PODCAST: Higher Ed Geek- Kavitta Ghai on Creating a Dynamic Social Learning Experience

Vicky Le
October 5, 2022

We're back this week with another podcast! Kavitta has dedicated the last 5 years of her life to figuring out how to change the world by first changing the way we learn—and now her Nectir team are pretty close to getting that final answer. For the first time ever, she is breaking it all down for you here in this new podcast with the Dustin Ramsdell from Higher Ed Geek. Give it a listen and let us know what learning looks like in your ideal world (because who's stopping us from making that a reality?!)

Podcast Transcript

Dustin  00:05

Hello everyone and welcome to this bonus episode of the higher ed geek podcast episode number 166 with Kavitta Ghai of Nectir. So this is a little bit of a longer episode but all great stuff really fun conversation. Appreciate the passion that Kavitta brought to the conversation. So definitely check out what Nectir is up to connect with Kavitta to keep the conversation going. Take our listener survey if you've not already, and check out our merch store. As usual, you can find those in the description for this episode in your preferred podcast player. But without further ado, let's get to this conversation episode number 166 with Kavitta Ghai of Nectir. 

Dustin  00:45

All right, I am very excited for our conversation today with somebody that I've got turned on to recently and I'm just really impressed with their work and their background and their passion for what they do. So we will get right to it and start out as we always do, having our guests introduce themselves and their professional background, and how they got to be where they are today.

Kavitta  01:05

My name is Kavitta, I am the co founder and CEO of Nectir. And really briefly Nectir is a communication platform for not just higher ed, but any school out there. And what we're trying to do is put a community in every classroom. So we do that through instant chat. And basically putting the student, TA, teacher all in one space so that you can have organic conversation, asynchronous or synchronous throughout the time that you're learning. Yeah,

Dustin  01:35

I've been really excited just by seeing the interface and seeing how it works. And just kind of hearing more of your story and everything, because I think you have such an interesting story. So I think, if you want to share with folks kind of the, you know, synopsis or you know, abstract, like quick version of just sort of, you know how Nectir came to be, you know, because it is really just one of your first like major, you know, professional experiences and everything. But yeah, so can you give that anecdote of how Nectir was created.

Kavitta  02:06

Dustin is right, I'm 25. And I've been doing working on Nectir for about four and a half years with my co founder, Jordan. And this is our first job ever to work for ourselves. We started this while we were sophomore in junior in college at UC Santa Barbara, in 2018. And we've just been doing this ever since it was one of those things where it was definitely not an easy path. And as you can assume, having absolutely no experience and no money and deciding to go start a company where you're trying to fundamentally change the way people learn all over the world. It's a tough thing to take on for a couple 20 Somethings. But I think that's actually the reason why we've gotten so far. Because this is our entire life. This is what we've devoted our 20s and hopefully 30s and 40s and 50s to. And to go into a little bit of the background of how Nectir got started. 

Kavitta  03:05

When I first came to college, I came in as a first generation child of immigrants only child, I had no siblings. And neither of my parents went to school in the US. So I had an idea of what college was going to look like solely through movies, that idea of you have like 15 other kids in the class. And it's a super intimate setting where you become best friends with your professors. And you learn exactly what you are interested in. That was sort of what I thought college was going to look like. And I love UCSB, and it's an incredible school. It's one of the best public universities in the world. But it's a public school. And like many public schools, it's huge. I went from a 2,000 person high school campus to a 27,000 person college campus. And I had a weekend of orientation to prepare me for that, which as you can probably assume was not enough. And so coming into college, it was tough. I remember almost immediately the first day calling my dad and being like, yeah, you gotta come pick me up this, I'm not cut out for this. This is not where I'm supposed to be. And really, it was just overwhelming to see that many people that many options was very much like option fatigue.

Kavitta  04:32

And you go into it with this assumption that you need to figure out what you're supposed to do for the rest of your life right now. Right? The second pick a major at 18 and this is what you're going to do forever. And that's a really nerve wracking feeling for me and everyone else around me even if they weren't first gen had the background that I did. And so I really had to push myself through that first year of college and it was a constant effort of convincing myself not to drop out. I just felt like I couldn't find my people, I couldn't find my community. And it became very clear to me that sure people come to college for the education. And that is always going to be important. But the reason they love it so much is the people, you could see it right away that the people who were thriving and having an incredible time were the ones who found their communities right away. And the people who were all having conversations about dropping out were the ones who couldn't find their niche, they couldn't find where they were supposed to fit in. And that meant that they couldn't get the help that they needed to navigate the campus. And so I was just never the type of person who was really good at school in terms of getting good grades, I have pretty severe ADHD. And I just always knew I learned differently. And so I went through college with this assumption of really just going to stick it out till the end. Because I owe it to my family, I owe it to my parents who came to this country to give me this opportunity, I have to stick it out for them. And so I did, but I did it in my own way. I realized really quickly that I don't love the way classes are set up. It was like, every single class that I took the first couple years that I was there was 100 200 300 400 500 people, never any less than that. And it was really just you go sit there for 15 minutes, three times a week, and you have someone lecture at you. And you absorb these notes, and then you regurgitate them out on the midterm in the final. And then you hope that you pass and then you're done and you move on. And you never really think about it again. You never talked to the professor or the students again. And it just for $40,000 I really could not justify that I couldn't understand why am I paying so much money for something that I'm going on YouTube and Google to learn myself before the tests anyways, I kind of just went through college, you know, going on the first day picking up the syllabus, coming home and really self studying the way that everybody does these days, and then showing up to the midterm and final and doing the best that I could with the information that I had learned on Google. And I did that because that was what saved me the most time it was what gave me the space to try to go find that community. And I eventually did. 

