Education tech startups are popping up in classrooms across the country, trying to enable students and teachers to learn using tablets and web/mobile applications. Rather than help students learn, startup remind101 is tackling communication between students, teachers and parents with their text messaging and email service. The company was part of the Imagine K12 education tech accelerator in summer 2011, and since launching in August 2011 the service has amassed over 200,000 users, and teachers have sent millions of messages on the platform.
Remind101 allows teachers to send text messages and email to students and parents in their classes without either party getting access to the phone number. Each teacher is given a unique phone number, and once a teacher adds a class, they receive a unique code. Any student or parent who texts or emails that code will be subscribed to updates, which teachers can send via the website. Teachers can add up to 10 classes per account. Founder Brett Kopf said the reason he chose to base remind101 around SMS and not email is because of the ubiquity of students texting. “Because students text, a lot. It’s that or Facebook. They don’t email very often,” Kopf said in an interview.
Kopf got the idea for remind101 while he was a student at Michigan State – he felt unorganized and overwhelmed by his courseload, and realized that receiving text messages about deadlines and other course info would be an easy way to stay on top of things. He started the company with his brother David – though originally from Chicago, the team of three is now based in San Francisco.
The app is free while in beta, though text messaging rates apply to anyone who opts in on their phone. Kopf said the goal is to keep the tool free for teachers, but he wouldn’t elaborate on what monetization channels they’re looking at, and when they will come into effect. “We have a few ideas but are just focused on growth right now,” he said. Currently the service is only supported in the U.S. and Canada, though they are taking applications for international schools.
While right now remind101 targets individual teachers, the company is also planning to add a solution for administrators and school districts which will give them a snapshot of what teachers are communicating. Kopf said they are pretty focused on their core offering to teachers at the moment. “We’ve built the entire product and experience around them,” Kopf said about their target audience.
While remind101 could be used by teachers at an elementary, high school or post-secondary level, Kopf said most users are in high school. “Students are starting to be a bit more responsible and may not need mom and dad, but mom and dad still want to be involved,” Kopf said. “The aspect of parental engagement is really important.” He said for users in elementary schools, it’s more about teachers communicating with parents. “Most third graders don’t have phones yet.”
With classes increasingly becoming wired, one concern is that computer or tablet-based learning tools are prohibitive to students or schools who don’t own those specific pieces of technology. Kopf said it’s the goal of remind101 to be inclusive, since it only requires students and parents to have a mobile phone or email address. He said they focus more on safety, since students don’t have access to teachers’ phone numbers and vice versa. “I do think there is a lot of opportunity to use mobile devices as most all students have them and it’s cheap,” he said. “Is the goal of remind101 to be extremely inclusive? Sort of. Safe may be a better word.”
The company is currently working on mobile apps, and is in the process of raising a round of funding (they currently have funding through Imagine K12). While Kopf started the company in 2009, the service didn’t launch until August 2011. Kopf said that they “struggled for a while and learned a lot.” He said their plans for the rest of 2012 are to “grow, build out the product to different platforms and continue to work closely with teachers to ensure we are solving their problems.” “We’re hyper focused on safety and efficiency,” he said.
SMS services for businesses and organizations aren’t anything new – other players in the space include Seconds, and new tool SendHub, which debuted at Y Combinator demo day and was originally designed for teachers. While remind101’s tool is specifically designed for educators, they’ll have to fend off competitors while also making sure they can expand their offerings internationally while also finding a way to make money.