Your children’s homework gets harder and harder as your memory of the high school curriculum fades each passing year. Instead of having to call other parents or rely on imprecise searches in google, you can easily tap into a new resource. The online resource, Socratic, is gathering a wealth of information targeted at answering individual questions you or your child may have. Need help with a problem? Take a picture of it and let the Socratic community take care of the rest just like 16+ million students have done thus far. Crowdsoucing knowledge through technology is at the heart of the company’s platform.
AlleyWatch followed suit and and queried founders Shreyans Bhansali and Chris Pedregal to learn all about how big Socratic aspires to be and what its doing to get there.
Tell us about the product or service.
Socratic is an education app for high school students. Our AI engine combines machine learning with educator expertise to give high school students instant help when they are stuck on homework questions.
Students take a picture of a question, our AI figures out what concepts are required to answer the question, and then shows them high-quality teaching content created by expert educators. This content includes jargon-free explainers, videos, definitions, and the best results from the web.
How is it different?
Before Socratic, when students needed independent help with their school work, they had two options: either search Google and end up on sites with low quality answers like Yahoo Answers, or pay for tutoring services. They had to either accept low quality or high cost.
Our combination of artificial intelligence and teaching content created by great educators allows us to provide free, instant, and high-quality teaching help to students who are stuck.
We are the first education company to use AI to take students from a specific question to the concepts required to answer that question, something a tutor would usually do. We also create our own mobile-native teaching content that’s short, to the point, and highly visual – we believe it makes learning easier than most textbooks and websites.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
We are starting with the 16 million high-school students in the US, then will quickly expand to middle school and college students, as well as outside the US.
Overall there are nearly half a billion students in education systems around the world, and the number of people studying informally is larger still.
What is the business model?
The app will be free at launch, and the functionality at launch will remain free.
We are not currently focused on monetizing, but strongly believe that the educational value we provide to students will make us a low-cost and high-value place for educational stakeholders (parents, teachers, school districts) to spend their money.
What inspired the business?
From our founding, we’ve been focused on helping students who turn to the Internet for help. Self-directed learning is an important but stressful component of every student’s education, and we believe that the Internet is far from its promise of helping these students.
We believe that education is a root solution to many of the world’s problems but educational opportunities are not evenly distributed – some people can afford expensive tutors and well-funded schools, but most cannot. Our mission is to make learning easier for all students.
Why is AI well suited for the edtech space?
When a student goes to a tutor with a question they can’t answer, the tutor will start by figuring out which concepts are required to answer the question, then will teach the student those concepts.
So for example, given a question like…
“A balloon has a volume of 2.9 L at 320 Kelvin. If the temperature is raised to 343 Kelvin, what will its volume be?”
…a tutor would teach the student about “Charles’s Law”, the relevant concept.
Most search tools, including Google, don’t work this way. They search for similar questions and words, and lack an understanding of underlying concepts.
With the help of expert educators and millions of sample questions, we’ve trained a computer to recognize those underlying concepts, allowing us to scale a core part of the tutoring experience.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We aim to be the most popular student-focused educational app in the App Store, and have millions of students using us to get help with their school work.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
More than any idea or industry, focus on joining, hiring, and following the most amazing people you can find.
You’ll spend more time with your team than with most other people in your life, and you will have to make a lot of decisions with them. Make sure the people around you are right for you.
Great people will multiply your abilities, teach you, inspire you, and introduce you to other great people.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
Neil deGrasse Tyson. He does a great job of making science exciting and accessible to young students and have we compatible missions.
Why did you launch in New York?
We’ve lived and worked in New York for a while and have been drawn to it because of the boundless energy and breadth of amazing people in the city. People from all over the world come here to excel in every profession and art form, which makes it a great place to find people in the industry to work with, and also to be inspired by people doing completely new and different things than us.
What’s your favorite rooftop bar in NYC to unwind?
Unsanctioned rooftops scattered throughout Brooklyn
See the new app in action in this video: