Adrián Garza is one of the founders of Mattilda, an innovative startup that is helping schools throughout Mexico improve their financial management. With wide experience in the business world and a fervent passion for education, Adrián is the perfect guest to kick off the EdTech Mentor: Founders Edition series, a special opportunity to meet the people behind the most innovative and promising EdTech initiatives currently on the rise in the industry.
Pearls of Wisdom
What I get most excited about in the education industry is being able to add value to my country and to society through education. The education industry is very noble; you don’t just get interesting economic returns, you can also drive meaningful change in society.
In just a year and a few months, we went from being just a PowerPoint to being a business with 33,000 users and 57 client schools. Through our expertise, we have added significant value so that these schools can focus on their mission to educate and create positive impact.
Although it has been a challenge, we have had success by focusing on communicating our product’s value-add and showing success stories from other users. I think we have been able to build a very strong base of early adopters in very little time, which has helped us to convey the value we add to the market through their positive experiences, and which will help us reach critical mass.
Our vision for Mattilda is to help to eliminate the administrative and management load, allowing them to focus on what they’re really passionate about: education. We want professors, academics and school owners to concentrate on growing their schools, offering better programs, and improving the general quality of education. We want to drive education forward.
Mattilda is centered on improving schools’ operational and financial efficiency, offering comprehensive services that simplify administrative management and provide financial solutions for better functioning of the educational system.
Private education is more a question of supply than demand. There is a growing demand, but governments cannot satisfy it with quality. In the post-pandemic world, private education is more valued. I’m optimistic about the future in Mexico and Latin America. Although there are political aspects to consider, I see great opportunities to explore.
We see a great opportunity for financing in university education. Unlike K-12 education, where it is less common to apply for a loan, for universities the return on investment is more tangible.
In the EdTech industry, especially in the B2B model, the sales cycles tend to be longer. This means that there are additional challenges in terms of unit economics and effort to acquire new clients. As a result, investors also analyze how the startup can shorten these sales cycles.
School owners are busy with day-to-day operations, so it’s easy for educational solutions to get overlooked. Again, it’s crucial to maintain structure and organization, making sure we are on their minds and providing constant attention.
It’s crucial to have experts in the sector who understand the motivations and preferences of the decision makers. Identifying who the regular promoters and detractors are in the purchase process is key in a B2B environment.
Mattilda has transformed the way schools manage their billing, offering a safe, efficient system for parents and students. But their vision goes beyond financial management: they have also made inroads into educational loans and identifying opportunities for improvement of educational facilities. With a combination of innovation, focus on the client, and a deep understanding of the needs in the industry, Adrián is an entrepreneur who stands as a pacesetter in the EdTech sector in Latin America. In this interview, he shared his perspective as Chief Growth Officer on Mattilda’s challenges and achievements, as well as his vision for the future of education.
Who is Adrián Garza, and what is his history with education?
I’m originally from Monterrey, in the north of Mexico, but I grew up from a young age in a city on the border called Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Texas. It’s funny, because I lived in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, but I went to school in Laredo, Texas. I made that trip every day as a kid, until I graduated from high school. That opened my eyes a little bit and made me ask myself, “hey, why are there countries that are so different when they’re just a kilometer apart? It’s the same people, it’s the same culture, the same climate, the same geography. Why are the levels of economic development so different?”
Historically, there have been theories about economic development that attribute differences to geography, to culture, or to climate. And for me from a very young age I noticed that in this situation all that was exactly the same. Even though it was Texas, 98% of the population was Mexican. So it was the same people, but the levels of economic development were very different. When I finished high school, I went back to Monterrey to study Economics at Tecnológico de Monterrey to understand that.
Alongside that, I come from a family of educators. My parents were academics their whole careers, and eventually opened a school. So I also had that education bug in my house and I was always involved in education-related volunteering and other activities. I spent several seasons in rural communities supporting schools and giving classes. That’s how I developed my thesis and my long-term purpose: “whatever I do, I want to do something in education and contribute to the economic development of my country.”
