PODCAST: How To (Actually) Build Education Communities

Kavitta Ghai
June 14, 2022

We're back with another podcast for you! This week, our CEO Kavitta Ghai was interviewed by the incredible Alex Sarlin at Edtech Insiders. Tune in to hear the origin story of Nectir, Kavitta's journey as a young female founder, and how to organically build a community in your classroom. Check out the show details here for the full transcript.

Podcast Transcript

Alex  00:04

Welcome to Ed Tech insiders. In this podcast we talk to educators and educational technology investors, thought leaders, founders and operators about the most interesting and exciting trends in the field. I'm your host Alex Sarlin, an educational technology veteran with over a decade of work and leading edtech companies.

Alex  00:28
Kavitta Ghai is the co founder and CEO of Nectir, a communication platform for higher ed that uses instant chat to build a community in every class. Kavitta founded Nectir in 2018, during her time as a student at UC Santa Barbara, and has since raised over $2.25 million to bring communication infrastructure to every campus and classroom. Her goal is to make quality education accessible to every student. Nectir is a communication platform for higher ed that was built hand in hand with instructors and students to ensure that everyone has exactly what they need to make learning more accessible. With over 100 campuses adopting Nectir In just the last few months. The tool is a viable candidate for the future of social education. Kavitta Ghai, welcome to Ed Tech insiders.

Kavitta  01:24

Hey, Alex. Thanks for having me.

Alex  01:26

Kavitta, you're one of the youngest entrepreneurs we've ever had on the EdTech iInsiders podcast. Why don't you tell us a little bit of your story about what brought you into ed tech entrepreneurship at such a young age?

Kavitta  01:39

Yeah, good question. I think it starts you know, I love jumping into the actual story of how Nectir started and how I got into this. But I think if we go way back to the origin, if I had to point to, when I really became attached to this, it was when I was in third grade. And it started with the first test that I ever failed in my life. It was a multiplication exam, I had third grade, as I think when you start learning multiplication, and I grew up in the Bay Area, and specifically in an area where everyone's parents tell you from elementary school, you got to go to Stanford, or you got to go to Berkeley. And that's pretty much all the options you have. And so there's this competition that begins from a very young age of who's going to get the best scores, who's gonna have the best GPA who's gonna go to the best school. So when I failed my first test, and you know, a teacher, hands back all the papers, and everyone turns it over at the same time, and you're all comparing scores. And this is around the first time that you start to get letter grades. And I got the lowest grade in the class. And I remember everyone around me being like, ooh, your parents are gonna kill you, and you get home. And I just was like, Oh, shit, what do I do? Like, I really was like, you're there, right? My parents are gonna kill me because their parents would kill them. And so I'm just hanging my head the whole day, and I walk home, and I walk in the front door, and there's like tears streaming down my face, because I just have no idea how I'm gonna break the news to my parents. And my dad sees me and he like, drops everything he's doing and he's like, what's wrong, what happened? And I didn't even see anything. I just handed him the paper I like was too embarrassed to tell him what happened. And he looks at it, and he sees this big fat, red F with like a note next to it that says, like, to my parents, she should probably get a tutor or someone to help her. And I look at him, and I'm like, I'm stupid. And he looks at me. And he tells me something that completely changed my life from that point on, and is what I believe the reason that I'm sitting here today, he took that piece of paper, you crumpled it up and you throw it away. And he said, I never in your life want you need to associate your intelligence with a number that's on a piece of paper, whether it's a test or your report card, or your GPA in college, there is no number that can tell you or anyone else in the world, how smart you actually are. And he said, I know that you are intelligent, you need to know that too. And he said, I'm never again in your life going to ask you about your grades or how good you're doing in school because he said, I trust you. I know you're smart. I know you're going to be successful. You may just learn in a slightly different way than other kids did. And I didn't know this at the time, and neither did he but I had really severe ADHD. And that was the reason why I grew up learning in a very different way than other kids did. And I think I'm far from the only one in fact, I think it was probably the majority of students that experience something that hindered their ability to, you know, sit with anywhere between 30 to 500 students around them and be lectured at. I don't think that's a really great way for anyone to take in knowledge but for From that day onwards, I moved through my life and through my education with this knowledge that I'm here to learn to make mistakes is a part of that learning experience, it's going to have to happen. And I just never cared about my GPA, again, school sort of my place to experiment with the world. And going forward through my education like that, is I think, why once I got to college and saw that, we needed a solution, like Nectir, it was why I was so quick to jump on it and actually build it. Because I realized, from a very young age, there are so many things within education that need to change, someone's got to do it, why not me. 