Kavitta  04:36

The thing that made me stay in school and I really would have dropped out without this was finally at the end of my freshman year, I found a business fraternity, AKPsi and I joined it and it was people who were like minded, it was people who came from similar backgrounds to me, a lot of them are also from the Bay Area. And it just found felt like I finally found a safe landing spot where their kids older than me there were, you know, sophomores, juniors, seniors who had been through this before, who were also first gen who could help me navigate that space. And it was less of Oh, I got there and had 40 questions to ask. It wasn't really that it was more that just having this group that felt like my community that was small enough that I felt like I was a significant part of it. Having access to that space alleviated anxiety right from the start. It wasn't that I needed questions answered in that second, it was that I knew if a question did come up about anything, I had people that I trusted that I could go ask who had gone through it before who had figured out those problems themselves. That completely changed my perspective on college, I started to go through it with a confidence that I never had for the first two quarters of being there. And, you know, still wasn't obsessed with the classes. But it was so valuable to me to have that community that I was willing to pay that $40,000 to take on those loans that would be gonna last me a lifetime, whatever it was, they made it worth it those people. 

Kavitta  09:02

And the only time that I really had my opinion of the education side change, which I never thought it was going to, but I got really lucky and the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I took a prerequisite class to get into the communication major. I was switching from econ to calm and had to take a class that summer. And you know, you could literally see the beach from the classroom at UCSB. This was like the last place that any kid wanted to be that summer was sitting in that classroom. And it was like a six week class you're doing like two hour lectures like multiple days a week. It was just, it was brutal. But we walk in on the first day of class expecting the normal hell that we go through. And Spencer, our instructor, this grad student, he sits us down and he turns on this oil diffuser and puts on a Spotify playlist. And you could see just Like, waited a couple of minutes for us to relax. And we did. And then he told us, Hey, my name is Spencer, I'm also a student here. And I want to try making this class not shitty. I want to see if maybe all of us can actually enjoy spending the summer together in here.

Kavitta  10:22

So he turns around and writes the link to a Slack workspace on the board. And I had used this is 2018, I had used slack in, you know, a couple internships and my business fraternity. And I knew that every company was using it, but I'd never seen it used in a classroom. before. We had Moodle, we had our LMS. And that was about it. And some of the stem kids got things like Piazza and other tools, but we didn't really have much. And he turns to us, and he says, I want all of you to get out your phones and laptops right now. Because I know that they're already out. And I want you to join this space. And he said, I'm what I want this to be is a back channel community for this classroom. Basically, I want you to never send me an email, never raise your hand in class, don't even come into office hours. If you have any question or issue in this class with homework with a test coming up, you don't know where the syllabus is. He said your first line of action is going to be to put it in this 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. What is going to take us 24 hours to respond to through email will take someone else five minutes to respond to you over this slack chat. And he said use this the same way that you're using discord and WhatsApp and GroupMe and all of these other tools, I don't expect you to write these full sentences with great grammar. He said, This is just for you to get what you need from the class. talk to these people like they're your friends, because they will be. And he said on top of that, if you answer someone else's question really well in the chat, I'll give you extra credit for it. Because that lets me know that you understand that topic so well that you can then go teach someone else, which is the highest level of mastery that I want you to achieve here. And right off the bat, there was this, like, the energy just shifted in the room. It was like we finally believed our teacher when they said this is not going to be one of the same clips, this is going to be a good one, you hear that a lot. But like the actual follow through wasn't usually that great. But this one before we even got started that 150 kids in that class, we all knew this is going to work. And I think that is such a key part of the story is that sometimes it's not even using the tool or the solution. It's simply having access to it, and having permission to use it in a certain way. And that alone alleviates so much anxiety to just know that you have access to what you need whenever you need it. But within a week, that 150 Person class felt like 15 people, I was the first time that I actually want it to come to every single lecture, because it was fun. And it was exciting without the anxiety. I knew Okay, yeah, this is a tough class. It's theories of communication. And I need an A to get into the major. But it wasn't stressful at all. Because I had these people around me who were struggling in the same way that I was like misery loves company. But on top of that we actually had each other to get the help from. And our professor trusted us to do that. And that really changed the dynamic of how we learned together, it built a community around the material. And we relied on each other for everything. I mean, at 3am. There was a group of us that would be talking about how to answer very specific questions on the midterm. And unsurprisingly, almost all of us got A's in that class. And this is a tough class like it's known to not be easy. I got the highest grade in that class that I've ever gotten in college period. I got almost 100% in that class. And I owe all of that to the students around me, the friends that I made in that class who helped me get through it, I wouldn't have done it without them. 

Kavitta  14:41

So I left that class that summer like a dog with a bone. I was like man, if I'm paying $40,000 And I know how Slack works. I've set it up for my business fraternity. I know how easy it would be to put this in every single class. It would completely change the dynamic of this entire campus. If we could do this So I approached UCSB. And I said, I need someone to explain to me that if I'm paying this much, why can't you put slack in every single one of our classes. And that was my first time experiencing or understanding why the education system in the US is the way it is. Because it took three weeks before anyone could even figure out which direction to point me in, I had to go to maybe six or seven different offices, before somebody finally said, Oh, the people you're looking for are an instructional design. And that was my first time even knowing that instructional designers existed. But I got sent there. And the one instructional designer that we had, at that time, Mindy Collin, who is now actually on Nectir, his academic board of advisors, she is like literally the reason that we built this whole thing. She was kind enough to sit me down and walk me through the logistical hell of putting a separate Slack workspace, or Discord or anything like that, in every single one of the 2500 classes that we had each quarter, to get a singular system where adjunct professors and admin and students, and everyone could all sit together and have access to this in every class through Slack, it just, she had actually done the research, she had pulled out the numbers to show me I've thought about this too, and it's just not possible. It's too expensive. The average age of a professor is 55, they are not going to sit down and learn this enterprise tool and set it up themselves in every class. It's just not going to happen. And I left that meeting thinking, all right, I hear what you're saying I get it. 