I believed, from everything I was learning at the university and with my personal background, that that was how I could add my little bit to my country’s development. I did my four years of university at TEC and I went to work at a private equity fund, where I ended up covering four businesses that were very focused on financial services and education in Mexico.
I had two jobs there. First, to analyze new investment opportunities, and second, to provide guidance and support to our portfolio of businesses. In that second capacity, I worked with, among others, Lottus Education, an education company that started as a search fund. In 2015, they acquired a university in Mexico City, and that relates directly to Mattilda later on. I worked very closely with them on acquisitions and on the integration of those acquisitions. It was a business that I was very involved with and that had a lot of success.
Lottus had an impressive growth from 5,000 to almost 100,000 students in 8 years, and after working with them I had developed a passion for creating a positive impact in the educational sector. During my master’s at Harvard, I focused on understanding how to come up with and develop business models that were profitable, but at the same time generated value for society, in order to be able to return to Mexico and launch something in the field of education and thereby contribute to the economic development of the region. I sum up my thesis in one sentence: “how to do well doing good.” So out of my work with Lottus and my master’s thesis, came Mattilda.
What do you like most about working in this industry?
What I get most excited about in the education industry is being able to add value to my country and to society through education. The education industry is very noble; you don’t just get interesting economic returns, you can also drive meaningful change in society. I’m convinced that many of the problems we’re facing in Mexico and Latin America can be tackled through quality education. Currently, our academic performance indicators are significantly below international standards. Specifically, what I like most is the opportunity to create positive change in the region.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
Without a doubt, the development and growth of Mattilda. In just a year and a few months, we went from being just a PowerPoint to being a business with 33,000 users and 57 client schools. Through our expertise, we have added significant value so that these schools can focus on their mission to educate and create positive impact. The progress we have made in such a short period of time with Mattilda is something that truly fills me with pride.
What mistakes have you made and what have you learned?
When I reflect on my mistakes, I can’t point to one specific example, but I have identified a pattern in my career and in my life. Often, whether from insecurity or lack of nerve, I have avoided making risky decisions. I doubt my own abilities or I find excuses not to take the leap. However, in the case of Mattilda, that was a moment when I decided to take the risk and make a bold decision. Fortunately, so far we’ve had positive results. In general, I have learned that not being brave enough to make decisions is a mistake I should avoid.
What is the challenge you’re losing sleep over?
As the person in charge of Mattilda’s sales, one of the challenges we’re facing is introducing our innovative product to the educational market. Mattilda is a completely new solution in Mexico, so we have to educate schools about why they need it and the benefits it brings. Many schools have been operating the same way for decades, and they think that it’s mostly working well. Plus, some school owners are change-averse. Because of that, our challenge lies in educating the market and making them understand the implications and advantages of using our platform, especially in terms of simplifying administrative tasks and freeing up time for other important functions.
Although that has been a challenge, we have had success by focusing on communicating our product’s value-add and showing success stories from other users. I think we have been able to build a very strong base of early adopters in very little time, which has helped us to convey the value we add to the market through their positive experiences, and which will help us reach critical mass. However, the introduction of a new product to the market continues to be a constant challenge for us.
We manage the whole collections process, including automated billing. Some school owners tell me that they have been personally sending invoices to parents manually. We have to explain to them how it adds value to free them of that task so they can focus on activities like marketing and program improvement. Changing that ingrained mindset isn’t easy, but the results have been very positive.
Why did you decide to start your own business rather than working for a larger company?
I have always been attracted to the idea of launching a company, but for me the question was, how will I be involved in the education industry? My interest in the field led me to consider working in companies in the field before deciding to start my own. However, during my master’s, conditions led me to change my plan and to found Mattilda along with my partners. I felt that various factors all came together: we had the right team, we identified a need in the market, and I personally had seen that need in my family. I was convinced that we were the team best prepared to bring this model to Mexico.
