As a college student, you walk a fine line. On the one hand, you want to fully assimilate the material so that your knowledge of the subject, quick thinking, and charming personality stand out to your professor. On the other hand, you don’t want to be a pain in the ass with all your whiny questions emailed at 3 in the morning. Before, there was Blackboard, which is only as helpful as the professor makes it. But now there’s Piazza, an online student community designed to allow students to ask questions and get answers instantly. And such a compelling idea is garnering the interest of some big players in the VC world. Today, Piazza announced that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Sequoia Capital, Felicis Ventures, Kapor Capital, and SV Angel.
The story behind Piazza is almost as interesting as the story behind its founder, Pooja Nath. Nath spent her childhood in Canada and Ohio before returning to India at the age of 11, where she watched many of her friends drop out of high school in their teen years to get married. Later on, Nath would flee from an arranged marriage, herself, to pursue her passion for entrepreneurship.
The idea for Piazza came from Nath’s time at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, India’s top engineering school. As one of only three women in the computer science department at the IIT, Nath felt isolated as she watched her male counterparts collaborate and form study groups while she hunkered down in the computer lab alone.
Seeing the effectiveness of collaboration inspired Nath to create Piazza, an online social community built around individual classes to allow students and professors to work together outside of the classroom to get a better grasp on the material. Designed to expedite the traditional Q&A process, unanswered questions are highlighted in red to grab attention, and if a student answers another student’s question correctly, the instructor can approve it as a good answer, which highlights the post with a green “instructor endorsed” label. The average response time for a student’s question is 12 minutes.
And students can be incentivized to participate as the site tracks usage statistics, allowing professors to see which students answered the most questions (and participation points can make or break your grade, so get them where you can).
And unlike other supplementary education services, students aren’t just passing through to print off one or two items and be on their way. Students spend on average two-to-four hours on Piazza a day, according to the company, and that kind of engagement can translate to big earnings. Additionally, Piazza has seen an explosion among its user base, growing more than 500% quarter-over-quarter. The site went from three colleges to 330 in just the last year.
“As we have seen with many of today’s leading Web-based services, students drive mass adoption, and this is the case with Piazza,” said Bryan Schreier, Partner at Sequoia Capital, in a statement. “Its viral nature continues to lead students to Piazza.com where both professors and teaching assistants clearly see its value for increasing and enhancing communications with students and fill-in knowledge gaps. We see tremendous market potential for the company.”