Kavitta  05:41

So to get into the actual story of Nectir, when I got to UC Santa Barbara, which I will preface with saying, absolutely an incredible school, I'd recommend anyone go there. So please don't take this as anything otherwise. But when I got into college, being a first generation student, being an only child, I had this image of college, the way that I saw it in the movies, because I really had no other way to know what it would be like. And it was far from it, I thought I was gonna walk into these intimate classes, where I'm becoming friends with these incredible instructors who write the books that they're teaching me. And it's going to be this immersive experience where I get to choose what I'm learning wasn't entirely the case. And I'm sure anyone who's been to college in the last 10 years can tell you that. But I think one of the biggest things was that I came from a 2000 person high school to a 27,000 person campus. And one orientation day is not going to teach you how to navigate that space. And so for the first entire year of college, all I could think about was dropping out. I called my dad the first week of school, and I was like, Dude, I cannot do this, like this is just not built for me. And you know, being himself, he was super open. He was like, you know what's best for you. You make the decision. If you want to come home from home, that's fine. And I am just not a quitter. I'm bad at quitting. And so I stuck it out because I was like, Nope, I gotta figure this out somehow. But it was absolute hell. I mean, it was really tough to really find my niche within this insanely large community of people. So I couldn't even figure out what I wanted to learn. Honestly, I have no idea what I want to do for the rest of my life. I thought that I wanted to go to a business school. UCSB ended up being the best option that I got into, and they don't have one. It was a research university. And so I picked econ and I thought close enough. And once again, not what I was thinking it was going to be. But the reason that I ended up staying in college was the fact that I joined a business fraternity at the end of my freshman year. And it wasn't necessarily the business fraternity itself, it was the fact that I finally found a community of people that could help me navigate this enormous space for the next four years. And I realized in that experience that a group of people that I just met, allowed me to find this $40,000 per year experience worth it. 

Kavitta  08:18

People, not the education, not the textbooks, not my professor, but people just like me, that was the reason I stayed. And it transformed my idea of college. Immediately, I realized that the most salient and valuable part of your college education is the network you build and the communities you join, and the people you meet. They're the reason that you love college. They're the reason that you go every year, they're the reason that you stay and you pay that much money, because you can't find that anywhere else. But the education part of it, you probably can find somewhere else if you really if that was all that you wanted. And I went through the next couple years of college thinking, I see why college still exists the way that it does, even with all the problems that it has, it's because of the people. But I still don't understand why my education costs $40,000 a year for something that I ended up going on Google and YouTube to learn before the midterm and the final anyways. And so does literally every other student Around me there is not a single student that you can ask today who's in college who will not tell you Yes, I primarily study from Google and YouTube, not my professor. And I just couldn't wrap my head around that and why it was so expensive for that. And the only time that I really had my idea of college education change or education in general, was the summer between my sophomore and my junior year, I ended up taking a class with a grad student professor. And it was a prerequisite to my major which was communication ironically, is what I switched into, not knowing the Nectir was going to be the end goal. But I really needed to get a good grade in this class to get into the major. And I was going to UCSB like you could see the beach from the classroom. And here it was spending my summer on campus in class was not where I want it to be. And I was, you know, already had this jaded image of classes. I wasn't happy going into it. 

Kavitta  10:22

But we walk in on the first day and Spencer, our professor, he sits us down. And he said, Look, before I say anything else, I'm going to let you guys know, I'm a student, too. And for that reason, we're going to do this class a little bit differently, because I have a feeling that I know how to fix the problems that we've been having. And the first thing he does is he turns around, and he writes the link to a Slack workspace on the board. And he says, we're going to do things differently. If you have a question in the middle of class, if you have a question at two in the morning about the midterm, if you want to know what the last bullet point on the last slide says, any of the above, you have an issue with this class, don't come to me, your first line of action is going to be to go to the Slack chat with the rest of the students in your class. And you're going to ask them, because he said, Look, there's one of me and one of your TA, it doesn't matter if we're up for 24 hours day, we are not going to get back to your questions in a time that you want us to. But I guarantee that one of the 149 people around you will, because they're, one, going to be able to explain it in a language that you understand and two if they can't explain it. If all 150 of you don't know the answer, then I know I'm doing something wrong. And I can address that in the next lecture. And he said on top of that, if you answer someone's question really well, in this Slack chat, I'll give you extra credit. Because that lets me know that you've learned the topic well enough to then go teach someone else. And that is the highest level of learning that you can reach when you now know how to teach another person what you have just learned yourself. And before we even started, I mean, I wouldn't even be surprised, I don't remember, but I wouldn't be surprised if we like did a round of applause for him. Because every student right off, knew, he knows what he's talking about, this is going to work. Because it's a no brainer. It's something that we've been waiting for. For so long. We know that our teachers can't give specialized attention to all 150 of us, we're not stupid, we know that we're not expecting that either. But with this much technology all over every part of our life, especially with this generation having it since we were kids, we know that this could solve this problem that we've been having. And that class just changed my life. Once again, it showed me that it is absolutely possible to get the value that you're looking for out of your education. If you have the tools to go get that value yourself. We are adults at that point, we have to have the drive to want to go learn these things. And if we're sitting in college paying that much money than we do, give us the resources to go fill in the blanks ourselves. And we will. And in that class within a week 150 people felt like 15 people. And the reason was because we were able to build a community around the material that we were learning. And that's not built out of forum posting of what did you learn about the reading? I learned this? I agree. No, that's not why that community happened, and why we all got such good grades that summer. It happened in the conversations where we were talking about where we were gonna go for dinner afterwards, or did you watch the Miami/Boston game last night? What did you think that in those casual conversations was where the community was built. And out of that we had the trust to then ask each other for help when we really needed it. And that would be at two in the morning before the midterm. And it like I said ended up being the highest grade that I got in my four years at UCSB very unsurprisingly. 

