How frustrated Learners & Teachers now turn into Start-up Founders

The first time I came across this new phenomenon was in my interview with Jeff Evans, one of the co-founders of MindSnacks back in August 2010. When I asked him what his own and the other founders’ motivation to develop a Spanish learning app for the iPhone was, he answered that they were “frustrated language learners”.


Frustration is actually one of the top reasons why people start building successful start-ups. If you have a problem that is so annoying you simply have to do something about it there is a big chance that you are not the only one and therefore your product will have users or even better customers as soon as it hits the market.

MindSnacks is a pretty good example here. The team recently received a $1.2 million funding from prolific angels including Dave McClure’s 500Startups and their new application for learning French climbed right up to the top spot of the education category in the iTunes App Store.

Before we will take a look at a few other examples, let me quickly explain why I believe that this can become the next wave of education 2.0 start-ups. The generation that is now ready to join the start-up world grew up entirely digital which of course leads to a fundamentally different mindset. They also have a totally different skill set. While we were developing our creativity through playing with Lego bricks, they code iPhone applications. These founders who are in their mid-twenties now have also started thinking “post-PC” as for them mobile devices like smartphones and tablet devices are typically far more interesting than desktop PCs are.

Just to throw in an extraordinary example I came across yesterday. Tim Soo is a musician but also a “hacker”. At Music Hack Day in New York he presented the invisible violin which combined an iPhone and a Wii controller and turned it into an actual working digital violin.

A couple of weeks later he now presents a prototype of a whole range of invisible instruments. To demonstrate how those instruments work, he made a music video.

The point is, he is now trying to raise money via Kickstarter, a so called crowdfunding community where people from around the globe can donate money which will then be used to realize the project. He has already raised more than $2.500 of the total $10.000 with still one month to go. If you would like to participate, follow this link.

As Tim Soo mentions in the video, it’s about merging different worlds. Until now fun and learning have seemed to be exact opposites, at least that’s what we are told. Learning needed to be serious! I think it's time to learn in new, radical ways.

Start-ups like MindSnacks show that this does not need to be the case and that many people actually feel the same and want to combine learning with a certain playful attitude. In my latest interview with Jeff Evans which took place after the funding, he shared some facts and figures with our viewers.

Compared to other education apps MindSnacks is used three times as long and two times as often and all MindSnacks users taken together learn more than 80.000 words in French per week. I think those numbers speak for themselves.

Other interesting start-ups based on those factors include

  • VocabGenii - Founded by James Mak and Rebecca Li based on their frustration when they learned English and prepared for the standardized tests in order to be accepted as foreign students in the US.
  • VocabSushi - Founded by Jeff Novich based on his frustration as SAT tutor experiencing that students have an increasingly weaker lexis.
  • Perfect800 - Founded by Robert Gange based on his frustration as SAT math tutor that there are no simple yet effective tools for students to prepare for the SAT Math.
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