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Aditya Nagrath is the founder of Elephant Learning Academy and shares a heartfelt story of how our school system and the math learning programs are not doing what they need to do. You are hearing the story about how this project is the pinnacle of Aditya’s life’s work as a mathematician, software engineer & technologist, and entrepreneur.
The lessons he shares are amazing and the numbers and statistics that we discuss about the effect of mathematics on the entire future of a child’s learning may be frightening, but the fact that Aditya is doing something to change that is something you will thoroughly enjoy out of a great conversation. Great lessons on being a founder, and doing good with technology which is something I think we all need to learn from.
This is a really interesting opportunity and I’m excited about this conversation. I’ve been a
Kind of subscribe to way too much information, sometimes in the world. And one of the reasons I do so as I I kind of look to my myself as being a lifelong learner.
And as a result of a lot of stuff I’ve done around mentoring and teaching and engaging folks in the community in the tech space and in and out of, you know, tech and startups and such.
I’m always excited when I meet other folks who are in the industry who very much see the value of learning and what it means to further, you know,
Your own life in being a teacher, as well as connecting people to something that can really kind of foundational to change what they do in their day to day
And I’m here with Dr. Aditya mcgrath’s I always love the doctor because it reminds me that you are you are literally a lifetime learner. You’ve, you’ve you’ve gone the distance on on a set of learning yourself and I wanted to talk to you a ditty about Let’s quickly talk about you.
how folks can get ahold of you online if they want to. And then we’re going to talk about elephant learning and the story behind it.
Okay, great. I’m looking forward to it. So how do you want me to start
Let’s start with
Your own background so
How did you get into the learning space. Obviously. Again, you’re, you’re well educated. So what was your background that actually and whether that actually brought you to where you are today as as being the founder of elephant learning
Perfect, yeah. So I, as you mentioned, got a PhD in math and computer science 2008 so it’s kind of a joint degree, but the focus was mathematics.
And that was kind of longer story. But from there. I actually went into contract software engineering. So while I was getting my degree I had also been working full time part time at different
Contract firms or software development shops and so I started a contract software engineering firm in 2009 called elephant head software and from 2009 to 2016 we put out 35 different product lines and that’s over 50 different applications.
To market and
In 2016 I joined entrepreneur organization. So EO Colorado and basically as I was joining this organization. There was a lot of people talking about triple bottom line companies. So the idea kind of is.
Can you build a company where there’s a measurable environmental impact a measurable social impact and then a miserable. Bottom line, and this idea really interested me so from 2016 after I joined do
I had really been thinking about how can I build a company like that. And that’s when I started talking to one of my ex professors from the University of Denver about particularly this project. And that’s kind of when I came on board with elephant learning that’s really
That’s really interesting. And it’s, it sounds obviously that you started very much in in the sense of you aimed immediately towards doing doing good.
By what you could do in developing your business. And how did that come into play. Do you have kind of a studied background in in
The impact of of what we do. And, you know, sort of environmental and and suicidal or how did that come to be an important aspect of of how you build Ellison learning
Sure, I’m happy to talk about that. So one of the first EO events. I went to
There was a gentleman there, who was the co founder of plastic bank and he told his story and his story was that he was watching the news.
And he saw that there was this piece of plastic out in the Pacific Ocean. That’s the size of Texas. And he said to himself, there’s no way that’s not worth a lot of money. I just kind of got to figure out how to monetize it.
And what he did was he devised a system where people in India would pick up the plastic from the shore and deposit it into the plastic bank for which they would receive
I believe his two cents a pound. And then he would turn around and recycling at nine cents a pound and it just turned out that the amount that he was paying that people to pick up the plastic from the shores.
Was actually more than they were earning in the shops at that time. So he had a measurable impact on the environment in that he he’s measuring exactly how many pounds of plastic. He’s taking out he had a measurable impact on
The society there because he had a measurable financial gain for the people doing this work.
And then on top of that he had his bottom line has profit and this thing grew to $200 million company.
And what I realized was that that was that the rules of the game the way that the business operated right the rules of the game. We’re kind of set up for everyone to win.
And and that’s what it kind of boiled down to was that as long as the rules of the business are sort of set up so that everything is winning you kind of create something that
What a government would typically do right where most people would pass it off and say, well, this is government’s problem, right.
But whereas there’s also a bottom line of profit motivation that then pushes out that good. So becomes an organization that’s not only self sustaining
But also profitable that then doing that, that quote unquote good for the world. So basically when it came to elephant learning. That’s what we had to do as well as we just have to set up the rules of the game so that we can get everyone to win.
In this is it’s really neat because there are so many ways that we can impact the world in a positive way.
We’re and it can be everything like the plastic bank stories, really. I love that one. Actually, it’s, it’s funny. I talked with another fellow column Macintosh founded a company called sheets and giggles. Aside from being one of the funniest
You know, names of the companies that are based in Denver and he is also a member of the CEO.
And he had introduced me to the to that and it was funny, those, those stories kind of carry around and they’re very meaningful.
So, but that it doesn’t literally have to be, you know, physically interacting with a
An Earth, saving you know activity. It can be something that we can do to empower people, and it was
Interesting that you know in the plastic bank story of courses, like you said, what, what seems like a to a North American
Person probably it’s almost like a pittance of a wage, but not realizing that in in that in the other parts of the world $2
A pound to collect something can be an incredible boost and what they can earn relative to the local wages now.
What I’m really excited about what you’re doing is bringing what I feel is such a future focused and profound concept is
Bringing mathematics and and the true, you know, advanced mathematics learning and just common, common mathematics to children.
