PODCAST: Enrollify - Bringing Slack-like workspaces into every college and university classroom

Vicky Le
October 21, 2022

Meet Kavitta Ghai Co-Founder of Nectir, an EdTech startup that brings Slack-like workspaces into every college and university classroom. Kavitta was pretty much born an entrepreneur…her very first hustle was in elementary school when she started selling stationery.  She’d collect letterhead and envelopes from her father’s office and then sort into near bundles which she’d sell to her classmates.

In her junior year at UC Santa Barbara, she was introduced to Slack by one of her professors who decided to use it as a way for the class to ask questions and share ideas.  Kavitta was amazed at how superior her learning experience was in that class compared to her other classes…Slack transformed that 200 person lecture into a dynamic learning community.

And that’s when she started thinking…why wasn’t there a tool like Slack for every college class?  What if every student at a university could join a channel for each course they enrolled in every semester?  Could this better the learning experience for students?  And perhaps even cut down on the time faculty and TAs spend answering questions about the course material?

And it was these questions and others like them that ultimately led Kavitta and her Co-Founder, Jordan Long, to build Nectir.  

Podcast Transcript

Kavitta  00:11

And we were like, oh my god, this is either going to be the greatest thing ever, or the greatest failure that we've ever had in our lives. And it was a little bit of both, I'm not gonna lie

Zach  00:27

Welcome to Starter Stories, a podcast that explores the stories behind the world's leading education technology companies and education consultancies and the people who created them. In each episode, you'll hear about the grit strategies, the winds, the failures, and the serendipity that transpired to do the half baked idea and bring it to life. Startup stories is a podcast and the role of a learning community for enrollment managers and higher education marketers. explore other shows like fanatical Fridays and CRM, prob, or access creative ideas on how to better your student recruitment campaigns via our videos, blogs and courses at enroll five out. I'm your host, Zach Busekrus. Enjoy the show.

Zach  01:19

In just a moment, you'll meet Kavitta Ghai, co founder of Nectir, an ed tech startup that brings Slack-like workspaces into every college and university classroom. Kavitta was pretty much born an entrepreneur, or very first hustle was actually an elementary school when she started selling stationery. She'd collect letterhead and envelopes from her father's office, and then sort them into neat bundles, which she then sell to her classmates. In her freshman year at UC Santa Barbara, she was introduced to Slack by one of her professors who decided to use it as a way for the class to ask questions and share ideas. Kavitta was amazed at how superior her learning experience was in that class. Compared to her other classes. Slack transformed that 200 person lecture into a dynamic learning communities. And that's when she started thinking, why was there a tool like Slack for every college class? What if every student at a university could join a channel for each course enrolled in every semester? Could this better the learning experience for students, and perhaps even cut down the time faculty and TAs spend answering questions about the course material? And it was these questions and others like them that ultimately led Kavitta and her co founder Jordan long to build Nectir. All right, get ready to meet Kavitta Ghai. 

Zach  02:41

So Kavitta, if I were to be invited over to your house for dinner, and if I were to ask some of your closest family and friends to tell me a little bit about you, what is it that you imagine they might say? 

Kavitta  03:00

Well, I think the first thing that they would say is that I was late, I am perpetually late to absolutely everything that I go to, I'm always that person, where I will find something last minute that just has to be done. Shout out to my ADHD. So definitely, they showed up a little bit late, but I think I think my friends and family would say that I value loyalty over everything else, and not necessarily theirs to me. But that I think every person that I love in my life knows that everything that I do, all of this is for them. Because I think that what is success, if you can't share it with the people that you love most, you know, nobody wants to be sitting at the top all alone. I want to eat with all of the people who I started with on day one, you know, so I do this for them. And I think they absolutely know that. And I think besides that if they would say that, when I set my mind to something there is absolutely nobpdy who can tell me otherwise. Doesn't matter if it's a good idea or a bad idea. If I want something I'm gonna go get it and I truly believe that nothing can stop me from

Zach  04:12

Very, very well said. Quick comment on the late thing. So my wife is also perpetually late to just about everything and it's kind of feel that yeah, it's it's kind of like a running joke in my extended family that you know, Gabby will always be late is that and therefore Zack will also always be late to everything and it was a very like punctual person. She's been rubbing off on me a little bit and so I'm a little bit later these days, but she was telling me that apparently there were some study done about how like some of the smartest and most successful people are like perpetually late and how like Steve Jobs and Barack Obama used to always, always be late to every to every engagement so anyways, she's been trying to convince me that being late is actually a sign of genius. So for what it's worth, maybe you should take it. Yeah.

Kavitta  05:07

Oh, totally. I've heard a little bit about that. And I never really knew if it was just like, a bias that we like to tell people like, yeah, it's actually cuz we're smart. But I'll take it. Sure. I'll take it. I'll tell everyone when I walk in next time. Don't be like, Guys, it's actually a sign of my genius.

Zach  05:22

There you go. There you go. Yeah. Well, before we dive too much into today's conversation, which I'm pumped for, because what's so fun about Starter Stories and what we do here, in this podcast, it's really sort of like the one time where we get to unpack the unique story behind some of the greatest people working in and around higher education, a lot of times podcast interviews, you're supposed to come on, and you're supposed to share a lot of like your thought leadership, right? Like you're supposed to not not talk too much about who you are, and what you do. And instead, try to espouse some sort of wisdom, right, I try to impart some, you know, good takeaways for folks, right? What's super fun about this particular podcast, and we have plenty of podcasts as part of our network that do just that. But what's so fun about this one is, it really is all about you. And it's really about how you think and your story and why you think the way that you do so, before we dive into all things, Kavitta, I do want to just give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about Nectir. And to kind of set the stage before we before we go too much deeper. And what's the quick little elevator pitch for what you're building?