There were a combination of variables that pushed me to take the leap. I stopped thinking about working for a company in order to embark on the adventure of entrepreneurship. There were always challenges, above all coming out of the master’s with student loans. I had doubts over whether I should launch immediately, or maybe work two years in consulting or investment banking, earn a good salary, pay off my loans and then consider launching a company. There was always some nervousness, some fear. However, that convergence of variables that I talked about mattered more. There came a time when I said, “if I’m ever going to start a business, it’s now. All the conditions I want to bring together are here at this moment.” So it was a carefully thought out decision based on those considerations.
What impact do you hope to create with Mattilda? What is your vision?
Our team at Mattilda is composed of Jesús Lanza, José Agote, Juan Pablo Bravo, Ileana Gómez and me. Jesús is the Board Chair, José Agote is the General Director, Juan Pablo Bravo is the finance director, Iliana is the Director of Operations, and I am the Chief Growth Officer.
The vision for Mattilda is focused on the private education market in Mexico and Latin America, which is highly fragmented. The majority of schools are small or medium sized, founded by people with academic and educational training, but not necessarily any training in business. Our vision for Mattilda is to help to eliminate the administrative and management load, allowing them to focus on what they’re really passionate about: the educational part. We want professors, academics and school owners to concentrate on growing their schools, offering better programs, and improving the general educational quality. We want to drive education forward.
In Mexico, private education has low penetration when compared with other countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina. Only 9% of students in Mexico attend private schools. However, results from standardized tests like PISA show that private schools have significantly better performance than public schools. There is a preference for private education, but access to it is limited due to the cost.
From my perspective, the challenge is rooted in making private education accessible for a larger portion of the population. Rather than an issue of demand, it’s an issue of supply. We need to find ways to offer capital and sources of financing so that schools can expand and serve a wider base of students.
How does the business model work?
Mattilda is an SaaS platform that offers financial services and handles various problems in the education sector. On the one hand, we focus on operational pain points for schools, like the lack of control of student information, the complexity of electronic billing and negative experiences for parents when trying to make payments.
On the other hand, we also tackle financial pain points, like delays in tuition payments and lack of access to capital for growth and resource acquisition. Our focus is on providing solutions through our billing management platform, where schools can see comprehensive billing and payment information, and parents have multiple options for payment such as online, through WhatsApp, and at convenience stores, among others.
We also offer a product called “ingresos garantizados” (guaranteed income) that provides schools a guaranteed monthly cash flow, helping them to have more financial stability and eliminating the worry about making payments every two weeks.
Mattilda is centered on improving schools’ operational and financial efficiency, offering comprehensive services that simplify administrative management and provide financial solutions for better functioning of the educational system. This way schools have total visibility and certainty in regard to how much they are taking in month to month.
And the last part is credit, where we finance our schools. We know that no one, or very few institutions lend to schools. So we fill that hole in the market and lend for growth, to build new classrooms, to buy technology, etc.
How do you see the future of Mattilda in the short term?
In the short to medium term we see Latin America as the next growth step. There are markets we’re very interested in, like Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador, among others. The need is there in private schools throughout Latin America, not just in Mexico.
How do you see the landscape of private education in Latin America?
There are two facets to the landscape for private education in Latin America. On the one hand, there’s a clear tendency throughout the region to governments that do not support private education. You can see that tendency in countries like Mexico, Peru, and possibly Brazil, where there have been alarming declarations but no concrete actions. It is important to keep in mind this inclination toward more nationalist governments, especially considering that education and health are industries with a high political impact.
On the other hand, the situation is worrying, especially in a post-pandemic world. In the United States they have done studies that are revealing the catastrophic consequences of the time lost in schools during the health crisis. The decline in academic levels and progress for children during one or two years of pandemic is alarming.
