Q&A: How This Edtech CEO is Solving the Classroom Communication Dilemma

In this new series, Stream explores how smart, innovative edtech companies are rethinking their product strategies and adding key features and functionality to better serve their customers. Here, we virtually sit down with Tade Oyerinde, co-founder and CEO of the newly launched edtech platform, Campuswire, to learn what capabilities students and teachers value most in their edtech. This Q&A is a sneak peek of Stream’s upcoming edtech-focused ebook, “Edtech Today: 8 Startups on Managing Exponential Growth.”

If you’ve ever taken an entry-level course at a public university, you know lectures can contain upwards of 500 students, making it next to impossible to get one-on-one time with your professor.

Recognizing the communication challenges in higher education, entrepreneur Tade Oyerinde founded Campuswire, an intuitive website and app designed to connect professors with their students, and students with each other.

Created with exceptional user experience in mind for frictionless onboarding, Campuswire contains various features such as real-time chat rooms, live video sessions with smart question queuing, anonymized options for students to ask public questions, and much more. Educators also can track attendance, grades, and even class participation by viewing the questions students pose in the platform.

In this interview, Oyerinde talks about the challenges of rapid growth and more.

What is Campuswire, and why did you launch the platform?

We founded Campuswire in 2016 because it was clear university classes
needed better communication software. Campuswire is like a combination of Slack and Zoom, plus a stack overflow for college classes. Professors can post announcements and answer questions; students can communicate with their professors and other classmates.

Who are your core customers?

Our customers are professors. They use Campuswire mostly due to efficiency: If you’re teaching a course with 500 students in it, it’s not possible to answer every student question individually. Instead of having hundreds of students email you the night before an exam, you and your teaching assistants can answer the most common questions through our platform.

We have hundreds of thousands of students currently using Campuswire.

What challenges did you encounter while building Campuswire?

It is very difficult to build real-time communication tools. It requires deep expertise with new technologies and sometimes working backward to solve tech issues. Our team continues to work together and find solutions to problems as they arise.

Now, it’s all about scalability. How can we scale up to millions of users? Delivering high-quality video service in addition to chat has opened up a new can of worms.

As the edtech industry grows, security around student data has become a bigger issue. How does Campuswire protect student data?

We’re very serious about security. We work with renowned cloud providers like Google and Amazon to host our infrastructure, and from a feature standpoint, we allow students to post anonymous questions if they want.

The edtech industry has to be very respectful of student data. Legislation such as FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) governs what we can and can’t do with student data, such as sell it.

How has the global pandemic impacted your company?

At first, it was pretty good for our company. Overnight, we had thousands of people and professors signing up in the middle of the term. Usually, we struggle to grow outside the two main term windows. We had more growth in April than in January [of 2020], which is rare.

Over time, the pandemic may make our business more difficult because it has brought more attention to the edtech space. There may be more competition from larger companies.

What is the future of edtech?

We aren’t going to go back to a time where technology doesn’t play a major role in education. Edtech is going to be a core competency that instructors will have to master. Useful tools will help enable this shift.

There will be a big push to customize generic communication tools designed for business, such as Slack and Zoom, and apply them for education. Nimble startups will be better positioned to succeed, as legacy tools with outdated tech stacks may not keep pace with modern classrooms’ needs.

What advice do you have for other players in the edtech industry?

Focus on the professors.

If you focus on building tools for students, you may end up creating tools that make doing well in class a little too easy (which can veer into cheating territory). Building tools for administrators isn’t the right approach because they often don’t care how sophisticated the software is — they aren’t as invested because they won’t be using it every day.

Professors are the most reliable group to focus on because they care most about quality, and they will evangelize your tool to other professors.

Top Takeaway: Tools specifically designed to address the unique needs of students and educators will win the edtech market.