Among the growth in the number of edtech startups being founded across the globe, I see many companies trying to solve the major issue of college and career recommendations for students.
Mostly we are seeing regional players trying to solve this pain point, which means startups are solving this problem for few cities usually starting from the founding city of the startup. In the last few months, we have already featured companies in this space including Mindler, Career Guidance, MasteryPrep and Univariety but we were still curious what other startups in the space are planning for; and we got in touch with Adrian Carballo, Co-Founder, Homiee.
What would be an elevator pitch for someone who does not know about your product?
Homiee is a website where students can get personalized college and career recommendations, based on their personality type. If a student enrolls in a university where they fit in with the curriculum and other students they are more likely to graduate and be successful later on. Our goal is to help students identify those matches and connect with other students who are also looking at similar universities to make their college search process more engaging.
What is your company's core value proposition? What problem are you solving and for whom?
1 in every 3 high school students does not attend college. Many of them don't even apply because they don't have the support from their families, or from their guidance counselors who work at their schools (some counselors work with 500+ students in a given school year). Some of them are high-achieving, low-income students who simply don't know of all the different tools available to them to help them get a college education like scholarships, federal aid, etc. At the core of our mission is to make this information easily accessible to the students so that even those who don't have the proper support structures can discover all of the opportunities available to them. And then we aim to help them figure out what are those opportunities that best match their interests and particular situation.
We achieve this by having the students take personality quizzes that are backed by a substantial amount of research in the student development theory area of psychology, and identifying key personality traits which we use to match them to colleges that have a large population of students with similar personalities.
We know that looking for colleges, scholarships, financial aid, etc. is stressful and puts a lot of pressure on students and their families, and there are many common questions regarding the process. We designed homiee to be a collaborative social network where anybody can ask a question and get an answer from the many other students and counselors who have been there before. We wanted to create something that fits the culture of these students. This generation of students has been raised with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, that's why we aim to be highly engaging, to make the college search process fun and social. We want to help students find others that have interests in common with them and show them where those people are thinking of going to college, so that they can connect in campus and engage in academics, extracurricular and group activities in general. The name of our company and product try to capture this concept: it’s all about students finding their 'homiees'.
Finally, a third of students who attend college transfer before graduating. Many of them leaving private colleges for public two-year institutions. This indicates students seeking for lower tuition costs and better institutional fit overall. In some cases, they even end up dropping out altogether before the start of their sophomore year. We want fix this problem for the new generation of students by saving them time and money, allowing them to find colleges where they will fit in.
How do you plan to check on the user satisfaction?
We have been focused on feedback mechanisms since day one. We understand that we need to make sure the product works and gets better every year. We plan on growing with our user base. We want to make our offering better each and every year. We plan to do that by reaching out to students who have used our program to go to college. We want to know what college they selected and how they are doing at that college.
We are already in the process of building what we call early adopter teams. We work with these teams to see how they interact with our site and how we can improve that interaction. We also conduct random surveys to see what users really think about our product, our site, our content. We have received praise from students, to educational psychologists, and countless testers about our results accuracy.
What is the driving passion, why are you passionate about this product? What is your vision?
Homiee was started out the frustration echoed by many of our friends with the state of college applications and admissions. There was a clear need for a tool like this that allowed people to research the best options for them, not just the most prestigious colleges or the ones around the corner.
We envision people using our website to realize that not all colleges are created equal, and to find a place and an area of study where they can find themselves and thrive from day one. College is also about the connections you make with your peers, your professors, and all the activities you do both inside and outside the classroom environment. We hope thathomiee will serve as a tool to help students find other people who have things in common with them, and make those acquaintances that turn into valuable partners, friends and coworkers later on.
What is the stage of the product? Where do you see your company in 12 or 18 months from now?
We are currently in an open beta stage, adding new features and improving our product on a daily basis with a team of 3.
Within the next 18 months, we plan to raise some funding and double the size of our team so we can expand our product further, to provide services for students who are currently attending college, too.
In the near future we plan to create tools for colleges and universities to be able to recruit students who are a natural fit for their campus environments, especially those who are low-income high-achievers, and we are committed to doing so without selling any personal information about our users to colleges or any other institution. That's how we will generate revenue.
What is the biggest need for your startup?
Marketing and publicity is all we need to continue to develop. We have been growing steadily, and our product is getting great reviews from users. We have the best personality matching system; we just need everyone to know about it. Unlike many other startups, we are not focused on raising funding or generating revenue at an early stage, but rather on making sure we are generating value for our users and helping them achieve more.
What are your views about the growth of Education Technology industry in the US? Where is it heading?
So much of education is adapting to the needs of our connected world with new online education alternatives and programs that are more and more focused on the individual, and breaking institutional barriers. The institutions that are able to adapt and create more value for their students will evolve, and those that hold on to old models will inevitably disappear. We believe the future of learning will be highly personalized to adapt to the needs of the individual, instead of to a rigid bureaucratic program. This will be possible thanks to cutting-edge technology such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data. Most of these technologies have been pioneered by american software companies, so it's only logical that many other industries in the US will benefit from these advancements as well. There is plenty of room for improvement, and we are witnessing the very beginning of this evolutionary stage.
Tell us about your team, who do you have supporting you? How did this start?
Our team is currently 3 people strong: Adrian Carballo (who used to work as an engineer at Google before starting homiee) and Michael Gayed (MBA/JD with experience in marketing analysis and finance) are the co-founders of the platform, and Lizzael Villar is the third member of our team, who is our Lead Engineer. Adrian came up with the original idea, which he brought to Michael -the two of them used to work together at a small software development firm out of Miami, FL- and developed the idea further into a prototype, and have been bootstraping the entire operation since. The company was officially founded in February of 2016, based in Austin, TX.
What/Who motivates you? Any thought leader or companies with innovation which you follow for success? Whether in the EdTech space or in general?
Our core motivation comes from knowing that we are doing something that matters and that directly benefits thousands of people. We look up to thought leaders such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and President Barack Obama - who has been very vocal on the state of higher education in the US and started educational initiatives like the College Scorecard website - for inspiration.
Who would you call your competitors? And how are you different?
Unigo.com and Schoold.co are similar services. There are many other websites where students can research colleges like CollegeBoard.org, Niche.com, etc. None of them however are designed to enable collaboration between students, or finding other people who have similar interests. We believe this is a big part of choosing where you want to go to college which is why homiee is designed to bring people together, not just online but also in real life. We also believe that every student should have access to career counseling and guidance services, that's why we are committed to providing a FREE service for all students out there, and we strive to protect their privacy and personal information.
What are the biggest challenges of your edtech startup?
Our biggest challenge so far has been the so called social proof. In the very beginning is difficult to get schools and education professionals onboard because they want to see a tried and tested approach when they are considering a new tool. This is difficult when you're just getting off the ground. Luckily now we have many counselors using our product on a daily basis with their students, and we are starting to get great feedback from them which we use to improve our services and to demonstrate how we are having a real impact in our industry.
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