Kavitta  06:27

Well, Nectir is the instant chat tool that engages campus communities and reduces burnout for students and instructors. Essentially, what that boils down to is we have an instant chat based platform that auto creates class channels, and every single class on campus. And real vision here is to build community, in every single class in every college and university, not just in the US, but around the world. Because if you look at the corporate world, in the last five to seven years, every single enterprise based company has had to adopt some form of communication technology, you go to any company and there's Slack, or Teams or Google Chat, there's something where they're connecting the teams, and they're building community because they know how salient that is. And that just is the future. That's how we communicate. And when you look at higher ed, some of the most innovative institutions in the world, we're still using email. And that doesn't really make sense to me anymore. And I truly believe that over the next couple of years, higher ed is going to follow suit with enterprise. And they're going to adopt communication platforms for campuses the same way that Slack and Teams have been adopted. And Nectir is the first on the market to really fill that space and be that full service communication platform across an entire campus, not just for students to chat with each other in their classes. But for instructors to build community to for TAs to have their community, for admin to be able to be on the ground for the first time and chat with people that they normally never would, I think it's really important that we start to bridge those gaps. And I think really beautiful and incredible things will start to come out of higher ed again, once we're able to innovate it and really bring it into the 21st century.

Zach  08:18

Love it. So if I am gonna throw a scenario at you to see if i This more or less sort of mirrors Nectir today and or sort of the the vision for Nectir. So I am thinking about Slack, right. And in Slack, you open slack, and you've got a bunch of channels. And each channel like I'm invited to specific channels, not everyone on my team is in every channel, right? My Slack experience is unlike anyone elses on my team is the idea that like Nectir, you'd be invited different channels, different rooms, depending on your schedule. So my my Nectir, I might have seven or eight different channels that mirror sort of my course schedule, and that could be very different than the channels that mirror your course schedule is that more or less how it works?

Kavitta  09:03

Yes, basically, anytime you register for a class, you will automatically be added into a group chat for that class. And it sits right within your LMS. So whether you are on Canvas, or Blackboard or Moodle, wherever you are, the Nectir chat sits there. For most students, they actually like to use the mobile app or you know, go on their tablet. So they're allowed to do that, while instructors love to have it in the same place as the LMS. But essentially, we're adding a communication piece where students and instructors already are to sort of facilitate that community building and allow them to build these emergent communities by having a really easy and fluid way to connect all the time whenever they need.

Zach  09:45

Love it. Love it. Well sounds incredibly exciting and very, very needed. I think back to you know, when I was in college too and how often you'd be sitting in sort of like a large lecture hall, and not sure if you know people were all feeling I mean, I feel like so when I was in school Yik Yak That was was was big. Oh my god.

Kavitta  10:04

This was a lot based off of Yik Yak college, I was obsessed. I was like, you know, obviously things could have been better. I just thought the idea of being able to talk to people who are immediately around you in school was so cool.

Zach  10:18

Yeah, I was gonna say like, this sounds like a much better and like pure use case for for Yik Yak. But I imagine how helpful something would be to just understand like, hey, are people getting this, you know, this material or, you know, are people sort of like, even even I think one of the cool things about social media today is it's sort of where you learn in social media, sort of like flush with analogies, right? If like, you know, hey, this is how you want, you should think about this concept, or, you know, a very simple sort of clear, concise way of unbundling, like a petty topic. I feel like Twitter is like, the catalyst for where all this stuff happens. In many ways. That's where some of the best learning happens. So I can imagine a use case for Nectir, where you're in school and people are poking fun or making quippy remarks about the course content. But yeah, in essence, it's actually helping you better understand concepts right by somebody sort of dumbing it down or making,

Kavitta  11:14

Speaking your language you're speaking in the words that you understand. And honestly, that was the whole reason that we built it. We built Nectir, my co founder and I, while we were still undergrad students at UCSB, wow. And it was born out of this frustration of both of us really wanting to drop out of school, because I was a first generation student. And when I came to college, I had a wildly different idea of what it was going to look like versus what it actually was. And don't get me wrong. I loved UCSB, I loved my undergrad. But there were so many times where I felt like I could learn the exact same thing off of Google or YouTube. And I don't know why I'm paying $40,000 for this. And it very quickly, was overlapped by this issue of, I don't know how to find my communities, I don't know where I'm supposed to fit in. I came from a 2000 person high school to a 27,000 person campus. And nobody really teaches you how to go find what you need and how to fit into the right communities. And it makes you feel extremely isolated. And so you have this double whammy of like, I don't really love the way that this is being taught. Nor do I really feel like I fit in here. Like why am I here? Yeah. And I know that so many other first generation students experienced that exact same feeling. And I was given so many random tools and my classes, and none of them felt like they were built for me. And that was one of the biggest reasons why we went out to go build Nectir because we kept seeing all of these tools that really just weren't built correctly. And we were like, they're these clearly are being built by people who haven't been in school for the last 20 years. Yeah, yeah. And someone needs to be building intuitive technology that looks and feels like all of the other tools that students are already using today. Because we're the first generation where we wake up and we have a tech stack of like 30 apps that we go through in the morning. And we now know how to pick apps based on which ones are built? Well, you know, we look at the UI UX, just as a normal person, even if we don't realize we're doing it, you don't think that you're looking at it through that lens, but you are. And so if we want students to really be engaged with the classroom, technology is a great way to do that, because we're meeting them where they already are. And you're able to give them really well built technology that functions not like social media, but like social education, close off to something that they already understand. But sort of that bridges that extra gap of what they don't have in their phone yet. That's like the sweet spot. That's what we're going for.

