Q&A With Raj Valli, Founder Of Tabtor
EdTech Times was honored to speak with Raj Valli, founder of Tabtor, a company that develops personalized math help and assignments platform and tools for iPad ecosystem, with plans to expand to other devices in near term. Please read below what Mr. Valli has to share with us.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Raj Valli
Category: Education Technology
Product stage: Market
LinkedIn company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/prazas-coaxis-services-inc
Company twitter: @Tabtor
Founder twitter: @Tabtor
ETT: How would you define the market segment your company is in? Who are your core customers?
RV: We are focused in the K-12 segment. Our customers are consumers and schools. We make learning incredibly efficient and enjoyable for students with our tablet focused product. Consumers can choose a monthly subscription program for our customized tutoring program for their kids in K-8 grades. Schools use our product as a yearly license either at the student, classroom or school level depending on their needs.
ETT: How did you identify the problem you’re addressing? What was your process in identifying it?
RV: I have three daughters – one in high school, another in middle school and my youngest one in elementary school. I have always been very interested in making the learning process efficient from my own younger days and felt that the world around me somehow never understood a student’s perspective very well. When my own kids were enrolled in supplemental after-school learning programs, I noticed that nothing had changed in the way the learning experience was being delivered. Students still went to a learning center, teachers seldom noticed all of the work they did at home and were completely disconnected about the kids experience when they were actually solving problems. I found this to be a bizarre process very unique to the education segment. In all learning that we do in life, whether we are learning to drive a car, become a bank teller, become a surgeon or learn anything, learning has always been personalized. Someone was always next to you observing how you do something – drive a car, perform surgery, solve a math problem – after they showed you how to do it. They would then give you feedback – this is how you stop the car, this is how you hold the scalpel, this is how you solve the problem – etc. How come no one actually observes every kid solve math problems (or anything else) when they are actually solving them? How can someone give feedback on problem solving if they did not understand what the student was struggling with when they were trying to solve a math problem? The reality is that this is very expensive and hence never done!!! Teachers simply do not have the tools they need to observe every student and their work all the time.
ETT: And what was the process of arriving at the solution to this particular problem?
RV: Well – the solution was not there to begin with. I thought that someone must have cracked this problem and all I would need to do is license an existing technology. I did a lot of research on this problem of how I can reproduce a student’s work for a teacher without the clunky methods of video recording their work and showing it to teachers or using video conferencing technologies to put teachers in touch with students whenever they were solving problems. I went through 9 months evaluating and going crazy with all kinds of technologies that showed semblance of promises – like digital pens, digitized paper, camera pens and others. Then it dawned on me that most technologies that were available never really solved the core problem I wanted to solve – enabling a teacher to know what a student did without having the need to keep watching the student’s work in real time. Then it finally hit me – like a ton of bricks when I had this “aha” moment of treating a paper like layers of onion peels… and Tabtor was born! Every scribble and every activity on a paper can be stored in different layers along with a millisecond time stamp of the activity. We created technology that married a digital paper with a GPS (used in cars) like capability to analyze every key stroke and pen stroke – to the point where we can literally replay the student’s work – on demand, anytime, well after the student has completed the work. This gives enormous intelligence to a teacher. They can now quickly understand where a student is struggling, why they are struggling and what kind of intervention will really help. This is a major achievement and has had a transformative impact with every student and teacher who has been on Tabtor.
ETT: What makes your solution different from the competitors’ – what it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors?
