A Multimedia Timeline for Education: Interview with Jonathan and Thomas Ketchell, Sutori
Originally created as a timeline tool to plot out historical events, Sutori has developed as a storytelling tool for all educational subjects. Through their social media timeline tool, students, educators, and just about anyone can tell their story in an interactive, multimedia format.
To learn more about Sutori and what they do, we interviewed to of the company’s founders: brothers Thomas and Jonathan Ketchell.
Play the podcast episode above, or download it on iTunes to learn more.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:04] Hello this is Hannah Nyren at EdTech Times. And today I am speaking with…
Thomas Ketchell: [00:00:08] Thomas Ketchel.
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:00:09] And Jonathan Ketchel.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:00:11] We are the cofounders of Sutori.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:13] Tell me a little bit about the background story of SUTORI and how it all evolved to where you are today.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:00:18] Sure. So we actually started out as a tech company called history without the vowels. H-S-T-R-Y. And our original mission was to help engage social studies teachers and their students. But what we quickly realized was that more and more kids started using our tool and started going outside of the social studies space. So we had math teachers use it, science teachers, English teachers, and that’s when we decided to rebrand to Sutori [dot] com. So it’s the place to tell and share stories online.
Hannah Nyren: [00:00:50] So is it still primarily educational, or are you branching out into the non-educational space as well.
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:00:56] We’re still primarily educational, but we clearly see their use outside of the classroom — be it a business, or even a casual consumer who wants to share his photos from his holidays or whatever. So really we actually are branching out slowly. The core of our users remain educational.
Hannah Nyren: [00:01:11] Cool. So where did you come up with the initial idea to create this history timeline.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:01:16] So I was living in Beijing China at the time. And I was doing a lot of work with environmental agencies such as Greenpeace, out there. And one of the creative campaigns that we came up with was me and my business partner Steven Chu, was to recreate the London Great Smog of 1952 and compare it to Beijing’s air pollution today. And so you know over six years ago in London 12,000 people died in the space of five days in London. And not many people know about that event. So what we decided to do was create a fictional character who had a smartphone, had Twitter, and started tweeting as if he was reliving that event. And that was really the impetus for HSTRY was this… bringing historical events to life using social media, and getting people to discuss an event. So that really kicked off this idea of building a platform for social studies teachers. And from there, yeah, it just grew and exploded, and people kept creating stories and sharing them like we did with the Great Smog of London.
Hannah Nyren: [00:02:17] That’s really cool. And at what point did you discover that you could use it for other subjects?
Hannah Nyren: [00:02:22] To be honest when we left China. We weren’t going to do a history startup in China. So we actually went back to — we went to Europe and Belgium where we grew up. And from there, we started getting teachers and speaking to them and doing tons of different interviews. And we quickly realized that there was not really any technology built for them. And so we took this premise of this kind of timeline tool which is in a vertical format where students and teachers can build anything. And at first, it was mainly just history teachers building very historical timelines. But then we realized that a student would then start using it for a biography of a famous person or they’d do an essay using a tool. And that’s at that moment that we realized actually what we’ve built has got far greater reach than just social studies.
Hannah Nyren: [00:03:05] It’s unusual that I interview a company that has founders who are related to each other — and brothers. What different roles do the two of you play in the company, and how does that work?
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:03:17] Well I am — actually I used to be a teacher. So I was the one who really brought the educational mindset to the team. And so Thomas is like the still the CEO like the general kind of boss despite him being my younger brother. But it’s actually good because working with your brother — or even like our other co-founder Yoran, because we were very close — we were just completely honest to each other. And we just get on with things. And it’s quite a healthy relationship, I find.
Hannah Nyren: [00:03:42] That’s good. That’s good that you can function, not everyone can. How do you like working with your brother?
Thomas Ketchell: [00:03:47] Yeah kind of echoing Johnson’s feedback on that. It’s very healthy. There’s a certain element of trust, which, you know, we have. And you know, our co-founder Yuron, you know, I’ve known him for over 15 years. We went to high school together. So it’s great to have a founding team that really get along and the people that joined the team — it’s quite difficult at first because such a close knit group. But that’s why we’re really excited about people joining the team, and, you know, sort of having the same mindset as us as well.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:04:13] Are you all based in the same area these days or are you across the globe?
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:04:17] Three of us are now in Boston. There’s two of our designers back in Belgium. We also got someone who is working part time in development in London. But yeah, ideally, we will be together in one place and we hope one day we can do that.