Zach  13:49

Super, super well said. And you know, it's funny, as you're sort of parsing out how next generations experience UX UI, the attention to detail that they that they pay to, to these apps and apps that are built well versus apps that aren't, I was thinking actually, this is a little tangential, but the other day about how when you're on TikTok and you want to go to the next TikTok, you you sort of like you swipe up almost almost like you are going to close the app, you know, yeah, and how every other social network like to date the app experience, you're clicking right like to you're either swiping left or swiping right, or you're clicking on the next frame, right or left right to view that next part of the Instagram story, whatever it might be. And tick tock, which is built for you know, primate well was intended initially for Gen Z, a younger audience. It was it's so smart, like the way that the developers thought about getting to more content. I'm sure this was intentional. I haven't looked into this, but it's like, Oh, what if what if the mechanic that you go through to close the app actually brings you that serves you that next video it brings you like the next piece of content that you that you desire, as opposed to you actually leaving the app. Anyways. So really hard to leave. Exactly, exactly. The point, right. So anyhow, but I digress from that. So I want to unpack a little bit more of your story, I want to hear how, you know, education was talked about growing up. But before we do that, just walk us through your your morning routine, so your alarm goes off, and then what happens next?

Kavitta  15:31

Yeah, um, when I saw this question, I It's funny, because I think that there's this fallacy or this myth that startup founders are these like, incredibly high functioning, like cream of the crop of society, indicating the future. And everyone assumes that, like, we have all of our shit together, and life is just perfect. And I think it could not be further from the truth, I think that I will always have like a special spot in my heart for founders and an admiration for them. Because it takes a little bit of insanity to go and do this every single day. Because you're literally building something that has never existed before. And so I'm sure there are people out there who you know, wake up at 5am and have this intense, insane routine and like, just get everything done by 8am and then get started for work. That's absolutely not me, I love my sleep. So I put that above everything else, I will literally set my alarm for 30 minutes before I want to actually wake up so that I can sit in bed for 30 minutes, because that is my favorite of the day. 

Kavitta  16:39

But I have I do have morning routine habits that have truly helped me, you know, run this company at my age. And I think that they're not as insane as people think, basically, my number one is just not to touch my phone for as long as I can. I'm constantly you know, looking at a screen all day long. So I want to make sure that I give my brain a rest and give myself a chance to, you know, come up with my own thoughts without being stimulated by something with my phone. So I made sure that I you know, try not to touch my phone for as long as I can. And then I like to have my morning be just for myself, you know, be really mean time and be time for me to relax, because I think it sets the tone for the rest of the day. So I'll sit in bed, I'll say my intentions for the day, I think it's really important to set your intention for what you're hoping to happen that day. Something as simple as like, you know, I'm gonna have a really good day today. And then the minute I get out of bed, I make my bed. The other thing that has truly changed my life is picking up the habit of being incredibly clean and organized in my home, okay, because I really think that your space is a reflection of what's going on in your brain. So if you come to my house, and anyone can tell you this, it is spotless, like there's not a single thing out of place ever. And it kind of looks like a serial killers house. It's one of the only really, really great habits that I have that I just cannot get away from. So I do something really interesting actually where I you know, people usually like tidying up their house and clean up before they go to bed. I actually purposefully leave a little bit of my house to be cleaned in the morning. So that when I wake up and I you know, go get my green tea and I've done my meditation. The last thing that I'll do in my morning routine is tidy up my house, fluffy pillows, wipe down the counters, put the dishes in the dishwasher, and it's just takes me like five or 10 minutes because you know, it's not super hard to do on a daily basis, but it really kicks me into gear. It's like one little easy productive thing to do. But I feel like puts me in that flow state of okay, I'm in my time to be productive now. So I kind of recommend that if it's if you're finding it hard to you know, get productive in the morning and get started. Leave a really easy task that you actually enjoy for yourself so that you can do that first and then kick yourself into gear.

Zach  19:11

Yeah, it's like getting a quick little win under your belt right as you we'll jump right back into the show after a quick message from this week's sponsor. The way high school students navigate the admissions process has changed, but has your outreach strategy. It's time to meet mongoose designed with your admissions goals in mind mongoose is market leading conversational software allows your school to create a unique omni channel communication strategy that helps you stand out from the competition and helps you connect with more prospects with less work. meet students where they already are with their premier texting platform cadence or instantly deliver personalized engagement to each website visitor with their AI conversational chatbot harmony to learn more about mongoose design Friends head on over to mongoose research.com, forward slash enroll fi again, that's mongoose research.com/enrollify. 

Zach  20:10

Totally, I've asked this question probably, I don't know, not 100 times maybe maybe close to 100 times and this was the first time anyone's ever cleaning, you know, it's a weird way to kickstart their day and it but it makes him knowing that like, I love it a lot, it makes a ton of sense. And I totally, totally buy into sort of the whole, your environment affects so much about your how you think your mood, how productive you're going to be able to be in a day. And if it's clean and tidy and organized and neat. You know, your the work that you do that, will will follow suit. So I couldn't agree more. I aspire to be more like you in that regard. I'm not quite there yet, but one day at a time, one day at a time. Um, can be I'm interested to hear how education was talked about at home like was there this expectation? You said you're a first generation college student? Did your parents like just expect that you would go to college? Did they was college sort of this foregone conclusion? Or how did your parents talk about the importance?

