans for a Master’s degree, and that is how Lock&Stock was born.
Our mission is to positively encourage students to stay off their digital devices by solving basic, universal student problems – low spending power [offers and discounts], lack of work experience [internships], and expensive university tuition [scholarships].
As a testament to the above, the main metric that we measure is not daily active or monthly active user count, it is lock time per week. If we are actually achieving our core raison d’etre, then we consider our work a success. And I am proud to say that, at the time of writing, Lock&Stock has resulted in 167 years of total combined lock phone time across our users since our inception. This is time that we have returned back to teachers, professors educators, and to most importantly, the students themselves.
What are the benefits of this platform for the students, educational institutions and vendors?
We have students from the ages of 14 all the way through to 24 using Lock&Stock on a daily basis and locking their phones. That’s because there’s something in it for all students. All age brackets engage very highly with our Offers platform. 16-17 and 20-21 are the age brackets that engage highest with Scholarships, and 19-24 is the age bracket which engages highest with Internships.
All our clients, be they marketing or hiring personnel at brands or admissions staff at universities, have one solitary goal which we help them achieve – student/Gen Z acquisition. The economics may differ depending on the client, but the goal is the same.
What are the key features and functionalities that separate Lock & Stock from the other F&B promotions platforms?
There is no free platform for a student in the UAE to access offers and discounts. And, with over 400 brands available for students in the UAE, including household names like Tim Hortons, Charley’s Philly Steaks, New York Fries, Popeyes, Noon and Reel Cinemas, we have, in my opinion, the best catalogue of offers and discounts available to students in the country.
Outside the UAE, our brand selection is a little more limited, but there are still over 20 brands with a live offer available in India, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. We are working very hard, day in and day out, to make the Offers platform as compelling as possible to all students in all countries around the world.
On May 8th you will be hosting the UAE’s first ever fully fledged online education exhibition, what does this entail and how do our readers get involved?
Due to the current lockdown and the ensuing cancellation of exhibitions, open days and school visits, many students in the UAE were left confused with regard to the options available to them this September. We wanted to do something about this.
Thus, EDGE was born. As you rightly pointed out, EDGE will be the UAE’s first ever fully fledged online education exhibition, connecting students from across the UAE with top universities in the country, virtually. Students will be able to join live video sessions with university admissions counsellors, attend live webinars with faculty members and industry professionals, and submit their university applications – all in one place, from the comfort of their home.
EDGE will take place, in your home, on May 8th and May 9th. At the time of writing, we’ve been promoting EDGE for about a week and a half, and already have 12 participating university exhibitors and over 1000 student registrations.
To sign up for EDGE, simply head over to www.edge-ex.com and fill out the registration form.
What does the future look like for Lock & Stock?
Mike Tyson once very eloquently said ‘everybody has a plan until they are punched in the face’.
But, as far as our plan goes, the future for Lock&Stock, at least over the next year or so, will revolve around two key pillars – prediction and automation. We want to customise what users see on Lock&Stock, and tailor that experience to be unique for each individual user, and we want to automate as much of our processes as we can.
With the new prediction algorithm to optimise university discovery. What features will increase students visibility into the university landscape and their application requirements?
We want to use data and prediction to show a student the university that s/he is most likely to enroll with. Similar to how Netflix shows you shows what you are most likely to watch, or Amazon shows you products you are most likely to buy, if a particular demographic or sub demographic of students are more likely to enroll with a particular university, then if any student that fits those criteria enters our Scholarships platform, s/he should see that university front and center.
This will reduce the time it takes for a student to find their university of choice, and improve user experience drastically.
How is technology enabling students to navigate around the challenges COVID-19 is imposing on offline education and what can be done better?
I think we here at Lock&Stock, through our Scholarships platform and through EDGE, are pushing innovation in the digital recruitment phase of the university journey, and helping speed the transition from physical to digital.
However, I think university admissions processes are still primarily based in the real world, and have not changed much in the past 20 years aside from getting a website. This has caused a lot of chaos and confusion among 17 and 18 year olds looking to enroll for their higher education.
I also think that current education solutions with regard to online or distance learning are not up to par. Yes, they have been rolled out, but these platforms are frankensteined together and are not an end-to-end solution delivering high levels of user experience. That, in my opinion, has hurt students and their ability to learn.
How has COVID-19 affected Lock & Stock?
We have seen a surge in user activity since the lockdown began, especially on our Scholarships platform. Our admissions process was always digital – in 2019 we accounted for roughly 2% of all university enrolments here in the UAE, without meeting a single student.
We recorded our best ever month in March 2020, with Scholarships activity up 513% as compared to March 2019. And we recorded our best ever single day on April 4th 2020, with 27 university applications being disbursed that day alone.
We are now streamlining our operations and processes to ensure that we reach as many students as we can, and assist them in any way possible.
What gaps and opportunities do you see with Ed-Tech in the ME?
As I said earlier, I think taking admissions digital and delivering high quality online learning are the two biggest gaps in the education space. These aren’t unique to the Middle East, but are rather global gaps.
From a Middle East perspective, I think there is a communication gap between large expatriate communities and native Arabic speakers. I think a platform that assists the large expatriate communities scattered around the Middle East with Arabic learning, kind of like what they have in China with learning English or in America with learning Spanish, is something lacking. Maybe even a vice versa solution with English taught to native Arabic speakers.
Which ideas do you see making the biggest disruption in the education space?
I think the company that can effectively deliver classroom learning, in an end to end, fully engaging, turnkey manner, will have the greatest impact in the education space.
What is the best way our readers can access the platform?
This is my favourite question in any interview. For all students, enrolled at any school or university, living in any country in the world, Lock&Stock is available for free on the App Store and Play Store with a list of offers, internships and scholarships, just for you.