Which because it feels to me like one of the biggest challenges I’ve found in the in the general school system is that
It’s, it’s just fallen off like there’s been so many incredible advancements in science and mathematics, but the curriculum doesn’t feel like it’s caught up.
In traditional schooling. And so let’s just get into elephant learning. I’d love to hear what was your story and what you’re solving with with your approach to the entire platform.
Okay, well, I’m just going to tell it to you, just the way it happened because it makes more sense that way.
And then, you know, in that you’re going to hear all the stats. So, you know, I was having a conversation with my next professor. As I had mentioned
And really I was trying to move away from the contract software engineering business. I was looking to move into something more of a product
And we were kind of failing with an IoT product. We had an IoT product that was going out there and it just wasn’t working for us. So
My professor had met with me and he had an NSF grant that we were applying for
And NSF grant was to take research done by the National Science Foundation and try to make a company out of it. So,
Immediately, I’m asking me. And so, like, tell me about this company because like, you know, if you’re going to put me in charge of the company.
I’m not the guy who’s just going to do it for the grant money, I’m going to have to take it seriously and he’s trying to pitch me these math games that you that you put into school and I had a lot of problems with that. I said, One, we don’t have any relationships in the school to
I don’t know, like math games, right, like whether kids even really want to play it. So if I’m not going to the school if I’m trying to pitch it to kids. I just don’t know if there’s a real market for it.
And three, I was a TA over at the University of Denver for six or seven years as I got my graduate degree and to be honest with you in math class.
Not many people really wanted to be there. There was there’s only like a handful of kids that actually wanted to be there and the rest were just kind of there because it was a requirement.
And so I said, you know, like I’m having a real hard time with this. And so what he tells me is that four out of five children start kindergarten unprepared for the Guinean kindergarten curriculum now immediately. I’m like, well, Alberto that’s that’s really difficult to believe because
Where does the kindergarten curriculum even start. He says the curriculum starts at counting to 10
I said, so you’re sorry accounting to 20. So I’m saying. So you’re telling me that these students can’t count to 20 says no, they can’t count to 10 because it starts accounting to 20 the prerequisite is that they can count to 10
Say, that’s also extremely difficult to believe, can you can you explain to me why this disparity exists. And he says, well,
For the common parent. If the child says the numbers 12345 through 10
That’s a thumbs up. That’s good to go. But when the kindergarten says counting to 10 what they mean is, can you give me 10 things the child slides over 10 things and stops at 10
So, okay, well, the second one’s definitely much harder than the first. I can see the difference in the first. It could be just saying the numbers. The second one, they actually have to understand what tenants.
And that ends up being the basis for the entire system. It turns out that the preschool math scores predict fifth grade.
Overall scores and that preschool math scores predict third grade reading scores better than preschool reading scores. So all of the metrics that
The education system is using right now as a means of, you know, how is the student doing third grade reading being probably one of the most important seems to stem from the preschool math. Now, if you look at it from the students perspective.
What we’re really saying is that they have a they have a miss comprehension, if you will, a misunderstanding. They don’t understand what the numbers mean but they’re sitting in class and they’re being taught that
A similar situation, where would be me or you went into a third year bio chem class, right. So on average, children about three years behind depending on what neighborhood they come from and what income bracket. They’re in
So if we meet you went to third your bio chem class, we would hear the professor. It sounds like he’s speaking English.
But we wouldn’t understand much of what he was saying, because we missed about three years of jargon.
Well, it just turns out that this jargon of mathematics is so fundamental that is considered vocabulary.
But more than that, mathematics, happens to be very visual very light touch and feel right. So,
It’s kind of like the color red. I can’t teach a very young child, what the color red is unless I show them read things
In the same way, right. I can’t teach them what the numbers mean I can’t teach them what addition or subtraction is I can’t use the multiplication, unless I really show them what’s happening. So
You know, going from fifth grade, eighth grade math scores predict whether you drop out of high school only 75% only 25% of high school students are proficient in high school mathematics that the NAACP stat any ACP and
69% of STEM majors switch to a major with glass map. So we’re, we’re not graduating number of technologies that we could graduate
And now because society is so data driven with computers being everywhere, even businesses. So statistically driven that the defenses are having a hard time reaching the students
And the business students are switching majors to a major plus path. And what that really means is that the majority of our students are going into humanities, which in itself is not a bad thing, except for that the economic impact is that, you know,
A yearly salary is kept in the humanities around 50 $60,000 per year. So when we look at, for example, Elizabeth Warren trying to forgive the student debt.
This is what that’s around. We have an entire generation of children.
That we told you can grow up to be anything you want to be, they tried to become scientists technologists engineers mathematicians, they tried to become business people.
And they ended up in the humanities, which is kind of a devastating story every time I encounter one of these people like I wanted to be a physics major
Because because I didn’t want to be doing math, physics is all differential equations I became an English major, it’s a completely different life. Yeah.
And this isn’t the interesting
Thing that did he is the
This sort of the, the breakdown. As you reach each gate effectively strips off a percentage of potential students who can excel or even participate at that level and
It’s we had this challenge in STEM, STEM is probably, you know, reach the most
Like sort of highly visible state of, you know, being a challenge. Part of the industry because like you you laid out is this idea that
We have, we have first a pipeline problem and the quite the so that’s what we say. People always say like, Oh, it’s a pipeline problem well
That’s great, but what is the pipe. Now let’s break down the pipeline problem and you effectively have done this and
And like you said jargon is incredibly important. Like, I can go and I can listen to
I can, I can listen to Dr. Michio Kaku and and listen to folks like Bryan Callen and talk to these people and learn about things like
You know, differential mathematics little if the point of like understanding what spinners are learning, like what
You get through these incredible things about, you know, reading Hawking and you can read it and it makes sense, while you’re reading it, because I’ve had a level of understanding of the jargon, but
It, you know, an hour and a half later, most of it sort of falls off because it’s not a part of my vernacular is not a part of my continuous learning
And so if I read it every day. If I studied it every day. It ultimately would lead to me knowing more. So here’s the trick, right, you go into the school system. And like you said.