Kavitta  21:15

Yeah, so my parents immigrated to America from India in the 80s. And so they both came, you know, when they were younger, my mom came when she was in high school, and my dad came after he had completed his master's. And I think that was interesting, because when he came to America, his masters no longer meant anything. And he graduated top of his class, like it was really hard at that time to go to one of the top schools in India. So he graduated top of his class, and you know, just one of the smartest people that I know, but came to America, and that didn't matter, those credentials didn't matter to anyone anymore. So I think that, you know, changed his perspective of education, because I grew up in the Bay Area in the Silicon Valley, and it was my parents actually moved there for the schools. So you know, education was definitely important to them. But you hear these typical stereotypical stories about like, tiger moms and Asian parents being extremely critical of getting good grades and your GPA and which school you go to. And so obviously, like everyone else in my family was like that I grew up in an area that was like, 90%, Asian. So that's all I had around me, very much. That idea of Asian excellence totally grew up in that in that area. And I remember that, it's, it's interesting how even without your parents saying anything growing up in an environment like that, you automatically have that pressure on you from honestly, everyone else's parents, everyone around you. And without anyone saying it, you noticed it. And the first time that I realized that was I was in third grade. And I very distinctly remember this moment as sort of the pivotal moment. And if I look back, I honestly think this is where Nectir started. But in third grade, I failed my first test, and it was a multiplication exam for math. And it was the first time that I had ever failed, something that I could really remember. And I got back my test and you know, everyone's like, sharing their answers, or like, seeing what scores they got. And I failed, and everyone around me was like, Ooh, Oh, my God, your parents are gonna kill you like you failed. Oh, my God. And the teacher told me like, you should probably get some tutoring help outside of class and for a third grader just felt like my world was crumbling down. Like, I was like, Holy shit, I'm gonna die.

Kavitta  23:45

I was just so I had so much anxiety that day. And I went home crying, and I walk in and my dad's like, how was school and you can just see tears coming down my eyes. And I just didn't have the heart to tell him and he was like, what's wrong? What happened? And I just hand him this, this paper, and I'm like, I'm stupid. And he looks at my test. And he kneels down. And he says something to me that changed my entire life. We'll never forget this. He said, I never again want you to associate your intelligence with a number on a piece of paper. He said, It doesn't matter what grade you get ever. That does not determine how smart you are. Your GPA, your grades, it doesn't matter what it is. The way that school works is not doesn't function well enough to actually tell you if you are intelligent or not. He said intelligence comes from something very different and you are intelligent. 

Kavitta  24:48

And from then on. I think my parents knew around that point, you know that I had ADHD that I learned a little bit differently than other people. And they did something that not a lot of parents. instead, which was gives me the space to be who I was. And I was not someone who did well in a normal class setting. I couldn't sit there for that long and listen to someone lecture at me. I did you know, decently well in school, I got to an amazing school at UCSB. But I was I did that through my extracurriculars. Um, that's really where they let me shine, I was allowed to focus on the things that I really loved, rather than, you know, just focusing on school constantly, and putting all of my self worth into that. And it led to me living a life where I never doubted myself, because I knew that I learned differently, and that's okay. But I'm still smart. And I'm still capable, even if you know, my GPA doesn't say so. And I think that is the reason why in college when I had the idea for Nectir, that was my way of sort of healing the inner child in me, I and I truly feel that way every day. I think that's, you know, the silver lining for me of doing this, because the whole purpose of Nectir is to make education accessible to every single student. No matter how you learn, you now have access to a place where you can add value to your education in any way that you like. If you want to, you know, really dive into these group chats in your classes and be the one asking and answering each other's questions. And building that community you totally can meet. If you want to sit back and just watch the conversation unfold and learn from other people who are asking answering questions, you can do that too. But whatever it is, you are supplementing your learning, you're adding to it in a way that feels comfortable to you, from your own phone, from your home from wherever you are. And I think that was only something that I was able to conceptualize, because I was given the space to really understand that everyone's education is going to look different. And that doesn't mean that anyone is more or less smart than someone else.

Zach  27:05

Wow. That was so so well said I got I got chills with you sharing you sharing the story and how your dad responded to you as a as a third grader. Talk about sort of like pivotal moments. 

Kavitta  27:22

Absolutely something I'll never forget  

Zach  27:27

Yeah. So I have to ask you, you mentioned extracurriculars, you in college, you had the idea for for Nectir, your co founder started building it while in school. Were you would you always have considered yourself to be entrepreneurial in in your thinking like, Were you in school? Right? And outside of school? Were you thinking about business ideas? Or was this like the first time that you had an idea that you thought, oh, wow, there, there's actually like, potentially, a business here. Talk to us a little bit about like, I guess how you would characterize yourself as an entrepreneurial thinker, whether that's a relatively recent development or whether that's been baked into you from the start?

Kavitta  28:15

Yeah, no, I think it's been baked in since day one. I definitely was born with the entrepreneurial bug. My dad grew up having, you know, a bunch of small businesses. And so my mom was actually disabled. And so a lot of times, I would go with my dad to work. And he was obviously the CEO of his company. And he would just put me on the floor. And, you know, he, like I said he had a small business, but to a toddler, it looked like the most amazing thing in the world to me. And I remember the biggest thing was, I was obsessed with stationery like Hello Kitty stationery, and just like really cute pens and paper and stuff like that. And my dad in his office had this giant metal cabinet that his secretary would fill with, you know, like, sticky notes, pens, pencils, invoice pads, oh, my god, invoice pads, those are my favorite. And I would he would let me go through it while he was on calls and stuff. And probably because there was just no babysitter to watch what I was actually doing. But I thought he was the coolest person in the world because I was like, this is all yours like you have an unlimited supply of stationery. That's so cool. So from when I was like three or four, you can ask anybody in my family or any my parents friends. I would tell anybody who would listen that I wanted to be CEO of my own company by the time I was 25. And I think at that time when I was little I thought my dad was 25 because I didn't understand. So that was my whole thing about like, I'm gonna do it just like him. And yeah, well if you asked me why, like if you went one step further or literally my only answer was because I get my own cabinet of stationery. That was a whole motivation. 