Kavitta  14:10

And I left that class, like a dog with a bone. I was like, I don't know what I need to do. But I need Slack and every single one of my classes, because that would ensure me that whether or not it's you know, a teacher that I love, or a huge class or a small class, it didn't matter. If I had that resource available to me. I could get what I needed out of the class. And I left that summer and approached UCSB and ask them point blank. I don't even know who I emailed definitely the wrong person but wasn't even thinking about Nectir I simply just wanted to know if I'm paying you $40,000 Why can't you put Slack in all of my classes? At the time I had just become president of my business fraternity on campus, and we use Slack. We had to lack for all of our teams, all the VPs and everyone beneath them, and I organized it. And so I knew how easy it would be to set it up. And I genuinely wanted someone to answer me, why can't you do this? And I got sent all over that campus. I mean, I probably got sent in 40 different directions because nobody even knew who was the person to answer that question in the first place. And that was my first experience with realizing why the education system is the way it is because it is so vastly disconnected within every campus, even campuses that are as wealthy and as resource heavy as the University of California system, even there. So I can imagine what's happening at smaller schools around the US. And so finally, I got sent in the right direction to the instructional design department. And this absolutely wonderful woman who was at the time, the smartest person I've ever met in my life, Mindy Colin, she is an instructional consultant at UCSB still today, and she is now on Nectir academic board of advisors as well. She finally gave me the time of day, and I sat down with her and I said, Can you please explain this to me why we can't do this. And she did. She walked me through a laundry list of answers. And I didn't know this at the time. But she had been doing research for the last three years across the UC system on why things like Slack do and don't work in the classroom. And she said, look, it's we're a public school, this is way too expensive for us to give to every student simply not feasible at the surface. The other part is that the average age of a professor is 55, they are not going to take the 10 plus hours that it's going to take to sit down, learn this entire software that's not even built for education, and then set up their own Slack workspace every quarter in every class that they're teaching, and make sure that their students know how to use it too. That's not we don't have the time for that that's not going to happen. And on top of all of that, as admin, we don't have the resources to implement this and onboard the entire campus. It's just not going to work. And I left that meeting thinking I'm happy that someone finally gave me an answer. But I don't think it's a good enough answer. I saw it work. I don't think there's anything that you could tell me, that would make me think otherwise. Because this is the first time in 20 years that I've enjoyed my class. And so just happened to be right place right time. 

Kavitta  17:37

I like to think that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. And that's exactly what Nectir was. I that same summer happened to be living in this 13 person house with a bunch of people from my business fraternity. And my co founder Jordan was one of the people living there. And he was the only other person who hated school as much as I did. And so it always be me and him the last two on the couch after everyone went to bed, sitting there trying to convince each other to not drop out be like not we can do it one more quarter. Let's do just try it. And finally, during one of these conversations, I'm venting to him about all of this stuff that I've just heard from Mindy from the school, from my professor. And he says, why don't we just build it ourselves? If they can't give us the tool that we're looking for, and we know it's going to work, because we've seen it before. And every student that you talk to will tell you please for the love of God, yes, make something like that. Why don't we do it. And so we did. We took about two weeks use open source code, threw some of our own on top of it, and built what is actually the same version of Nectir. Today, that is at over 100 campuses now. And we made it our goal for the rest of the few years that we were in college to get this into the hands of every single one of the 27,000 students at our campus and their professors too. And we said we're going to prove them wrong. We're going to show them that it is possible to do this that is affordable for the campus. It's feasible to get the onboarding done. It's intuitively built for education. That's not hard to do. And we did it. And in 2020 We got all 27,000 students at our campus using Nectir in almost every single one of their classes with their professors being the ones who spearheaded it and put it in the classes and into their LMS themselves. And as of today we are on our third licensed year with UCSB. And they are still loving it. Every single person on that campus year after year. And so once we had done all of that, we knew it's time to go do this at every single campus not just in the US but around the world. K through 12, colleges, universities, community colleges, trade schools, every single classroom deserves to have a community inside of it, where the students can flourish in the way that they choose to. And if we can make that first step to build communication infrastructure into the campus from day one, then we can start to bring in these other changes that need to happen. But we have to start with something that works and Nectir does. And so I think this is a great place to start with transforming the way we think about education.

Alex  20:33

Let's take a quick break.