Kavitta  16:44

But being someone who grew up with technology and every aspect of my life, I know that there's an answer here. It's not that we're trying to get slack to work, it's that we know now that we must have a better way to communicate within classes and across campus, something that works better than email better than a canvas discussion forum. And I've seen it work, and we know that it does. So now it's just time to go build that tool for education. It's not fitting a square peg in a round hole, it's going in creating an entirely new solution based on the data that we now have. Because that's how we update education. That's how we make it modern, not trying to fit in nice to haves, but going in building what we need to have. And no one had done that yet. And so my co founder Jordan and I decided that we were going to we had two more years left in college, we needed this in every single one of our classes, I was not going to pass and get a degree unless I had this. I knew that. And so we decided and I think this was the smartest thing that we ever did. Necessity breeds innovation, we needed that in two weeks before Fall classes started. There was no way that we were going to sit there the two of us and build an entire chat platform for the campus. So we got scrappy, we pulled open source code off the shelf that was similar to Slack, but different enough that we could sort of adjust it to education through some of our own code and no code tools on top of it. Some Zapier integrations, things like that. And we built literally what is still Nectir. Today, that is being used by over 40,000 students and instructors.

Kavitta  18:37

It was basically just Slack for schools, that's the best way to put it. Slack and Discord in teams are great for communication in the workforce. But they are not built for education. And they're never going to be there has to be something that takes what we know works with instant chat across teams, and put it in an educational format. So essentially, what you were left with is campus wide communication infrastructure, one workspace for an entire campus, that hooks into your LMS, your canvas, your Moodle, whatever, auto creates a class channel for every class on campus, and then auto adds the students, the TA and the instructor into them. So that whether an instructor decides I'm going to use this for all of my classroom communication, or they say, I'm just going to give this to my students to help each other. It doesn't matter. You're able to do either one. But the important part is that every single student on campus has access to a community in their classroom. Because those communities already exists. We're not going in building them. We're enabling those communities to be beneficial to every single person in a way that's accessible to every person. You don't have to have the time to go into office hours to use Nectir. You use it on your own time. And it's not even just to be be able to go ask a question that you've always had. The beauty in it is in watching how the conversation unfolds. I never sent a single message in that slack chat. But the reason I passed that class with the highest grade I've ever gotten was because I still got access to information that I never would have before. Because I got to watch other people's questions and answers. That is where my learning came from, to observe other people learning. 

Kavitta  20:28

What Nectir does, and what Slack did in that class was create more teachers. And that's really what we need. Right now, we have an excess amount of students, we don't have enough teachers, we don't have the time to create more people to solve that problem. But what we know technology allows us to do in almost every aspect of our lives is to scale what works. So Nectir allows us to scale learning by creating a teacher within every single student in that classroom. Now, when one student learns something, everybody gets to learn it, because they will go into Nectir. And share. I just learned this thing. And this is how I learned it in this language that you understand also. That's where the beauty is, that is how I got by the end of our college careers. All 27,000 students at UCSB using Nectir, in almost every single one of their classes, with the professors and instructors being the champion. That was the important part is that we built something that was actually usable by every single teacher no matter whether you were tech savvy or not. And now that we at that point, when we knew we did the impossible, we did what they said was never going to work, which was put a tool like this in every single class, we knew we had to go give this to every single student around the world. And this isn't just higher education, or K through 12. And it's not just the US, I mean, every single place where anyone is learning, whether it's a MOOC, a boot camp, community college, anything, I mean, the workforce itself, even, we deserve to learn in a community. Because with through research, we now know, it's one of the most salient ways that our brain is able to learn and retain information is when we learn with the people around us. And that's what Nectir allows us to do.

Dustin  22:25

Yeah, thank you for sharing kind of the whole sort of genesis of the idea and just kind of the values that you said that it just sort of like so interlaced in into kind of the DNA of this platform is just the your background, your experiences, and, you know, seeing how this actually works kind of out in the wild, and, you know, knowing how valuable it is, and trying to, you know, enable, like you said, as many people to be able to utilize a tool like this to, you know, kind of supplement and argument, just like learning experiences, you know, and however those going to take shape and and what I really love about it is just the the, you know, kind of the ubiquity of it in that way, like that great for kind of peer to peer support, which, you know, is known to be super helpful to students, as well as, you know, faculty and staff and, you know, helping make their jobs easier in the sense of like, you know, like you said, you're like, you know, creating more teachers essentially, right, you know, like, people, you know, their peers can support them. And he answered all their questions, or they're just kind of, you know, that much more accessible, because I think, sometimes in a vacuum or a perceived vacuum of resources or support, or, you know, students up know, who is best to talk to you, like, if you had that experience through that story you shared. So like, they'll just kind of go without, or, you know, they're gonna hit so many hurdles, that they'll just kind of, you know, give up so that, you know, to like that could, you know, help get the best person to help the student versus just like, you know, yeah, like not getting that help or going to the wrong person, like five times or something.

Kavitta  24:05

It's just a lot more comfortable to get what you're looking for. Because if you look at why our retention rates are so abysmal in the US why only 60% of students actually end up getting through college. And when you distill that down to like, let's look at it as human beings, right, one out of every three freshmen that go to college this year, will drop out before their sophomore year, that for the amount of money that we have the resources that we have, that does not make sense. We owe them more than that. And when you look at why they're dropping out of school, at these rates, it's because they don't have access to the resources they need to be successful. And that's actually a perception. It's not necessarily that those resources don't exist. They do. We have a ton of resources on campus, but we have not done a good job at getting students access to those resources that's really like, let's be clear about where the problem is, its accessibility, it's the fact that we are not creating an even level playing field for students to come in and get what they need to pass their classes, they don't even know where to go or who to ask.

