Skookii is on a mission to become the fastest and easiest way for schools and parents to conduct transactions. The name is derived from “school cookie.” Alisher “Ali” Rakhimov was both a school business manager and a parent who encountered the difficulties parents and schools face when it comes to making payments. That’s when he sought to make Skookii. Skookii is unlike any other method of payment. Instead of being complex and sometimes costly, Skookii makes collecting, sending and tracking payments simple and free. Here’s what Rakhimov had to say about how Skookii is revolutionizing payments and the world of fintech.
Alisher “Ali” Rakhimov, CEO and Founder
All-in-one payment platform for K-12 schools
What does Skookii do? Rakhimov: “Turn your scholastics into something that’s a piece of cookie.” That is the slogan we go by. I started as a business manager for six years, then I became a dad. So, I had experience in the back office and on the front end making aftercare and lunch payments. Many of those payments were done using technology such as PayPal. I really wanted something similar and specific for the K-12 school system. When I wasn’t able to find it, I built it.
What is Skookii’s story? How did Skookii come to be? Rakhimov: I took a napkin idea, and did a lot of independent research. I didn’t know anything about startups, about technology or about software. And when you don’t know something, it’s very intimidating. I went to a lot of startup weekends, talked to engineers and had them explain things to me. I was focused on talking to the people involved. Not knowing and tackling this objective scared me. It seemed really hard to do. Once I was finally able to find former classmates from my country and talk to them about my idea, we built a team consisting of people who shared the passion and weren’t afraid to start experimenting. When you find a really good full-site developer who can build anything – I think that’s the key. It was the key for us. Andy, our developer, was kind of a magician. And then our amazing chief technology officer joined the team. To me, team is everything, and once you build a really solid, like-minded team, that’s gold.
Why is Skookii important? Rakhimov: My whole attitude is, “How can I amaze my partners and parents?” We really want to create the solution that they not only like, but that they love. Simplicity, affordability and speed are the things that I’m always thinking about. Skookii is different. Maybe because I’m not from a sales background – I have horrible sales tactics – that’s why I made it free. I do not like selling. Maybe my story is a way to connect with them. I believe it is part of the reason why we’ve had so much growth in a short period of time.
Maybe they can relate as a business manager or as parents. I want them to know that we really want to help. There are a lot of schools that really need technology. Yes, it is utilized more and more on the learning side, but when you look at school back offices, there’s hardly anything. They lack the “Advil’s” or pain-relievers to their issues. They either use cookie-cutter solutions or very outdated solutions that cost an arm and a leg. We want to improve school back offices by introducing simplicity, and we’re starting that through payments.
What are Skookii’s goals as a company? Rakhimov: We want to serve a billion people in this K-12 school system. Making it free for schools and parents, we can achieve that. Moreover, Skookii is also a social impact startup, so we are really helping a lot of rural schools, charter schools and smaller schools that have limited budgets and can’t pay for expensive technology. Within 20 minutes, these individuals can have mobile apps, web payment buttons, and the ability to connect and manage all of their payments.
There’s a potential of theft and fraud at some level with payments, but we are eliminating that. On the parents’ side, it’s a matter of making it fun. Selfie payments are something we pioneered. Parents can not only send payments but they can also send a selfie payment. The next time you pay your principal, you can just say, “Here’s my selfie, enjoy the donation.”
What are the biggest fintech trends? Rakhimov: When we started reviewing where to start three years ago, payment processing and underwriting was very traditional and slow. They would send us from department to department when all we wanted was simply for schools and staff to collect payments. We talked to 12 or 13 companies looking for options and all of them said, “No, you have to underwrite. Parents have to send their financial statements.” Thankfully, with payment platforms becoming a service and the old players innovating, it’s becoming easier to collect. It is really good to see them using artificial intelligence and other kinds of technologies to underwrite within seconds.
How did Skookii hear about Fintech71? What appealed to Skookii about Fintech71? Rakhimov: I follow fintech. There are not a lot of fintech accelerators out there, say a handful. We have been following seven of them, and when Fintech71 emerged, we found it interesting, especially since it is a nonprofit and in Columbus. Originally, we did not know much about Fintech71, but as we started researching and understanding the importance of strategy partnerships in fintech, it was a no brainer to apply.
Why did Skookii apply to Fintech71? Rakhimov: We are a bootstrapped company, and when you’re in fintech, it is very hard to get started. Strategic mentorships, strategic partnerships – those are always a big plus. The fact that we can get validation and public relations out of attending this accelerator is another. Last but not least, the funding of $100,000 and the opportunity to get even more was appealing.
What is Skookii hoping to get out of Fintech71? Rakhimov: We started like a mom and pop shop. We started from virtually nothing and built everything in six months. In our next stage, we want to make sure we have a solid foundation to scale Skookii, not just in the U.S. but also globally. We want to connect with seasoned fintech experts who can advise us. And, of course, the funding can bring our team together. Right now, we work remotely on different continents and in different areas of the U.S. We want to build a solid marketing team to bring attention to Skookii because our spending thus far has been minimal.
Have you been to Ohio before? Rakhimov: I lived here in 2002 when I came as an exchange student and lived with a host family. My host mom was named Diana. She was from Youngstown and she told me anything and everything about Ohio. That year, I think the OSU Buckeyes went to the Tostitos Bowl, we went tailgating.
To her, Ohio was like a religion. She loved the coach of the Buckeyes and she loved Youngstown. It was all about football and family. I learned a lot through my host family about Ohio and the Buckeyes.
What was your perception of Ohio before Fintech71? What do you like about Ohio thus far? Rakhimov: Before being an exchange student, my only exposure to Ohio was the Cincinnati Airport. To me, it seemed small. Admittedly, I didn’t know anything. I thought Columbus was a rural area. Columbus very vibrant, very chaotic and being revitalized. Columbus really reminds me of Tempi to be honest. It wasn’t as rural as I thought.
Even though I’d like to explore, I’m laser-focused on fintech. I’m a CEO, I’m a founder and I’m really disciplined to think only about my company right now. I want to leverage all Ohio has to give when it comes to its players and strategic partnerships.
How does Ohio have a fintech advantage? Rakhimov: The fact that Ohio is only a couple of hours from major East Coast destinations is a big plus. Furthermore, there are a lot of banking institutions that we can partner with and it is huge for us. The low-cost aspect is appealing.
San Francisco is big on tech because, in addition to successful people in fintech, it is also diverse. I think Columbus also is a melting pot. If any state welcomes diversity and welcomes immigrants, they can really create the culture to challenge Silicon Valley. If you look at most of the fintech companies, 50 to 70 percent of them are either founded or co-founded by immigrants. This is a really big indicator of how much we really need to invest in immigrants. Since of many Fintech71’s companies are international, this should speak volumes about that. Fintech71 is really bringing global attention and talent to Ohio, to augment what it already has.
Interested in learning more about fintech, Fintech71 and financial services in Ohio? We invite you to visit our financial services page.
Fintech71 is really bringing global attention and talent to Ohio, to augment what it already has.