Q&A with Arndt Kwiatkowski, Co-founder and CEO of bettermarks
EdTech Times is pleased to share with readers the Q&A interview we had with Mr. Arndt Kwiatkowski, Co-founder and CEO of bettermarks, a Germany-based edtech company. Bettermarks provides personalized mathematics learning, online – with over 100 interactive books available in multiple languages worldwide, targeting ages 10-16 (primary and secondary levels). Below please find out what Mr. Kwiatkowski has to say about his company, the aspects of education in Germany, and his insights in general.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Arndt Kwiatkowski, Marianne Voigt, Christophe Spéroni
Category: Adaptive Learning, Math
Product stage: Market
LinkedIn company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/bettermarks-gmbh
Company Twitter: @bettermarks
ETT: What market segment is your company in?
AK: Bettermarks provides personalized math learning online. We offer over 100 interactive math books covering the primary and secondary levels (ages 10 – 16) with more than 100,000 exercises available in English, German and Spanish.
ETT: Who are your core customers?
AK: Bettermarks focuses on teachers and students in K-12 schools in both developed and developing countries. Students can learn math on their own initiative and at their own pace. Teachers in developed countries are supported in recognizing and managing different ability levels in the classroom. In developing countries it enables state of the art math instructions even if teachers are not educated in math teaching.
In addition to K-12-education, we’re also conducting successful projects at the college level. Undergraduate students in their first semester often have to catch up on the basics of mathematics. Many difficulties in various engineering studies are based on a lack of basic math knowledge which is caught too late by both students and teachers.
ETT: How did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
AK: Education and health in my view will be the next large markets where the ability of the internet to assemble information for individual needs will create superior solutions.
And based on my own school education and that of my kids, I know that learning math can be frustrating. In math the different components and segments are built on top of each other. Once knowledge gaps have developed and remain undiscovered, this can result in significant difficulties that last throughout school and beyond.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
AK: The concept of bettermarks has been developed in conjunction with teachers and academic support from the fields of Education and Neuroscience. Critical for the development of the service is the blended team approach where teachers, usability designers and software engineers work hand in hand.
Our goal was to create a platform that adapts to each student’s specific and individual abilities and needs. The idea behind learning math with bettermarks is based on ”learning from mistakes”. The interaction tools we have developed are so flexible that students are able to make a very wide variety of mistakes. All user input is analyzed and leads to pedagogically relevant, targeted feedback.
The bettermarks foundation for individualised learning is the completeness of our content. In order to develop a truly deep understanding of mathematics, you have to approach the problems from different perspectives with multifaceted exercises. For example, the US Common Core defines 26 learning standards for the 5th grade. For this grade bettermarks provides exercise series for 280 different learning objectives. This variety of exercises enables students to develop an understanding of even the most complex problems and requires more than just memorizing solution methods.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
AK: A lot of educational programs only offer multiple-choice exercises, putting great limitations on the freedom of the students to experiment and make mistakes. Our unique core is our concept described above: We believe students learn best from their mistakes. Pencil and paper allows unparalleled freedom for making mistakes, but paper doesn’t give feedback. bettermarks offers more than 100 different interaction tools for answering and visualizing math problems, allowing every possible mistake to be made. On the other hand every submitted answer is analyzed precisely – it is not simply checked whether an answer is right or wrong. Bettermarks in many cases identifies the source of errors and immediately provides intelligent feedback based specifically on the student’s input. And students always get a second try, so they can apply the feedback directly, thus reinforcing the learning effect.
Furthermore, bettermarks offers the richest math content available with more than 100,000 interactive exercises, 10,000 exercise types and 1,600 learning objectives.
ETT: Please describe your product development strategy and product stage. What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months? I.e. describe your potential next milestones.
AK: We are currently in the process of integrating our SaaS with established education market partners in several global regions. There will be further local adaptions of bettermarks next year. We are also targeting the development of upper secondary content.
Another important subject for this coming year is the apps. Some language versions are already adapted for tablets, including both iPads and android devices.
ETT: What were the benefits and challenges of starting the company in Germany – be it from a regulatory, financing, or operations perspective?
AK: As a place of work, Germany offers good infrastructure and a well-educated workforce. When it comes to Germany as a marketplace for education technology, it is rather challenging. Each one of Germany’s sixteen federal states has its own laws and regulations for schooling and higher education. Decisions about new teaching materials are not made centrally. Also, IT infrastructure in schools is poor.
ETT: What makes the new markets in countries such as Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, and others so compelling to Bettermarks? Are there any particular hurdles in entering these markets? Also, please share what gives you the competitive edge as a foreign entrant into these markets.
AK: We’re witnessing initiatives outside of the G8 countries which aim to use digitalization to afford children of all social classes better access to education. Let’s look at Uruguay for example: With their government initiative ”Plan Ceibal“, Uruguay became the first country to fully implement the “One-Laptop-per-Child” approach across their public education system. Internet connectivity has been improved significantly throughout the country and a total of 570,000 laptops have already been distributed to students and teachers.
Bettermarks won the tender for the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) math content, co-financed by the IADB, because of our superior product quality and ability to deliver the service at a competitive price.
ETT: Are you considering entering the US/Canadian markets – why or why not?
AK: As a first step for the US market there will be 30 apps, each covering a single math topic aligned to the Common Core State Standards. And of course we’re always interested in finding partners with access to the education market to distribute our adaptive math books there.
You can find our US-based products at http://us.bettermarks.com/. Teachers in the US who would like to test our platform with their students at no cost for an entire school year should contact Anne Smith (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
AK: In 1997 I co-founded ImmobilienScout 24, Germany’s leading internet marketplace for real estate and led the company as its CEO until 2008.
ETT: What is your business or licensing model?
AK: We’re offering different kinds of licenses: School licenses for $10 per student for a school year, class licenses for $20 per student per school year and a private license for $10 per person per month. Besides the licenses there are also apps available, each covering one specific topic aligned to the Common Core. They can be purchased for just $0.99 each.
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?
AK: We have established a “scientific board” where we get advice from academia on neuroscience and math pedagogy. We also have a board of shareholders, bringing a wealth of experience in internet marketing and the education markets.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next few years?
AK: We’re experiencing rapid globalization in education. Platforms for studying and digital learning content will be available for everybody who has an internet connection. The adaptive learning systems will assume a central role, as they enable everyone to study in their own personal way.
We will see specialization building in the segments of the value chain, e.g. adaptive courseware, assessment, LMS. Those specializations will expand globally, based on successful efficacy measurements.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
AK: Build solutions which measurably improve education outcomes, and have a lot of patience and stamina.
EdTech Times thanks Mr. Arndt Kwiatkowski for the privilege to speak with him, and we suggest you learn more about bettermarks 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.