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Revolution in online education: how a Belarusian startup is changing the rules of the game

Revolution in online education: how a Belarusian startup is changing the rules of the game

20 Jul 2020

Next generation sets trends, and today the representatives of the so-called “generation Z” (born between 1995–2010) are increasingly interested in education and self-development. Yury Shlaganov has devoted several studies to Generation Z, also known as zoomers, and since recently also a startup. The EduDo project was launched in May as a mobile application with educational video content — after all, it is through video that zoomers prefer to receive information. 

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We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.

Read the interview to see how the application will work and how Yury, as a representative of the venture industry, breaks the paradigm of a Belarusian startup.

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About the project

EduDo is a platform for people who want to gain knowledge in various fields in the most convenient format. The app will collect short videos on a variety of topics — from fashion and creativity to global issues and politics.

Content for the application is developed by both professionals and amateurs who want to share their knowledge or opinion with other people.

The platform will allow you to not only watch useful videos, but also to solidify knowledge through tests. Video creators will be able to make money on their content through ads and a built-in donation system.

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EduDo startup

I’m tired of sitting on the sub bench

- What prompted the launch of this project?

- I’ve recently started thinking that I’ve been watching other guys do cool things for several years now. Very often they do a bunch of stupid things because they simply have no experience, and yet some of them succeed. And it’s much like I’m sitting on the sub bench: I evaluate projects, advise and help, but don’t do any myself.

I decided that if I found an idea that would wake me up at night with a burning desire to assemble a cool team I would launch a startup. EduDo has become such a project.

A study of the mentality of generation Z triggered me. It was important for me to understand what trends will drive consumption in the next decade. Zoomers are the largest generation now, and in the 2020s they will also become the most solvent one. Working on the research helped me find some interesting insights that the concept of EduDo was based on.

EduDo startup
Click on the image to see EduDo's profile on the Rocket DAO platform

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How it will work

- Is the startup product a social network competitor for TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, but with an emphasis solely on usefulness?

- If our main hypotheses are confirmed, then yes, it will be a social network with educational content. The format that suits the new youth — “zoomers” — has already been determined by the market, and consumers have already voted with attention: this is TikTok. Unfortunately, the content there is very controversial. More and more people want to not only have fun, but also spend their time developing — to stay ahead of others.

The final product we hope to come to is not only about education, it is also about sharing our views on current problems. Overall, this is a story about making yourself better, looking at something from a different angle and forcing yourself to think.

- Can you describe how it will look from the user’s perspective: they log in, sign up — and then what?

- You don’t even need to register to start consuming content. Upon entering the platform, the user sees a video feed similar to the one on TikTok. We are not reinventing the wheel in terms of consumption format. Instead, the innovation lies in content.

The user will have a personalized feed, which is formed based on their preferences, and the content will also be divided into categories.

A feature of our feed is a progress bar, similar to Instagram stories. We chose this because the first content format that we will check is videos up to 3 minutes long, divided into so-called points. A point is a segment of up to 15 seconds, during which you share one thought (the name comes from English “from my point of view …”).

Writing a script and shooting a 3-minute video is quite difficult, even if you know a thing or two. We have a hypothesis that if you limit the author to only 15 seconds for one thought, script generation will accelerate.

And this hypothesis is getting confirmed. For those content makers who are now making videos for us, it takes an hour and a half on average from coming up with a theme to a finished script. It’s fast enough for educational content. The videos turn out to be dynamic and non-trivial, and shooting them is quite simple — after all, everyone has learned to shoot a story.

After some videos, we have quizzes (test tasks) prepared by content makers. This is a test of how much you have understood the information. The quiz is not obligatory, but if you pass it, you get a reward — experience points that then form your level visible to all profile visitors along with other achievements for, say, creating your own content on the platform.

We count on the fact that there are a lot of collectors among zoommers as they have been given a medal or certificate for every breath they take since childhood. Those were certificates in literacy schools and achievements in games. Therefore, now gamification works not just in games, but also in other areas.

- The higher the level, the what? ..

- We are still shaping the final vision. Obviously, this will be something starting from minor improvements: for example, the ability to make a special avatar, a beautiful spelling of a nickname — and ending with more tangible things. There will likely be additional opportunities to promote your own content on the platform or access exclusive content.

All concepts need A / B testing, which is what we plan to do with our first audience.

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EduDo startup

Who will be making first content

- You mentioned content makers. Who are they?

- We ourselves are now trying to find the answer to this question. One hypothesis is that these are educational influencers, perhaps even near-educational celebrities.

The second hypothesis is that zoommers no longer trust big influencers. They trust their peers — those they can write a message to and get an answer. They are also called nano influencers. We call this hypothesis “peer to peer teaching”.

We’re looking for scalable search channels for guys who may not have content creation experience, but have great stories and relevant expertise to share. We already have several hypotheses about what could become such a source.

 

- How will the content be moderated?

- If a question arises with the construction of an automation and moderation system, it will be a success for us, since it will mean that the main hypothesis has been confirmed and we can build a social network on its basis.