And then all of a sudden, Facebook got in there very cleverly, and they gave people free phones, which they couldn't afford anyway, with Facebook built into it. And now all of a sudden, the world's opening up and of course, you're gonna believe what you see on this amazing technology, right? And they were warned over and over again, that this was being misused in order to prosecute a genocide on the part of extreme Buddhists and the government, right, the UN actually said that Facebook had facilitated a genocide in Myanmar, and what happened to them nothing.

Alex  21:08

That's an incredibly inspiring story, both of entrepreneurship and hope, and of, you know, not giving up on what sometimes can be seen as a very rigid or bureaucratic system. It's a really amazing story. There's so much to unpack in there. But I think my first question for you is that you mentioned, the original use case for Nectir is, all the students in the same class can communicate with each other and with the instructor, and maybe the TA, and just have a really smooth, open experience and help each other with the work but also communicate and learn about each other and, you know, become a community. And point a few years in, when you have the entire campus community on the same platform. I bet there are a lot of other use cases that have come up that go even beyond that original. And I'd love to hear you talk about some of the interesting things you've seen when you have a full campus communication platform.

Kavitta  22:06

Absolutely. So to explain sort of the way we built Nectir, we to even begin building it, once we had you know, that initial MVP, we talked to I have maybe 1000, students, instructors, administrators, instructional designers from campuses around the nation. I mean, we just sat there, I don't think I went to class for like a full quarter, I just sat there and I emailed every single person that I possibly could, we were like, giving students free coffees to like have a five minute conversation with us, we needed to know, if we're gonna get all three of these parties to find value in this tool and buy into it, we have to understand what the problem is that we're solving for each of them, and then actually solve it. And so we knew based on the technologies that we had already used in our classes, that did not work. The reason that the other edtech tools didn't work was because they were clearly built by people who hadn't been in the classroom for at least the last 10 years. And as a student, we could see it, it was very obvious. And so we knew if we're going to do this, right, we need to ask the people who are using it, what do you want to see in this tool. And what they wanted was something that would integrate into whatever they were already using, that would just be seamless, that had no extra bells and whistles, but just the tools that they needed to communicate about education. And so we like to think of Nectir as not social media, but social education. We want students to go have their social media personas outside of the campus, go to Twitter, and Instagram, and Reddit and do all of that stuff that you were already doing there, we need to add another component into that stack of apps that you use every day that is specifically dedicated to your education. And that's what Nectir is, it is communication infrastructure for the entire campus. So it integrates right into the LMS, whatever that might be. And it'll auto create a class channel for every class on campus, and then auto add the students and the instructors into them. So nobody, not even the admin has to sit there and onboard everyone, one by one, we at Nectir make sure that we do that. We provide a community manager to every workspace to make sure that everything is going seamlessly to do workshops for instructors, to get students into the apps on their phones and their tablets, all of that good stuff. And once you're inside of this workspace that you sign into with your.edu email address. So every message you send is attached to your student ID and they know that once you're in this space, anyone who's in your Nectir workspace for your campus can create their own public or private channel. And so what we really want is to allow for these emergent communities to form because, like I said students have their social media to go to reach out with each other. What they don't have is a place where they can go access the other transfer students on campus, the other international students on campus, the other people in their major, those are the communities that we don't have in social media that we need a place for on the campus in a FERPA compliant, data safe, designated by the school location. 

Kavitta  25:23

That's what Nectir is. It's using intuitive chat technology that we already love. But putting that in places where it doesn't exist yet. And so this was shown to us by the community at UCSB, we didn't tell them to go build these communities, we simply had the function available for them to build their own channels, and add public channels to this directory that anyone could find and join and private channels exactly what they are only for added members. We just wanted to see what they would do with it. And right away, we saw transfer student community, international student community, academic advisors started to create channels for poli sci honors majors. And they would answer questions all day long in these channels. And now three years later, their repositories of information for all of these new students who come in and join, they can search through these channels that have existed for years, and read messages and learn from students who have already asked the question that maybe they didn't even know how to phrase or they didn't even know that they had. So you get this insanely valuable repository of all of the students who have been at your campus. Some teachers will even make their class channels public so that students can go search. What was Comm 1, like last quarter, what did they talk about? What did the students say. And that is really where this beautiful network effect comes in. And that's why we want Nectir to have every class channel in one workspace, versus where you see things like Slack and Discord has to be siloed in each individual classroom, you need to have all of these in one place, so that the network effect can build on itself each year. And you completely eliminate onboarding entirely after that first year. We have not in three years asked a single teacher at UCSB to use Nectir. And yet, year after year, all 6500 new students get on Nectir within the first quarter that they're at campus, whether it's a freshman or a transfer student. And the reason that happens is because of this network effect that you get when you put every community in one place.