Kavitta  30:07

But even outside of that, I think I just have constantly had that cap on without even realizing it. Because about a year later, when I was in kindergarten, I started to bring that stationery the Hello Kitty to school, and other kids would see it and the girls would be like, Oh my god, it's so cute. I love it. My parents don't want me by that. And something clicked in my head. And what I started to do, I don't remember if you remember this, but back in the day, you know, Vistaprint used to let you do like 200 free business cards. Yeah. Everywhere, right? So I made my dad print me out business cards. And my first business ever it was five and it was called lavender girls, no idea where the name came from. But it was business cards. But what I would do is I would like lightly use my stationery, like maybe a couple pieces of paper like I would sharpen the pencil once or twice. And then I would resell it for literally the exact same amount that I bought it for because none of the kids knew what I bought it for because their parents wouldn't buy it. Which is not a great to have. I'll admit it. But I basically became like a reseller of stationery. And that like I was like the plug all of the kids in school would buy their stationery for me. And I was like five or six doing this. And it's so funny looking back at it because my parents figured it out one day. And I thought they were gonna be mad. But they were like, my dad was like, that's actually smart. He's like, Where'd you figure this out? I was like, I don't know, you sell things. So I sell things to us, like, Oh my God. And it's so funny because my dad has never wanted me to like follow his footsteps. Not that he was pushing me away from me. He was like, I want you to do whatever you want to do. You know, follow your own passions. I don't want you to think that I want you to, you know, be an entrepreneur just because I am and I was like, No, dude, this isn't about you. This is about me. I just love this. That's what I do. So I never thought that straight out of college, you know, this would be my full time job to have my own company. But now that I'm here, I don't think there's any other way that this could have gone. I think I truly think this is the only thing that I see myself doing. Not necessarily Nectir. But just being my own boss. I think that this is where I flourish.

Zach  32:20

Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, I think it's safe to say that it's in your blood. And you if you're selling stationery, reselling stationery, before the age of 10, or the age of what, seven years old. That's pretty impressive. I love that story. You're just a fantastic storyteller. I'm sure you've been told that before. But you're a really, really good storyteller. So I've got so many questions for you. But let's keep moving. So walk us through the series of events that immediately led to founding Nectir. I know you have a co founder. So how did you meet said co founder and where how did this come from this idea this this, you know, recognition that you had that ha maybe there's a better way to learn and connect people at colleges and universities with the course material connect people who are sitting next to each other and lecture halls and might not otherwise run in the same social circles. Walk us through the series of events that led to the idea and then ultimately, you know, v1 Of what Nectir Nectir came to be

Kavitta  33:31

So Nectir started four years ago almost when Jordan, my co founder and I were undergrad students at UC Santa Barbara. He was a sophomore I was a junior. And I was born out of the summer before that. So the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I ended up taking a class with a grad student, instructor grad students are usually the ones who teach over summer. And it was a prerequisite to my major. And so it was an extremely important class I was taking you know, my grade determine when are gone to the major or not. But you know, summer classes, we hate taking them we walk in and it's just you're like, Oh, this is the last place I want to be when it's sunny outside and I live on a beach. And so I walk in on the first day of class, and I sit down and Spencer, our instructor, the first thing that he does is he projects a link to a Slack workspace on the board. And I use Slack in my business fraternity, which I was president of at the time. And I had used it in my internships, but I had never seen it be used in a classroom setting before. And I he sits us down and he says, Look, there's 150 of you, but there's only one of me and one of your TA. He said it doesn't matter if you're up for 24 hours a day. We're not going to get back to your questions and the time that you want us to and I know it's going to stress you out and in turn, it's going to stress me out. So he said we're going to do things a little bit differently here. instead of raising your hand in class, coming to office hours sending me an email, your first line of action, if you have an issue in this class is going to be to go to the Slack workspace, you're going to ask your chat your question in the chat, because I guarantee that one of the 149 people around you is going to have a better and faster answer for you than me or your TA will ever be able to have. And he said on top of that, if you answer someone's question really well, in that chat, I will actually give you extra credit for it. Because they know that you know, the material enough to then teach one of your classmates. And we all were like, holy shit. This dude knows what he's talking about instantly, with before we even started, we all knew it was going to work. And within a week, that 150 person class felt like 15 people. It was the first time in two years of being at college that I showed up to every single lecture, because I actually knew the people around me. And I'm actually still friends with those people on Instagram and Snapchat today. Because it created this community around the material that we were learning. It was sort of like misery loves company, we bonded over learning this stuff together, being in class over summer together, we would leave class and you know, go grab a beer together. And this was like, you'd imagine it was like five or six people. And it was like 30, people going to go grab a beer together. And I ended up getting the highest grade that I got in college in that class. And I left thinking, holy shit, that's it. I was like a dog with a bone. After that class, I just, I wanted Slack in every single one of my classes, because I knew that all of the issues that I had with finding community, figuring out how to get the help that I needed, being scared of failing my classes, all of it was alleviated on day one, simply because I knew if I ever have an issue, I know where to go, I have a resource that exists 24/7 for me. 

