I recently sat down with Andrew Cohen, CEO and Founder of Brainscape. This is a summary of our conversation, which highlights Andrew’s background, vision, and his company. Answers to these questions are summarized responses.
How would you describe your original vision for Brainscape?
In 2011, I started Brainscape with the ambitious vision to help people study faster and more efficiently than ever before. Often, you’ll see founders’ vision change over time for a variety of reasons such as attempting to find better product-market fit or because his/her original idea simply wasn’t a great business idea. But I’ve remained steadfast in my original vision to alter the learning space for the better.
What is your background? How did you come up with the idea for Brainscape?
In 2006, I originally created my own prototype to study foreign languages while abroad. By 2011, after working as an eLearning consultant for a few years, I decided to take the plunge into the startup world and focus on building my vision full-time. At this point in my life, I had gained valuable working experience in the education space that, of course, directly applied to Brainscape.
How many people are on your team? How have you handled expansion?
It originally started with just me. After gaining initial traction and funding, I began to make 1-2 hires per year. Today, we have a total of 8 employees: four engineers and four operations/bizdev.
How did you find your first hire? What kind of position were you looking for?
Looking back, I wish I had spent more time looking for technical hires. Instead, I chose to focus more on finding education leaders who could help me with business and product development. When I realized I needed a full-time CTO, I decided to hire Jeff Holiday by doing an acqui-hire of his flashcard start-up (which was just him at the time). I think if I chose to start with a technical co-founder, the overall process would’ve run much more smoothly.
How did you meet Brad and Scout Ventures?
I actually met Brad at a party, funny enough. As you know, Brad is a sociable guy, and we just hit it off when we met. After a while, we started to discuss Brainscape and it went from there. He really bought into my vision and wanted to dig deeper in the ed-tech space. With his experience in business development and scaling startups, it became a natural fit for Scout to become an investor.
How would you describe your initial fundraising process? What do you wish you knew back then that you know now?
I touched a little bit on this before, but again, I wish I started with a technical co-founder, or at least knew how to write code myself. Originally, I figured that I could outsource building the initial product since it was cheaper to do so. But I quickly realized that outsourcing development takes much longer than building in-house because outsourced developers simply aren’t as committed to the cause as you’d like. So in the end, it costs about the same to develop in-house. I also wish I started with more of a lean-startup approach where I could have put out a minimal viable product and iterated upon that. Instead, I think I took too long developing the initial product.
Who is your customer and how do you go after them?
Our main customers are high school and college students that are trying to study more efficiently. We typically acquire new users through social and organic means such as word of mouth. We get pretty good, unsolicited, media coverage as well, such as being named one of Time’s must have back to school apps (Link Here). One of the main challenges we have is keeping churn relatively low. To combat this, we are consistently iterating on our user experience and developing new initiatives (which are in our development pipeline).
What is your revenue model?
We currently sell individual premium products and lessons. They are developed through partnerships we have with experts in their fields. Long-term, we want to develop a premium subscription model to focus on recurring revenue.
What are you current thoughts on the ed-tech sector?
I think the future really lies in adaptive learning. In my opinion, that combined with advances in cognitive science leads to a future where learning as we know it can be completely altered and developed more efficiently. More specifically, as companies develop faster iteration cycles through direct feedback mechanisms, knowledge will be acquired faster and cheaper than ever before.
This post was originally published here by Corey Miller, Analyst at Scout Ventures.