GETMARKED is an AI startup whose mission is to create greater capacity among teachers. Low value and repetitive tasks like marking are automated at GETMARKED so that teachers are able to spend more time on students and higher value aspects of teaching. At GETMARKED, the marking of paper-based worksheets are automated, where teachers can simply scan the worksheets to get it marked on GETMARKED’s server before printing the markings and comments back on the original scripts. In addition, GETMARKED also automates the creation of digital online e-assignments. At the moment, GETMARKED are the only ones in the world that can do this.
Teachers are overworked everywhere around the world — the typical teacher to student ratio is 1:30, and that means any problem that teachers face in the classroom is magnified by 30 times, for example, marking of assignments. With Covid-19 and home-based learning the norm, these problems have now been exacerbated and teachers face the additional workload of creating online resources and e-assignments to enable digital learning.
If I were to throw myself in front of a bus right now, would that make any difference to my organisation?
That was the question founder & CEO Lu Jiahui mulled over on his commute to work one day. The answer that came back was a resounding no, and this is how GETMARKED was born.
Jiahui was previously the Principal Data Scientist to Singapore’s Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) where he led key AI projects. He had previously graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with a degree in Physics. Around 2 years after his graduation, what started off as an innocent food-for-thought led him down a quarter-life crisis, as he pondered about his calling and place in the world. He was inspired to create impact that could only be achieved by his unique experiences, attitudes and competences.
Fast forward to present day, GETMARKED is making headway in the United States market. Despite zero marketing cost, they are seeing a steady stream of users signing up and paying for their services. Within the next 6 months, their goal is to reach 1000 paying users and within 5 years, establish themselves firmly within all educational institutes in the US.
Being a solo founder, which is fairly uncommon, has its pros and cons. For one, the upside is that there’s no possibility of conflict between co-founders. It takes a lot of skill to have productive discussions so it’s no wonder amongst early-stage startups, the inability to properly resolve conflicts has caused 65% of them to fail.
The downside of being the lone founder however, is that it is generally viewed as a major red flag by investors and venture capital firms. Gaining credibility has been a challenge, as Jiahui recounts one VC telling him “they consider solo-founder startups as pet projects and not investable”!
To Jiahui, the highlight of his entire journey was getting into HyperSpark, a 3-month long pre-accelerator programme supported by StartupX, and subsequently being featured on a documentary by Temasek a year ago. While exposure to mentors, the media, and a wider target audience opened up new opportunities for GETMARKED to grow, the validation on the importance of their work has helped lend credibility to the startup.
As a developer-founder, Jiahui did not understand much about the business side of things. Working with StartupX has helped him fill the gap of a business co-founder that Jiahui was lacking, and he has developed valuable insights on how to think about the Software-as-a-Service business model. Ideally, a startup’s business model has to align with how users derive value from said startup’s service. For example, if point-to-point transport is the service offered, a startup should charge based on distance traveled. Thus, should there be a misalignment, which happens often enough, startups will fail. Jiahui notes that in the case of GETMARKED, he learned that they should be charging by the number of pages processed.
When asked what advice he would give to his former self at the start of his entrepreneurial journey, he said “‘Build and they will come’ is a lie”.
“While product building and development is important, it only puts you at the starting point. Distribution carries you across the finishing line. One of the challenges GETMARKED is currently dealing with right now is how to do distribution. Paid channels like Google and Facebook ads are not sustainable ways of acquiring customers”, Jiahui explains. So instead of asking “how do I find customers?”, Jiahui shares the approach of asking “how do my customers find us?” to help elevate GETMARKED’s product distribution, “Currently, I think GETMARKED is too hard to find. 99% of teachers that could benefit from our work do not even know that we exist. So the next bound in our work is making ourselves really easy to find.”
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