Kavitta  25:17

That's really the only thing that we need is the bridge. The resources are there, teachers are just overloaded with work, we can expect them to do even more than they are. But what we can do is use technology to bridge the gap to get students access to those resources in a timely manner. And from people that they trust. They're really key part of why Nectir works so well is that a lot of the appeal is or a lot of how we built it is through human psychology. We haven't changed the actual platform that much. But what we have done is changed the way that we frame it. And that makes all the difference. Because when you distill it down to, you know, how does this appeal to human psychology, every single human needs to be part of a community. Like fundamentally, we actually physiologically need human interaction. We need it from people that we trust. When you're looking at in group out group theory, the reason why Nectir works and why every classroom is inherently a community, whether they realize it or not, is because when you have when you're part of an in group that you can recognize. So UCSB versus UCLA, right UCSB is my in group. I know that because there's a clear out group, people who don't go to UCSB. And I feel part of that in group and it becomes part of my identity. Because it's a small enough group that, like I said, I have my individuality within it. But also, it's a group of people that have similar motivations and goals. So we're all moving towards the same thing, basically. And when you are able to recognize this is my own group, and that is my own group. Naturally by you know, this is just how we've evolved, we've evolved to help our in group, it goes back to how tribes worked, you help your tribe survive, because that helps you you know, I benefit from my tribe and my community surviving. It's why people have asked us well, Why would students help each other within Nectir, we have never, ever had an experience in a class where we've put Nectir, where students didn't automatically start using it to help each other. We want to feel helpful to our community, it feels really good. It feels like we are valuable enough to that community. That's why students will go so hard for each other in these tracks. I mean, we had an instance where there was the 600 person, higher level math class at UCSD. And these 600 kids was this was a remote classes during COVID. They sent 39,000 messages in their Nectir chat over 10 weeks. And this was like, the professor really wasn't involved in this much discussion, he would check it once or twice a day, but not saying anything. The TAs weren't even really in there. If you look at the messages, even now, it's all just students helping each other get to the bottom of the problem. I mean, there were some chats where students would be sitting there for three, four hours online, just helping another student figure out why this was the answer. How do I prove that I have never seen that happen in any classroom ever. I mean, if I could go back and experience college all over again, knowing that I would have Nectir in my classes, or honestly, even something like it, I'm not even sitting here to promote Nectir. 

Kavitta  28:40

I simply think that every student in every class, no matter where they are, deserves to have access to the people around them. Because that is really where they're going to trust the resources. You inherently trust your in-group you trust your community. And it's not the same thing as going on Google or Reddit and seeing an answer that is impersonal. It doesn't really sit in your brain the way it does, when someone that you know and trust gives you that answer. And the reason why is because it's coming from someone who has the same goals and motivations that you do. They also want to pass their class, and that whether you actually actively think about it or not. That is why Nectir works so well. You're getting information from people who have the same motivations as you so you trust their answer. It then builds a bond between those two students that continues on now they're more likely to help each other. But then other people in the community when you watch that interaction happen. It makes you feel good about your community. You start seeing it as like, wow, this is a really helpful place. I love watching other people in my community help each other. The whole thing really appeals to a much higher behavioral level of human psychology and that's how we get it to work so well. But it just proves that we've been waiting for something like this. And it's high time that with the technology that we have, that we start to put some of those, you know, pieces of really great tech into the classroom?

Dustin  30:11

Well, I think it made me think of to, like, you know, just another kind of aspect of what you're mentioning kind of that social aspect of, you know, learning and helping each other and all that like, is that, you know, we all look for, like reviews or recommendations from friends and family, like when we're shopping for stuff, and it's like, you know, all the advertising in the world has some impact. But like, that will often compel someone to take more immediate action, where it's like, like, oh, yeah, this is the like, you know, TV that I really like, and somebody was really great, cool, like, I trust you, I'll get it to, like, you know, back into, like, you know, just compel that quicker, sort of action there. But, and, you know, so something else that I like, I wanted to kind of zero in on about your story, because I think you're recognizing, I think so many, like core kind of tenants and pillars of Nectir. And, you know, how you built it, why you built it, and all that. And I think something else, I just think is really notable, you know, this being your first kind of all in, you know, professional endeavor, but like that you were able to also kind of zero in on an aspect that has always been on my mind where it's like, you could have this sort of like, most dazzling, you know, kind of tool in the world. But like, if it's not going to get like, implemented and utilized readily than, like, You've almost already lost. So like that you recognize, it's like, okay, we don't really need to, like reinvent and like, create from scratch and new communications platform, but like, I think at this point it, you know, Nectir has kind of evolved into kind of its own thing, and it takes, you know, kind of the best from all the worlds of other kind of communication platforms and stuff. But, you know, like you said, essentially, Slack for education, but like a core part of it of being like, okay, how can we kind of take all of sort of the legwork out of that implementation piece, and the automation piece and all that. So it's like, you know, I'm sure, it's still like, fairly complicated, but like, you know, it's kind of like a little bit more plug and play, I'd assume, than some of the other folks out there. But, you know, that that realization, I think is so key. But again, like you've had that, you know, having this be, you know, a company that you built in college, so like, kind of trying to connect, you know, that from your previous answer to this next question, you know, in that vein, like, what are some other reflections that you have on, you know, deciding to start a company and kind of go all in on it, as you, you know, approach graduation and everything. So I think that's just something that I'm sure a lot of students are like, interested in doing and may not do. And, you know, nowadays, there's more opportunities at colleges, I think, to try to help nurture this sort of thing, but just for your own story, you know, what are some of your reflections on deciding to go all in with Nectir?

