Editor's Note: Paul Perilla is a recent high school graduate who spent four weeks at EdSurge reviewing popular edtech products and interviewing the executives who built them. Below is a conversation with ClassDojo Director of Marketing, Manoj Lamba—the last in a three-part series. Be sure to check out the first and second pieces in the series.
Perilla: I've actually used ClassDojo. My English teacher used it a while back.
Lamba: How nice. What did you think of it?
It was really cool. it was a really good website to manage the class. Now let's start with yourself. What do you do? Who are you basically?
Sure, My name is Manoj. I’ve been at ClassDojo for about 2 years now. I focus predominantly on marketing.
What would you say your strengths are besides doing marketing?
I have a really strong appreciation for storytelling. I think if you look at some of the best companies in the world you have an appreciation for them because they tell great stories... It's not purely about just function. While I wouldn't say I'm amazing at it yet I have a passion for trying to figure out the best way to tell stories. That's probably why I wind up in marketing.
How did you get into ClassDojo in the first place?
It happened really quickly. I got introduced to Sam (CEO and co-founder) through a mutual friend and we ended up getting coffee. Before the coffee I saw [ClassDojo] and I was playing with the app like, "This is...I don't understand this. I don't know how this is important or helps the world yet."
I was optimistic and having a great conversation with Sam. Then—Sam and I remember the moment I got goosebumps—it was five minutes in and he told me two things. The first thing was the goal of the company is to really help kids learn important soft skills and character traits. For me that was the most important part about my education growing up. The teachers I remember and love most are the ones who taught me grit and working hard and not giving up. It wasn't the ones who taught me certain academic skills if you will. I feel like I am able to do and learn new things today because of soft skills.
Second thing he told me is how many teachers loved the products; not just using it but how it's changed their life. Teachers who considered leaving teaching, and then they discover ClassDojo and their lives just got better. To have a product that in its infancy can still help so many teachers and parents and students, it was hard not to want to join this company.
If you were to give advice to anyone like myself about life or education, what would you say?
I don't know if I'm in a position to do that.
Perilla: You're grown, you've had experiences?! What would you say?
I think one thing I'm actually finding myself working on a lot—maybe this is a good answer to your prior question, too—is really deeply understanding people. I'm still not good at it. I'm still not good at really appreciating someone and what motivates them. I really didn't think too much about it in high school and in college, but everyone you meet is very unique and very passionate about something. If I were to give any advice to someone, it's to meet people who are passionate about something and try and figure out why they're passionate about it because if anything that's going to help you find your passions as well. At least make you driven to find out what your passion is.
Thank you. Let's talk about more on ClassDojo. Have you seen impact or have you seen results from what you guys do?
Yes. This is actually a big thing we're working on right now which is telling the stories of our impact. We've talked to a lot of teachers…
One of my favorite stories was—I don't remember the teacher’s name—but she was telling us about why ClassDojo is so helpful to her classroom this past school year. She was saying there's one student who was selectively mute who just didn't want to talk… All of the students knew that this student was really struggling with talking in class and just talking in general. Anytime that student would speak up all the kids around him would celebrate that one. It was a very powerful thing in class. Fast forward to the end of the school year and the student's far more vocal, far more participatory in what's going on. All that was because of the peer encouragement not the teacher encouragement. ClassDojo was a huge part of what happened.
Perilla: If you don't mind me asking how do you guys make money?
That's a good question. We're actually venture-funded. We have a group of amazing investors who love the mission… For us what we want to do is build something that's amazing for the classroom, always free for the teachers, and if we can, figure out a way to allow parents to get involved in unique ways. Parents can maybe subsidize basically the cost… we haven't tested it but the idea is teachers shouldn't have to spend any more money than they already do. That just isn't fair and we want to invest as much of our resources in building an amazing product. We don't want to build a huge sales team and sells to district. That's the approach we're building.
Do you guys have any other companies that do similar things? How do you stand out among them?
I think where we stand today there are a lot of amazing edtech companies that are starting out right now. I think there'll be some areas where they can merge. I think right now that we're all pretty unique. I think from a teachers' mindset, ClassDojo is a way of helping them run the classroom, helping them encourage students. From that mindset it's not ClassDojo versus another technology; it's ClassDojo versus older forms of doing something similar, whether that's clip charts or a green, yellow, red card system, something like that...
One more question. Who are your audiences? You guys use monsters and stuff. Do you lean more towards the younger kids like elementary school or do you go into college as well?
We're pretty popular to put it lightly. We've signed up over 4 million teachers now. One in two schools in America use us in some way in at least one classroom. We're popular enough to do that you can't just be focused on K-3 and K-5. We like to focus on K-8 so when we're designing products and features we like to scan that spectrum…
The monsters are simply a representation of the student. While it seems like it might be childish, what's amazing is high school students also love it because it’s unique. It makes that classroom feel special and different from every other classroom they go to and makes it a lot more fun. I think that the monsters are a way to keep students excited about school. It's fun. People love them.
Paul Perilla is an intern at EdSurge and an entrepreneur with great ambition.