StudyBlue has created a crowd-sourced ‘digital backpack’ that empowers students to study more effectively and conveniently
A Q&A with StudyBlue CEO Becky Splitt. The Madison, Wisconsin–based company was founded in 2009 and raised $9 million in Series A-1 funding in early January. Investors include Great Oaks Venture Capital and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
SUB: Please describe StudyBlue and your value proposition.
Splitt: StudyBlue is a mobile and social study platform that allows students to easily create, organize, collect, store and share study materials in ‘a digital backpack.’ Our crowd-sourced study materials include review sheets, flashcards and quizzing tools. Search results can be customized by school, classmates and study groups.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Splitt: Our target markets are students. Most of our users are higher ed students, but we also target middle school through med school. Additionally, we target teachers, who look to give their classrooms a higher level of learning and retention. They offer us as an easy way to encourage their students to engage with the material outside of class. Lastly, we target parents, who share their children’s educational goals and often, the financial responsibility.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Splitt: Our primary competition today is the status quo—pen and paper.
SUB: What differentiates StudyBlue from the competition?
Splitt: Pen and paper doesn’t leverage all of the capabilities now possible via the web, mobile and social. There are a number of companies that deliver a piece of what we do, such as Benchprep for third party authored premium content, Quizlet for flashcards, ebook providers for textbook-based quizzes and flashcards, or even Wikipedia for crowd-sourced information, but they are not offering students the total package. StudyBlue offers all of these and more. We are the only platform that dynamically connects students to each other and their shared content in the process. StudyBlue was the first, and is the leading, mobile and social platform. Grockit recently decided to pivot into our space as they realized crowd-sourced content was a key feature.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Splitt: StudyBlue was incorporated in January, 2009. Founder Chris Klundt began working on an online study group platform, called The Class Connection, and introduced the prototype to University of Wisconsin students in 2007. The current platform was launched in September 2010.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for StudyBlue? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Splitt: Founder Chris Klundt had recently graduated with top honors at UW-Madison, where he was frustrated with the inability of students to use the school’s LMS [learning management system] to connect with each other online and form study groups. He developed and introduced a prototype of an online study group platform.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Splitt: The company originally started out as The Class Connection, but they realized the name couldn’t be incorporated and it was way too long. They had a brainstorm session with lots of name ideas. They ran the ideas past family and friends. StudyBlue was the name that felt right and stuck with everyone they asked.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Splitt: Resource constraint.
SUB: You recently raised $9 million in Series A-1 funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Splitt: We’ve been heads-down focused on building the best mobile study tools for students. We will continue to invest our time in expanding mobile functionality and scaling our team, operations and support services to keep up with accelerating growth. We also plan to create rich updates in the user interface and think globally to increase our 15 percent international user base by making updates that allow for greater awareness and inclusion for students across the map.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise more funding?
Splitt: It was a good time for StudyBlue because our business had hit some really great proof points that made investors very interested. We had just passed 2.5 million registered users and 100 million study materials. It is also a good time for companies in the edtech space in general. Government resources are being cut, schools are looking at other ways to help students learn and they are turning to the edtech space. The great excitement around the MOOCs [massive open online course] is example of that.
Our main investors, Great Oaks and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation [WARF], bring great experience and were highly recommended by close friends of StudyBlue. Great Oaks has experience in edtech, bringing a large ecosystem of startups in the consumer, mobile, and Internet space. The managing partner immediately got and understood StudyBlue and shares our vision for the business. WARF is a private, nonprofit organization, and WARF accomplishes its mission of supporting scientific research by patenting and licensing inventions arising from university discoveries. Since making its first grant of $1,200 in 1928, WARF has contributed more than $1 billion to UW–Madison through annual ‘margin of excellence’ grants and other funding.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Splitt: StudyBlue offers a freemium model, with premium subscription and ad revenue. All core functionality is available for free. Those who want advanced functionality, such as our advanced equation editor or advanced search filters, would like offline mode, or wish to remove ads, pay a subscription fee.
Over time StudyBlue will test opportunities for students to learn about offers from third parties that interest them. We believe we will be the most effective way for companies to reach our demographic when they are most interested. Think: companies who recruit on college campuses, graduate admissions offices, study abroad programs, providers of test prep material, etc.
SUB: What are your goals for StudyBlue over the next year or so?
Splitt: We will be aggressively expanding mobile functionality and scaling our team, operations and support services.
StudyBlue – www.studyblue.com