- Success Stories
Index Cards that Write Themselves, Spiced Up with the Power of Swarm Intelligence – How StudySmarter has Revolutionized the E-learning Market
An idea born at the university, a start-up team without a history and a steep flight, which seems unstoppable – especially in times of a completely new relevance for e-learning and other digitization initiatives: TUM School of Management student Maurice Khudhir and his founding team have not only hit a nerve with the development of their learning-app StudySmarter. In fact, they have revolutionized the learning organization and exam preparation for hundreds of thousands of students and pupils. Despite their meteoric rise in the DACH region, there is still plenty of room for expansion: Because Maurice and his peers aim at claiming the top spot for study-applications in the Appstore worldwide! In this interview, he talks about the growth in the wake of the Corona crisis, the indispensability of a good network as well as the university’s role in the founding process. Plus, he also reveals his most important lessons for a successful start-up phase.
Maurice, with the founding and development of your now multiple award-winning app StudySmarter, you have made academic learning your profession. At the same time, you are still in the final stages of your own master’s degree at the TUM School of Management. How did the idea of optimizing the learning organization and exam preparation for pupils and students come about?
We – my three co-founders and I – got to know each other at random as students of the Technical University of Munich and founded StudySmarter within the confines of a university program. The starting point of the idea was the identification of a global problem that we first experienced ourselves in our own everyday lives, circles of friends and acquaintances: Many drop out of their studies for really avoidable reasons. And if they don’t, they’re chronically dissatisfied. The reasons for that are often comparable. Because most of the time it comes down to lack of learning structure, lack of efficiency and lack of motivation. In search of ways to eliminate these pain points, we then looked at the market and found two things. On the one hand, there is still a massive lack of digitization in the German educational landscape, on the other hand there is no holistic digital learning solution that really covers the entire learning process, regardless of the respective subject area, and supports the user individually. And since the technological possibilities were there to revolutionize the field, we tackled the matter together and got off to a flying start.
As of right now, you are still a master student at the TUM School of Management. Consequently, you have many people around you who share your ambition to found a company after university. With your current wealth of experience, what advice can you give young graduates who want to get off to a similar start as you did?
This question has actually been asked several times and I always say the same thing: It’s no use just writing pages and pages of business plans, living in theory and concealing your own idea – for fear that people might find out what you’re up to and end up doing it themselves. Actually, you should do exactly the opposite – namely communicate the idea to a maximum number of people as quickly as possible. This is the only way to get enough feedback to quickly identify the users’ pain points and to steer the development in the right direction at an early stage. In the end, it’s not only the good idea that counts, but most importantly the implementation. The second tip, which I also had to internalize laboriously myself, is that you have to take back your own opinion or leave it out altogether. By this I mean that a subjective feeling about what might go down well and be judged as intuitive is completely irrelevant. What is important is what your numbers and users say. To conclude from yourself to others without further ado is almost the biggest mistake you can make in a new development.
With your Master in Management & Technology (focus: innovation, entrepreneurship and computer science) you already set the right course for your current career during your studies. How did the thematic focus of your academic education help you to start your own business?
In my case, the technical aspect of my studies was particularly valuable because it allowed me to develop a certain sensitivity and empathy for technical processes and also for the people who work in the industry. Fortunately, the TUM School of Management offers very helpful and practical courses – both in the field of entrepreneurship and in information technology. But it has to be said that the actual founding of a company is accompanied by some challenges that you simply can’t prepare for, no matter where you’re enrolled at.
Studying always means networking. Are good contacts indispensable in the start-up phase?
That is correct. Good contacts are incredibly important – both to academic institutions and to established companies. Those responsible at the TUM School of Management have really internalized this aspect and offer the perfect breeding ground for this. For start-ups, contacts to investors and talents are also essential. If possible, relationships with both parties should be established very early on – even if there are no potential points of contact at the beginning. Because you never know, whether the paths might cross again in a year or two.
Your app serves many as a prime example of successful and progressive digitization initiatives in the education sector – an area in which there are still glaring deficits in Germany. The last few months in particular have made this even more visible. Would you say that StudySmarter has benefited from the Corona crisis?
The Corona crisis has had an impact in that it has undeniably shown society how important digital education is. Politicians as well as institutions such as universities have recognized the seriousness of the situation by the sudden inevitability of digital forms of collaboration and must act now. During the Corona crisis, for example, we provided StudySmarter Premium free of charge – and were also able to include all learning content by STARK, thanks to a partnership with the German publishing house. Within a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of pupils and students registered and learned with the help of our app. Therefore, we know how important and in demand applications like StudySmarter are in such times. Building up on that, we want to keep our foot on the gas, become even faster and develop an even better product to be able to help even more people in times of crisis in the future – both in Germany and globally!
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