Kavitta  33:03

I think when people think about starting a company in college, or at least when I did, you look to schools, like Stanford, and USC, and the Ivy League, or places that have business schools that like you typically see founders come out of, or at least the ones that get VC funded. And UCSB doesn't have a business school, we, the closest thing we have as an economics major. And we do have an entrepreneurship program that knew a little bit more new has come up. And it's wonderful, but it's not a business school. And it's not a place that you typically see startups come out of. And on top of that, I didn't have the typical background, or maybe an easier background of like, you know, my parents being really wealthy and being able to fund this for me or like pay for my rent in the meantime.

Kavitta  33:57

It was very, it was something that fell in my lap, I didn't think that this was going to be what I did with my life. And it kind of came at the perfect time of me trying to figure out what am I going to do with my life. And I think a lot of students feel that way through college of like, it just feels like this is the last chance that you have to decide what you want to do. And then you're stuck in it forever. And that's not the reality. But we don't know that we're not told that that is, this isn't the end all be all. When I started Nectir was never with the intent of, Oh, I'm gonna do this for the rest of my life. Or this is actually what I'm going to turn into my career. Like I said, me and my co founder literally just needed it for the next two years that we were in school. And we it was something that just compelled us enough like, truly and honestly, we hated school so much that either we were going to sit there and complain and be miserable for two more years, or we were going to at least try to solve the problem because it looked solvable. And I think that's a really key part that I had like other people, other young people to know is that if you see a problem in your life, or that affects people that you really love, and you look at it, and you say, Oh, God, there's just such an easy solution here, why is no one doing this, go do it, that's your sign, that is the signal, go solve that problem. If you have, if you see it as low hanging fruit, it is, and you're going to be the one to go pull that off, because you clearly have enough knowledge to see the problem clearly and see the solution. And so it doesn't, you don't have to be a startup person or a business person or go to a business school or have that background, you can be anybody. That is how we start making real impactful change. 

Kavitta  35:46

When people who are experiencing the problem themselves and are angry enough about it, decide I'm gonna go fix it, because I see the solution and no one else is doing it and we deserve a solution. That is why Nectir came out of Jordan and I not because we're experts in business, or that we had, you know, these parents who are going to fund every move that we made. No, it was just that we were angry enough about school that we knew we have to be the ones to build the solution. Everything else that I had seen in the classroom looked and felt like it was built by someone who hadn't seen school for the last 10 years. And it was because they hadn't it was being built by people who hadn't been in a classroom for 10 years. And the solution has to come from the people directly experiencing the problem right then in there. That's why we are the best ones to build this. That is why we got investors to put money into this. Not because Nectir is this incredibly well built out chat solution it is. But when people get some that question of like, well, why would Slack or Apple or Amazon or Google or some huge company? If this really works that well? Why would they not just swoop in and take it from you and do the exact same thing? My answer is, of course they can they have all the resources in the world to build exactly what I've built. But the way that we've gotten 27 schools to be actively using it this fall quarter and 40,000 plus people to have been using it for the last few years is because of who it was built by it. I go back to the psychology thing a lot. But we tell professors on day one, tell your students that this was built by other students, that is such a key part of the story of why they will want to use it. Because we live in this incredibly tech forward world now, where whether we realize it or not people my age are looking at the UI, UX of the tools that they're using, they are very aware of who it's built by, and what the morals and values are of that company, and whether that's something they want to support that matters to us now in a way that it hasn't ever to this level before. And so part of why this works, a huge part of it is that it's built by students that other students can trust. And it's built by instructional designers, and it's built by parents of children who are in school right now, that who's building this product, real human beings who want to see a change in the way that we learn. And so when you think about when you're sitting in school, or you're just a young person, or anyone at all, who sees a problem, and you think God, I wish someone would go solve that there's such an easy answer to it. Just try, try a duct tape solution, try something that doesn't cost a lot of money, but just test anything to see could actually solve this problem. And it's gonna look like pulling, you know, no code tools off the shelf, or, you know, something early that Jordan really loved. Giving advice to other startups about was like, can you build a community around the problem in the solution? Can you start a Facebook group? Can you start a subreddit where other people who are just as frustrated as you are, can come together and say, yeah I really hate this. If you can get a group of people who are just as upset as you are, to talk about it. That is very early product market fit. That's the first step of it. You have to know that there are people who are willing to rally around this cause with you. And if you can get that far, you've got the basis for a company, go do it. Go try the thing. Because at this point where we're at in society, the problems that we're facing across the globe, climate change everything that we're going through, without being alarmist. I don't think we have the time to sit around and say, Oh, that would be nice. If I could take some time off to go build that thing. Find time for it. This is the time to do it. We need everybody, all hands on deck to solve these problems. And that's how we're going to do it through people who are not business people who are not startup founders, normal people who are experiencing a problem and say, I see the solution, they're going to be the ones to go build the innovations that save us.