Alex  27:31

There are so many possible reasons it is such a product for the times, we know that students are absolutely, you know, are watching different communication platforms that are very modern, that are often consumer based or even borrowed from enterprise software like Slack. And then there's nothing like that on campuses, it feels like it's such a perfect match. And you mentioned, you know, over 100 schools Nectir seems to be hitting a real inflection point out and grow very quickly, I'd love to hear what you attribute that to some of the different factors that are leading to the growth, one that I'm hearing very loud and clear is it's very easy to adopt. It doesn't take a lot of institutional change. The admin work is minimal. You have somebody managing every account in a really hands on way. But I'd love to hear sort of from a 10,000 foot view. What about this moment in time, makes Nectir sort of an amazing solution for higher ed.

Kavitta  28:31

Right. When we started Nectir, four years ago, even when we you know tried to get our own professors to use it in our classes, which is really what we started it for. We needed it ourselves. At that time, we had to convince people that this problem existed, we had to tell teachers, I promise you, please look at this research that we've done with 500 other students, I can show you in data format, how many other students say that this is a problem for them to it's literally every single one. But again, it was convincing them. And then it was convincing them that this was worth the time that this was not only going to be worth the time, but it was going to eventually save them time. Because you're letting your students ask and answer each other's questions. It was just a lot of convincing to do and COVID happened. And while this has been an absolutely devastating couple of years, the silver lining I think is that we've finally exposed so many large structural issues, not only within education, but within societies as a whole, that we finally are taking the steps to change because everybody sees it. And there is no hiding it anymore. And one of those things is how salient community is within education. I mean, you saw when we went remote people hated it. And the reason the real reason why people were so upset about out having to go home, because you weren't around these people that made college worth it. And there was no way other than zoom at the time to bring that connection back in a really easy, feasible way. 

Alex  28:57

Let's take a quick break.

Kavitta  30:14

And I have this instructor, Tony, when he started using Nectir in his class, he said, in my 20 years of teaching, I have never, ever seen my students just be in like that, like, just get it without me having to tell them. And he said, We've eliminated this issue of turn taking within Nectir, you no longer have to raise your hand and wait for someone to say their piece. And then someone else raises their hand afterwards, in response, you now have the ability to have every student share their thoughts simultaneously, and then jump into whatever conversation they want to as if it were a real community conversation happening in real life, that's how it would happen, you would go just form your little groups and talk about the stuff that was really pertinent to you. And when you're sitting in a virtual classroom, or a physical classroom, and you have this issue of turn taking, on top of that you have this added issue of accessibility. It's this issue that we weren't looking at deep enough before that, you have the same five students who will typically answer and raise their hand every single time do or in a classroom. But with Nectir, you allow the classroom to become accessible to every student, even the one that sits in the back of the class is a single mom who can only come to one lecture a week, and typically is so far behind that she can't join the conversation in Nectir, she can, because she can go back when she has time after work, after taking care of her kid and read through the messages and get the information she needs from other students and come to class every time prepared. And so I think there's the factor of accessibility, finally having some light shed on it. I think it's this issue of teachers being burnt out, we're finally taking them seriously. And you know, even the admin piece on top of it, I get it, it's hard to onboard an entire campus. So let's help you let's build something that fixes that for you, too. I think COVID has allowed every single one of those voices within a campus to have a platform to speak on. And Nectir comes in as this no brainer. And people ask me sometimes you How did you make something that was a no brainer? Because I asked the people who I wanted to use it, what do you want to see? And I built exactly that. Actually my co founder, and I'll give him all the credit for that he built exactly that. But we went them exactly what they were looking for. And I think it speaks to solving a lot of these societal problems. Now that we know what they are, ask the people who are having the problem, how to solve it, find smart people who are going to solve it for them, and make the damn thing happen. It's really as simple as that. And I think Nectir has given me and a lot of other people hope that is maybe not so hard to solve these issues that we've been sitting on for so many years that we've eventually just thrown under the rug, I think we actually canceled them. 


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Alex  34:05

You're naming so many steps in the process that I think you mentioned being in a business fraternity from your freshman year. And the way you think about this problem really reminds me of you know, product research and user research and going out and talking to all the people and finding their pain points. And I'd love to just hear your message that you would have out there. And I think you were starting to say some of these things right now. But for other student entrepreneurs or potential student entrepreneurs or young entrepreneurs of any kind, who might have a similar story, they see issues in their own educational environment that are broken or solutions that haven't yet scaled. And they say I wish it was like this. And it isn't that maybe I could fix it. What are some of the steps in your experience in going from that sort of aha moment of I think this is is a real problem. And I think maybe I want to do something about it to a viable business that serves many, many different schools like Nectir. I just from your entrepreneurial education, I'd love to hear some of your real insights. It would be valuable to I think a lot of our listeners.

