Remind101 is a new website that sends MSU students text messages and e-mail alerts reminding them about assignments, due dates, exams and more. A study through the Telecommunications Department is measuring the effectiveness of this service, and TBG sat down with site founder and MSU alum Brett Kopf to see what’s going on behind the scenes at this green & white company.
Q: Where did you come up with the idea for Remind 101?
A: So two years ago when I was a student I was sitting at my desk before the semester started, and I just had so many classes and so many credits that I was really overwhelmed. So I remember I had my feet sitting up on my table I was at my desk and I was just like “damn, I’ve got so much to do,” and then my friend texted me and it just hit me. Came out of nowhere. So I thought about it about two years ago and I just sat on it. I didn’t do anything with it until about nine months ago.
Q: What was your major when you were going to MSU?
A: Food management. Agriculture. Not really related to web technology, but that’s ok. They prepared me well.
Q: So I understand you may be working with the telecom department to do maybe some grade tracking. Can you explain how that’s going to work?
A: Sure. We partnered with Dr. Coursaris from the Telecom department and he does mobile app research. So he’s going to be researching if we can enhance student behavior so the idea is that if students receive more messages to their mobile phone reminding them to study for courses the hope is that they’ll miss less classes and turn assignments in on time. So in a perfect world essentially if we can prove that it created a weighted scale and impacted education in a small sense I guess, just because we could replicate this product millions of times.
So we’re doing some preliminary research and we hope to apply to the Department of Education for a major research grant for about $500,000.
Q: Do you do all your own web work? Are those skills you got at MSU, or from other experience?
A: Great question. So I am not a coder at all, I’m not the technical guy. I founded the company with my brother, who luckily is the techie. We actually outsourced the web development to a company called One Design Company in Chicago. And we work with two developers and one project manger, and it took us about two and a half, three months to get the product up. And so from here on out just, yeah, the core platform of the site is built now.
Q: And what made you decide to go into a family business?
A: You know, some people have thought against it but it’s the best thing to happen for my brother and I just because we have alternative assets, meaning I’m really good at one thing and he’s really good at another thing and we don’t really cross with that. So I let him do his thing with the tech side, and I do my thing with the marketing side.
People say you’ve got to be careful with that but we’re just kind of very up front and honest with each other we just kind of get it., and it’s been an absolute pleasure working with him. And obviously trust is really important and I can lay my life on the line and trust that he’ll look out for me.
Q: With the economy being what it is here, why pick Michigan to start a company in?
A: I think you should rephrase that question as why not pick Michigan. There’s a few reasons. The first thing is obviously I went to MSU. The only reason I was able to get into the position I’m in now starting this company is because I had such a great backing from the local community, the school itself and the people in the tech community. So there’s a lot of people here who have guided me and given me advice.
It’s a fantastic school to start at, it’s one of the best universities in the country, it has a great brand. And the university itself has been really supportive of this, specifically the Alumni Association. They’ve been helping us market the product and working hand in hand connecting with student and professors. So I lived here for four and a half years while in school and anyone from outside this place sees this horrible, dreadful place. But when I’m back here I really don’t see that because there really is a lot of stuff happening in tech startups. So that’s why we’re only starting at one university, we’re starting it here because we want the press to come back to this area.
Q: Any idea where you’re going next?
A: No. I’m open to staying in Michigan to start in the geographic area, maybe Western or UofM but you gotta crawl before you walk. So we’re starting to run now hopefully here and get some good feedback. We can listen to our users and see where we go from there. But as a hint, online universities might be a good space to start going after.
Q: And I watched your video, but what’s different about how you can access your course content versus other websites or paper calendars?
A: So the big differentiation between Remind101 and Google or Microsoft calendars is this: because Google and Microsoft calendars already send text message alerts, if one student or one professor adds the syllabus to our site the entire class can subscribe and press remind me and receive alerts for the semester. So it’s going to be a reverse-crowdsourcing effect. There’s a lot of value in that because usually it would take you a lot of time to add your calendar but now if there’s that one student, professor or TA to add it, everyone else can just sign on and press remind me and get alerts to your phone.
Q: So obviously people can sign up for the service and I know you mentioned some internships, but how else is the community getting involved here?
A: Yeah so we’re working with five student interns on campus. So we have interns in social media, writing, public speaking eventually sales but we’re not quite there yet. So we’re working hand in hand with them, like I said we’re working with the telecom department and the Alumni Association, and then we’re also going to be working with MSU E-net, the new entrepreneurship class at school. So I’m not quite sure, I have a meeting later today, on how we’re going to be collaborating together.
Q: What have you learned from starting your own company?
A: The first thing I would say is find a good co-founder who you really trust and who has varying assets, so “I’m good at one thing and they’re good at the other thing.” So that’s so important because you’re going to continually hit brick walls. Things are always going to go wrong, but it’s nice to have that person to help out. And also it’s really nice to have a community to back you. Not only like this area, my friends, family, even with business. So those two things. And the other thing is especially for students, if any student are reading this, just start it. I don’t know what they’re waiting for, you don’t need to wait for permission for someone to say “yes, you can do this.” There’s a lot of good resources on campus, especially with MSU E-net starting up. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re starting a company I’ll be more than happy to give you advice. But you don’t need to wait for permission to do these things. If you have an idea, go do it.