Dustin  40:19

Yeah. Definitely an all hands on deck. moment, because I think, yeah, like, even in just sort of, like, micro ways, or macro, you know, if it's like, I'm doing a thing, and it's helping my local community, and it's like, yeah, you'd hope more people are inspired to do that, you know, wherever they are. And then like, you know, something like, that you're doing can definitely have, you know, a more broad impact as well. But, yeah, I mean, I think that's such a powerful reflection about starting this company, and sort of, you know, feeling empowered now. I mean, stick with it, and keep growing it and kind of preaching this gospel and trying to, you know, inspire others because, like, Yeah, I'm sure history, unfortunately, is littered with, you know, basically, like an alternate universe version of you who kind of was like, Maybe I shouldn't do this, like, you know, who am I to think that I could do that, like, there's so many people that sort of just like, you know, resign themselves to not, not even try, and it could even be the idea of, like, you know, play around with something, like you said, that doesn't require a lot of, you know, upfront investment, and you can be like, okay, like, one, yeah, you can, like, find people who this is sort of scratching their itch, and two, you have like, that prototype, and then like, it doesn't necessarily have to be like, your life's work. I think for some people, like, you know, I know that if people like you, and they've started a company, they're like, I really have found, like, I think my life's work, like what I think I will do for a very long time. And then after that, I'll definitely have to do some, like, soul searching to figure out, you know, what would be next, but it's like, this feels like it for a while. So, you know, that doesn't even have to be like a, you know, prerequisite here, but just like, there's a lot to be learned and sort of, like, you know, because I think like, there's even because I'm somebody who loves, like alternate realities, like, there's a version of that, like, you know, a viewer who started this, and then maybe just sort of like, found, you know, a lot of competence and empowerment, but then, you know, you're like, hey, you know, you know, Jordan, how about you just do this, like, I'll let you do your thing, but like, I'm gonna go do something else. But like, you always have like, oh, man, like, I really, like, I knew I can do something like this. And now I'm gonna go do you like, just that idea of, you know, and I think that's part of it for sort of formalizing these entrepreneurial sort of sandboxes for students to play in is that it's like, less about like, Okay, go build the company that you're gonna, like, work in until you retire. It's like, just even the experience of, you know, building something, and working with other people and doing all that stuff can like, you know, yeah, just be really, really powerful. So, I appreciate you sharing all that and helping to, you know, hopefully, inspire some of our listeners, maybe, but

Kavitta  42:58

I think this goes back to this is how we started countries, people came together and said, Here's what we have to build for our community to thrive. These are the things that we need, who's going to be the one to step up to do it. And it's going to have to be a lot of people. And it was probably people who didn't ever think I'm gonna go start a company, who wasn't entrepreneurs, I said, Oh, I we're going to be the ones to go start this whole country? No, it was everybody, a whole community came together and said, Yeah, I'm going to take the time out of my day to go figure this out. For the sake of everyone around me, I think we need to go back to those basics. That is how, you know, when you look at the VC world, and you see the stats, about 2% of women, or 2% of women founded companies got all got the VC funding this year, and how that number just keeps going down, we see more and more female founders, but less and less of them are getting funded. And then you look at the opposite side of that. And you see that for every dollar that's invested. For every VC dollar that goes into a male led company, they get, on average 30 cents back on that dollar. For every dollar of VC dollar that goes into a women founded company or a women led company, they get 70 cents back on that dollar. So it really doesn't make any sense why we're not seeing more money or VC money go into women led companies if they're doing better overall. But when you start to think about okay, we have the facts yet shitty, how do we work around that? How do we start to change that? The answer is for people to step out of their comfort zone for people who aren't the stereotypical founder type, to take on these missions of changing these really fundamental parts of society that need to be changed. 

Kavitta  44:50

I was talking to Jordan, my co founder the other day, we like to do these like, on Fridays, we'll just sit and brainstorm for like three hours and it's not about Nectir is just everything in general, you know, just those like, brain vomit everything and see what comes out of it conversations I love those. And something that we were talking about was we haven't had a tectonic shift in human behavior in a long time. We've seen, I think right now what we're seeing is optimization over innovation. It's the last few things that I can think of that really changed the way that we behaved. Slack, Slack was one of them, Slack entirely changed the way that we behave. In terms of communicating with our teams. We stopped using email almost every single company around the world, no matter what industry you're in, uses some form of instant chat now, whether that's, you know, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, Slack. But that was a fundamental change in human behavior, we fully and entirely permanently shifted the way that we talk to our co workers. I don't see a lot of those companies anymore, I don't see a lot of those tectonic shift startups that come out, not for the sake of optimizing something and making a little bit of a better version of it. But coming in and saying no, I'm going to take on the challenge to completely change the way that humans act in this specific way. Because it's time, it's time for us all to evolve. And that's where I see Nectir coming in, I think that our goal, our job, if we're really to make this work, it's not an edtech tool, it's a mechanism to change the way that we learn. As a species, we have never before put communication in the center of learning. And from the hundreds of classes, the millions of messages that have been sent over Nectir, just a few campuses, we already know, it does fundamentally change the culture of communication at that school. And within those students, when they come when a freshman comes to college. And the first thing that they see in their dorm, in their academic advisor conversations in every class is Nectir. This one thing that connects all of them together this one place that they can go communicate with anyone on campus and get what they're looking for.

Kavitta  47:23

They start to learn whether they realize it or not, they start to learn to ask more questions, to not feel like that's a scary thing to do. They start to learn to rely on their community, to look to the people around them to collaborate together to find the answer if they can't find it on their own. When you do that, in every class for four or five, six years straight, you come out on the other side, a completely different person in terms of communication. Imagine if we could do that, in every single place of learning across the world, within five years of Nectir, being in every single place of learning, or at least communication being at the center of every classroom, we would see an entirely different society, we would see a society across the world of people who are better at collaborating online, are more willing to ask for help, are more willing to rely on their communities to get things done together, are more willing to even go search for the communities that they're in all the time and know, this is what I need to feel better. And I think that is really important part of the conversation on where startups need to start coming out of or what we need to do to really solve these existential problems. We've got to stop looking at optimization and start looking at entirely shifting human behavior in the way that we now need to be. This needs to be a whole modern upgrade of our lives entirely.