In the first version of the application, we won’t even have a video editor. The fact that people will want to prepare educational content for other people is also a hypothesis that we are going to test. We will have an “Add Video” button and we will see how many people click on it. If there is enough, then we will quickly launch the video editor.

We have several options for building a moderation system so far.

The first one is a large educational community that self-moderates, like Wikipedia. There is a separate group of people who moderate content voluntarily and for free. They receive some bonuses from the platform for doing this. In our case, we use the same gamification- limited achievements, experience.

The second option is an analogy of Reddit or Habr, where all new content makers start not from the main feed, but from the so-called “sandbox”. There may be a lot of dubious content, but if you get out of it, you get accredited as a quality author and can already get into the main feed skipping the sandbox.

It will be impossible to moderate a huge amount of data manually if the application starts growing rapidly. Therefore the platform will obviously have an automatic system that filters content so that there is no violence, drugs and blood. But the peculiarity is that the quality and credibility of educational content is of key importance on the educational platform, therefore we cannot rely on automation now. There is a plan in this regard — to build a full cycle of moderation, starting from the processing of content on trained neural networks in the start and ending with manual moderation.

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EduDo startup

Who EduDo is for

- Do you already have a portrait of the average audience member?

- Our typical user is a zoomer most likely aged 15–25. He or she is a very pragmatic person. This young man or woman has already seen their families’ well-being plummeted during crises, so they learned to count money. Accordingly, the price / quality ratio, including the time spent, is critical for them. They want to develop and absorb a lot of information.An average zoomer who is currently at university, for example, spends 6.5 hours a week on homework. Whereas the typical millennial, who is not much older, spent an average of 5 hours.

Our user is quite political, since their family blamed the state for economic problems. They have rather leftist political views. Moreover, they not only speak, but also act. Activism is expressed, for example, in the last story of Trump’s election rally, whose meeting was joined by just 6,000 people that came to the 28,000-seat stadium, because the rest of the tickets were booked by Tiktokers (who, of course, did not come).

Zoomers are people who are extremely worried about global problems. The main ones are climate change, inequality and everything that follows from it.

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EduDo startup

We need to raise $1.5–2 million of seed investments by the end of the year

- Can you tell us about the main points of the roadmap?

- I began working closely on the project around May. I started with assembling a team, investing my own money in the project and raising about $40,000 of pre-seed investments. The Rocket DAO team provided invaluable assistance in the start. Now we are developing MVP and negotiating with content makers, many of whom have already started filming videos.

The roadmap is as follows: we are planning a release in the American and Canadian markets in mid-autumn. After the release, we will be collecting metrics, finalizing the product in accordance with these metrics, and if everything is okay, we’ll raise a seed round. We set the target at $1.5–2 million.

Why such a big round? We do not have a technological barrier that would prevent our competitors from copying us in a couple of months with a certain amount of capital. After the release, as soon as we see that something works, potential competitors will also see it, so we need to move very quickly: in terms of hiring employees, attracting users, marketing. And you need to have a lot of money in stock to do this.

I am still communicating with foundations. And my VC background — for the last 3.5 years I’ve been working as an investment manager in RBF Ventures and Flint Capital venture funds and it is quite relevant to a project of this scale and ambition. This is a classic venture capital story — you need to work and grow very quickly here.

- What markets do you plan to move to after the USA and Canada?

- The USA and Canada are the largest and most relevant trend-generating markets. As soon as we see that the hypothesis is confirmed, we will launch all over the world. This is potentially a pretty viral story, and you can get the first traction in new markets with a relatively small initial investment.

Therefore, in an optimistic scenario, if we confirm all hypotheses and raise the seed round, we will be able to release all over the world at the end of this — early next year.

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How to outcompete the giants of the market

- What is it like to compete with such giants as YouTube, Instagram, TikTok?

- I come from venture capital investments, and when projects came to me and said that they had no direct competitors, I always involuntarily smiled: there are always competitors. In our case, the use case is quite unique. The biggest competitors we currently have are educational profiles on the listed social networks.

Let’s walk through a typical use case.

A zoomer is going down the subway and has 15 minutes to get from point A to point B.

How can this time be filled now? Many people use social networks, listen to music, or play games. But more and more people want to spend their time meaningfully. What options do they have? Educational TikTok / Instagram profiles, educational videos on YouTube, Coursera and similar platforms, highly specialized applications like Lingualeo, as well as podcasts, articles, e-books.

Our direct competitors — educational TikTok and Instagram profiles — have 2 main disadvantages. The first is that these are broadly targeted social networks and the content there is very diverse. You have to look for educational content and it is very easy to get distracted. Besides, these social networks motivate you to get distracted.

Educational content is more complex than entertainment content. Accordingly, in order to lure the user to stay on the platform for as long as possible and show him or her as many advertisements as possible, you need to “slip” them into entertainment.

