The founder and CEO of Zorbi, Sukhans Asrani. Photo / Provided
“I hated studying more than anyone I knew,” says Sukhans Asrani, founder and CEO of startup Zorbi, a science-backed flashcard learning app.
The not so unknown statement is shared by many students.
So the old university
Auckland graduate set out to change that.
Zorbi uses spaced repetition as a method of reviewing material at systematic intervals. It makes studying faster and easier with flashcards that only appear when you forget them.
“Zorbi dramatically speeds up studying by telling you what to study, when to study, and how long to study,” Asrani told the Herald.
The 24-year-old said he had the brainchild of an app called AbsorbIt in late 2019.
“The idea was to create an app that helps you absorb information through five-minute study sessions on mobile like Duolingo.
“I started researching ‘effective learning’ to free up time for personal projects…using two techniques, called ‘active recall’ and ‘spaced repetition’. They made learning fun and I was able to learn two to three times faster.
“Some friends went from chess to A grades after I showed them how to use the techniques.
“It turns out that most students are either unaware of this study system or have difficulty adopting it due to issues with existing tools.”
He created the app in 2020 during his senior year at university – where he earned a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), Software Engineering – and officially launched it in August last year.
The founding team also includes University of Auckland students William Shin and Alex Zhong, and the trio have been friends for several years, Asrani said.
Zorbi is now used by over 40,000 students in over 60 countries and users have created 1.5 million unique flashcards.
“The learning techniques behind Zorbi are the most effective known solutions for solving memory retention,” Asrani said.
“Zorbi does this by asking users how difficult it was to answer each card. Our algorithm uses their rating to determine when they will forget that card. »
Asrani said students like to study this way as it streamlines the learning process.
“All they have to do is open Zorbi, press ‘Study for 5 minutes’ and it re-teach them content they don’t know.
Asrani interned at Microsoft headquarters in Seattle between December 2019 and February 2020 before being offered a job later that year as a software engineer earning $190,000 ($320,000) a year.
But he chose to bet on his startup, which was still in its infancy.
“We were in pre-launch and had less than 50 weekly active users,” Asrani said.
“My start date was several months away. I could have delayed and waited to confirm that Zorbi would be popular after launch.
“I just felt confident that building a startup would be a better fit for me. Looking at the position I’m currently in, I’m confident that I made the right decision in terms of learning, impact, fun and finances.”
Asrani used his own savings to run Zorbi and it pays for itself.
“I saved money from my Microsoft internship. I also made money from the GameStop bull run last year and used it to start the business,” he said. -he declares.
Asrani said the majority of Zorbi’s active users are still individual students who found it through the App Store or social media and adopted it as their primary study technique outside of the classroom.
But they have expansion plans.
“We are currently focused on building Zorbi for teachers, which we believe will be a major catalyst for our growth,” he said.
He said that although Zorbi was never designed for schools, but rather for individual students, the team was “focused on understanding the needs of teachers and preparing for the launch of the perfect solution to integrate the ‘adaptive learning in a classroom’.
“Over the past few months, we have seen an increase in the number of teachers adopting the tool as well. These teachers usually find our Chrome extension and they usually bring 30-100 students each.
But while the technology is rapidly being adopted overseas, New Zealand is slow to take advantage of it.
Asrani says there are only around 2,000 students using the app in New Zealand.
“My current hypothesis is that this is due to higher levels of risk aversion. We [Zorbi] get the most adoption from places that are actively open to trying new teaching methods,” he said.
“In our experience, that usually means private schools in places like the US and Singapore.”
Asrani pointed out the different cultures between the United States and here.
“I think inertia to change can be a big problem in New Zealand,” he said.
“I haven’t seen this problem in the United States. Technology is seen as something that can unlock solutions or improvements for a given problem.
“Capital flows freely and budgets are more flexible. Many businesses and individuals are actively exploring new solutions to improve their lives or businesses. »
Asrani, who is currently in San Francisco, has spent the past six months bouncing around the United States, the Bahamas, Colombia and Guatemala.
He plans to return to visit family and friends in New Zealand before the end of the year.
“Our customers are primarily in the United States, so it’s often advantageous for me to be in the US time zone,” he said.
Asrani was born in India and his parents moved to Auckland when he was 2 years old.
There have been challenges along the way for Zorbi, including the Covid-19 pandemic and breaking into the international market.
“Operational issues have made it difficult to start a business during the pandemic,” he said.
“[But] the biggest issue was psychological however, being cooped up alone in a small studio while trying to put out starting fires 24/7 is not a good environment. At the end of the second lockdown last year, our whole team was badly burned and it took a few months to really recover.
“The hardest part of trying to break into international was an initial lack of understanding of how the US EdTech market works. It’s important to find and meet mentors who better understand your industry and market that you.
“It may sound cliché, but building a business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”