Dustin  48:59

Well, no, because I think yeah, like to that point, like, a lot of people would think just in terms of like learning, the learning experience for students would be like, you know, just have to keep sort of adding little nuts and bolts and gadgets and gizmos to like the LMS which is like yeah, to an extent, but like that idea of adding in a very dynamic and ubiquitous communication platform and sort of, you know, having this sort of philosophy about the value of that sort of proliferate around, you know, to every faculty and staff. So they're, they're encouraging students to use it and modeling the way and all those sort of things like, like, yeah, that's kind of like a radical innovation, you know, because it's, like, you know, starts to break down some of the classic notions of just kind of the sage on the stage lecturing, or just sort of like, it is like, Well, hey, well, all the resources are here, you just gotta come to them. It's like, well, let's try to like bridge like, you know, and I think that's such a key word to like, let's bridge you know, the gap here for students and, you know, make these supports and reading versus a little bit more accessible and sort of, you know, democratize the learning a little bit, you know, in the classes that students are taking so because yeah, I think like communication skills, you know, have been and will continue to be important and how those sort of manifests are, you know, a little bit different now with stuff like Slack and everything being. So kind of fundamental to how business is done, or just, you know, people existing on social media and all that sort of thing. So I, you know, kind of just want to tee you up for something on that point about, like, a common misconception that you think faculty and staff have about engaging students in these learning communities who I think it is such an important aspect of all this that we haven't really addressed yet.

Kavitta  50:44

Something that was really tough for me as a student building Nectir was to, in order for me to build a solution that had never existed before, because it's not like everyone in replacing something, we're adding an entirely new component that hasn't been there before. So in order to do that, the only way that we were able to build it was to, quite literally, I think, Jordan, and I talked to 1000 different at least students, admin staff, instructors from every campus that would talk to us across the US, even outside of the US. We just knocked on the doors of absolutely everyone who was in education and said, Will you please talk to us? And all we asked them was, you know, not would this be the solution. But what is the biggest pain point that you face in your classes? What sucks the most about school for you. And that is really where the understanding began to emerge for us on why a solution like this hasn't been built before. Because like I said, to us, it felt it still feels like low hanging fruit. We're not building something revolutionary, we're building something that should have already been in classes for the last five years at least. But simply no one has taken the time to build it for these people. And it has to be built for them to use, it can't just be someone coming in and saying, Hey, this tool works well enough, take this. No, it has to be built hand in hand with the people who are going to use it. And so through doing that had a lot of conversations that helped me understand. I wouldn't say where they're going wrong, but where they could, I think be connecting with students a little bit better. And I'll be the first to say that, especially after COVID admin, staff, instructors are so overloaded with work, like they just have so much more to do and just not enough hours in the day to do it. More students than ever to accommodate less instructors to help them do it. 

Kavitta  52:47

It's just a tough time to be in schools anywhere right now, I want to really encourage anyone who's within education and listening to this right now, to understand that, you don't have to have an army of people behind you to make this change happen. It's why we give Nectir for free to any individual on any campus to start using, you can get your whole campus on it for free, we will go figure out the pricing with your admin later on whenever I don't care about making money off of you before you start using it. We need to solve this problem now. Right now. We don't have time to focus on Oh, who's going to be? Where's the red tape gonna come in? Who's gonna sign off on all of these things? You know, let's look at No, that's the reason that we haven't made any change yet, is because everybody in education keeps looking at it as like, oh, we have to go through these 10 steps to get the solution No, you don't. One person can decide I want to start using this, I want to give this to my students. That's all you need, we'll set up for you, we will do all of the legwork, we'll give you a community manager to monitor the space. It is that simple. You can get an entire campus on it in a day. That's why we've built it to because we knew that this is not a problem we have five years to solve. This is a problem we need to solve right now this year, or we're gonna see some serious repercussions if we already have not seen them. And so my advice to any staff or admin or anyone out there, and maybe a misconception, like you were saying is that I think people think that they need this fully baked solution that everybody has signed off on everyone has thought through has gone through the procurement office and all of this stuff and only then can they really make that change. Any single person on a campus, even a student can start using this and be the change that they need to see in their own life or in the lives of the community that they're in. That's how we've built this for anyone to start. And that is how we should be approaching, solving these ginormous problems within education as a whole, not just communication, but any of them. It has to be that every person in the community sees themselves as pillars of the community that can go help the community as a whole. That's where the change is going to start to come in, it cannot be just top down. 

Kavitta  55:23

And within that itself, when you're looking at solutions, look, to the students to tell you what is working and what is not. And that's not just surveys, surveys are great. But like, go talk to your students ask them what is wrong. I remember when I first approached UCSB to tell them, here's what I'm proposing, I want to go build this. They all said, Yeah, that would be great. But I don't really know if that's going to work. What's the point? That was really the answer that I got is like, Sure, it sounds great. But like, what's the Why would you build this? What's the point? It's good enough. If we continue down that path of Oh, it's good enough, it's working. Because some people are graduating, and some people are getting what they need. So we must be doing something right. You're cutting off your legs before you even start the marathon. You can't look at it as it's good enough, we need education in particular to be the best that it's ever been. Because this next couple generations might be our last, we have to put all of our resources into giving them what they need to be the best innovators that we've ever seen in the world before. That's our last hope. 

Kavitta  56:46

So when you're thinking about what tools you're adopting, on your campus look less at what makes technical sense in every shape, and form. And what's gonna, you know, sound good to the board, when you get it approved, or what's going to be easy to fit into the budget, do the extra hard work step of deciding I'm going to be the one to lead the change, I'm going to talk about it in the way that needs to be talked about, I'm going to bring up the hard questions, I'm going to have the hard debates, and I'm going to push for this change to happen, because that's why I'm here. Because I know that that's why you're in education. If you're in education, after you are no longer learning, it's because you care that deeply. That's why you come into education because you care, because you want to see a difference because you want to make sure that kids get the learning that they need. So go back to those values that brought you here in the first place. And I promise it will make the job so much more worthwhile in those tools. From a student perspective, I think the like very raw honest, truth is like things like chat bots are good in some ways. But that is not going to solve your problem. You need human beings, you need real human connections. That's what's going to influence change. Having a chat bot, send your student a message that says hey, you just failed a test, you're on track for academic probation. Just to let you know, that's not helpful. We know that. We know that we failed that test. And we're not feeling good about it already. There are much more human ways of getting to those students and making sure that they get the help that they need. And a chat bot is not solving that. So my after all of that very long winded answer, be the champion for your community. And it doesn't have to be the most fully baked solution before you do it. Because we don't have time.