Therefore, on TikTok, for example, no matter how hard you try to create a feed with useful videos, you still see mostly entertaining content. I watched, liked, reacted to and looked for only educational videos for more than a month. And still, I have only 30–35% of them in my feed. Accordingly, sooner or later, you find yourself watching cute cats again.

There’s the same problem with YouTube. Firstly, you need to find content of sufficient duration there, because many educational videos are much longer than 15 minutes. Secondly, you need to turn the phone. There are vertical videos on the platform, but there are quite few of them. Turning the phone is an additional pain for the user, because this is no longer the natural position of the phone in the hand.

And again, YouTube also encourages the user to switch from educational to entertainment content sooner or later.

If we talk about indirect competitors like Coursera, then the situation there is similar to YouTube — it is difficult to find a video of the required length and you also need to turn the phone over.

Podcasts, highly specialized educational apps, e-books, and articles are not about video. And zoomers prefer video.

In addition, we are trying to solve another big injustice — with regard to educational content makers. Obviously, educational content is much harder to create than entertainment content, and it monetizes just as much, if not worse, as the entertaining one in traditional social media. As a result, educational material on social networks is created mainly by enthusiasts who quickly give up this business. By offering makers access to the maximum target audience and several options to earn decent money on their content, we want to undermine this status quo.

As a result, it turns out that there are no companies on the market that do exactly the same thing or solve the problem just as completely. The big guys we compete with are developing the market for us, but their value proposition is significantly worse than ours.

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On monetization

- How do you plan to earn?

- If everything is confirmed, and we have a social network, it is obvious that the main source of revenue will be advertising.

We have another interesting hypothesis — the built-in donate button in the application. Now the culture of donations is actively developing — well-known streamers are already receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. Therefore, the hypothesis that this will work with educational content seems quite strong to me. We will charge a fee from donations, which will become the second source of revenue.

Moreover, having donations on the platform will allow us to attract content makers to it more actively. For them, this will become an additional source of monetization of their knowledge.

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EduDo startup

Surviving till the seed-round

- How much investment does it take to survive to the seed round?

- So far, the amount in my head is up to $120,000, but it may change after we start making content — both up and down. We are just starting to work with content makers, so there is no complete picture of how much the first content will cost.

- Will this money be enough?

I am not yet forcing the raising of the pre-seed round in order to come to potential investors not just with a hypothesis, saying “I guess we may need so much”, but rather with specific numbers: “We need so much, because”.

We want to have at least 10 hours of content on our platform for release, or better 15–20 hours. Here’s where this figure comes from. TikTok has statistics: on average, people “stick” there for 52 minutes a day. Our platform is similar in format, but still has longer and more meaningful content that is more difficult to perceive. Our hypothesis is that the average time spent on the platform daily will be less: for now, we set ourselves a target of 15–20 minutes.

Thus, an average user who visits the platform after the release will be provided with content for about a month. And content production will not stop.

In terms of content, we will have the following categories: Wellness, Beauty & Fashion, Health, Soft Skills. These are popular stories among zoomers that they can relate to, most of them will be relevant to the audience that came for one of these categories.

- What is the most difficult thing to overcome in order for a startup to work and succeed?

- In my understanding, the main problem is that we need content when we release the application that resonates much as possible in the hearts, minds and souls of our target audience — zoomers. When everything comes to the social network, it will regulate which content works better and which is worse itself, but at the start you need to hit the bull’s eye.

- What problems have you faced already?

- We’ve faced all the typical problems of a pre-seed startup. I share the following approach: if you are working on a startup and you feel that you have everything under control, you are not moving fast enough. So far, we’re not even close to feeling it :)

We now have a bunch of parallel urgent tasks that we are trying to do simultaneously without radical decrease in quality. This is the most creative stage of a nascent startup.

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EduDo startup

Venture background is a godsend for a startup

- Who is on the team now?

- There are four of us now, we plan that the team will have 8–9 people by the end of the summer. We are now solving the issue with several technical and operational specialists.

The technical co-founder has product background, has worked in the mobile industry for over 6 years, and has launched his own mobile products. The content manager has a wealth of experience working with influencers, marketing and production.

What I liked in them was the “chemistry” and strong desire — they understand why they need this project and what awaits them here.

We had an interesting story with designers: I met the guys from the 69pixels team who do overall app design, creatives, branding and identity. The guys offered me to join the project and make the design for free, in exchange for participating in the project.

- How do you look for specialists for your team?

- Since I have a background in venture capital, I used the most effective tool of a venture investor — networking. I turned to people who can recommend someone, shared the idea and said who I was looking for.

Perhaps I “cheated” a little here and the story of EduDo is not quite a typical story of a startup from Belarus, which, for example, has no connections and starts from scratch. I used my background and found the right people.

The criterion by which I am and have been looking for people is not only relevant experience in general, but also the understanding of why you need an IT startup, and also a desire to learn and develop. Obviously you are going for a lower salary with dim prospects, because nobody really knows how to do a startup right.

20 Jul 2020

 

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