Private education is more a question of supply than demand. There is a growing demand, but governments cannot satisfy it with quality. In the post-pandemic world, private education is more valued. I’m optimistic about the future in Mexico and Latin America. Although there are political aspects to consider, I see great opportunities to explore. Some of the school owners we work with have even mentioned that they expect growth of more than 20% for the next school year, which makes me think we are in a “rebooting” phase for the education sector in this post-pandemic world.
Do you see any possibility for growth in higher education?
Yes, we are feeling out higher education. We recognize the need to improve administrative, flows, and payment services for schools in that realm. On top of that, we see a great opportunity for financing in university education. Unlike K-12 education, where it is less common to apply for a loan, for universities the return on investment is more tangible. However, I want to clarify that we currently focus exclusively on the B2B model, working directly with schools and parents through our platform. In the future, we could consider expanding to end users, but for now we aren’t doing so.
Where did the name “Mattilda” come from?
We chose the name “Mattilda” for three reasons. First, we looked for a friendly name that would represent our billing process in schools. Second, we like the analogy with the genius girl from the novel and movie called Matilda, related to education. Third, we wanted to reference the business where several members of our founding team had worked, Lottus Education.
What do you have to do to get an investment fund to pay attention to an EdTech?
The decision to invest in an EdTech startup is based on similar criteria to any other startup. They evaluate what makes the founding team different and their capacity to execute on their business plan. Investors consider aspects like metrics on return of investment, client acquisition costs, and margins. However, it’s important to highlight that in the EdTech industry, especially in the B2B model, the sales cycles tend to be longer. This means that there are additional challenges in terms of unit economics and effort to acquire new clients. As a result, investors also analyze how the startup can shorten these sales cycles. In our case, we have been able to effectively meet that challenge.
How can sales cycles be shortened to sell quickly and grow?
For EdTech B2Bs, focused on the academic part of schools, it is difficult to change the landscape once the school year has started. However, in our case, since we are focused on financial and administrative management, there is no significant interruption. That allows us to sell year-round and shorten sales cycles, unlike other EdTechs who have a more marked seasonality. Additionally, we have had success educating the market about the opportunities to improve that exist and the necessity of adopting more efficient tools. This has helped us to cut the sales cycles by showing them the advantages of our solutions.
What is a key competency for B2B marketing in EdTech?
That’s a great question. Working with colleges and schools is a very specific skillset. Owners have a very specific profile, so knowing how to handle those relationships with schools ranges from very small details, things like how you refer to the director, coming to a meeting in person rather than on Zoom, among other details that seem minor but aren’t to school owners. The relationship with schools is very particular and requires organized sales skills. It’s important to establish appropriate communication, understand their needs and be monitoring constantly. School owners are busy with day-to-day operations, so it’s easy for educational solutions to get overlooked. Again, it’s crucial to maintain structure and organization, making sure we are on their minds and providing constant attention. A simple initial pitch won’t be enough. It must be continuous service and good organization to achieve positive results.
What do you like most about your role as Chief Growth Officer at Mattilda?
I love visiting schools, understanding their needs, and helping them solve problems. A success case we like to highlight is a school in Guadalajara. We implemented Mattilda to manage billing and payments from the parents. We also offered credit so they could acquire a new location and make renovations. I love seeing the photos that the owner sent me this morning showing the new façade, the soccer field, the gym, etc.
And what don’t you like about your role?
As an entrepreneur, there’s nothing I won’t do for my business. Although the sales role can be challenging, I’m prepared to face rejection and negative responses. Learning to overcome these obstacles is an integral part of the job. Although I can’t say I don’t like it, I recognize that it is the most difficult part of the job.
How can an agency specializing in growth add value for a business like Mattilda?
It’s crucial to have experts in the sector who understand the motivations and preferences of the decision makers. Identifying who the regular promoters and detractors are in the purchase process is key in a B2B environment. An agency that helps us to transmit clear messaging at the right time to the right people is extremely important. Simplifying financial and technical concepts, like invoicing and guaranteed income to make them more understandable and attractive for potential clients also adds significant value. In short, translating a complex product or service into something more accessible and easy to understand is a valuable strategy.