Yourhomework

Say you’re a sophomore stuck on a question in your trigonometry homework. Do you ask your parents for help? Text your friends? Skip it completely? A new startup hopes you’ll snap a photo of the question with your phone and submit it to its tutoring marketplace instead.

The Silicon Valley-based company, GotIt!, has developed an app of the same name. High school students submit their math and science questions and tutors bid to answer. When a student accepts a bid, which are usually less than a dollar, he or she gets a 10-minute-long tutoring session over text.

GotIt! just finished up a stint in Silicon Valley at the Intel Education Accelerator, where they’ve been working since August to expand beyond high school math and chemistry (the two subjects they started with because they were the most concrete to explain). Peter Relan, the co-founder and chairman, says they want to level the playing field and make sure that any student anywhere can get their complicated questions answered one-on-one.

Relan shares his story with Smithsonian.com.

What is GotIt!? Can you give me your elevator pitch?

It’s an on-demand marketplace that instantly connects you, a smart phone user, to a live, paid expert for a 10-minute chat session about a problem you want to solve or a topic you want to learn about. The goal is to enable people to teach each other about topics in which they are knowledgeable.

What problem are you trying to fix?

We all have dozens of questions every day. There is someone out there who is perfect to address each one, but it’s hard to find that person and connect with him or her instantly. For the experts, it’s easier to offer their time if it’s only 10 minutes. It’s low commitment, and they can do it any time and anywhere.

How does it work, exactly?

There are three key innovations that make GotIt! work. First, the user experience. Just take a photo or type in a topic. Within seconds, you get connected to a trained expert in the field. Second, the marketplace. Because it’s a marketplace in which multiple experts from all over the world compete via bidding, we have created a free market where the price of 10 minutes of expert knowledge is evaluated in real time. We think this is revolutionary. Knowledge has had no global free market economy until now. Lastly, it is a freemium business model. We don’t charge for every chat session, just for one of every few sessions. The paid sessions are priced so they can absorb the cost of the free ones, so everyone can get some free help every now and then.

How are the experts recruited? 

Most experts find us through search or are referred by other experts. 

And how do you vet them?

There's an on-boarding program that tests both customer service skills and, of course, the subject matter. After they pass the tests, there is an audit period in which every session of a newbie expert is checked by a senior, experienced expert and is graded along five dimensions. An expert is banned if there is any personal information exchange. 

How did GotIt! get its start?

Hung Tran, the founder, started the idea of a marketplace for experts while doing his PhD in computer science at the University of Iowa. Then he came to Silicon Valley to join my incubator called YouWeb. He’s a Vietnamese citizen who came to the U.S. to study. We teamed up, then Intel Capital came in to help as well.

As you see it, what impact could GotIt! have on the world of education? 

We want every student in the world to have access to some personalized academic help. Like Khan Academy transformed education by offering free, non-personalized help, we now are cracking free, one-on-one help.

What do you see as your biggest success so far?

It’s in the top 15 education apps in the app store. More than a million math and science problems have been submitted. Students love it, and thousands of experts all over the world are making some income.

What's the long term plan?

We want to broaden beyond education into other areas and to power all sorts of daily queries we all have. We want to create global employment for people willing to share their knowledge and teach others.

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About Heather Hansman

Heather Hansman is a Seattle-based freelancer who writes about science, the environment, tech and people, and how they all interact. Her work has appeared in Outside, Popular Science and Grist.

Read more from this author | Follow @hhansman

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