Kavitta  35:16

Yeah, absolutely. Part of me, starting and building this company. A huge part of it is obviously that I really care about solving this issue within education and many others. I think that this is not, I think that anyone who's been within the education system period in the US can tell you that there is not a small change that needs to happen, but a complete overhaul, we need to look at an entirely new system of how we educate people, because our livelihoods depend on it at this point. But the other piece of this that's really important to me is that when I was sitting in college thinking about what do I want to do with my life, where do I want to work before Nectir was in the picture, I couldn't point at a single company that I would feel comfortable working at, as a woman, as a woman of color as a child of immigrants. As someone who suffers from mental illnesses, I couldn't point at a place where I want it to work. And that was really scary for me. And I also at the same time, once I started Nectir, couldn't point at a single woman who looked like me, who had done what I wanted to do was finally gotten to a time where it's normal for women to start companies. But that's something that has changed in just the last 10 years.

Kavitta  36:42

 10 years ago, you could not look at a single woman anywhere who had started a multibillion dollar company, that wasn't a thing. It's very recent, I am in the first generation of women who are allowed to do this, who have been given not a seat at the table, but a seat in the room to be able to observe the table. And now what I see as my job to pave a path for every woman that comes after me. So they never have to sit and have that moment that I had thinking, oh shit, I don't know, anyone who has done this before. That's extremely tough to sit there. And think about that, when you're looking at solving a problem like this, you've got to have a lot of willpower, and a lot of insane ability to just live in denial to believe that you're going to make this work when it's never been done before. And so I see this as my opportunity to create the spot at the table for other women who look like me to come and do this afterwards, in whatever way they want to whatever problem you're looking to solve. I want them to know that you can go do it. And there are people who are going to back you there are VCs, who will hand you money to do that. And they'll do it at this age, that's really important for me to put that message out. And when it comes to young entrepreneurs who were sitting at that exact point that I was, and that my co founder Jordan was and thinking, God, I hate this thing. One, I encourage you to not assume that you have to be a certain type of person to be an entrepreneur. I think at a certain time you did. But we've moved past that anybody can start a company now absolutely anyone, you don't have to be able to sit here and talk the way that I do to do it. That's not necessary. It's a cherry on top, you can learn it. And you can find great people to build it with you. 

Kavitta  38:45

The most important thing is that you find a problem that you care deeply enough about that you can sit there and solve it for four years without a paycheck. That's where you find the sweet spot. If there's something that you are that pissed off about, go for it, fix the thing, because that's what you need, you have to be pissed off about it enough that you just need to see that change happen. And you know, without a shadow of doubt in your mind, I'm going to try every thing in my body to make this work. And when you find something like that, the taking it down to you know a granular and actual tangible level of what to do. Build an MVP as fast as you can build something, a duct tape solution that doesn't scale to just test out your idea. Like we just took open source and we were like, we'll figure it out. We'll see if it works with something else. You got to try that first. Don't waste your time sitting there and building a tool for six months, and then going and making sure it's perfect before you put it out in the world. It is never going to be perfect. The best advice that I got was is you're not embarrassed of your product the first time you put it out. It's too late. You've gone too far. You got to be embarassed the first time you put it out, because you're gonna need other people to tell you what to build and what not to build, you have a great view of this, but it's only one, you need 100, you need 1000 views of it, for you to really have the knowledge to understand, I hear what everyone's saying, I have my own knowledge of this, I'm gonna take a grain of salt of both. And here's the perfect thing in the middle. So my advice to entrepreneurs is, find the thing that pisses you off the most, find a very easy way to test out if your solution works. And if it doesn't keep testing those duct tape solutions until something sticks, and I promise it well. And then once you find that thing, go ask everyone in the world, what they think about it, and to use it, and what their problem is, and build a solution for that

Alex  40:51

iIncredible, incredible advice It really is. So I have one final question for you. Before we wrap up, which is about there's been a through line in this conversation about community and communication. And, you know, bringing people into the service of each other. You know, you mentioned why do people go to college for the people? Why did they hate going remote because they didn't have access to the people? And I really agree. And you know, you had this formative moment that you mentioned in your first answer, when you sort of said, you realize that that this type of social learning and community based learning that you had in this one class over the summer was so much better than anything you had seen? Previously, you said that have the highest grade in school, the best experience in many years. And then you wanted to scale it, you said I think every class should have that. And I think the pattern, that pattern there that there's incredible things happening in every school, every university, in every K 12 school, there are amazing teachers, there are amazing programs, they're amazing clubs, they're amazing students, but they are localized in that school. And they can't really scale up and I see the entire ed tech ecosystem as really an approach to how do you scale what works. And I'd love to hear your thoughts about the EdTech world and how we can, as a whole community sort of think about things in the way that you thought about Nectir. You find a problem, break through all of the excuses or the reasons it doesn't work, and actually make it work at enormous scale. You went from one class to 100 universities? How can we do this as a community? Let's take a quick break.


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Kavitta  43:05

That's a great question. And I think it's a question that I'd love to sit with for a while, even after this and truly think about because I think you're right, we have such an incredible community of people within the EdTech space who genuinely care about changing education. And they're some of the brightest people that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. But how do we do this more and more? How do we really get education to where it needs to be? I mean, the US comes in eighteenth out of 29 countries in graduation rates, when one out of every three freshmen is dropping out by their sophomore year, we're doing something severely wrong here. And this should be like a fire alarm going off to everyone in this country. Especially, we're not even touching on the events that have happened this week. But there is so much within education that needs to be both protected and change. And I think the two groups that we need to look at to answer that question with us, our students and teachers. 