When children struggle. They hear the words and they can maybe pull off enough to kind of get a passing grade to get through that the just enough
To get through it and then we kind of move them through the system and and really don’t go back and kind of revisit how we can make that either is it interactive learning and like you said.
Counting to 10 counting from the other than going through the numerals of one to 10 for, you know, a child can can be done. It’s, it’s done by rote its effect it’s memorization.
But then the abstract concept of finding 10 items and collecting them together. It’s
It seems easy for you and I and people that are listening to this, but it’s like
That’s no different than me asking any one of our listeners right now. Okay. I want you to go and study the idea of you know spinner theory and and how is it different than than than other quantum theories and they’ll just be like,
It’s so abstract like I have no relationship to that thing that
You just asked me, like, but if I explain it to you, but only
Complete anyone with a three year old honestly should should be able to understand this, right, I have a three and a half year old at home and I mean
He’s using some words, I’m not sure. He knows what they mean. You know, you’re not using them correctly, it’s just they’re learning the language at that age.
I was thinking this morning. I have a four year old son and he says, Daddy, I need you for one second. She has no idea what it means to say that, but he knows it and get me like he knows that that will make me stop and he knows that it
Like he’s he’s in it for the long haul.
It says no, there’s no one second. In his mind.
I need you to sit down beside me until I’m done with you.
But he knows to use the words I need you for one second.
So my my three year old can’t understand later on, like, I’ll do that. I’ll do that in a little bit later. And you won’t get it.
Well, and this is
Eating and time.
It’s an abstract concepts that are
This is the the really also the tough part when we talk about Sam. We talked about the pipeline problem. We talked about learning and schooling and the change in the sort of what the net.
Effect is of these things when you shade, you know you you shape people’s futures at all these different gates.
And then the problem we’ve got is you go on Twitter and you talk to people in amongst our peer group.
And we generally collect with other peers who are alike. And so that’s a natural, natural thing, it’s, it’s what we do is we grouped together.
In communities of people that are like minded. And so, especially if you go online and you get to the people they’re talking about stuff.
And he realized like, hey, if you’re on Twitter. Number one, you’re probably in 1% of the population of the world.
Because you’re a subset of people, you’re a subset of people that has access to the Internet.
And most likely, is also on a mobile phone so STRIP, STRIP, STRIP down the sub nets and the subsets and you are now in sort of a somewhat elite group of people. And so the tough part is
The peers have these conversations. And then when you try to explain to them like you did. It did. It is okay, well, I’ve got a I need to have a three year old.
Taken that simple abstract concept of counting 10 items and and most kids can’t do it. And it’s just for many people who are listening to this, it’s unfathomable but it’s the truth. And the numbers have been borne out that that’s the case. So now,
You You’ve Got a you you laid a big bet right that you you wanted to be able to now go in and and and affect the situation, how did, how did you suddenly say, I think I can help to close this gap.
That’s a great question. So basically, after, after I received all of this information and understood it, I
I immediately began to think, okay, well, so what you’re telling me there’s a big enough of a problem here that
That that there’s a market and I might not be able to approach the schools, but I can certainly approach the parents with this story. Right. I mean, if this is true, they’re going to have to resonate with the story and so
There’s that the second part of it is, I also realized that there cannot be anything else on the market that was effective.
Because if there was something on the market that was effective. The schools would be using it and we wouldn’t be looking at the statistics we were looking at. I mean, as soon as you are able to digitize something effectively right i mean it’s copy paste after that.
So at that point, I asked Alberto about the game that he had already built and he had built some games for Preschoolers and kindergarteners and
I asked him, Well, how effective are these games like what are we talking about here. And he said, Well, the problem is, is there’s no standards for preschoolers. The kindergarteners so I can’t really say that
And I said, okay, but you’ve already told me today what the average three year old knows what they are his four year old knows what the average five year old knows what the average six year old knows
How like how would you say that progressing and he says we use it in a classroom 10 minutes a day, five days a week.
And they gained a year of math in three months, on average, and that’s when I said, Okay, well if that’s true, then I definitely have something that I can take and and and work with
We ultimately had to rebuild the entire system from scratch. So we, we started all over again. And one of the main things was was we were focusing on math.
So like, whereas most games are trying to make math fun. What we’re trying to do is trying to make math as the fun
So the research that Albert was quoted to me said that many children if they understand the math feel like it’s a puzzle. So it’s like a puzzle game.
Right, and many of the activities that the early age, education, researchers that we’re putting out, which is actually what Oliver was taking to to create these games.
Were were activities that could be game a fight. So we turned into a gamification of a proven curriculum and after stripping away some of the stuff that the game that we felt were less
Valuable to both the child and the parent, we were able to increase the average to one and a half years, over three months and they only use it about 25 minutes a week on average.
And so we said okay if we guarantee that your child will learn one year of math and three months using a 30 minutes per week we’ve increased the amount of time.
That they’re using it by eight minutes a week we’ve increased the amount of usage from 10 weeks to three months.
And we’re guaranteeing a lot less than what averages, so this should be from an actuarial a preset perspective, a bet that easy to win right so
That’s why we now guarantee that your child will learn a year of mass in three months.
We’ve seen children do a lot more than that, especially young children because they haven’t developed the math anxiety. Yet, if you can imagine what’s actually happening in our classrooms is pretty close to torture.