RV: Let me ask you a question. If you were to take a math test with 10 questions and answered 8 of them correctly and 2 incorrectly. Every single technology out there will essentially assume that you are 80% super brilliant and 20% super dumb! This is because all education technology solutions focus on making the technology part easier. They do this by offering questions with multiple choice answers which are easy to grade. We call this End-Point Analysis because it relies only on answers being either right or wrong, but never focuses on why someone got an answer wrong or why they took too long to get an answer right. In our view both of these cases needs attention. Now, you tell me – are you really 80% super brilliant and 20% super dumb because you got 8 out of 10 questions correct? This is insanity in my view. This is where we are completely different. We focus on thousands of points that happen when you are actually solving a problem and arrive at a solution. Did you hesitate when you went from step 1 to step 2. Did you think too long between steps? Did you use the eraser too many times? What did you actually write before you used the eraser? These give us visibility into the journey of learning. It gives us insights about intent, about why a student made that mistake, about why several students missed answering a problem correctly. I can go on, but you get the gist of the power of our solution. No one till date has cracked this problem the way we have. We are the first learning focused company that puts the student at the center of our universe. In our universe every student is full of potential that we can help learn. And guess what, the program has been shown to work – with auditable outcomes in schools as well as among our consumers.
ETT: Please tell more about your product stage and what we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones.
RV: We are growing fast. Our product originally came out on iPads and now we have an Android version ready to roll out in the next 2 months. We are having significant progress in our consumer offerings. We will be expanding our program to support students in grades 7 and 8 starting this Fall. We are also growing internationally.
ETT: Are you a disruptor, and why so? Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in near foreseeable future or become a more mature company? Why is that so?
RV: We certainly are a disruptor, but not in the way you traditionally think. Disruptors typically change behavior for disruption to take place. We are not about changing behaviors, but more about making the behaviors we have now lead to more efficient outcomes that improve learning effectiveness. We are a disruptor because we have disrupted the traditional notion of how learning should happen and where we need to focus to understand learning challenges. We are a thought leader in the learning space. Our DNA is driven by innovation and our innovation is led by a compulsive desire to make difficult things simple. Once we make something simple – it seems obvious afterwards. People have the “why did I not think of this earlier” kind of moment. We love it – because it means we have done our job! I do not think that we will stop being innovative – ever. If maturity is synonymous with lack of desire to pursue innovation, we will never become a mature company. If maturity is in the sense of well established and profitable and well run company – we will of course become a mature company!
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
RV: I have always been an entrepreneur in all of my earlier jobs. This is my first real start-up. Prior to founding Tabtor, I was Chief of Marketing for a $4B NYSE listed company in the automotive space. Prior to that I have been many different functional roles in many different industries – across Aerospace, Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Software to Industrial controls. I have also spent 17+ years volunteering my time with a non-profit focused in helping under-privileged children get access to basic good quality education. In all of these roles, I was always the outsider looking in – for solutions, for ways of making things more efficient and having a beginners mind for everything. This has helped me enormously in thinking about things and looking for solutions to basic issues.
ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you through the startup stages of the company? Who is that mentor?
RV: Yes. Jim Connor of Sand Hills Angels has been an incredible supporter of me and my partners from a very early stage. Not only is he very passionate about education, he also is extremely savvy about how start-ups work, how you raise financing, how you think of building great products and best of all – how you make things work well.
ETT: Where do you see the education technology market going in the next few years?
RV: Going through massive transformation. Advent of tablets has made things more accessible and affordable for a lot of people for whom the tablet has become the first computing device they touch in their lives. We are barely scratching the surface of what appears to be an incredibly exciting period for the next 15-20 years.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
RV: Have patience, lots of them. Also have thick skin, because educators are not the ones to hold back feedback 🙂 More importantly, get in because you have the passion for it, not because you will make money. This is true for any start-up in any field, but particularly in education, because the challenges are much larger, the emotions much stronger among users – parents, teachers and students, and habits are very difficult to change. Also – please do not come up with another tool that makes something easier to report – like a better gradebook. It’s not worth it and there are thousands of solutions out there. Make something that will make the process of learning easier and better, more efficient and effective, and better yet – auditable and repeatable. We have way more students than teachers – so efficient and effective learning solutions are very much the need of the hour. There are a billion students out there to have an impact on!
EdTech Times thanks Mr. Valli for his generosity with his time, and we recommend you check out Tabtor at:
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.