Kavitta  44:16

As a student coming into the EdTech space, it's something that I noticed as a problem from day one that once you really take a look at who is building these tools, who's building these solutions, it's people that are so emotionally and physically detached from the actual classroom that they start building tech tools and tech solutions. This is not tech. Yes, we're building technology. But you cannot think of Ed Tech as a tech industry. It's a people industry. We are helping people using technology in a very thoughtful way that works for them, not for us. And something that I noticed emerge within Nectir. That I think is a solution to the question that you're asking, is the keep-teaching channel at UCSB. It is a channel that has about 400 professors in it. All different departments, different majors, you've got adjunct professors, tenured professors, assistant professors, everyone. And it is the first time, I think, in the history of any campus, that we've seen a virtual community space for teachers across different departments and colleges on a campus, you just don't see that happen. And it speaks to this larger issue that we are not supporting teachers in the way that they need to be supported, to be entirely effective at their jobs. In the US, teachers spend more time in front of their students teaching than any other country does. When I heard that statistic, it blew my mind. Because I realized that if we use technology to allow teachers to spend a little bit less time in front of their students, or sitting at home, grading their papers or grading, you know, discussions or essays, if we just let teachers have a little bit more time to themselves, they would feel a lot more mentally stable, they would have time for themselves. And we'd get this trickle down effect to the students where it's the people who are teaching you how to be a good functioning member of the society are not able to be that themselves, because we're not giving them the time, space and resources to do so. How can you expect the next generation to solve these huge problems like the climate crisis? We're not setting them up for success right now? And I think that people who are going to tell us exactly how to set them up for success are the teachers. 

Kavitta  46:55

When that community was built at UCSB, teachers didn't say, Oh, God, I've never been in a community before. How do I use this? No, they just started using it. Because they had been waiting for someone to give them a stage where they could have a voice, even if it was just to each other. And they started chatting about, you know, here's how I've been using Zoom. It's been great in this part, but this thing isn't working, how have you I solve this, someone from the Math Department would jump in and answer this, you know, liberal arts teacher and say, here's what I did. And when I watched them build and create their own solutions to problems that each other we're having, and have access to each other and share this knowledge that they obviously have, but that no one's asking them about, I realized that it's something with the Ed Tech community needs to adopt themselves, we need to find places where we can amplify the voices of the people who are experiencing these problems right now, a place where we can build a community of educators and students and learners who can tell us this is what I mean, right now, please find this thing for me. And then we as the people leading the EdTech space, we need to listen to them and build what they're asking for, not what we think they need. So I think my answer to your question is that what I would love to see change within the tech space is putting the largest emphasis on the voices of the people that we are building these solutions for, and letting them tell us what they need.

Alex  48:32

I love that idea of people over tech that we could provide tech for people for education. It's one of the deepest kind of connections you can have and relationships with the world and with each other that we have is learning and teaching. So we every podcast with two questions. One is what do you from your particular vantage points see as one of the most exciting trends in the EdTech field something that our listeners should probably keep an eye on.

Kavitta  49:01

I think one of my favorite trends that I've seen come up within Edtech is this shift to students being the customers again. And when I mean by that is when I first started Nectir And I you know approached UCSB and Mindy the instructional designer, and I asked if you know that this, people are asking for, the students are asking for a solution like this. Why don't you care about building it? Aren't they the ones that give you money? Like genuinely, I was like, I don't get this. And they said something very honest to me. But I still remember that exact moment I can still see the look on their face. And the way I felt because as a student hearing this was devastating. They said that our customer isn't the student. It's the teacher. 

Alex  49:59


Kavitta  50:00

The people who adopt technologies at campuses, their focus is the instructor, they have to make sure that they keep the instructors, because to them, there's going to be students, no matter what, there's so many students that apply for these colleges, and they purposefully keep the admission rates low enough that they'll always have a flow of people coming in. So teachers are what they focus on, not the students. And when you understand that, it becomes very clear why classes feel the way that they do to students, I get it. Obviously, I'm not the focus here. And like now that you've told me that, no shit, I can see it. And for a long time, I think that's how it was. But I had a conversation recently with the Associate Director of Online Learning & Strategic Partnerships at the University of Nebraska, who is soon going to join Nectir as our Director of Educational Partnerships and Instructional Design, so I'm really excited about that. But we met her at the ASU GSV conference, and we had this conversation with her and just fell into this deep hole for like an hour. And I brought up this point of, you know, I heard this, and as a student, it really hurt broke my heart to hear that. And she said, No, I'll tell you something, it'll make you feel a little better. And it's that, from the vantage point that she's at, she's noticed this trend start in the last year or so where she believes that the focus is shifting back to students being the customer. And the reason being that we're seeing a really steep population decline. My generation is not having kids for a very good reason, by the way, I don't know why I would want to bring children into this world right now. But we're just not having kids. And for the first time ever, colleges are having this Oh, shit moment, where are our students going to come from? And I think we're seeing this trend emerge with, you know, CMOs being one of the really important positions at campuses these days, and colleges adopting technologies like Nectir as quickly as possible. It's all indicating that they're realizing I need to focus on the student being my customer again, because right now, in order to get market share, I need to prove to them that college is worth it. And in order to do that, it can't look the way that it did before. 