Dustin  58:43

Yeah, and I mean, I think that's something kind of interrelated in this whole conversation so far is just sort of the importance of the human factor. Because yeah, like, I absolutely agree, like, I love the idea of chatbots. But like, you know, a fully automated solution alone will not solve many problems. Like, you know, if someone were to do that, like that example, it's like that, that thing's only going to work. If you have like a team of like support coaches, or people who are going to be like, immediately available to either like text, have phone calls, email, like, you know, immediately book appointments and all that. So it's like, if you don't have the capacity to do that, we don't even offer it because then that's gonna be frustrating for students. Or like, you know, other customers, like don't even do that at all. Like because yeah, that's like not a super helpful reminders. Like, it's either, like automate to get people in touch with humans, or have your humans reach out to people who may need additional support and, you know, really kind of give them that, you know, quote unquote, white glove service kind of thing that so, yeah, really good stuff. And I think, you know, helps. I think they're gonna just capture the essence of our conversation here and sort of, you know, bold and underline kind of the student voice being included in things and not kind of assuming You know what they need or want or how they want to get it and everything. And, you know, this is a longer episode, but it's all good stuff. So I still want to ask kind of our standard, two final questions at the very least. So real quick, if there's any kind of resources that you want to give a tip of the hat to that we can not include the shownotes. That'd be great. And then we'll go to our final question.

Kavitta  1:00:23

I'm actually going to plug Nectir's blog in here, because we are pretty good about keeping our ear to the ground about what is next, or what's the important thing to look at within higher ed. And, for example, right now, a lot of our conversation with, you know, our Director of Instructional Design, and our community team is around making sure that students have the digital literacy that they need to be prepared for this new workforce. I think it's a conversation, we didn't get to touch on too much that, you know, for the rest of it, it's all on our blog. And what we talked about there, and sort of a theme that keeps coming up for us is we have a new norm in the workforce as a whole across the globe of remote work is here to stay, it's going to be here to say 56% of workers in this recent Gallup poll said that their job can be done remotely. And 17% of companies globally, are fully remote forever, like they've just decided to we're staying remote. And you're seeing this plateau of companies really aren't coming back into the office. So knowing that and knowing that college is meant to it's advertised as preparation for the workforce, right? That's why you go, because it's going to help you get a career and stick with it, and give you that push up. And if that's true, then we need to be teaching students how to work in this new hybrid remote workforce, which means that if all of their communication is going to be with teams that they may never see in person. And they're going to be using tools like Slack and Teams, to really great reason to put in something like Nectir into the classroom. Because not only does it help you in all of those educational ways, but it also teaches students how they're going to be using tools like Slack in the workforce. Making it look like Slack and feel like Slack was very intentional. It's because when they go use Slack, wherever they might be, they're instinctively going to know Oh, this is how I'm supposed to communicate with these people. This is how I ask questions. So I collaborate with people across the internet. And that's going to be so fundamental to truly making sure that no matter where they go, they're prepared. So all of that information is on our blog, we do a really great job at updating it and interviewing new people every month to make sure that we're amplifying voices of other higher ed professionals who have the knowledge on how to go carry out these solutions, whether that's using Nectir or not. But I would really recommend to go check that out. We spend a lot of time making sure that those are updated.

Dustin  1:03:14

Perfect. Yeah. Great. So you know, we'll end here then, as we always do, I feel like you've already offered many amazing, final thought were the kind of advice and stuff here and calls to action. But just feel free to kind of reiterate anything or end the episode as you wish. The floor is yours.

Kavitta  1:03:34

Thanks, Dustin. This is great. And thank you for letting me speak a little bit over this is just good stuff. Um, I think the final piece that I will leave everyone with I think a lot of people like to ask for advice at the end of how you go make this change happen, right? What do you know? How do you know that this is the right change to make, and whether that whether your higher ed professional was trying to figure out how to do that on your campus, or you're someone who wants to go start your own company or solve a problem yourself. The best thing that I've ever done is adopt this principle that one of my investors told me years ago, which is to talk to 10 people every week. And it doesn't have to be you know, you're talking to them about the solution. We actually don't ask about Nectir at all. But just go find 10 new people that you've never spoken to ask them if they're willing to do like a 15 or 30 minute call. If you're a higher ed professional. I really recommend doing this with students because they feel great to just have their voice be heard. But it's so powerful the stories that you'll hear from people and they are going to tell you what they need. So go engage your community go ask the people around you go have conversations that you wouldn't otherwise people have so much great advice to give. As you can see, you can even me platform, I will talk forever. But you just you get a lot of great information from them. And it's the best thing that I've ever seen the best habit I've ever adopted. And I'll do it for the rest of my life no matter what industry I'm in. And yeah, I just encourage everyone to go make some new connections, talk to people and ask them about their life.

Dustin  1:05:21

Beautiful. Yeah, I think that is a great call to action for folks. And yeah, I mean, just thank you for sharing all that you did. This is a longer episode. But nice to have this kind of in the mix, and just so much good stuff to sort of just integrate that into folks can have working philosophies and will have ways to connect with you and Nectir and the stuff that we talked about in the show notes as usual. But yeah, just thank you so much for your time. 

Dustin  1:05:45

Absolutely. Thank you, Dustin, thank you for having me. And thank you to everyone for listening. If you're interested in getting Nectir free on your campus, let us know we'll set you up within the same day. Teacher, admin, staff, student, whoever you are, we'd love to give it to you. So reach out to us and we'll be there.

Dustin  1:06:03

Thanks for listening to this episode of the podcast. Make sure to rate review and subscribe so you never miss an episode. Thanks again for listening. And we'll see you in the next episode of the HigherEd Geek podcast.

Vicky Le
October 5, 2022

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