Brett Kopf, the 27-year old founder and CEO of classroom communication app Remind, always felt incompetent in school.
Growing up with dyslexia (developmental reading disorder) and attention deficit disorder (ADD), Kopf would often get taken out of class to finish exams in a quiet room. When reading an essay, he would get a special machine that covered the bottom part of the book because he could only read one line at a time. He struggled to keep up with all the homework due dates.
It wasn’t until he met a teacher named Mrs. Whitefield in high school that he was able to regain his confidence. She would sit for hours with him after school, reviewing his essays. Having that relationship with a teacher who was patient and really cared about him drastically improved his grades.
“When I first started the company, I thought to myself, if I could make the Ms. Whitefields of the world more efficient and help them as teachers, it could have an enormous impact on the education system,” Kopf told Business Insider.
But it was only after he got into college that his vision for a classroom communication app really started to materialise. Overwhelmed with all the class syllabi and due dates, Kopf one day told his brother, David, he wished there was a way to get reminders before assignments were due. With very basic coding knowledge, David came up with a simple, Excel-based, SMS notification program that would send text messages before an exam or an assignment was due.
The program worked so well that Kopf was able to sign up roughly 2,000 students from his college by late 2010. He says students would constantly thank him for coming up with such a cool idea. But after two years, the growth stalled and the Kopf brothers realised it wasn’t going anywhere. They decided to shut it down.
But they still believed in the idea of a classroom communication app. So they joined Imagine K12, a startup incubator focused on education tech. It was there where they learned the basic fundamentals of a successful business: build a simple product; talk to users; and solve someone’s problem.
While David was busy learning how to code, locking himself in a room for 16 hours a day, Brett went out to meet teachers and hear what their real needs were. He would search for hundreds of teachers on Google and Twitter, and just try to learn what they were using in the classroom to communicate. He quickly realised things were very archaic. For example, some teachers were attaching a sticky note on the student’s shoulder after school that said, “Homework’s due tomorrow.”
So they started with the basic idea of alerting students of homework or exams. At first, David wasn’t completely sold on the idea. But after overhearing Brett’s Skype call with a teacher one day, he was convinced. “Brett was holding a paper with three boxes, explaining if you press this, it does this. And the teachers would freak out! They were saying, ‘Oh my god, if only you could do that…'” David told us.
So in early 2013, the Kopf brothers released a mobile app called Remind that let teachers send reminders to students and parents for things like homework, tests, or even parent teacher conferences. Teachers can also send motivational messages, via text or a 15-second voice mail, and even run surveys to get instant feedback on things like a field trip. It creates a direct communication channel between the teachers, students, and parents, so everyone could help each other more effectively.
Since then the app’s popularity has absolutely exploded. By September 2013, Remind had six million users with roughly 65 million messages being sent. Today, Remind claims to have 18 million users across the country, with at least 25% of all teachers in the US using its app. In August, it was adding 365,000 new users a day, making it one of the top 3 most downloaded apps in the iOS AppStore. It says more than 50,000 people are joining the app every day. Just this week, it had its one billionth message sent — all without any real marketing.
It’s why some of the most powerful venture capitalists, including Social Capital’s Chamath Palihapitiya and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr, have invested in Remind. Just this September, Remind raised $US40 million, raising its total funding to $US59 million.
At first glance, Remind may seem like a simple product that anyone could copy. But there’s a reason it’s been so successful in the ed tech space, a historically tough industry to break into. There’s an enormous amount of data science going on behind the scenes, based on constant feedback from teachers, parents, and students. In fact, Remind recently hired a bunch of data scientists from Facebook who played big roles during the social media’s early growth days.
Kopf says Remind is not focused on making money at this point, as he’d rather see more growth and engagement. Eventually, he’ll roll out premium features, but for now, he says he’s just focused on his initial vision: connecting every student, teacher, and parent in the world to improve education.
“We live in a day where you can click a button and call Uber, or get a pizza delivered in two minutes. But if your kid is failing in school, you might not find out for three months,” Kopf says. “And we want to solve that problem.”