Most kids use technology for games and music. What about using technology to learn to write, an essential skill to master early in life?
With Cubert’s Cube, entrepreneur Melanie Kusmik is attempting to do just that – teaching kids how to write by harnessing the power of the social web. Years of experience in software development and product management at companies like Quantum, 3Com, Nortel Networks has helped Melanie learn to transform a concept into a business.
A fun and social online writing environment, Cubert’s Cube is designed to creatively engage young students in all aspects of the writing process.
The idea of creating such a platform came in while volunteering in her son’s kindergarten class. Melanie noticed kids would finish their worksheets quickly and then start looking around to figure out what to do next. She handed them blank papers to collaborate on a story idea together. And kids would happily participate – they would draw pictures, write a few words, and sometimes ignore the recess bell.
While spending time with kids, Melanie realized that they are as enthusiastic about technology as we are; and most of them use technology as most us do, for games and music. Melanie thought of building an educational technology product for kids. “Could we inspire creativity and imagination intrinsically by allowing kids to be the creators rather than the consumers of what we adults imagine?” Melanie started brainstorming her ideas with a second grade teacher and came up with the first design of the website. That was in 2010. They developed a prototype and introduced it to second and third grade students.
Melanie watched the kids using the prototype for six months; then she made some changes in the navigation, added more support for both students and teachers. That’s how she built Cubert’s Cube and it is now ready to launch. “We hope your kids, in the classroom and at home, find this to be a place for them to explore their ideas, craft a poem, story, letter or essay and share it with others. We believe you will love the power of using technology to foster creativity and community as much as we do.” says Melanie who is now CEO of Cubert’s Cube.
With Cubert’s Cube, Melanie’s objective is to grow children’s interest in writing. The product is quite aligned with educational systems and it advances skills like creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. The website offers a safe environment; children of second to sixth grades, and teachers, can use it across all subjects through a paid subscription.
After the beta level testing with 10 teachers and 250 students, Melanie is offering a pilot program this fall to validate the product across different teaching and learning environments. She intends to offer district-wide licenses in the spring of 2013. Interested teachers in public, private and homeschool environments can use the pilot program. As per the trend so far, Melanie is expecting the pilot to be filled up quickly; the company will be offering discounted rates to interested teachers who missed the pilot.
Cubert’s Cube has a good market
TAM for the product is estimated at $45.2M considering 12.5% adoption rate of elementary school teachers and homeschool parents in the United States. There are 88,000 elementary schools with an average of 30 classrooms in the United States. With a SaaS subscription model, Melanie is expecting an annual recurring revenue stream on a per teacher (single class) or per school basis and often 3 to 4 times more when school districts purchase a multi-year subscription. Writing portfolio and journal books can make up a second revenue stream for the company.
Cobert’s Cube has joined the Learning.com SKY marketplace. Like any other product company, they are also desperately looking for partners to reach teachers and students. Balancing the need for product development and validation, building fundamental marketing and sales tools, finding the right distribution channels and partnerships, and financing the efforts in a pre-revenue state are challenges she is facing right now.
Melanie also wants to attract a world-class advisory board to the company that has the right balance of business acumen, educational market knowledge, and people who are enthusiastic about her vision and mission. But most of all, she wants to introduce Cubert’s Cube to teachers and parents.
Providing technology solution for K-12 education is not an easy task. But that is what Melanie is passionate about. Her early customers share her passion for this innovative offering. “It is a great motivational tool for students. Even my reluctant writers found writing fun,” says Dana, a third grade teacher in Washington. “Students love having the ability to send their ideas to friends so they can co- write stories,” adds Demetra, a third grade teacher, also in Washington, where Melanie and Cubert’s Cube are based. “For me as a teacher, Cubert’s Cube is so user friendly that I would be making more work for myself if I didn’t use it. My kids are able to write, revise, and publish in one location,” praises Crystal, a fifth and sixth grade teacher.
The students, in turn, love the ability to co-write their stories with their friends, and use features like drawing, inserting pictures, etc.
Historically, engaging K-12 teachers to adopt new technologies has been challenging. However, today, a large number of extraordinarily tech-savvy teachers and parents are, finally, adopting educational technology, giving the field its renaissance. If you are reading this post, chances are, you have a child in school. What are you waiting for? Jump into Cubert’s Cube and get your child going. And if you like it, recommend it to his or her teacher.
Tech-savvy parents are critical to bringing educational technology to schools. Please be sure to keep an eye out for cool stuff that can vastly improve the learning of this generation of kids.
[Sramana's piece on Melanie Kusmik and Cubert's Cube originally appeared on the site Women 2.0. You can see it and other Women 2.0 articles here.]