What it is the strategy is here. Add until you understand what edition is or multiply until you understand what multiplication is memorizing stuff. It doesn’t make any sense to them. They’re literally asking out loud when am I going to use this
And worse than that were basically putting their future. We’re saying, hey, you’re not gonna be able to get a job in this you can understand this, you still have to pass the test.
But no one’s going back to help them at the level where they do understand and that’s what our system does so.
Beyond the gamification of the proven curriculum, we have these advanced algorithms that are quickly able to determine what your child understands and doesn’t understand
And then meet them at their level. So if you’ve got a third grader who’s having problems with counting, we will actually meet them accounting and build them up from counting
Back up to multiplication, division, where they should be in the third grade. These children that are catching up in our system.
They’re reporting increased confidence because they can go into the classroom. They can now understand the teacher at the level that the teachers teaching and they can now participate in class.
With this is the the thing that
You’ve really pulled together some of the most fundamental concepts and done it for all of the right reasons. And this is why I was extremely excited when I
Knew that I had a chance to have this discussion with you because
We today have so many apps and games and things that are obviously aimed towards children and their aim towards utilizing the very simplest core functions of behavioral psychology gamification is a nice way but you know people say about keeping people engaged and and
Performing behavioral imprints and and changing behaviors through gamification and rewards.
Now this it can sound either very dark, which is how most of these most applications are built like apps game, you know, aimed towards kids are always around like
Will reach you, to a certain point and then you have to unlock a thing to unlock a thing you have to do another thing. Oh, you could get there faster if you put a couple of dollars.
Towards this right and it’s it’s this unfortunate, you know,
All of these people that learn from the foundations of, like, stuff like what BJ Fogg brought to the world and who BJ Fogg himself is very aggressively going out to sort of
stave off the negative use of behavioral psychology and persuasive computing. So what I love is that you have very much gone and exactly the positive use of behavioral rewards towards something that can vary literally change the path of somebody’s future
It on a daily basis, just by small incremental learning small incremental, you know, behavioral help and and really bringing kids who are something that
You know, let’s put it in the context that matters to them and then the outcomes are are what we get. So I’d love to hear about that. Did he have what
What did your early work and sort of early use of the platform, get you. I’d love to hear some of the stories and what people said when they put their kids into into the platform.
Well, yeah, so
So so early on we we we even started with some pretty heart wrenching stories, but the one that that’s memorable is one of the first stories that came out was there was a child in our system. I think his first thing was Ethan and Ethan
I he was, if I remember correctly, four or five years of age, and he was doing multiplication, division.
Three months in, so he had picked up two or three years with the math. So again, with the young students right because they didn’t develop that anxiety towards math is yet. Well, they, they don’t even know that this is two or three years ahead, they’re just playing the game.
Since then, we’ve we’ve had a lot of stories. Another one that’s really memorable is
I was just reading a scholarship application, the other day, and apparently enrolled in that they have a 12 year old daughter and the daughter.
Was operating at the third grade level. So this is before they even came into the system and basically at the end. She’s like, You have to help me please help me so we we do offer a scholarship program where
If you’re a low income family. You can get it at an extremely discounted rate, even if you’re if you’re having troubles affording it at $35 a month, we can discount the rate. It’s an application process. Though to be honest with you. Many people will receive some funds so
Anyway, so she you know like please help me and I just like this was a marketing exercise we weren’t looking at the data, but I read this thing and I was just
Kind of so heartbroken by what she was writing. I mean, I think she said the father passed away when the child was in first grade. So the child repeated first grade and
Has been lost in the second grade and is operating right now at the third grade level. And I just had to go look. Look, this person up. And what we found was that
Her student did actually catch up to age she got to an elephant age of 12 and a half, which is our, our math age. So that’s all. And yes, those are the
Those are the. Those are the reasons that we we do the things like obviously there are people that you’re probably bringing within a within a band or a range.
But the fact that you can also have those stories that very, you know, very profound effect that you’ve had on that just that child in that family, ultimately, who
You know, and, and also I applaud you for forgiving the, you know, given the opportunity to get people into the platform that may not have had access to it because of the, the, the money impact. It’s this also is
You know, when you talk about the three, the three pillars approach of doing good and sustainability and in creating this platform is you know your
Those kids are going to remember, you know, in one way or another, what got them there. And those parents are probably very much, you know,
They’re, they’re looking to the sky thinking somebody what they should be doing is looking to look into the SAS platforms and thanking you, and the team for for introducing their kids to this. Now, what’s the
What’s the impact for you in how you look at this and scale, you know this because obviously there’s
You know, you can get access to certain pool of kids who are ready to use the system, what are you looking to as the next phases. Did he had to kind of like get this into a broader audience and get more more folks in to help them through this, this process.
Sure. Well, part of it is is doing things like this. So what we what we found out pretty quickly is that Facebook is sort of losing its numbers.
It’s not the party that it used to be in that the audience that they’re telling us that we’re having is not the same as the size of the audience that we end up reaching
That is what it is. I mean, no one can make people use Facebook if they’re not using it so
Really the next step for us is to start to communicate with people that maybe aren’t on Facebook or stop using Facebook or
Anything of that nature. So, you know, the expansion of audience in that manner. We also do have a classroom product that’s currently in beta. It’s being piloting two or three
Classrooms around the country right now very selectively and we’ve piloted before. So this is the second one of the tests and it’s really about can we put a process around
For the teacher to use the tool more effectively, right, because in a classroom setting, they’re really at a disadvantage. The big problem happens to be that you have 30 students there. There’s no way to work with them one on one.
