Citations Look and Act Smart, With RefME’s $5M Seed Round

Citations Look and Act Smart, With RefME’s $5M Seed Round

Outfit your bibliographic references in the right style, and they might just introduce you to some other friendly sources.

So offers London-based RefME, which raised $5 million in a seed round led by GEMS Global, which contributed $4 million. With RefME, launched in January 2014 and available on browsers and iOS and Android devices, users can scan a book or journal barcode (or type in the title) and have the work automatically formatted as a citation, footnote or in a bibliography in over 7,000 academic formats—and get recommendations of what sources to read next.

RefME makes these recommendations by collecting and analyzing data from bibliographies that other students have previously made using the tool. “When you create a reference for something that we’ve got in our database, we’ll give you three or four links to content that we know has been useful to other students,” CEO and co-founder Tom Hatton explains to EdSurge. “Each time you cite it, [RefME] gets smarter.”

RefME’s suggestions work especially well when students use the tool throughout the process of collecting sources and writing an essay—which most users do, according to Hatton. “We discovered that student best use our tool to capture all their research, and only export the list right at the end,” he says. “We want students to use this from the very start of the essay to when they hand it in.”

The data that RefME collects isn’t only valuable to other students—it’s also valuable to university libraries. According to Hatton, RefME’s data has informed the purchasing process at several school libraries. “A citation is very pinpointed—it’s defining what passage on what page of a textbook is useful for a student,” he explains. “Instead of buying blindly or using checkout data, [citations] give specific insights into the actual type of content that [a library’s] students are using.”

The data has also been useful to university professors, who can see how many of their students are turning to the library archives for information as opposed to, say, Wikipedia.

RefME does not collect personal information from students, and does not share the anonymized data of student citations beyond an individual student’s school. But Hatton does acknowledge that the data certainly has appeal. “It’d be a gold mine for publishers, to see what the end users are using in their content,” he admits. “We’re well-aware that they’d pay a lot of money for these insights.” And while RefME currently offers its service for free, he sees partnerships with publishers as “a promising revenue model for us,” especially the strategy of “pushing our users to certain content from publishers who would pay the most.”

RefME boasts just under a million new users since September 2014, 95% of whom are in the UK or US. And it’s growing fast, with an average of 10,000 new users daily. With the seed funding, RefME, currently with 36 employees, will grow its engineering and data teams and expand internationally, focusing on the Indian market and the US K-12 space.

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