By: Dwolla,


You can learn more in one day from talking to customers, than one week of brainstorming, one month of watching competitors, and one year of market research. 

As marketing manager at Dwolla, I see a lot of numbers. I look at data across the platform every day, monitoring conversion on partner registrations, which products are being used, which sites are driving traffic, etc. I work in exhausting excel documents, managing launch plans and content calendars, segmenting audiences and drafting communications for various mediums.

I know the project managers or founders of our largest partners, and we speak regularly about what we can do to help onboard their members or clients—brainstorming and creating marketing and educational pieces that will continue to push the needle upwards.

It’s been in this sense that I’ve been working with Paul Schale for the last few months, a program manager of the Hillsborough Out of School Time (HOST) Program. When Paul suggested that we come out to visit the team and some of the program sites, I was interested. The after school program services approximately 10,000 children in elementary and middle schools, and is growing rapidly each year—with 1,000 additional students enrolling this year. Just this school year, HOST began accepting Dwolla payments for weekly program fees.

In March, I hopped on a flight to Tampa with Bobby Godberson, Manager of Dwolla Customer Support, and Nicole Cook, Director of Government Partnerships at Dwolla, to speak with staff members, teachers, parents and students of the HOST Program.

Instead of keeping our meetings to conference rooms and air conditioning, Paul suggested that our first stop be nearby Rampello K-8 School, so that we could get a better idea of what the program provides its students and to speak with HOST instructors, children, and their parents.


The HOST Program provides just what the organization’s name suggests, before and after school care for elementary and middle school students. It’s not just 30 to 60 minutes that these children are participating in group activities and snack time. School let’s out at 2:25 p.m., and the HOST Program will care for thousands of children until 6:00 p.m.

Having grown up and gone to school in rural Iowa, Rampello K-8 itself was mind-boggling to me. There were hundreds of children, with 15 students per instructor, and activities that included crafts, multiple kickball games, computer time, snack time, and even groups for children interested in chess or working with plants. Children move with their instructor from activity to activity and are kept with kids of their same age.


Prior to 2011, HOST was still having to collect thousands of paper applications from parents and guardians enrolling their children into the program, as well as taking attendance and tracking payments via a ledger. It was that year that HOST partnered with Cayen Systems, providing an electronic platform for parents to submit their kids’ applications, and for HOST staff to track payments and attendance digitally.

Prior to the 2014-2015 school year, parents had only the payment options of dropping off a paper check when they picked up their children each week, or submitting a money order. It was the lead HOST instructor’s job at each site to write a receipt for the parent by hand, then take their large stack of checks and manually enter the check numbers, amount, and what week was paid for which child into HOST’s Cayen Systems.

Always wanting to drive innovation and to move more of their outdated paper processes online, Debbie Zenk, Supervisor of After School Programs, tapped Paul and the HOST technology team to push for a digital payment option that would alleviate the pain of processing paper checks for both the parents and the site instructors. Cayen Systems reached out to us, and began their own Dwolla integration into their school management software.

Lindsay Pelham, Paul’s right and left hand as he says, walked me through the cumbersome process of manual check entry, and I was able to witness first hand at Rampello the parents digging through their bags for their checkbooks while the HOST instructor frantically scribbles out a receipt while also trying to call for the children to come meet their parents.

Speaking of parents—I’m not sure there would have been anything that would have helped me prepare for the conversations I was about to have.

“Dwolla is here from Iowa!” Paul would announce, as another group of parents staggered in from an exhausting work day. “Let them know what you think! They want to know what you love and what you hate!”

And it continued, for the next couple of hours.

Many people loved Dwolla, they had been waiting for an online option and were ecstatic to kick their checkbook to the curb.

There were a number of people who had trouble registering for their account and found the process too time-consuming and full of friction.


The next day we were given the opportunity to speak for 30 minutes at the HOST team leads district meeting to about 150 individuals, something that only occurs twice a year and is already packed full of mandatory information. The Dwolla presentation inspired one of the instructors to shout ‘No more checks!’ which was met with a general roar of approval.

The last afternoon in Tampa was spent at Lowry Elementary. The lead site instructor, Coach Mark Raynor, had just bought ice cream for his students with what was most likely his day’s wages of working as a HOST instructor. “It’s worth it,” he said. Many of the Lowry parents’ concerns echoed those of Rampello, with even more emphasis on the need to decrease friction at initial registration.

The problems parents were facing during the registration and request fulfillment process guided our efforts in building a better flow for creating an account and fulfilling a payment request.

I can’t look at registration conversion numbers anymore and simply think, “How do I increase this number?” I look at the numbers and I see a mother who would like to use Dwolla, but got stuck in registration and gave up.

Moving away from the paper check will make jobs easier. Instead of manually entering thousands of checks each week, instructors will get more time with the kids. It will allow Lindsay, who works diligently with Paul to provide training and guidance to HOST Program leaders, to spend more time innovating on the program and less time correcting errors made in manual check entry.

In order to do that, we know that we have to keep reducing friction and increasing functionality in the Dwolla product. We are never done, we are always iterating, we are always listening.

You can learn more in one day from talking to customers than one week of brainstorming, one month of watching competitors, and one year of market research. 

Thank you to Paul, Lindsay, and Debbie of the HOST Program, as well as the entire team at Cayen Systems, for helping us make Dwolla better.

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