The Unusual Funding of a Breakthrough Idea

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It’s been two years since Hung Tran, a CS Phd founder, walked through the doors of my incubator, YouWeb, with his idea and prototype. We sat down, laid out our vision of enabling anybody to get short bursts of interactive learning, on-demand, through a marketplace that would run on a messaging platform. I funded the 120K as we normally do for accepted startups, but there’s more. This is the story I’m sharing with you today: the company is Hung’s life, and I’m delighted he co-opted me as co-founder and Executive Chairman of his company.

Today, we are excited to share we’ve raised over $9M in Series A and Seed funding. We aren’t funded by traditional names, but we are honored to have Dipender Saluja from Capricorn Investment Group lead our Series A. They fund breakthrough ideas, (e.g. Tesla, QuantumScape and Planet Labs). Capricorn Investment Group was founded by Jeff Skoll, first President of eBay. Capricorn’s DNA is our kind of DNA: breakthrough impact, innovative technology, and of course, marketplaces. Brad Bao, who formerly headed up Tencent Investments, led our Seed round on behalf of Fosun Group. And we’re thrilled to have awesome advisors including Guy Kawasaki, and Shaherose Charania, founder of Women 2.0.

Feeling Stuck? It Sucks.

When was the last time you felt “stuck” on something you couldn’t crack? Happens often, doesn’t it? But when you finally understood, by asking questions, working through a specific problem, getting a detailed explanation, you had an ‘aha’ moment, where you simply, got it. That’s a ‘micro learning’ breakthrough.

This is what Hung’s team and I’ve been working on: to enable ‘aha moments’ everywhere. By creating a service where everyone can have access to interactive learning through an instant messaging/chat session with an expert — where real connections and micro learning breakthroughs happen, on-demand.

Getting Unstuck.

We can enable these learning breakthroughs through technology and the pervasiveness of messaging behavior. When I’m stuck on whatever, I should be able to connect with the right expert, who has a few minutes, right now, to get me unstuck.

We’ve built this on-demand service creatively: as a marketplace for expertise, based on a mobile messaging platform (our own for now). It’s not a community site like Q&A sites often are, nor is it a content site. It’s a service, with a guarantee: want to chat with an expert, right now? We match you within seconds. For a 10 minute chat session. Need more time? Get another 10 minute session! Not another minute or two. Today we are live with hundreds of thousands of “aha moments” occurring monthly.

Communities such as Quora, Stack Overflow address learning through a Q&A format. These sites are amazing, (I read Quora Digest regularly), but they are not on-demand, interactive, instant. When will your specific question will be addressed. Today? Tomorrow? In time? And can you chat with the person who posts on Quora: now?

Our marketplace targets qualified, vetted experts who care deeply about teaching others. We built a pretty cool, proprietary marketplace algorithm to find/cost/match the expertise. Our service creates micro-jobs for underemployed experts who offer their expertise, 10 minutes at a time. Some experts tell us: their only source of income is our service. We’re excited about how efficiently this ‘free market’ works.

Simultaneously, we’re building a knowledge base of problems and corresponding live chat sessions to fuel a future of chatbot assisted learning. (Note: assisted. That human connection is amazing: our users tell us!).

The Learning Landscape: Ready for Change.

Learning was based on an educational system designed during the Industrial Revolution. I salute Khan Academy — the first disruptive change in decades, through a new “unit of learning”: a short, broadcast video that explains any concept in any curriculum. It’s bite sized and brilliant.

Here’s the catch though: while watching a 15 minute video on say, Thermodynamics, you might have a question. Don’t you wish you could pause the video and ask Sal a question? Simply consuming content isn’t always enough.

Our thesis: Interaction and questioning around a problem, at that moment of learning something in a subject area, is what drives real understanding.

Interaction in general, is an innate need — the explosion of messaging platforms proves this. Seems obvious in retrospect, that learning too needs to be short burst, interactive, on-demand.

So Who gets Stuck Often? Teenagers!!!

