Education companies do not offer money-back guarantee if their products and services don’t deliver results. But edtech entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris has gone on the record with this bold promise: “If we are not improving student outcomes, I will shut down the company.”
The proclamation comes on the heels of a $4 million fundraise for his online tutoring startup, Yup. (Yup, that’s the actual name.) The funding comes from a mix of existing investors and new participants that include Stanford University’s StartX Fund and SOMA Capital. This cash injection is an extension of the San Francisco-based company’s $3.5 million seed round, announced last May, and bumps its funding total to $7.5 million.
Born and raised in Egypt, Sawiris studied at Stanford University before being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. His first attempt was a subscription grocery delivery startup that didn’t pan out. In 2014, he built an app, MathCrunch, that allows students to connect with live tutors for help on math homework.
That name proved short-lived, as Sawiris wanted the app to cover other subjects. Rather than creating separate apps called “PhysicsCrunch” and “ChemistryCrunch,” he decided on a simple three-letter name. (Besides, if the app were to cover tech, he would have a problem.)
Yup, as his startup is now called, is a “positive, affirmative and brandable” word, Sawiris tells EdSurge in an interview. A domain hobbyist on the side, he also already owned the rights Yup.com. (Some edtech companies have spent up to six figures on their names.)
Here’s how Yup works. Students take a photo of a math, chemistry or physics problem and get connected to a subject expert. Through the in-app messaging system, tutors walk through steps to solve the problem using the “Personalized Inquiry Learning” framework developed by the company. It’s a four-step rubric that spells out how every tutor should interact, from identifying gaps in understanding to asking guiding questions. Every session ends with the tutor introducing a new problem to ensure that the student grasps the underlying concepts behind their homework.
Making sure that Yup is an online service that helps students actually learn—and not just pay for answers—is a priority for Sawiris. “You can build an online tutoring platform that helps students cheat,” he says, “but that doesn’t improve outcomes.” There’s teeth to enforce his vision: all sessions are reviewed by tutoring managers (students’ names and personal details are anonymized), who give feedback to tutors on how well they followed the rubric.
Over 300,000 users have signed up for Yup; of these, Sawiris says, roughly 65 percent are high school students. The company offers a $6.99 monthly plan that allows students 30 minutes of tutoring; they can pay more for additional minutes. There’s also a $49.99 monthly plan for unlimited sessions.
The company is currently piloting its app in several schools, and plans on running efficacy studies with third-party research organizations this summer and fall. Sawiris expects results by the end of the year. These are high-stakes tests: “If we are not improving students’ confidence, grades or other key metrics,” Sawiris says, he’ll close shop.
As much as those words make his investors wince, Sawiris’ commitment may restore a little faith in an industry that has recently been equated with “the cheating economy.” He does not want the app to cater to students who just want someone to do their homework. “I think the online tutoring industry has been one of the biggest disappointments,” Sawiris states. “Instead of one-to-one learning, what we got was outsourced homework help.”