In any realistic fashion big especially you know as classroom size of even getting bigger right 30 to 40 to 50. And so what our system is able to do they able to
Maybe mitigate some of that one on one, one on one work we’re able to then tell the teacher that well this student is in third grade, but they’re operating at the first grade level.
So giving them the typical lecture that you’d give the rest of the third graders.
Probably is not the best thing to do, and ultimately come up with cohorts, you know, so where
75 to 80% of the classrooms behind at least the teacher can know it and then lecture to them and then catch them up. Right. I mean, the system will also help catch them up.
And then catch them up to where they’re supposed to be which honestly happens very quickly then
We’ve seen even catch ups like 234 or five years with the math happened in three or four months. So it’s just a matter of usage and then noticing where
The hiccups may be and then a little bit of coaching, we don’t really want to give students the answer.
Because we don’t want them to revert back to memorization, but we want to give them a hint, where they can get that aha moment that that clicking the head that they get it. And then from there, their, their progress speeds right back up.
The unlocking have that capability.
And there they create their own reward system by doing it because like you said, If you created in this in a way that it becomes a puzzle.
We, as humans, just by nature. We door completing puzzles and getting through these sort of discovery.
You know phases as we do a thing and it’s it’s a beautiful feeling that you can create and it’s literally, you know,
lighting up dopamine receptors like it is a neurological effect that you can create ends, then
If you do that, then, like you said, you can get the acceleration and it’s neat that you talk about the classes because that’s it. It’s a very different thing individually association is one thing, but going out into the classroom.
Effectively means that you’ve got a range of capabilities and learning levels and to be able to create a greater cohort of kids that are in the
The same level is is really, really difficult especially you know teachers have math. You know, science, you know English humanities, social sciences like all these different things.
They generally don’t have time to put extra time towards any one single thing because we’re really kind of cramming a lot of stuff into our kids heads that just too and also trying to make them not hate school. So we have to
If there’s a way that you can create
Do things and make learning enjoyable and have them discover the rewards themselves so so cool. Now you have young kids. So this is probably meaningful to you.
I’m curious if you do when you founded this and you decided what you were going to build how how young was your family or did you approach it with the idea like you had a personal story yourself that brought you towards this.
Absolutely, yeah. So actually when I was young.
My mother would actually go to the school every year in the summer and try to get the books for the following year, so they should find my next teacher she’d find out, she go find that teachers say, What books are you going to use
And back then the they would just, you know, they use that card in the book, right, and just put your name on it.
So they just give me my book at the beginning of the summer and my mom would sit down and make us do the math for the following year. And I remember that, you know, like there was there was sometimes, there was tears. I wasn’t always the one crying them. But sometimes there was tears and
I just remember how intense that was and then the impact that had on my life because I mean to get where I am. To understand what I understand, to do what I do at the level that I do it.
To be honest with you, I think math for that. Right. Like, if you look at computer science. It’s the division of mathematics.
Especially in Europe, like if you go to a European university, the math department. There’s the computer science department is within the applied mathematics department within that that housing and it just turns out that like
Through abstraction, you can really get the computer to do more with less. And so I I kind of look back at my history how I got here. How did I build that software firm. How did we put out so many products so quickly.
And so effectively and it was it was the abstraction. It was the skills that I learned through mathematics. So I thank her for that. And now back into the context of, you know, that conversation with my professor
The real context there was my wife was about six months pregnant when when this went down five or six months and and I was sitting there thinking, well, gosh.
What he’s really telling me is that I can’t really depend on the school system to to handle this problem for me right handle the problems education handle the problem of passing on the math that was given to me by my parents and my responsibilities sort of his
His education is my responsibilities, what I was thinking is education part of my responsibility. So how am I going to handle this.
And as soon as I was started talking to me about what the solution was and how these how he got these activities and how he did the same thing with his daughters and what he had to do to go through it.
And say, well, all we really need to do is push that information straight to the parent right at the level that the child is working at
Right, if you just did that. If you could just tell me where my kid was and and and how was the effective method of teaching this concept I would be able to take that I would be able to use that and and
And and do what you did.
Even if the activities in work, but the activities do work. So overall this is a win, right. So, like, even if the child gets stuck. And that’s what our dashboard does is we help you figure out where’s the child stuck. If we detect that there’s some
Some, some failures, some some missing questions we will start to flag it like hey you should take a look at this subject and in there, we give the parent games.
Advice, if you will, game that they can play with their child outside of the system. A good example is board games. If your child is learning to count or, you know, basketball,
If your child is learning to skip count or right even if you’re trying to build fluency with like, you know, speed of addition speed of multiplication.
You could play blackjack, you could play. You can play war with with flashcards, and we just try to give you these tips.
At the right time. So, like, hey, the child can now understand enough to do this. So if you did this, it wouldn’t it wouldn’t be an exercise memorization wouldn’t be scary to them.
They’re totally going to understand what you’re saying. You could totally play this game. And that’s kind of the idea at the end of the day.
We just like with the plastic bank. We tried to build the mission and the game around the mission to just be good. So the mission is empower children map the vision is can we change the way the world teaches mathematics. How do we do that well we power.
attics that the world have to turn and look and say, hey, wait a second. What’s going on over here.
We’re taking children that said they couldn’t do it. And now they’re saying they can do it. And that is a shift.
That is a true impact. And the thing that we also have the problem that you know the parents often don’t have a way in which they feel that they can impact.
The outcomes with their kids because they may not have their own math skills or they don’t know how to move
Back down to the level because once you learn those abstractions. It’s really difficult to separate yourself from the right. So you’re
Trying to teach a four year old or a three year old how to, you know, count 11 read items.
