The CEO reveals why their platform has universal appeal—and where they’re headed next.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Michal Borkowski was only 16 when he started his first company, and he’s been shaking up the internet ever since. He grew up in a small town before heading to Poland’s capital city to study corporate finance at the acclaimed Warsaw School of Economics.
Michal’s work at Brainly is driven by the conviction that online communities can empower students from around the world with knowledge and information. As for his own community—these days, Michal lives with his wife, Kasia, in Brooklyn.
And what is Brainly, exactly? They call themselves “the world’s largest social learning community bringing middle school and high school students together to make learning outside the classroom highly engaging, effective and rewarding.” Students connect to their peers to help strengthen their skills, from math, to science, to history and beyond.
Founded in 2009, Brainly is one of the most promising and fastest growing internet businesses in the edtech space with over 100 million monthly users. Based in New York City and Kraków, Poland, the service is currently available in over 35 countries.
In 2016 and 2017, Brainly has closed $15M + $14M Series B funding, led by Naspers and Kulczyk Investments, to bring the total funding from current investors, including General Catalyst Partners, Point Nine Capital, Runa Capital and Learn Capital, to $38.5M.
Tell me your story—in your own words—and how your company came to be.
Michal: The inspiration for Brainly started when I was in high 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 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.
How has your company reached 150 million users?
Michal: Since our last funding round in 2017, we’ve relied heavily on organic growth through word of mouth. We’ve invested a lot in our partnerships with teachers and subject matter experts to create quality content that keeps students coming back and referring their peers. Our research shows that students want and need to go beyond just their homework assignments, which is why we’ve seen such tremendous usership growth in such a short amount of time.
What growth opportunities are there in the education technology sector in general?
Michal: We will continue to see peer-to-peer learning continue to gain momentum. Also, parents rely on online resources to solve their own issues now more than ever – children see this and are encouraged to use the online tools at their disposal as well. For example, we’ve seen online tutoring continue to grow in popularity, and video content is on the rise in the education space. Video – while heavily used on social and in advertising – has yet to really take off in education, but because video drives engagement so much more than images and text, we’re expecting to see more of it in the very near future.
What is your strategy for expansion in the U.S.?
Michal: 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.
There’s no doubt that the internet and new technologies have already begun reshaping education.
How is your company innovative? What do you do differently to use technology to push learning to that ‘next level’?
Michal: We have made something students were already doing in the classroom with their classmates into something global. Education is not one-size-fits-all, and our technology allows students to take their learning into their own hands. We’re providing an outlet that fosters both collaboration and individualized empowerment, and that’s what makes us different.
And technology’s role?
Michal: There’s no doubt that the internet and new technologies have already begun reshaping education.
While debates over funding in various school districts wage on, and due to unavoidable differences in teacher strategies plus varying regulations at the county, state and federal level, the approach to education is not consistent across the United States, let alone the world. Technology is the equalizer.
Our app is accessible to anyone with the internet and can help students anywhere, anytime.
We realize that not all of our users have perfect internet or updated devices, so our developers have devoted their time in the last year to ensure that the apps are not too data-heavy, and that users don’t need to have high speed internet to access Brainly.
Due to its accessibility and the age range of users, it is important to regulate the system to ensure safety and that students can obtain the accurate information they need and cultivate a deeper understanding of their school subjects.
We are excited to be the part of the evolution of education technology and that we are able to provide students around the world with access to peer-to-peer learning in the Brainly communities.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]