A Q&A with Tabtor founder and CEO Raj Valli. The Kendall Park, New Jersey-based startup, which offers a personalized learning solution for both individual students and school classrooms, launched to the public late last month. It was founded in 2010.
SUB: Please describe Tabtor and your primary innovation.
Valli: Tabtor is a personalized learning platform for students and teachers. We are all about personalization at the ‘point of learning.’ In everything we learn in life, whether to drive a car or learn to play the piano, a teacher is always there to observe and guide us at the point of learning—the moment when we are behind the wheel of a car or pressing on the keyboard of a piano. Unfortunately, it has been impossible for teachers to do this simple observation in K-12 education because of sheer numbers. Tabtor, with our patent pending digital-paper technology, has been able to unravel this ‘black-box’ in learning, for the first time ever. Our platform allows instructors to see everything that a student does at the point of learning, thus giving them insights to personalize instruction. In addition, our gaming aspect has allowed us to create engagement among students, making them truly enjoy their learning experience, which significantly enhances their performance outcomes.
In summary, student performance levels are through the roof because they are having fun while learning—imagine just kicking around a ball in soccer without a score board—and have provided significant capacity expansion for teachers by upgrading their tool kit from 18th century tools to new age technology.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Valli: Our primary market is direct to consumers, where we offer supplementary math learning programs that replace traditional tutoring services. Students and parents are end users in the consumer market. Our platform product is targeted towards private and public schools, where teachers and students use them. We are seeing tremendous and rapid adoption in both segments.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Valli: In the consumer space, all traditional tutoring providers are our de-facto competitors. Unfortunately, personalized tutoring comes at a very high price point. We often get compared to IXL and Kumon, who only offer drill-based math learning without much ability to personalize, and we are also compared to Sylvan, who only provides personalization without the ability to provide insights.
In the school space, there are a few players who operate in the borders of what we do, but no one directly offers a personalized workflow solution that allows teachers and students to interact on a learning platform. Knewton is one example.
SUB: What differentiates Tabtor from the competition?
Valli: Tabtor is the only product that allows the ability for a teacher to see everything that happens at the point of learning. Our education system is flawed, where only right or wrong answers are evaluated to assess a student’s performance. We are able to provide personalization to every student using a combination of man and machine. We use technology to enable teachers to become very effective in teaching and students become engaged in learning through the gaming aspect. Our competitors either put a teacher in front of a student without insights, or think that machine learning alone will be able to personalize without the intellect of a teacher to personalize. We offer technology to teachers and students in an efficient, affordable and engaging way.
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Valli: The company was founded in 2010. The first step was to assemble a motivated team and understand our target markets. This took a while, since the space was very big, but we were able to finally land where we did based on sheer passion for what we saw was sorely lacking out there.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Tabtor? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Valli: I have always been passionate about education, and have been in the space as a participant and a volunteer trying to provide access to education for underprivileged children. When my daughters went through some learning programs, I noticed that there was something fundamentally lacking in their experience. When I married that observation to my experience in not being able to get high quality teachers to go to rural areas to teach, there was a big problem that presented itself: How can teachers ‘see’ what students do, even when they are not next to them? There are a lot of synchronous solutions but no asynchronous solutions, which was critical. When I looked at the population growth—we will have a billion more people in the planet by 2025, all students—and the lack of comparable growth in qualified teachers—when was the last time someone you know ‘wanted’ to become a teacher—it was a problem that desperately needed a solution. So, no singular ‘aha’ moment, but a gradual reckoning of a problem of gigantic proportions that needed a solution soon.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Valli: Tabtor is a combination of ‘Tablet’ and ‘Tutor.’ Our primary focus is on iPads and tablet devices because it is a medium that can replace a notebook for any student. This was our mission—to create a platform where students could write and show their work on digital paper on tablets, and teachers could review and grade them—all without leaving the device. This was the ultimate definition of learn anytime-anywhere philosophy.
SUB: You launched to the public in late July. Why was this a particularly good time to launch?
Valli: Yes. We have been in the market for over six months and were at a point where we could go global. We were ready for the back-to-school market and wanted our customers—parents, teachers, and students to know that they now had access to our platforms and programs.
SUB: Have your raised outside funding to this point?
Valli: Yes. We closed $1 million in series Seed round funding with a combination of strategic and marquee investors in the first quarter this year. Response has been terrific.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Valli: There have been many. Some are systematic to startups like lack of resources and having enough hours in a day to complete code, get the foundation developed, finding the right people and getting them motivated, and of course funding. Some have been very specific to the education ecosystem. Even though consumers adopt technology quickly, anything related to education gets a higher level of scrutiny, as it is not just an impulsive or emotion-driven purchase. Parents want to know that the educational product works and take that decision more seriously. Penetrating into schools is also a high level barrier as schools seldom adopt anything new at a quick pace. Schools follow consumer adoptions in reality, hence our initial focus on the consumer space.
Our referral process among consumers and pilots with schools has been a terrific door opener. Plus, nothing speaks better than actual results on student performance improvement that we have been able to show.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Valli: In the consumer space, we have a monthly subscription plan at $49.99 per month, per student. In the school space, we license our platform on an annual per-student basis. Pricing varies based on several parameters for the schools. We are revenue-positive today and have been clocking significant growth, especially in the last few months as we have ramped up our outreach activities.
SUB: What are your goals for Tabtor over the next year or so?
Valli: Grow significantly in the consumer space in both the U.S. and India, where we already have significant traction. In addition, get a robust distribution plan in place to reach out to all private and public schools in the U.S. Our vision is to become the world’s largest EdTech company, and we will be focused on building a very strong foundation to achieve this.
Tabtor – www.tabtor.com