You know, it’s, it just makes complete sense to the parents and so sometimes it’s hard to
Slow down and teach them like, Okay, here’s one. Which ones read, which would like there’s all of these things that we just we already get so it’s hard to detach yourself from what’s already known.
And and this is where where it’s good. And like you said, as you get further on those kids every says, Well, I want my kids to get into
Programming or get into, you know, gaming, whatever or computers is math, like you said, all the way up to the highest level is math is requires computers computers requires math.
You know, any comp side grad has to do a significant amount of statistical analysis and understanding of mathematical concepts and algebraic concepts and
It’s not necessarily that they’re doing, like, you know, high levels of calculus and physics, but there’s there’s got to be a foundation there in order to do the exercise that you’re doing in computers.
And then the reverse is also true. Anybody that’s doing serious, you know, mathematics are doing psychology
Guess what you need to know statistics, you need to learn how to, you know, programming are to do
All of this analysis work on on large data sets and stuff. It’s like you, we cannot detach these things from each other and the fact that we know that we get impacted at the ground floor.
Is I think we all have a responsibility to do it and and I’m glad that you’re you’re doing something. What now let’s talk about the business view. I’m at allow. How did you
How did you choose to approach you know getting getting things rolling and taking your first, your first product to market and and how are you looking at how you’re going to be able to scale this company.
Sure, yeah. So again, right, mainly mainly our attraction is Facebook and it’s difficult because
So many people go to Facebook and they have a hard time there and and there’s so many different
Things out there that are telling you to do XYZ at the end of the day, the place where Facebook’s really good is they have these algorithms.
And because of, you know, my background when they started talking about these algorithms and and how you can juggle the system in order to get it to work that’s ultimately what we did. And the real trick is just, you know,
There’s this debate between, like, do you want to hit more people or do you want to get more qualified people right so like
Immediately what happened when we got three to 500 sales is Facebook brought us in to a call and said, what you want to do is you want to create a 1% look alike audience if you create this 1% look alike audience.
Will get you 2 million people. That looks like the 500 people that purchased. But when I found out soon after creating that 1% audience with that.
Some of my friends who had children that were well beyond what we taught at the time.
We’re getting the ads and they were coming to me like Hey man, we’re seeing Elton learning on Facebook. Congratulations and must be blowing up.
And I’m sitting there thinking the. Why are you even seeing my ads. There’s no potential way for you to even buy. So we went back to Facebook and we narrowed down that 1% audience.
To say, hey, they should be in your 1% audience Facebook but they should also be a parent of a child is between two and 12 it’s standard demographic information that’s that’s in Facebook and that cut our audience by a third. So like we went down to like 500 600,000 people and
It wasn’t advised, but the the ratio of convert went high enough for the algorithms to start tuning in at some point.
The pixel is so trained that we can literally tell Facebook target everyone in the United States and and we’re and we’re making sales that basically the same level. And we target. So at this point, Facebook knows who our customer is and they’re able to bring them to us.
And again, it’s about can we get them the right message, but then after that, it’s about
Can we expand our audience beyond that, right, because again, if the eyeballs have moved to Instagram or Pinterest or detect talk or maybe back to TV right we’re missing the people that could be benefiting from this, but just don’t know because they’re not on Facebook.
If this is the interesting problem that you you brought up and
Using the tuning and tightening of your audience is really challenging because the price to do so, can be vastly more and obviously as they look at said
The more you tighten the audience, the more of the algorithm, you’re leveraging they you know like basically almost an exponential increase in the price to do so. So because they
They, they have to do a lot of work, you know, and there you’re figuring out, you know, the effectiveness of it and it’s it’s always tough to when you
Like you said, Facebook, you know, Google, you name the platforms there there’s bound to be Miss targeted recipients and it’s it’s neat when we actually hear about it because then you can say like I
I, I know that these people shouldn’t be seeing my advertisement what’s what’s going on. And it’s this is probably one of the
You could probably give a class on this alone. I think that’s your that’ll be your next startup identity is like
A effective ad targeting you know platforms and how to actually get the most out of them, because I think this is a problem that a lot of founders are facing is
How do I make sure that I’m effectively targeting to bring new new eyes to my platform. And it’s, it can be inexpensive set of lessons, how
How did you approach like did you use another tool or another you know sort of a coach to learn how to use some of the targeting mechanisms inside Facebook.
Well, so the the targeting mechanisms in Facebook.
They’re, they’re not terribly hard to us, it’s just
There’s a lot of categories was the issue and this is before Cambridge analytica and they they removed the whole ton of categories. So when we got started like you start opening up the categories on on on things and like
I mean, gosh you you can select people that follow a page and how many pages are out on Facebook, right. So, like it’s kind of this big hodgepodge
And ultimately right it does come down to like their pixel. Right. So the first thing is getting your pixel hooked up properly right for us. I think the main mistake I made originally was we we call the purchase.
We called it registration completed because I was like, Oh, that’s a cool thing to call it right registration completed.
But, and you can have these books Elton tuned to anything but the default reports they report how many purchases have been made so
You know, about six months in, I said, You know what, we’re going to have to change this to purchases. We’re going to lose that past data. I mean, we’re not going to lose it lose it, but like this just like now whenever I show it to
To a to a potential vendor whenever I show them my Facebook, they look at and they go, well, it looks like you had zero purchases before this date, and I’m like, no, no.
That was the date that we switched it to purchases. Before that it was it was registration completed and then they’ll go, oh, OK, now you see right so so there’s that problem, but now
You know, like now I can open up the data and I can see it. I think scoreboards are very important. It’s one of the things that we use.