Late nights, procrastination, deadlines. This is why we built the GotIt! app, a top 10 edu app in the App Store. (gotitapp.co)

In the go-to-market version of our service we’ve focused on a group that gets stuck often — teenagers. High school and college students. It’s not “ed-tech”. It’s a student demand driven B2C service.

Where do they get stuck? Studying. Exams. Homework. Yuk.

You need to get through 4 years of Math and 2 years of Science in order to graduate high school in the U.S. 75% of U.S. high school students are not proficient in Math & Science. Students get math homework daily, science homework weekly, quizzes monthly, and exams two or three times a semester. For six years, even before college.

Only 1/3rd of them have access to help outside of school. Students get stuck all the time. Googling, asking parents, trying to find the “go to” student, etc. All this is time consuming, frustrating, and frankly, in our users’ minds, unreliable.

Our app, GotIt!, instantly connects a student to an expert who interactively works with them through a step-by-step explanation and questions, to a problem snapped as a picture. It’s, personalized, interactive, and on-demand. Snap and chat: a format teenagers are very familiar with :)

BTW, for students, “no cheating, real teaching”, is our mission. It’s a monitored, audited service (another key difference vs communities). We fire experts for life if they just provide answers, or provide wrong explanations, or exchange personal information.

It’s running in open beta (we just launched the android version yesterday!), and it just keeps growing with thousands of experts from every continent trying to prove their qualifications to us every week,, and thousands of “aha” moments happening within an hour at times. There are kinks here and there, but we’ve learned a lot: and soon we will scale it up.

We get asked: Is this tutoring? Do you think most AirBnB hosts were hotel managers? Or most Uber drivers were taxi operators? The new unit of interactive learning and qualified expertise we’ve created allows anyone “well qualified” to offer help.

Most of our experts are not tutors. In fact, many have never tutored before. But they are very good at Math & Science. We give them good tools and experienced teachers as advisors: on how to “teach” in 10 minute chunks.

This is not mobile tutoring. In fact we believe we will change the decades old tutoring model which simply moved from B&M to web to mobile, in the same decades old format.

Looking Ahead: Everybody & AI.

Imagine a world where every ‘qualified expert’ and their relevant expertise is ‘indexed’, and reachable to chat for 10 minutes with someone who is stuck. I bet everyone reading this post is an expert in something or the other. I also believe that people innately find satisfaction in teaching others. And if they want to make some money, our marketplace supports bidding and payments. Some bid at zero, BTW!

We have millions of chat sessions in our knowledge base, in three STEM subjects, all explained by experts. We have simple ones, hard ones, explained poorly and well, quickly and slowly, with follow up questions: a good training set for AI chatbot assistants.

We imagine a world where 500M students in the world get some free learning breakthroughs every week, when they get stuck. Need more than a few each week? Then you pay, but even so, less than what you pay for tutoring today. This is our goal for the next year: combining AI bots, our ever growing knowledge base, and our awesome experts. We can do this!

Longer term, if we can make teenagers happy, we think we can make pretty much anyone happy. As a parent of two high schoolers I believe this is true :) There is a growing number of subjects on our “wish list”. Not just STEM. All of us, even as professionals and hobbyists, get stuck.

To Conclude: We’re Hiring!

So, let’s get right down to it. I’m working with an amazing founder, developers and exec team (Hung, Matt Gabler, Steve Lin, David Chu, David Ye), from Lyft, Google, Facebook,. But I didn’t write this just to share our vision and our team’s background.

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We really need to hire amazing people. Especially, to state the obvious, great engineers. With the addition of key people, we are poised to get this technology into the hands of everyone needing interactive learning “aha” moments — and that encompasses a lot of us. The enormity of the opportunity and potential reach of what we’re creating is what motivates us. Plus it’s a lot of fun working at GotIt!

Join us: we’re hiring the intellectually curious to join our team of builders, thinkers, operators creating a tangible, meaningful footprint in the world. Feel free to contact me personally, to comment, critique, suggest: peter@gotitapp.co.

Written by

Parallel Entrepreneur. Co-Founder The Knowledge Project. Early investor in Discord. Founder of YouWeb Incubator & Mentor for 25+ start-ups. Now running Got It.

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