Leaving college before graduation can be a tough decision for anyone, let alone the son of a college professor. And yet, Tade Oyerinde took the plunge in 2014, leaving the University of Leeds in England to dedicate his time to developing a tool to improve digital communications in the classroom. “My mom was not thrilled,” jokes Oyerinde, 26. “Technically, I'm still on a leave of absence, and that's also how my mother prefers to refer to it.”
But now, he has some good news to share with his mother and the world. Oyerinde’s New York-based startup, Campuswire, has raised a $3.6 million seed round with participation from Bloomberg Beta, Rethink Education, Precursor Ventures, Betaworks and angels including Rob Hayes, Doug Scott and Jason Citron, the founder of Discord.
The money will go toward expanding the team of 11 full-time employees to improve and refine the product, which Oyerinde describes as a mix of Slack, Reddit and Piazza.
The Campuswire platform comes as a desktop, iPhone or Android app that offers a forum for students’ questions. Students can start group chats and message people directly. Reddit-style voting keeps the best answers most visible for students. And the platform prevents duplicate questions from students.
Oyerinde was raised in Atlanta and moved to England to study aerospace in college. He was inspired to develop a better campus communication tool than the one offered through Leeds’ learning management system. In his view, most existing software have concentrated on file hosting, but have neglected to develop a friendly user interface for educators and students.
He is direct and blunt in his critique. “Most of those tools suck so much that professors default to email,” Oyerinde says. “Then you have emails from 100 students and they all have the exact same questions.”
Educators can also use the platform for announcements, and students are encouraged to help each other through a point system that rewards users for answering peers’ questions. Campuswire works with most major learning management systems, also called LMSes.
Campuswire lacks some LMS features like a gradebook. Oyerinde says his goal isn’t to enter the learning management space but to integrate with other companies that offer individual LMS services at a better quality than one-stop-shops.
Improving online class communication and discussions is a goal shared by entrepreneurs past and present. Piazza, which provides a platform for online class discussion and has been in business since 2009, received criticism for selling certain student data as part of its business model. Newer companies that have sought a share of the class communications market include Yellodig and Aula, which have also recently raised funding
Founded in 2016, Campuswire has grown to service 133 schools, eight of them outside the U.S. Students spend an average of about five hours a day on Campuswire, suggesting they keep it open while doing homework, Oyerinde says.
One of the earliest users of Campuswire is Joshua Samani, a physics lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles. Samani says he’s used Campuswire for about two years now after receiving an email from the company. At that time, he had been looking for a new communications tool whose interface better supported group conversations for topics discussed in class.
“The way he described his vision for where the product would be, that’s what I thought makes an optimal communications tool,” says Samani. He says his classes, usually consisting of about 200 students, have liked the tool so far. He’s even measured class preference through bonus questions on his final exams.
He says the Campuswire team has been receptive to his suggestions to improve, including more control over email notification settings.
The platform is free for now. Campuswire will launch a premium version with additional features in January for $25 a semester.