Kavitta  37:03

And so when I left that class, I actually approached UCSB. Um, I wasn't thinking about Nectir. I simply just wanted to know if I'm paying you $40,000 a year, why can you put Slack in every single one of my classes? And I was sent all over the campus to every single different department, nobody could answer my question. And finally ended up in a little department called Instructional Design, with this wonderful woman named Mindy Colin, who we still work with today. And Mindy sat me down. And she walked me through the logistical hell of putting Slack in 1500 classes, every quarter, everything from teaching instructors how to use it and set it up in their classes, to the fact that it was just too expensive for schools to pay for everything across the board, she basically was like, this is just never going to work, you are not going to get instructors who on average are 55. And have never touched social media before, to set up slack individually in our classes. It's just not going to work. And I left that meeting late meaning feeling like, Okay, I understand where you're coming from, I get that it would be hard to do. But I just don't think that's a good enough reason to not do it. It was such an incredible outcome that there has to be a way to make this work. And at that same time, I was living in this Co-Ed 13 person house with Jordan, my co founder and a bunch of our friends. It was all of our friends from the business frat. And it was an insane house that we were in, disgucting, there was just stuff everywhere.

Kavitta  38:43

Typical college frat house. And we would come home from class that summer and just sit on the couch and pop open a beer and complain about school. Because what else do you do when you're taking summer classes. And one of these times after my meeting with UCSB, I came home did the exact same thing and sat on the couch and I just wouldn't shut up. I was so upset about it. And Jordan at the time, had been teaching himself coding. And he was like, You know what? Screw UCSB. I'm sorry, UCSB for listening to this. I love you. But he was like, if they're not going to give us what we're looking for. Why don't we just build it ourselves? And so I was like, I mean, I guess Sure, let's do it. And Jordan spent the next two weeks throwing together open source code and no code tools, and a little bit of his own code and spun up almost literally the same version of Nectir that we have today. We decided to take all of the things that they said hindered the ability to put it across an entire campus and we fixed them. Instead of having classes be siloed in each individual classroom, a separate slack workspace in every classroom. We made one workspace for all of UCSB, and we put every single class channel in it. And you had a directory where you simply went and found your class channel, and then you joined it. And you're with all of the other people in your class. And if you didn't see the one that you wanted, you could build your own public or private channel. So you could do study groups on there and private channels, you would have class channels and the public spaces. And the only way that you could log in was if you had an active ucsb.edu email. And we decided to test it out and see if you know other people felt the same way that we did. 

Kavitta  40:28

And the first thing we did was put it on our school's free and for sale Facebook page, basically the only place online that an every single UCSB Student because there was no other way to have community. And it was just where you went and like sold your mattress after you moved out. And we were like, Look, I know this is the wrong place to post it. But if you guys want a group chat for all of your classes, where you can get help from each other sign up here. And we just wanted to see what would happen. But what we did not expect was to get hundreds of signups in the first hour. I mean, people just were like, This is amazing. I have been waiting for this for so long. And we knew that we had hit the nail on the head somewhere, somehow we needed to make this work. And we spent the next two years that we were in school learning every single thing that we could about why instructors were so against using tools like this, why admin wouldn't adopt and pay for them on the campus. And we did our best to fix all of those issues. And in 2020, we did, and we got all 27,000 students at UCSB to sign up for Nectir and use it in almost every single one of their classes with their instructors present in those group chats actually using Nectir and putting it on their LMS. And we got UCSB to pay us a license for it. And that was just that golden moment, when we knew that our prediction had come true. There absolutely is a way to create a communication system that can function across an entire campus that large, where it's built for everybody to be able to use, it's easy to use, it's affordable for the school. And it just works. And that was when we decided, Okay, it's time to go raise some money and do this at scale, and put this in all 5000 colleges and universities in the US and hopefully pass that.

Zach  42:27

Amazing, amazing, very, very, very cool. Blood, Sweat and Tears story there. So talk to us about you know, raising money. You if I if you're if my social media stalking serves me correctly, it looks like you guys have raised about $2 million, a little over $2 million. So little over 2 million. So talk to us about what the fundraising process was like, like it's one thing to have it have an idea. It's one thing to be able to build an app, build something that's really really fun cool with your, your co founder your buddy and and be and for it to work, right? All those things are incredibly hard. But it's one thing to do all that and believe in it and for your your you know, your school to adopt it and embrace it. It's another thing to go and tell other people that you want some of their money to help you scale. So what did you learn throughout the fundraising process?

Kavitta  43:26

Yeah, um, well, for us, we bootstrapped for the first three years because it was before COVID, especially we sort of had to convince people that this problem existed. Students knew Yeah, students knew. But instructors, admin, I don't think they were really as in tune with the fact that the technology and the campus was so outdated. And we were really suffering because of it. And COVID really shined a light on that and made it a lot easier for us to go into campuses and have really honest conversations with the admin here. And so, I think that was sort of a silver lining that we had that a lot of other companies didn't have during the pandemic that it made it very obvious why we were doing what we were doing. But I also think that the only reason that we were able to raise money, you know, we we really beat some hard odds. In 2020, only 2.3% of VC funding went to women led companies, which means really scared to raise money. I had a lot of notions about how hard this was gonna be for me. And I didn't come from a school like Stanford or USC, somewhere where you know, you have those connections built in. I was sort of on my own. But what I did utilize was the network that I had, I was in Santa Barbara was a small town. We have a little bit of a venture presence there. And I decided that what I do best is tell the story and connect with other people. and find a way for them to relate to it. And that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to go tell the story. And I'm going to be as honest as I can about it. And I'm going to tell it in a really beautiful way. And I know that I can get people to join me on this journey if I can do that. And I ended up bringing together an incredible group of investors, I was very methodical about how I wanted to do this, because I had heard all of these, you know, things about what VC funding was like how much it changes your company dynamic. So it was really careful to be selective about who I wanted to work with. And I knew that was going to make it a lot harder for me, because I couldn't just take any check that came at me. But I think it was worth it in the end, because I trust every single one of my investors, and I know that they have my best interest at heart.