Hannah Nyren: [00:04:30] I know that you’ve evolved a lot over the years. What year did you start.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:04:35] So we started in 2014, officially. But we had the idea in about 2013.
Hannah Nyren: [00:04:40] So it’s evolved a lot since 2013. It’s almost completely different than when you originally planned. Well, not almost completely different, but it’s not just history anymore. Where do you see the tool going in the future?
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:04:53] That’s a good question. I see us becoming the number one. What I would like for us to become the number one storytelling tool in the classroom and outside the classroom. I just love people to just share their stories, no matter what they’re writing about or creating. Pretty ambitious. But yeah, that’s what we set out to do.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:05:09] Yeah and from our perspective it’s really been you know when you start off with this idea of reliving historical events and then you realize that BBC dot com started using your tool. That’s when you kind of realize the impact that that kind of technology can have. And so the goal is to get millions of people creating and sharing stories. You know, currently we’ve just passed 425 thousand. But now, yeah we keep seeing bigger and bigger now. So hopefully we’ll get millions of storytellers soon.
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:05:37] And what I’d really like is to actually have students in classrooms across the globe, collaborating together on stories. For example, if you’re teaching in India, and you teach about the colonial periods. It’s going to be completely different than what you learn in the UK. Why not get these two together and find middle ground? Because that’s where the truth is, you know.
Hannah Nyren: [00:05:58] That’s really cool. So how did your individual experiences as students impact the way that you look at education today and the way that you develop your educational tools?
Jonathan Ketchell: [00:06:09] I think, when I was at school, the idea of sitting down for seven hours straight — don’t really know how I did it. And it’s just like the whole teaching structure was so rigid and it was just too much of a teacher-student top-down approach. And I clearly see something like SUTORI — also not just Sutori, there are loads of other tools out there — that are actually contributing to decentralizing the classroom and making it more student-centered, which really wasn’t during my time. I don’t know about Thomas, because he’s younger, but I assume it’s more or less the same thing. So yeah clearly I think it’s going to be a lot about collaboration, it’s gonna be a lot about student-based, learning project-based learning. Yeah I think that’s the future. I’m glad to be a part of that.
Hannah Nyren: [00:06:52] Thomas?
Thomas Ketchell: [00:06:53] Yeah, I echo what Jonathan just said. I think we’ve really seen a shift as well in the last like two or three years since we started the company. I’m still amazed at how Google have taken over the classroom, in the short space of about two years. And especially in the U.S.
Hannah Nyren: [00:07:09] We thought they’d take over everything. I don’t think we ever expected the classroom.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:07:13] Exactly. But that’s that’s really what we’ve seen is that, it’s moving more and more towards collaborative 21st century skills classroom. And that’s kind of what’s exciting about it. Is, you know, teachers are really embracing technology and getting the kids to sort of create in these groups and getting ready for getting into the workplace as well, which is really important.
Hannah Nyren: [00:07:34] Cool. How was Intel?
Thomas Ketchell: [00:07:36] Yes we’ve been part of numerous accelerators. So, like the majority of edtech companies, we find it extremely hard to monetize in K12.
Hannah Nyren: [00:07:43] They say it takes five years. So you’re already ahead of the curve.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:07:46] So yeah we were part of LearnLaunch in Boston. That’s when we moved to the states for the first time. Then we joined Startup Chile in Santiago for a year. And then we did, our, hopefully last accelerator, which was the Intel education accelerator. And that was actually really, really great. So it was based in California. And you get the support from the Intel group, but also Intel Capital, which is the, one of the top VCs out there. And so it’s not just the funding, it’s actually the network. And having a corporate sponsor in Intel has really opened so many doors for us. So yeah, we recommend it for numerous edtech startups.
Hannah Nyren: [00:08:23] I’m sure the brand name of Intel helps a lot beyond just the support that they gave you.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:08:28] I’m amazed at how many people opened my emails when I say, we’re an Intel-backed company.
Hannah Nyren: [00:08:35] Great. So what country are you going to move to next.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:08:37] Good question. I think the goal is, so we’re raising some money right now. And the goal will be to have a base in Belgium, and also an office out here in the States. We haven’t figured out where yet. We like Boston, but we also like San Francisco. So maybe we’ll just go in between, in the middle.
Hannah Nyren: [00:08:53] All right. Well it was great speaking with you guys.
Thomas Ketchell: [00:08:55] Cool thank you. Thanks Hannah. Thanks. Thanks.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.