Internally as a team. It’s one of the things that, you know, for example, EOS traction says that you should be using the square the data component
It’s also something we leveraged within elephant learning. It’s why we came up with the elven age. It’s a one number metric that I can put in front of the parent or I can put in front of the child and it becomes a motivator. Because as they play it goes up, so
I think that’s very important. So as long as you have your key numbers in front of you, like, you’re going to start to be successful. Another thing that we ended up using that, I think, like, I mean these guys aren’t paying but they should be about to say.
Mr r.io app, Mr r.io it hooks into my stripe and it gives me a dashboard with almost every single KPI I could think of as important. My Mr are how much I actually collected from that Mr are what the refunds. What’s the number of refunds, what’s our customer churn rate what’s
Our lifetime value. What’s our. I mean, gosh, they have like
Maybe 15 things on there. I can’t remember them all off hand but like
You just go to this page, and all of them are right there. And that’s what it is. Every day I would just, I literally have it open on my phone. I just hit refresh in the morning and I know exactly where I’m at from top level perspective.
And then, of course, from there, right, we have to keep the scorecards for how efficient Facebook’s doing how efficient our websites doing
I mean, we’ve really built up an operation around marketing. From there, but like that’s that’s the key like knowing your numbers.
Being able to affect those numbers and then having some people around you that can help you bringing it back to Facebook yeah i mean it’s it’s
It’s basically a text entry and as you start entering in all the categories drop down and you can just I want to filter. More specifically, or I want to exclude a set of people
So it’s basically you’re and or set dynamics, right. Like, if, if you think of it as set theory. Right. And that’s how I think of it is like what are the set of the people in my target market.
And then what does the sense that I’m able to target using the Facebook demographics and then what’s that overlap and I want that overlap to be as big as possible. Right. I don’t want to have too many people in the set outside of my target market, but also who Facebook’s targeting
And this is the it’s
It’s neat that you highlighted, you know the the Mr folks in it because that is exactly it. It’s like if you’re
If you’re not tracking across the entire lifecycle of your engagement, then it can really, really change the way that you’re doing projections and application development. And so it’s it’s so important.
And I’ve. You just spoke with somebody, he talks about, we call it the smile curve, especially when you get, you know, stuff that has a network effect is that it’s the smile curve is that you get this very strong immediate use and then
It will sort of potentially trail.
And then those people will then re engage with the platform. And then you see them so they
And if when you see that it then becomes the second half of the smile. And in fact, that’s the best user because you’ve got them in
Then they found a reason to reengage and being able to see that measurement and that effect.
Gives you you know that predictability. So you can say, hey, this is how I’m going to scale, my, my underlying platform. If I bring a new feature. This is how I can measure the effectiveness and you’ll know especially with this like
It’s difficult to know how to measure the duration of effectiveness, you know, if you’ve got kids that go in
You can’t measure across five days here is it 30 days. Is it 90 days is 120 days like there are, you have to learn about how your engagement in the platform and
Can create an outcome that is both measurable for the person using it so that they’re getting the benefit and then also that you can say
Alright, so I know as i if i want to get 200 more kids in this platform or 2000 and then 20,000 I know what what my back end scaling needs to look like to support that.
Right yeah I all that’s important. Now,
Your, your background. And so I just
Realized we’re, we’re getting towards the end. And I don’t want to. I don’t want to have you suddenly have to run if you got a couple more moments we can i just want to explore. One more thing, if you don’t mind. Aditya
Oh, I don’t mind.
This is I’d love to get your advice. You know what, what’s the most challenging thing that you faced in building elephant learning that you could you’d love to share with with new founders who are thinking about, you know, putting a platform into into the marketplace.
Well, for me, it was the marketing. I mean, I think where I’d be able to help other founders is like through advice on technology because that was my background.
But you got to remember, like, I came into this and I had zero marketing. I went from a PhD program where I was a software developer
To now. I’m a software developer for someone else. Now I’m managing people who are software developers to okay now I want to build a product and
Ultimately, like when I started here and just like you said like, Did I have any help. I was consulting with a with a marketer, he wanted to do Google AdWords, we weren’t seeing much traction there either. And
A lot of the people actually that he was bringing in for learning. They were extremely helpful. We had a we had a brand manager come in and and we ultimately ended up paying him to come in and align the team around the brand ideas being effective.
We had a customer experience. Gentlemen, Joey Coleman. I mean, he’s been a lot of help as well. And like just at every step of the way, trying to figure out, like, okay, well here’s where we are.
Here’s what we can afford to do to better ourselves or better the platform to the point where we are now, where it’s well
We we we qualify for yield. Again, we’re hiring people we’re going to try to put team in place to solve.
These problems right as a machine, right. Like, can we look at reasons why people cancel. Can we figure out what the underlying problem is and design a solution that’s where I have a lot of experience. I think we can do that right but for example from the marketing side.
Some of these problems people have seen before. I’ve never seen before, and now I’m learning for the first time, how can I overcome this, and the problem is is every time it kind of has been you because the typical marketing.
Advice that might be out there. It just, it just goes away so fast, right. It’s like, for example, at one point it was like, Oh, you guys should be doing webinars. That’s what’s the hot thing these days.
Or then just as soon as everyone’s got a webinar, no one’s watching webinars anymore because no one’s getting information from these webinars. So now that that strategy is different. Yeah. The good news is you you
caught on to the wave. The bad news is you’re caught on to the back end of the wave
Exactly so. So that’s the hard part about marketing is that you always got to be inventing you always got to be creative and
I’ll just be honest for like someone that’s new to it sort of exhausting because it’s like, just as soon as I figured out the problem is solved. Gosh, I got another problem 610 months down the road that I just didn’t know was going to happen.