Kavitta  45:50

But how I actually got those investors together was I went back to actually every single professor that I had in UCSB who had some sort of an entrepreneurship connection. So we didn't have a business major at UCSB. But we did have an entrepreneurship program. And it was basically a pitch competition. But a lot of you know, investors from the Santa Barbara area would come volunteer. So from a very early time, I started to build relationships with them. And I remember all of them told me that I was crazy for doing this in the beginning, but I just kept it pushing. And eventually, you know, kept talking to them over the two or three years that we were rebuilding it, and finally got to a point where they were like, Okay, wow, we've seen some real progress in this and convinced them somehow to give me a chance. And honestly, it was just asking them to introduce me to other people who maybe have something to do with education. And one led to the next lead to the next I probably talked to 300 people, before I finally found my people. And once I did, that round went so much faster than I thought. I think what I when I look back at raising money, probably the lesson that was the most salient for me to learn was that I scared myself so much more than I should have before I started. It looks to outsiders to people who don't come from, you know, a place of privilege where it's easy for you to raise money, or at least you have those connections sort of baked in to your lifestyle or you don't wherever you are, it looks impossible. It's something I've said this before, but it feels like a game that was not built for people like me to play. And I thought I was really going to have to do so much extra legwork than normal people do to make it work. And I still did a lot of work. But it was not as hard as people make it seem. 

Kavitta  47:45

And I that if there's a message that I can give to other marginalized founders, like myself, it's that that like, don't let people scare you into thinking this is the hardest thing in the world. I'm not saying it's easy, but it's nowhere near impossible. It is very doable. And I think a lot of it is built on using your kindness. And being a person that people want to work with, especially at pre seed and seed stages, your investors are not focused on the product that you've built, because they know that that can change. They're focused on you as a founder, because that is their greatest indication of success. They are giving you money because they believe that you have the expertise to build the best solution available, whatever that might be. And once I realized that, that made it so much easier to be really authentic and telling the story. And you know, the same way that I have to you today and find the best people to help me build this company into what I believe it can be not trying to convince me to do, you know, a small lifestyle business out of it. But to allow me to dream, as big as I want to that this can be a multibillion dollar company, that changes fundamentally the culture of communication at higher education institutions around the world. That's what I know that Nectir can be and being authentic with my story and myself, allowed me to find people who were going to give me the money to help me go achieve that exact dream.

Zach  49:22

So So Well, thank you Kavitta. Again, I've interviewed over 100 folks in and around the higher ed marketing arena founders who are in the ad tech space, like yourself, folks that are leading marketing agencies that support colleges, university student recruitment, professors, presidents, deans, and you've you've just a real gift of being able to synthesize ideas and communicate them in communicate them through story in a compelling way. And that's that's a very hard thing to master and again, for what it's worth. Very, very well done. Thanks. So I see I see why you raise money. I get it.

Kavitta  50:04

It was all built on this.

Zach  50:06

Yeah. Yeah. All built on the story. Yeah. And I have just two final questions for you. We could talk all day. And you know, maybe we'll probably have to do another checking in, you know, six months. Where you're, I'd love to have you back on. But for now, two final questions. The first one is this, something I ask every single person that comes on the show, and it's to walk us through and oh, shit moments, a moment where you're like, Oh, God, this is going to crash and burn like I what am I thinking, you look at yourself in the mirror, and you're just like, You're a fake, like, they're you. There's no way that this is going to work. Walk us through a moment like that. And then how you were able to sort of champion through that doubt and get into a different headspace literally,

Kavitta  50:48

Um, one definitely comes to mind when you say that. And it happens, right at the start of the pandemic, in March of 2020. We had slowly been building Nectir out at that point, you know, we had I think, 5000 people using it. And it was going really well, you know, we were growing it at the at the speed that felt good to me and my co founder. And all of a sudden, overnight, the entire world changed, and so did education. And we watched every single school in the US and beyond scramble to try to figure out some sort of solution of how they were going to take all of this remote. And I remember getting a bunch of texts and calls and emails from people being like, congratulations, you happen to be sitting at the best possible place right now, in the pandemic, because you happen to build a tool that literally solves everyone's biggest problem right now. And I was like, trying to enjoy what they were trying to say. But it was just giving me anxiety because I was like, Oh my god. Um, and rightfully so because we got a call from UCSB. And they asked, can you make this work for the entire campus by next week? And we were like, yeah, totally. Or you're not going to turn that down. And we, we somehow made it work. We contracted DevOps engineers, literally 24 hours, we boosted the servers, the server capacity, we tried to make everything bulletproof. Because we knew that in like 72 hours, we were going to have 27,000 people log on all at once, and try to do 500 million things all at once, because everyone was already freaking out. And this was the only method that they had to communicate with each other. And people were teaching entire classes through Nectir, like, Forget zoom, they were doing the whole thing through a Nectir channel. And we were like, oh my god, this is either going to be the greatest thing ever, or the greatest failure that we've ever had in our lives. And it was a little bit of both. I'm not gonna lie.