Kavitta  52:38

Incoming students are smart enough post-COVID, that they know what to look for in a campus, they know that it's not just a means to an end to get a piece of paper anymore, they could really go get all of that knowledge and information and get a great paying job without college if they wanted to. So now it's back to how do we get new students to actually want to come here. And in order to do that, you're gonna have to bring them the type of educational environment that they know they deserve. And that's going to be one that's modern, that has communication infrastructure built into it, that focuses on them as the customer. And so that's what I'm really excited about. I think that we've already started to see the tide shift, but we're going to see it more and more over the next year, schools are going to start focusing on the students again, and it's going to create beautiful results.

Alex  53:30

There's actually just a report out today about enrollments have declined precipitously again in the last year, almost 5% decrease in enrollments. And I think that's a trend that's been going for a few years. So I think your trend of you know, in an environment where schools have to compete for students, rather than take them for granted, and therefore start to be more student centered in their offerings is right on track. I think that makes a lot of sense. And finally, what is one book or blog or newsletter that you would recommend for someone who wants to go deeper on some of the issues that we've talked about today?

Kavitta  54:05

I think my answer here is going to be a little bit different. I am not the type of person to dive into books. Again, I'm gonna pull my ADHD card, it's very hard to sit down and get through a book and for a really long time, I would beat myself up about that. My co founder is the bookworm. So I let him take on that on for both of us. But I realized that I think the reason why I love Nectir so much is because you can't really have experiential learning in every classroom. It's very hard to and we know through research through doing it yourself. It's the best way to learn to actually dive into the experience itself and learn hands on. But I get that's impossible. I'm not going to ask teachers to do that. I'm not going to ask a math teacher to somehow create an experiential learning experience. within your classroom to teach your students algebra, that's tough. But Nectir bridges that gap just enough where you're able to bring in the component of experiential learning through conversation and community, through having a different way to supplement that lecture that you've just been in. And the reason why it works so well for me when I had Nectir in my classes and why it works so well with other students, is because it's so much easier to learn in this very casual setting from other people than it is to try to sit and you know, read a book or a textbook and absorb the material yourself. And so if somebody asked me, How do I break into edtech? How do I learn more about what we just talked about? My advice, and where I learned the most, and how I got to where I'm sitting today is a piece of advice that my now investors gave me four years ago, when they were professors at UCSB, and it was to talk to 10 people every week. 10, find 10 people who you want to be your customers or your users and just talk to them. Don't ask them: Would you use a tool like Nectir? Do you want chatting? No, don't ask that. Ask them. What sucks about school? What's the biggest pain point that you're facing in your class? What is something that you do every day in your class that you hate? Or that you love? What's the best part of teaching for you? Go talk to 10 people every week, make it your goal that you cannot end your week without 10 different conversations happening with 10 new people. And I guarantee you give it three months of doing that. And you will learn so much that you could start 10 companies out of those conversations that I think is the best way to learn more about what we've talked about today to break into edtech or any industry that you want to go into. 10 people a week.

Alex  57:16

That's a great answer. It makes perfect sense, given your focus on all and community and relationships. Kavitta, this has been an incredible conversation really inspiring and exciting. The fact that Nectir is out there and growing the way it is, I think is should give us all a lot of hope for the future of EdTech. Thanks for your time.

Kavitta  57:37

Thank you. Of course Alex is awesome. As always love talking to you love doing this. This was so much fun. I hope that everyone who listens to this can find something to take home with them. And if you'd like to talk more, I would love to chat with absolutely anyone and everyone. I'm still doing 10 people a week. So reach out to me through my website kavitta.com or through nectir.io. We'd love to chat with you there. We'd love to get you into Nectir workspace for free. If you're a teacher, a student and admin, whoever you are, we'll get it on your campus today for free. We'll get you started. So let us know. Let's all be part of this next wave of making education what we know it should be.

Alex  58:19

We'll put all those links in the show notes for this episode. Kavitta, thanks so much.

Kavitta  58:26

Thanks, Alex. 

Alex  58:28

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Ed Tech insiders podcast. If you liked the episode, remember to subscribe on Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you're listening on Apple please leave a rating and review so others can find the podcast. For more ed tech insiders content subscribe to the Ed Tech insiders newsletter at edtechinsiders.substack.com

Kavitta Ghai
June 14, 2022

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