With this is the think also where folks can leverage other platforms and luckily in this this economy in this day and age, we’ve got access to
You know products that are out there that are services that are SAS that we can get access to
So I think luckily at this phase in in business building. There’s so many good options but like you said, the best thing you can do is find somebody else who’s in your
Ecosystem or or meet new peers who have gone through and and lived, these, these lessons you know they’re not always going to play out the same way for you and your platform necessarily relative to their experience, but
Entrepreneurs organization is a great example of folks that you can literally get in there in this they’ve reached a certain phase of growth.
Because there’s revenue requirements in order to be part of it and membership. So people very much have a vested interest in the outcomes from this and that’s a great
GREAT ORGANIZATION. There’s even, you know, simple as meetups and looking to other mentoring teams, I would, you know, I would encourage people to I’ve got a whole host of
Resources. I’m about to put up on the podcast sites just because
There’s been so many good lessons that have I been able to share through these stories for folks. So, and Aditya you’re going to be on that list.
Of great people that these are our solid lessons and and just, I applaud you again for number one, congratulations on the fact that you’ve, you’ve reached revenue in order to get to eat. Oh.
And and more than anything, just congratulations on building a sustainable business and a platform that can truly change the future for somebody
And and to do so at scale, which is which is pretty cool that so big, big plans 2020 years here.
Have you, have you got. What’s your sort of next big target for for yourself and the team.
Well, that’s a great question. Yes. No for us in the team. It’s actually to to to to try to slow down a little bit. I’ve got an advice from multiple people including some of my
By your network that I’m just moving way too fast. So like, to your point, that of what you just said.
I think right now is probably the best time ever in the history of mankind to be an entrepreneur, because of all the SAS solutions that are out there because of
How much you can leverage computers to help you to get this done without people we’ve managed to make it this far with just very, very small amount of team.
And now what we’re trying to do is put some heads into some roles, because like I can’t
I can’t honestly say that this is a business that was intended them to go out and change the world, so long as it depends on me doing the work. So it’s time to put it in the hands of people and have those people drive the company.
To some degree, I’m so obviously going to you know point the ship in the right direction, but until I’m kind of fully out of operations. This doesn’t fulfill the mission of empowering children with mathematics.
Well, and that’s that’s actually a very difficult thing to to discover and embrace and. And also, again, it’s
It’s so hard as a founder, you just get in such a mode where you’re like,
I gotta be Go go go all the time. And this this sort of like hustle porn, you know, lifestyles that you hear, but like, you know, I
I enjoy listening to some of the incredible motivational people just because it’s funny to me because I know. Look, I’ve lived the life I work in a start up
And like, it’s, it’s always there to be done. Like, if I were to 24 hours a day I’d find a reason to need for more. But if I work eight hours a day.
And 10 hours a day.
And do it effectively, you know, I’ve started to change my patterns of work to be more effective and create things that I can do that are scalable beyond me.
And it took a while. So again, a duty of the fact that you’ve reached this point where number one you’ve created a business that can now be
You know, can be into put into the hands of somebody else to help to keep it driving and growing. And that’s, that’s going to be a great chance for you because you’ve, you’ve got so much to bring to it. And hey, you deserve a break. You’ve done
You’ve done good things take a breather.
Spend some time with with your son. And, you know, so it won’t just be it won’t be apt time that we spend with our kids. It’s the fact that you’ll finally have a break and be able to spend some real family time and it’ll be well deserved so
I did, yeah. I want to thank you very much for for sharing some of these great lessons today and just congratulations again on on your
Growth and I wish you all the success. We’ll catch up again to in the future because I really do want to explore a bit more of like kind of them.
Your experiences. Again, going through EO and some of the mentoring opportunities because I think
I’d love to get folks introduced to you as well who who are are getting started, you sounds like you will be a good match what’s the best way. If folks want to reach you, and and sort of get in contact entity, if they if they do so desire.
Sure. I mean, typically it via email. It’s just my first name in my lap first letter of my person in my last name that elephant head soft calm a monograph that ELEPHANT HAVE SOFT calm. That’s really the best way to get ahold of me and
I really appreciate it. I’m always happy to chat. Again, I mean, this was this was great.
You know, like if I can tell my story and helps people. It makes me feel honored because I mean I got so much listening to other people’s stories over the last three or four years and learning from them.
That’s it. It’s
It’s an amazing thing.
And it’s I’ve always been surprised when I hear you know people and the more that we do this too is we become connectors to other things because
You ultimately will get in front of more podcasters and more audiences and then you’ll have someone to say like, hey,
The way you tell the story reminds me of somebody else who I talked to and you know you find yourself in a pure
You know matchup now to somebody else who was also a podcast guest or hostess, and like that. So it’s, it’s an amazing thing that the network effect is so positive on this stuff, and it’s
I feel like it’s like striver in the idea that it’s all positive thing. No one says like, oh, you know,
Let me introduce you to somebody who’s going to tell you, horror stories like no, no, it’s like we are all here to kind of coach each other through to the next phase.
And sometimes we have a difficult run or a difficult ride, but you’re there’s always someone there to say like, Ah, cool, you know, and just most more than anything.
It’s just good to hear stories of folks that are that are in the in that grind with you and unable to
Reach these neat milestones together and again for folks that want to get hear more great stories like this, please do subscribe to the podcast, you can do so through iTunes also through Stitcher. If you read it. It’s also very advantageous for us.
So I recommend folks.
Go in, give us a rating leave
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welcome and appreciated.
With that Aditya. Thank you very much.
I look forward to
Using the platform myself.
And really seeing, you know how I can
I can share this with the world, and I’ll
Make sure to evangelize what you’re doing for for kids everywhere.
I appreciate it. Thank you so much.