Kavitta  53:05

The first day of school of the pandemic for UCSB. 27,000, people got online at once. And the entire thing crashed, the whole thing just died. We're watching it in real time, me and Jordan are sitting there side by side with our laptops open sitting at home, watching what's about to happen, and the whole thing just goes offline. And it's like 11am, Monday morning, and we're like, oh, like we start freaking out. And long story short, we got it together. It took a week to do it. Like it was just on and out for a week on and off. But we got it together. We had to fire the DevOps engineers and rehire them in 24 hours. And it was just the most insane process. And I swear that entire time I thought, This is it. It's going down from here. This is literally the first opportunity. We've had to really do this at scale, and we're failing at it. And no one's ever gonna give me another chance. And I went back to my roots of what I know, and I just was as kind as possible. We were fielding like 200 live chats through intercom like, and our people were like, I hate you guys. How are you down right now? They were really just taking out their frustration on the whole pandemic situation itself on us because it was an outlet, and I totally get it. I don't blame them for it. But it was a tough one. It was really, really tough to go through right at the start. But I think awesome in the end because it created so much result resiliency and both of us about like, this is probably one of the worst things that could go wrong with a fresh onboarding of a campus. And we've experienced every angle of that. And we got through it one way or another and I think With that, you know, really going back to the roots of being kind and being honest to people and you know, being honest about where we were struggling and utilizing those relationships with people that I had at UCSB and saying, Look, I'm sorry, we're struggling just like you are, just give us a day and we'll make sure everything is solid. And they were like, Okay, we trust you, like, go do it, make it work. And that opportunity, that chance to just show them that we can really recover from this was, I think, what solidified this contract that we've now had with them for three years, because they know they've seen us bounce back from the worst and so terrible, terrible experience, but great lessons learned.

Zach  55:46

Oh, my gosh, I My heart just started like palpitating especially quickly as you were talking about that, sharing that story, because I can't imagine Yeah, the world is in chaos. Things are going to shift and people are relying on you guys to keep the community of UCSB together,

Kavitta  56:05

and the whole thing just died. Yeah. worst possible moment.

Zach  56:09

Oh my gosh, that's when you start cracking. That's when you start drinking a beer at 11.

Kavitta  56:15

We were yeah absolutely.

Zach  56:19

That's great. Kavitta, it's been so fun. My My last question for you is I know, you know, we're laser focused on Nectir. Right now, and Nectir has got so much potential you guys are just kicking off. Cannot wait to follow your journey and see how you guys continue to grow. But another question I typically close with on startup stories is to ask founders to share an idea about something else they might be kicking around in their head, whether it's an app, whether it's a new business, it could even be something like you know what, I'd love to open, you know, a, a wine shop in, you know, the Italian Riviera or something like that, right? Like anything, when you're when you need a break a mental break from all things Nectir? Where does your brain shift? And what other ideas if any, are you? Are you cooking up? Right? 

Kavitta  57:06

Yeah, good question. Um, I get this question a lot that like, you know, a lot of people allude to the fact that this will not be my own company, right. Nectir is my first company, it's my baby. But I'm 25, I'm going to go do a lot of great things after this as well. But to be honest with you, I don't dream of labor, I don't think about going and working more after this, the reason why I'm putting my blood, sweat and tears into this so early on in my life and sacrificing my social life to do it and everything else is because I want to exit the game. I want to whether this succeeds, and I make a ton of money, and I get to, or I don't. And I learned some really great lessons. Either way, my goal of doing this is outside of bettering education is to stop working forever, to take the money that I make from this and make sure that me and the people that I love, never have to worry about anything ever again. And I've told so many people this that my number one plan after, you know, we exit from this, or whatever happens to Nectir is I'm going to take whatever money I have, I'm going to go to Spain, and I'm going to sit for two years, and I'm just going to paint, I'm going to paint whatever I want to I don't know what I want to paint, but I'm going to paint. And I'm not going to think about money or labor or startups. And I'm just going to do what makes me happy. Because I think that life is too short to sit around and dream about labor. And I think that while it's it's you know, it's great. I don't blame anyone for doing it. I think that as a society, we focus too much of our self worth on our career, and what we are able to achieve in our career. And so I think that my dream my goal is to exit the rat race forever and do it as early as I possibly can in my life. So I can spend the rest of my life doing literally nothing if I want to. Because I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. I would love to have someone asked me what do you do? And for me to be able to say nothing I do what makes me happy. I don't do anything else. So that's the end goal here.

Zach  59:39

So, so well set, honest and unexpected. Thank you. This has been this has been a blast. Thank you for being the best hour of the week so far. Now this has been great. Hey, I really appreciate your time and all you're doing and everything that you enjoyed in our building. We'll have links to Nectir's website, social handles all that fun stuff in the show notes below. But if folks want to reach out and just hear a little bit more about you guys, maybe sort of, you know, make a connection and potentially be on a list for a future. You know, Series B, I have you got I don't even know if you guys have raised your series A yet 

Kavitta  1:00:20

Yeah we actually just closed our seed round. We're already starting to get series A attention. So it's gonna happen sooner than I think. Yeah, exactly. But yeah, series A next.

Zach  1:00:33

So great. If folks want to reach out and just, you know, meet you and meet Jordan, talk to you all, what's the best way for them to get in touch? 

Kavitta  1:00:42

Um honestly, finding me through either social media or through Nectir's website, I'm always open to a call if you're another founder who's in this space or any space and you just want to chat, or you're thinking about starting a company or you're an investor and you'd like to know more. I love meeting with people. I love having new conversations. So find me through any of those places, and I'd love to have a chat with you.

Zach  1:01:06

Wonderful. And last last question here. If you are a college or if someone from that's tuning in right now is you know, heading up marketing or heading up admissions to college or university. Maybe they're college university president and they want Nectir at their school. Is that possible now or are we in any in any institution by now? Okay, anybody at all?

Kavitta  1:01:25

Totally Nectir is open to any single school, college university in the world, anyone who wants it and we'll set you up with a free term to get it started on your campus, integrate it with the technology that you already use, whatever that might be, and find the best way to give it to every single person on your campus. So hit me up, we'll get it started.

Zach  1:01:47

Awesome. Welcome you to thank you so much for your time. This has been a blast, enjoy the rest of your week and can't wait to share this story with with those that you're with our subscribers for those who are tuning in right now. If you want more details again, scroll on down to the show on the show notes and on over to Nectir website and head on over to Kavitta's social profile and get in touch

Vicky Le
October 21, 2022

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