[The Turning Point] How a personal pain point influenced the founding of edtech startup Springboard
Back in 2012, Parul Gupta was working at IBM research and needed to learn machine learning for one of the projects she was working on. With a full-time job and a two-year-old child, it was difficult for her to step out and learn the new course.
She took a few courses on online learning platforms like Coursera and Udacity, where she completed one of the early MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) by the founder of Coursera, Andrew Ng, who is well-known in the field of machine learning. This experience got her thinking about how powerful the e-learning space was.
“The opportunity to learn from the world’s best experts halfway around the world while stuck in hours of traffic made me realise that education needs to be more open and accessible to anybody who wants to learn, regardless of their life circumstances. I wanted to make this my life’s work,” Parul tells YourStory.
Meanwhile, Gautam Tambay, a Wharton School graduate who worked with adtech company InMobi, was following the MOOC movement in the US. Gautam and Parul met through common friends and started discussing ideas and spent a lot of time talking to users to understand their online learning behaviour and learning needs.
The duo, along with a couple of interns, started its first prototype in July 2013.
Springboard was initially started as SlideRule, an aggregator for online courses, but then evolved into a mentorship-led learning platform focussed on the job outcome.
SlideRule was incorporated in the US as the co-founders were trying to build it for the global market. It would collect data about all online courses and present it for learners to compare and choose from.
Around that time, a Wharton professor emailed his entire online class of around 40,000 students about SlideRule the day it launched.
“We were already looking at introducing mentors to learners and connecting with employers when it got picked by Microsoft Accelerator. By the end of 2014, we launched mentoring as a key part of our curated learning programmes,” says Parul.
Springboard Co-founders Gautam and Parul
In the first six months, with the aggregator model, it saw about 50 users a day, which grew to a few hundred, and then peaked at around a few thousand users a month. But when it launched its curated learning paths, it claims to have hit top of the charts on Hacker News. In a single day it got 20,000 users, crashing the servers.
The team kept talking to its users how each version was working and what their pain-points were. The team was evolving and adapting its model based on their feedback till it came to the current model, which is 1:1 mentor-guided online learning.
Springboard shifted its headquarters from Bengaluru to San Francisco shortly after it raised seed funding. Among the investors then who backed the startup were LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue and founder of The Princeton Review, John Katzman.
SlideRule rebranded as Springboard in December 2015 after pivoting to the current mentor-guided model of online education.
In March 2019, it opened a dedicated India office with a focus on the Indian market.
Today, it counts Naveen Tewari, Founder and CEO of InMobi; Kartik Hosanagar, Wharton School professor; leading venture capital firms Telstra Ventures, Vulcan Capital, SJF Ventures, Costanoa Ventures, Pearson Ventures, Reach Capital, International Finance Corporation (IFC), 500 Startups, Blue Fog Capital, Rocketship.vc, and Learn Capital among its investors.
Till date, Springboard claims to have served nearly 20,000 students in over 100 countries around the world through its paid courses, and several lakhs through its free resources. It claims many graduates have landed jobs with companies like Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Boeing.
Springboard has also trained corporate teams at Visa, Gusto, and The North Face.
Parul adds, “Entrepreneurship is definitely one of the most challenging and fulfilling things I have done in my life. The mission and the impact we see every day on our students’ lives and the fact that we as an organisation have been able to make our mark in that world and create an impact is really satisfying and humbling.”