Q&A With Justin Chando, CEO of Chalkup
EdTech Times spoke with Justin Chando, CEO of Chalkup, an edtech startup developing a class collaboration platform to enable teachers and students work and learn together in collaborative manner. Please below read what Mr. Chando has to say.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Justin Chando and Tim Costa
Category: Education Technology
Product stage: Market
LinkedIn company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/chalkup-llc
Company Twitter: @chalkupedu
Founder Twitter: @justinchando
ETT: What is the market segment your company is in?
While you might have historically called programs like Chalkup a learning management system, we’re really interested in changing that. We think of ourselves as a class collaboration platform.
Education technology is finally catching up to the modern classroom and student, and we have an opportunity to get in there and really connect everyone. Allow them to work together. Provide tools for schools and students to stay organized. That’s a very cool thing to be part of.
ETT: Who are your core customers and how did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
Our core customers are data-driven schools that value staying connected and using technology to spark collaboration between students. We’re working with teachers and administrators who know the conversation doesn’t stop when a class is dismissed.
Chalkup was actually created in a dorm room when I was in college. My friends and I were dissatisfied with the LMS our college was using because it was such a cumbersome process. The platform wasn’t optimized for working together, and that’s what we felt like we needed. So we created Chalkup to close that gap and actually help students work together and connect with their teachers.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
Chalkup has been a few years in the making. We created a team in undergrad and piloted an early version of the platform that accounted for the features we dreamed about having and felt were missing in the learning management system we were using.
Getting the product in front of students and teachers right away was paramount to making the system we wanted to make. Feedback from the people who were going to use the product allowed us to build something that made learning more collaborative. Truly – it was the only way we were going to make an LMS classes actually wanted to use.
Since then, it’s still been about talking to students and teachers and figuring out what’s going to make their day better, more efficient, and more awesome. Those conversations have led to some of our favorite features, like our “Look Ahead” that calculates how many hours of work a student has on their to-do list, or our seamless integration with Google Apps for Education.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
Above all else, Chalkup is built for collaboration, not to “manage learning.” That’s something really special about our product, and I’d love to see other companies start thinking about learning tools through that lens.
There is so much in the pipeline for Chalkup. We’re very excited to take our mission of connecting classrooms and engineering collaborative experiences for students a step further with new and exciting integrations with Chalkup. In the future, you’ll also see us distance ourselves from other LMSes in the name of reducing the friction of working together.
ETT: Please describe your product development strategy and product stage. What we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones?
Our development strategy has so much to do with the conversations we have with our customers every day. We really do want to give them the tools they need to do new and exciting things in their classroom.
In the next year this is going to mean expanded mobile features, new product integrations, and stronger school-wide messaging capabilities. These are the tools students and teachers have requested so they can stay connected, so that’s what exactly what we’re going to do. First on the list is our expanded iOS and Android apps, coming this spring. We really can’t wait for the release.
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?
It’s a great question. We view ourselves as disruptors through and through. As long as we feel like the market is dominated by products that forego user experience, collaboration, and innovation in favor of management tools – which are unfortunately used as a glorified digital assignment machines in most schools – we’re going to be working to crush that application of technology in favor of something that gets peers working together.
When we see more tools that are actually doing that (really doing it, too) I think we’ll be more likely to become a more mature company in that mix. Or take on another big challenge we’ve identified in classrooms. I’m not sure. We really do want to make things better for teachers and students. That’s going to guide where we go.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
My role has always been the starter, I think. I like to bring people together and make things happen. I started my first company when I was 12. I used the profits from that experience to create another business when I was 16. I love the grind, I love the work.
I learned from these early entrepreneurial ventures, so I felt ready to make Chalkup happen. I also felt like I had an extra edge being fresh out of the classroom and building something to make that experience better. With Chalkup, we really got the right team in place and found great advisors to help along the way.
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?
Plenty of people have helped, and I’m so thankful for all of them. One person who has been a big influencer for us and our future is James Keningsberg, who’s the CTO at 2U, Inc. He’s built learning platforms before and knows so much about the market. We’re very lucky to have him as an advisor.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next few years?
Well, I’ve probably already said quite a lot about the future of learning management versus class collaboration. So I’ll ease up on that a bit. A big thing with the technology market is not just about schools going 1:1 and getting devices in the hands of students, but how we react to that and shift classroom culture.
We talk a lot at Chalkup about the need for classrooms to change lesson plans and teaching practices when new technology is thrown into the mix, because we can’t expect to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing. It’s really an opportunity to do more. To share resources and develop problem-solving or team-building skills. To teach good digital citizenship.
I ultimately think edtech will soon allow us to know more about how individual students learn best so we can create customizable experiences for them. But this must happen alongside changes in class culture to have the largest impact.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
Listen to the people you serve. Learn from them and solve for them. Get the product in their hands as soon as possible and hear about what they’re doing with it in the classroom. Always ask what could improve their experience and allow them to obtain new learning objectives.
EdTech Times is grateful to Justin for the time to speak with us, and we suggest you learn more about Chalkup 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.