Not even this summer’s NBA Finals, featuring the Golden State Warriors, could distract Bay Area sports fan Brian Grey from taking this meeting. Back in June, the former CEO of Bleacher Report agreed to have coffee with Brett and David Kopf, the co-founders of Remind. They made an offer he couldn’t refuse: take the reins of the popular school communication startup.
Grey agreed. “The decision to become a CEO again is not one I take lightly,” he says in an interview with EdSurge. Yet he was struck by Remind’s mission, along with the “immense capability and market positioning that the company has carved in the education ecosystem.” There’s a personal reason as well: Both his parents taught, and so does his sister.
Giving up the steering wheel was a decision that Brett Kopf, who led Remind since its start in 2011, says he is at ease with. That may be surprising given what he’s accomplished so far. He, along with his brother David, have guided the San Francisco-based company through impressive milestones, including reaching more than 35 million educators, students and parents (20 million of whom are monthly active users). They’ve also raised more than $59.5 million from some of Silicon Valley’s most esteemed venture capitalists, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Social Capital.
Yet CEO duties took away from one thing that Brett Kopf enjoyed most: talking to teachers.
“My DNA is really about getting in touch with the community,” he says. “What I truly believe the company needs is a strong voice that understands what teachers, parents and principals need. It is time for me to focus 100 percent on this.”
At Remind, being “teacher-obsessed” has become a common refrain that Brett, David, and all of their 75 employees live and swear by. Each staff member is required to spend an hour every week providing live chat support to their users.
Brett Kopf says these conversations have been instrumental in Remind’s evolution from its beginning as a one-way, teacher-to-student messaging app. (The idea originally came from his frustration over forgetting assignment due dates as a college student.) Today the tool supports a variety of communication between students, parents and administrators. Users can attach files, schedule appointments, announcements and reminders, send emergency notifications, and organize events.
Until recently Remind offered all these features for free, raising questions over how the venture-backed startup planned to make money. Last month, it announced its first revenue-generating feature: Activities, which allows schools to request and collect funds for field trips and fundraisers. Remind will charge a 5 percent fee for all transactions, which are processed by Stripe. (For example, a $10 field trip will cost parents $10.50, with the company taking the 50 cents.)
Not many venture-backed startups have the luxury of waiting five years before making a cent. “I wanted someone with operational experience who can help scale the team and revenue,” says Brett Kopf.
Those are duties that Grey feels comfortable with. As CEO of Bleacher Report from 2010 to 2013, he directed the sports media company through two funding rounds, followed by a $170 million sale to Time Warner in Aug. 2012. Prior to this role he was Senior Vice President & General Manager of FOX Sports Interactive and GM of Yahoo! Sports.
These experiences, he tells EdSurge, gave him “unique perspectives in the power of networks to help consumers discover services.” In Remind, he sees “a lot of similarities when it comes to making connections between parents, teacher and schools and, like a media company, delivering services and content to them.”
Grey kept mum about his long-term financial goals for Remind, only offering that “over time, we’ll run into folks who are interested [in an acquisition], and those conversations will go where they need to go.” For now, he says the team is mapping connections between their different user segments and building services best suited for their needs. The company also aims to expand its footprint in U.S. and Canada.
Despite its popularity, Remind is hardly the only school communication tool in the market. Other companies are taking note of rising smartphone ownership among students. (A 2013 Pew survey suggested that 37 percent of teens own a smartphone, a figure that is likely higher today.) ClassDojo, which began as a classroom management app, also offers messaging features to connects schools, students and parents. Class Messenger (owned by Scholastic) and SchoolMessenger (owned by West Corporation) also offer similar functionalities.
Increased competition and pressure to make money will drive Remind to find ways to distinguish itself from the pack. “We don’t believe software alone is going to improve education,” says David Kopf. “People will. That’s why we’re focused on communication because it connects people, and that will help us build products they’ll actually use.”