Q&A With Ahan Malhotra – A High School Entrepreneur, Founder of Vocabulist
In our departure from the usual founder profiles, this time EdTech Times spoke with Ahan Malhotra, a high school student and entrepreneur, founder of Vocabulist. Vocabulist enables students to automatically create their vocabulary lists, going away from manual copying and pasting (or writing manually). Read on what this precocious entrepreneur has to share with us:
Company at Glance:
Founders: Ahan Malhotra
Product stage: Beta
Company Twitter: @vocabulist_app
Founder Twitter: @ahan_tm
ETT: What is the market segment your company is in?
AM: Our focus is specifically the K-12 market.
ETT: Who are your core customers?
AM: Our primary customers are students looking to save time studying vocabulary. It can also be a great tool for teachers to better prepare definitions for their class.
ETT: How did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
AM: While sitting in my school library, filling out vocabulary for my American Literature class, the idea popped into my head. I felt that the mindless copying of each definition was of no use, especially if I was going to have to study it later. A quicker solution was needed. After receiving much positive feedback from friends and classmates, I decided to begin the process of developing the application.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
AM: It was a little challenging to create a full web based application. Using my knowledge of software development, it was not hard to write the code, but a major challenge was defining the source of definitions. It soon became evident that a well-recognized definition source would be invaluable. Merriam-Webster immediately came to mind, as they are one of the leading dictionary publishers in the world.
Since a majority of users are minors, protecting user information was critical. By using a secure, cloud-computing service, we are able to overcome this challenge.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
AM: One clear advantage of Vocabulist is that it sources the definitions from Merriam-Webster, a leading dictionary. Vocabulist also allows users to upload full documents and automatically detects the words in the uploaded document.
ETT: How being a high school student makes your startup different? What are the benefits and challenges of being a high school student entrepreneur? Are expectations higher or lower because of that?
AM: Being a high school student makes the startup different because I personally know what students want to see in educational technology. A major challenge is finding the time in the day to work on Vocabulist. Personally, I feel that expectations are lower for students because everyone realizes that funding and development resources are limited.
ETT: Would you say that being a high school student opens up opportunities for your startup or not? Is it harder to open the doors being a high school entrepreneur? Or easier?
AM: Definitely harder. Getting the word out for a product, limited resources, and shortage of time makes a student startup more challenging. However, having access to a technology administrator in school can open up opportunities. My school’s Director of Educational Technology, Jennifer Carey (@TeacherJenCarey), was very helpful and able to provide direction and industry connections.
ETT: What are your college plans?
AM: I hope to study engineering in the future, with a focus on software engineering and business. I see myself attending a tech school.
ETT: What we should expect to see from you and Vocabulist in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones?
AM: We are currently working on a mobile application of Vocabulist and expanding into other languages.
ETT: What do you think about the direction education technology market going in the next few years?
AM: Education technology is lacking towards students. Students are rarely brought into the conversation of what they would like to see. There is a lot of room to develop applications that make daily studying easier.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market, especially those still in high school?
AM: As a high school student, your time and resources are limited but you have access to teachers and fellow students to test out your ideas. Take advantage of all the feedback and mentoring from friends and teachers. Remember that once the product is launched, it requires daily fixes and maintenance so it is never quite fully done.
We at EdTech Times thank Ahan for his time and we suggest you check out his creation 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.