It’s been a great year for Mr. Chadd. The tutoring chat platform and app won the Anner Award for student entrepreneurs in May and the prestigious Accenture Innovation Award last October, competing with over 800 entries. Founded in 2015 by Jan Kuipers and Kim van der Esch, the company has almost 40,000 users in both the Netherlands and Belgium, who get tailored help from around 100 freelance tutors.
Mr. Chadd wants to make it easy and affordable for students to get on demand tutoring and help with homework. With either a subscription or prepaid fee, high school students can get the tutoring they want, when they want it, evenings and weekends included. The app allows them to take a photo of their homework and send voice messages, and within 10 seconds, the students get tailored a response from certified, university level coaches, spread out across the Netherlands.
A startup weekend for two
Kim studied Educational Sciences and Behavioural Sciences and worked as an educational policy maker for kids with dyslexia. Kim and Jan came up with the idea for Mr. Chadd on a Friday night in 2014. “We were discussing the changing landscape and problems of high school education”, Kim explains. “Because of the focus on underperforming students nowadays, the average student gets less attention in class and has to be increasingly self reliant when doing homework or study for exams.”
“At the same time, more and more higher education programs have increasingly higher entry requirements”, Kim continues. “So basically, you need to get higher grades with less help, which is a lot of pressure to put on any teenager.”
Jan, who studied Accountancy, was immediately interested in the business side of the problem: “We thought an on demand chat platform with expert coaches would be a great solution, so we searched the Internet, but there was really nothing similar anywhere in the world, where you would get a fast and quality response for specific questions. So the two of us started working on the idea right away, and had our own little startup weekend with Mr. Chadd as the result!”
Research, validation and acclaim
Kim and Jan did some extensive research, interviewing 1000 high school students about what kind of features they think would be useful and talking to parents about helping their kids with homework. “What’s interesting,” Kim says, “is that parents on average spend almost an hour catching up with the subject matter before they can help with homework, and teenagers being teenagers, don’t have a big attention span. And you can’t call regular tutors at all hours of the day when you only have a specific question about your homework for example.”
“And on the technical side of things, you also need to look at the features of other chat apps”, Jan adds. “We use Whatsapp as a reference, like being able to take a quick photo of your homework for example. But also the other way around, where one of our coaches can draw a diagram or graph for a math problem and just send a photo to the student.”
All that hard work of testing and doing the research has certainly paid off. “Winning the Accenture Innovation Award was so incredibly awesome!” Kim says. “You’re up against more than 800 other companies with so many great and world changing ideas, like exoskeleton suits and what not.”
Are you a robot?
Mr. Chadd currently has almost 40,000 students using the platform, from both the Netherlands and Belgium. “It’s just so great to see that Mr. Chadd not only really adds value for students, but that it’s also a very scalable idea. In Januari of this year, we noticed people in the Dutch speaking parts were using our app”, Jan explains.
“We’ve made it a point that students get a response within 10 seconds of asking a question”, Jan continues. “That’s just a “Hi there” by the way, because getting your answer that fast would be insanely fast! (laughs). Our current record is a whopping 1.4 seconds. But what’s funny, is that because of that really fast response from coaches, students often ask them if they’re robots.”
Big data and future plans
Kim and Jan won’t be focussing on high schools alone. They’re currently also in talks with several intermediate and higher vocational education institutes (MBO and HBO). “And we’re also planning on taking Mr. Chadd to the international market”, Jan adds. “It would be really awesome if we were also fully active in at least one other EU country by 2018. But of course different countries have different educational systems, so it’s a lot of new research, but a really fun challenge.”
But according to Kim, all the data Mr. Chadd produces can also be very valuable. “We’re also talking with a couple of school book publishers to see in what way all our data can help them in coming up with new and better teaching methods. If our students have a lot of the same questions about a particular subject, that could of course also mean that the book they’re using is not entirely clear on the subject. So that’s very relevant information for publishers.”
Mr. Chadd also has a charity foundation for less fortunate students. “Mr. Chadd is a paid service of course, but we think it’s really important that we don’t widen the gap between rich and poor. There are currently more than 100,000 students living beneath the poverty line in the Netherlands, and it would be a terrible thing if they couldn’t get the help we provide, simply because their parents can’t afford it”, Kim explains.
“We always wanted to have a foundation especially for that, but initially we wanted to wait until we were big enough as a company”, she continues. “But then Jan said, why wait? So that’s why we set up the Chadd Foundation right from the get go, so students less fortunate are able to use our platform completely free of charge.”