Business Beckons: Scrible Finally Charges for Writing Platform After Three Years

Business Beckons: Scrible Finally Charges for Writing Platform After Three Years


Freemium business models usually only work if a startup has services and tools to upsell.

After more than three years, Victor Karkar, the CEO of scrible, now has something to charge for. Today, the company is offering teachers a set of productivity and analytics tools, re-positioning itself as a platform to help “scaffold the research writing process so students stay organized,” he tells EdSurge.

Perhaps just as importantly, “this is going to be the first time we will monetize at an institutional level,” Karkar says in an interview. “If I had to do it again, I would have charged from day one. We took way too long to get to this point.”

Launched in 2011, scrible had been offering users a free web extension that lets anyone annotate, save and share web research. In 2013, the company created a student-facing version of the tool. Now, the company is offering teachers in K-12 and higher-ed institutions an “Edu Pro” version that aims to help students organize their research in their documents. Pro also offers teachers the ability track their writing progress.

“We heard from teachers that it is hard to teach research because it can be an overwhelming, multi-step process,” says Karkar. He claims “we’re making that process much simpler” by helping students do online research, organize their notes, and write.

Scrible functions like a lightweight learning management system. Teachers organize students into different classes; those who use Google Classroom can automatically sync their student rosters. Students can also import their scrible bookmarks and annotations directly into their Google Docs.

Source: scrible

Where scrible Edu Pro shines, according to Karkar, is in allowing teachers to create writing assignments with objectives (such as minimum word and citation counts) and track on a dashboard how students are progressing on those goals. Teachers can see who’s “stuck” (or procrastinating) on different steps of the process and help students early on—rather than the day before the writing assignment is due. They can also see the sources that students referenced—allowing them to quickly know, for instance, how much of the research came from Wikipedia.

By being able to see how students cite online sources, teachers can better help them with information literacy and how to critically evaluate the quality of online sources. A 2012 Pew survey found that although 94 percent of writing teachers say their students are “very likely” to use online search engines for assignments, only one-quarter rated their research ability as “excellent” or “very good.”

As a writing platform, scrible won’t be giving students automatic feedback on the quality of a student’s composition (which other startups, such as WriteLab, are trying to accomplish). The company is focused for now on bringing structure into the writing process. The tool is similar to offerings from Citelighter, a startup that also began with an online citation tool and has since developed features to help students organize their writing workflows.

Aside from $600,000 in Small Business Innovation Research grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, scrible has been entirely bootstrapped with funds from family and friends. According to Karkar, the company has more than 100,000 users, some of whom he hopes will convert to paying customers. Scrible Edu Pro will cost $10 per student per year in K-12 schools. For college students, it will cost $28 per year, or $3 per month.

“From a business standpoint,” reflects Karkar, “we are maturing. We were giving away a lot for free earlier, and that was part of the problem.”

Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to clarify how long the company had been a education-facing business. An earlier version suggested five years; that has since been corrected.

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