Have you ever struggled with a homework problem but had no one to turn to for help? Michal Borkowski — the CEO and Co-Founder of Brainly — has created a peer-to-peer learning community allowing millions of users across the world help each other with academic questions. The company has raised $38.5 million dollars of investment to date, and nearly doubled its global user base over the past two years.
When in high school, Michal struggled with his schoolwork and often turned to his classmates for help. When he built his first online products, he realized combining the idea of students helping students with the scale and reach of the internet had huge potential, and he set out to create a platform that would connect students with each other no matter where they are.
Since then, Brainly grew into the largest education platform in Michal’s native Poland, with Russia, Brazil, and other countries following close behind. There are better than 1 billion students worldwide, many of whom face the same problems Michal did. Armed with a global plan to reach every one of them, Michal’s brainchild is ready to help tens of millions of U.S. students.
Below, Michal talks about what inspired him to start Brainly and how users can get the most out of the site.
What inspired you to start Brainly?
The inspiration for Brainly started when I was in school. When I was struggling or had questions, I was always able to get help from my friends. In college, my co-founders and I had a bit of experience creating and monitoring Q&A platforms, and eventually we realized the opportunity to keep a record of all the interactions between students so that other students could access the same information if they needed it in the future. Initially, Brainly was supposed to just be a side project, but after a year we had one million users which gave us the validation we needed to build it into the platform it is today.
What started as an idea to transfer all the benefits of the real life collaboration between students into an online space now has 150 million monthly users all over the world. Not all school districts are the same – Brainly exists to level the playing field for all students, no matter where they are from, what language they speak, or the circumstances of their school districts. This is why our platform is so universal and reaches users all over the world.
What key features does the website offer? Is it free to join?
At its core, Brainly provides a peer-to-peer social learning platform for users to ask for help and support for homework/assignments on a wide range of subjects, including English, math, history, and the arts, among others. As an added incentive, there is also a gamified layer to Brainly, which allows users to earn points from answering questions, gain ranks and participate in challenges.In addition to the desktop platform, Brainly also offers a mobile app.
Currently, the services are free but in the U.S. and in Poland where Brainly has captured a substantial user base, but we’re also testing a freemium model where users pay a subscription fee if they want to enjoy an ad-free experience and have unlimited access to all the help on Brainly.
How does your three layer moderation system work?
The first step in Brainly’s three layer moderation process involves Artificial Intelligence algorithms, which monitor all content to filter out or block inappropriate and irrelevant answers, questions, or comments even before they are posted. The second layer is peer moderation; the platform includes a rating system that awards points to users for answering questions, and each response can be flagged or reported if they are inappropriate. The final step involves thousands of moderators that make sure that all questions and answers are accurate and in line with Brainly’s guidelines. These moderators consist of a variety of active teachers, retired educators, and high-achieving students who have a track record of accurate and thoughtful answers on the site. who monitor platform content and ensure quality of answers.
Can you offer some information about your plans for expansion into the US market?
Since we began in Poland, it made sense for us to start close to home and expand to Europe first and then globally. We had a greater understanding of the European education market and therefore used our learnings from Europe to expand to the U.S. As more students continue to succeed through the help of our platform, we will continue to grow. Our expansion relies on the network effect: the bigger the knowledge base gets, the more users join in. With the growth of the app, our funding grows and we are able to reach as many students as possible.
We’ve developed a roll-out model that we use for every new localization that consists of two stages. The first is market validation, and the second is initial traction. The goal of the first stage is to ensure liquidity of the market. Then we buy some ads, put some paid sources of traffic; we want people to register and see if they interact by asking and answering questions. The seemingly simple and straightforward strategy has done well for us in the U.S., which we consider a key market for Brainly. The U.S. is where the competition, capital, and biggest challenges are. It’s is why we decided to open a NYC office in 2014. It’s strategically important.
Are there any study tips you can offer students who are struggling academically?
Utilizing crowd learning is one of my most crucial study tips for students who are struggling academically. When a student seeks a solution in a peer-to-peer environment, they tend to get alternate explanations from various perspectives. This does not just enrich their knowledge about a certain topic but helps them understand a topic to its very essence rather than just on the surface level. Furthermore, the variety of solutions to a question asked also lead to recapitulation and better retention.
Going beyond the traditional academics-oriented approach, crowd learning provides an authentic and enhanced experience by incorporating real-life skills and values in young minds along with facilitation of learning. Students do not just get to solve problems but get a good grasp over a concept, through insightful inputs from their peers. While the struggling student may initially come to seek a solution, such a knowledgeable and supportive environment pushes their horizons from questioning to understanding and providing solutions themselves. My other top tip would be that homework practice makes perfect. Set aside time to practice subjects you’re struggling with, and the more you work on them the easier they will get.