Q&A With Tom Hatton, Co-Founder of RefME

EdTech Times spoke with Tom Hatton, Co-Founder of RefME, the first tool to accurately automate citations. Students can scan a book barcode directly from their smartphones, or add references with one click. RefME then automatically generates citations and bibliographies, correctly formatting them in any of 7,000 different styles. All work is synced to the cloud, so students can access, collaborate, and add to their projects anywhere, on any device.


Company at a Glance: 

RefME Co-Founder Tom Hatton

RefME Co-Founder Tom Hatton

Company Website: https://www.refme.com/i/

Founders: Tom Hatton, Ian Forshew, Tom Gardiner 

Founded: October 2014

Company category: Education Technology

Product stage: Market

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/refme

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/referenceme

Company Twitter: @getrefme

Tom Hatton Twitter: @tomrefme

EdTech Times: What is the market segment your company is in?

We are in the k–12 to postgraduate research sector. We help students create, edit and manage their citations by accurately automating them.

ETT: Who are your core customers and how did you come across the problem you’re addressing? How did you define it, and what was your process in identifying it?

I founded RefME out of my frustration at university with tools that were supposed to support me in my studies. I found that they either had a huge learning curve and weren’t automated, or they attempted to automate citations but weren’t accurate and so I would just lose marks for inaccurately citing. We’ve realized that all students want are accurate, automated citations—that’s it!

ETT: How did you develop a solution to this particular problem, and what was your process of arriving at it?

We’ve spent the last year working with students, educators and librarians, understanding what it is that they don’t like or trust about existing tools. We ended up building an app that scans book or journal barcodes that syncs with the RefME.com web platform and makes everything citable, in over 7,500 styles in a click. 

ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?

Nobody has focused on automation and accuracy like we have. Our data shows that and it shows how much ahead of our competitors we are. We’ve come to learn how unhappy the market is with our competitors’ solutions, since they are expensive, clunky and unreliable. We’ve also added a large data aspect to our business that I look forward to talking about in the future. Simply put, I think it will change search.

ETT: Please describe your product development strategy and product stage. What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months? Describe your potential next milestones.

Lots of exciting things. I’d hate to ruin the surprise but we’ve got a really strong product team and I am so excited about the tools we’ve been building and testing on our market. We’ve recently launched a beta program and the feedback has been incredible. We will also be releasing some great updates to our product over the next three months that I think will surprise our users. 

ETT: Are you a disruptor, and why so? Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in the near foreseeable future, or become a more mature company? Why is that so?

We are certainly a disruptor and I think that will become evident over the next couple of years and in particular with the open access movement. 

ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?

This is my first startup but I am surrounded by ex-founders and early stage employees of businesses that grew to be global brands. I did however invent the pizza drone delivery about 4 years ago!

ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you throughout the startup stages of the company? Who is that mentor?

Something that is great about being based in London (although we are in the process of opening up offices in the U.S. as we speak) is the tech space is still quite concentrated, and there is a real collaborative community feel to it. I’ve always been able to reach out and speak to some of the best founders out there and get great advice. 

ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?

It will go exclusively digital in the developing countries whilst we fight over the textbook industry in the developed world, but ultimately, it is about to be turned on its head. Students can scan calculations and be provided with solutions—so why learn math? We need to adapt to this and make learning relevant again. 

ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?

Ignore the red tape that it comes with. Education should be about choice and your product will have customers if you find them and offer what they need.