Interview with Susan Burton, CEO of Classlist

How Did Classlist Start?

It was the armed guards discouraging her to enter the school gate in Bangalore in 2007 that prompted Susan Burton, an ex-management consultant at PwC, CEO of to think there must be a better way of finding potential friends for her children.  Since the school discouraged parents on the premises, there was no way of knowing the children and parents in her three children’s classes. Susan registered the domain name in 2008, with the idea of creating a parent community that could help facilitate birthday party invitations, play dates, and homework.

The idea was put on pause until four years later when the family moved to the UK and found the same problem. Privacy and data protection regulations discouraged schools from sharing class list details with parents.

Realising that meeting school parents was a challenge in both Bangalore and Oxford, Susan set up with the help of Clare Wright, also a former management consultant and another newly arrived expatriate this time from Brazil, to pilot a site for parents to register and share their details. Parents signed up fast. Classlist is now operating in 1,000 schools across the UK and in 16 countries, offering secure mobile class lists plus a private social network for each school.


Susan said:

“We created Classlist because we believe that our childrens’ school is one of the most important and useful communities in a person’s life. As parents are becoming increasingly time poor, they need to make real friendships more than ever.  From trading hours of childcare, lift-sharing, exchanging hand-me-downs, we believe that practical assistance received from fellow parents who become friends, offers a real life line. It is our mission to facilitate that.”


L-R, Susan Burton and Clare Wright, Co-Founders of Classlist


What Have You Learnt So Far?

  • The importance of product market fit, ensure you’ve got this before scaling the business.
  • Finding talent is the CEO’s most essential job.
  • The importance of company culture. One bad apple can impact everyone, so apply a rigorous filter when recruiting.
  • Enjoy the journey. It’s a long haul, but with fun enthusiastic team members and a positive attitude it’s possible to overcome all kinds of hurdles.

What Challenges Have You Overcome? How Have You Responded During COVID?

During COVID, parents were so focused on homeschooling, there wasn’t any mental capacity left to focus on the social side of school that we support. But we were fortunate that our platform could be adapted to help with homeschooling. We saw a 30% increase in video links added to school announcements. We also saw many schools pivot to virtual events so we integrated Zoom into our events management system. Some schools experienced even higher engagement than before, by offering smaller, more frequent events like book clubs; wine and cheese tasting (bottles delivered in advance); wellness talks with school parent gurus; and magician shows.

Schools also used Classlist to:

  • Coordinating grocery or medical supply drops for families self-isolating. Utilising the Classlist map feature and the volunteer sign-up tool.
  • Hosting parent teacher conferences
  • Hosting new parent welcome meetings
  • Coordinating volunteers for mass testing at schools


What Are Your Plans For Growth?

The best school communities are a partnership between school staff and parents. We are seeing more schools appoint Community Engagement Managers on their payroll. In addition, Head teachers and Principals are placing greater recognition of the role parent associations/PTAs play in driving and nurturing parent engagement. Not only does this raise academic performance, it raises parent satisfaction, the school’s reputation and increases new family referrals. Community makes business sense.

We plan to be in 10,000 schools by 2023. To achieve this target we plan to continue with our global expansion. Recently we’ve had interest from schools in Australia and the Middle East. The USA is a potentially large market for us in the mid-term.

In the pipeline are further features that support hybrid events even better. We are working on solutions to help recycle school uniforms and other school related items. Further use of machine learning to assist in parent to parent and parent to school collaboration, to save time and reduce mental load are in development.