On the last post I mentioned that PulsoSocial.com (PS), a latin-american blog focused on web startups published and interview with our founder and CEO, Jorge García. Here I share with you the translation of this interview so you can learn more about Class.io, its origins and the plans for the future:
How did you get the idea for this communications platform for education? What inspired you?
The idea got started because of my professional experience on the education field. I happen to be a computes systems engineer, a university professor, an academic manager at a University, the father of a school-age girl, an active member of a school’s PTA, a consultant implementing open source Learning Management Systems (LMS) and last but not least I am passionate about education overall. On all of these perspectives, some of my greatest frustrations were the same:
- How complex it is for a teacher to communicate effectively with students using the web
- The lack of effectiveness of most training efforts aimed to help teachers use the existing LMS (commercial or open source alike).
- How poorly integrated the existing LMS solutions are with platforms people use on a daily basis (i.e. Google Apps, Facebook and others)
- How little students use or pay attention to their current LMS platforms notifications methods
The worse part is that it seems like educational institutions have just quit searching and have settled for the least worst of the available solutions, accepting to pay fully in advance for a product that in most cases they didn’t have a chance to test on a pilot program and end up locked with a provider in a worthless investment.
When I implemented an open source solution for a client and then received requests to basically modify the way it worked completely, I discovered how heavy and inflexible the code base and design was. At that moment I realized that we needed to create a new solution, something that was developed from scratch with the teacher, the student and the institution in mind.
The new solution should be:
- So easy to use that little or none training is needed.
- So accessible that any teacher could signup and try it out for free.
- Integrated with the platforms that people use on a daily basis, such as Facebook for the students and Google Apps for the teachers and institutions.
- So easy to deploy that institutions and teachers can activate it quickly with just a few clicks.
- So engaging that teachers and students will want to use it instead of ‘being forced’ to.
Who were in the founding team and how is the team composed now?
I started thinking about it in 2009. During that time I had two last-year students (Luis Borjas and Fernando Escher) working with me as part of a scholarship program. I proposed the project to them and they agreed to join in as partners and work with me on the development. We worked on research and development between the last months of 2009 and the first months of 2010, finishing up a working prototype.
We made the mistake of adding more and more features to the first version instead of focusing on a Minimum Viable Product. The end result was a product that had too many things going on. However, there were some things that motivated us to continue, like when we applied to the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC and made it to the skype interview with Heather Harde. From the way the interview went I got the idea that she liked the concept, but at the same time it was clear that the product was not polished enough to make it to the finals.
Also in early 2010 we traveled to San Francisco for the Google I/O conference and I showed the idea to many people, most of whom had positive comments about it and motived us to push for an improved next version. By then I had already talked to Roberto Brevé from blipea.com to help us out with the user interface and usability, which we knew was really bad at the time, and I had also talked to Alejandro Corpeño from tuBabel.com, who always has good ideas on the business and marketing side. At Google I/O we talked even more with Roberto and Alejandro about working on a project together and the end result was that they would both join Class.io (at the time it was called Escolarea.com).
With Roberto and Alejandro bringing a lot of web development experience to the team and Luis, Fernando and I having the team dynamics and product vision already in place, we got together during the last days of June for a Hackathon. By early July we had launched a MVP that we tested with some friends who also happen to be teachers. The adoption rate was very low, the users were very confused by the user interface and the product lacked many administrative features that the teachers needed to manage their courses. We went back to designing and programming a new iteration and released a much better version in October which we are now testing with more teachers and students, a much better traction and getting tons of feedback to improve, specially from students since the teacher portion seems to be nailed down by now.
What is your target market and who can participate on class.io?
Class.io is aimed to teachers from k-12 and university level, also to independent private instructors or from training centers (for example the internal corporate training department of a company). Class.io is available for anyone who wants to us it, all you need is a Google Account, which gives them access to Google Apps (many universities and organizations worldwide are now adopting this system).
For us it is very important to have as many people as possible using class.io and it would be much better if they give us feedback, since our current focus is on creating an integral solution for teachers that want to manage their classes on the web.
What is Class.io’s methodology?
As a startup we have user-centric development process and we try to adopt the Lean Startup methodology. Class.io is better suited for courses that take place in a physical classroom and use the web for communication purposes since our main objective is precisely that, to improve the communication and management of a course. We don’t want to be classified or enter the category of an LMS, CMS or any other existing technology, what really matters to us is to solve the key problems that teachers, students and institutions have regarding communications around courses.
Can you expand on the business model you plan to adopt
We will adopt a freemium model, meaning that we will always have a free plan with certain limitations and we’ll offer paid-plans for different use cases aimed at institutions and power users. We are sure that as the product evolves we will be adapting to our customers’ needs and will be shaping the business model accordingly.
What is your scope. How far would you like to take this idea?
We will start focusing in America and possibly some European countries. We expect to have our first paying clients in the first semester of 2011, once we have unveiled our premium version. We aspire for Class.io to be used by teachers all over the world, and we would like to be known as “the easiest, faster and most complete way to manage courses on the web, integrated to the platforms that students, teachers and institutions already use”.