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Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Raj Valli, CEO of Thinkster (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Aug 3rd 2020

Raj and I kicked around the issue of what AI can do versus what humans need to step in for, in the context of Kindergarten through Grade VIII online math tutoring. See which side of the debate you are on.

At any rate, AI applications in online learning is a big opportunity going forward.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself as well as to Thinkster. 

Raj Valli: I’m the founder and CEO of Thinkster. I started this company about seven years back and we are in the business of transforming learning outcomes for students using technology as an enabler.

Although we are using technology, we are a non-machine company, so we have human tutors and marry them with intelligence from machines and data-driven insights to guarantee learning outcomes to students across the world. We are specifically focused on K-8 math.

Recently, we made an acquisition of an AI-driven SAT training company, so we are expanding our horizon. We have thousands of students across the world. Predominantly, 95% of those students are in the US.

Before starting this company, I was the Head of Strategy and Chief of Marketing for a $5 billion, NYC-listed company. I spent a lot of my time in B2B businesses -everything from aerospace, automotive, industrial control, software, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and a whole bunch of other industries across US, Europe, and Asia.

I’m also a certified Six Sigma black belt and a Chartered Financial Analyst. I look at the problems from a data-driven perspective and I look at the opportunity to increase efficiency for human beings, no matter what professions they are in and no matter what industry they are in.

I’m using those learnings to solve huge problems in education. I have spent 20-plus years working and volunteering for a non-profit organization that was focused on providing basic education for underprivileged children. That’s a quick background on me and the company.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s come back to Thinkster and help me peel the onion gradually. Are you doing this in a B2B mode or B2C mode?

Raj Valli: We are exclusively focused on the consumer, so we are a B2C company.

Sramana Mitra: Where are the tutors?

Raj Valli:  Tutors are all over the world. They are local or hyper local. We have US students being taken care of by US tutors and likewise we have students across the world being taken care of by students in their local countries and local areas.

We have, predominantly, a virtual tutoring workforce who are working in a quasi-full-time capacity. This is the only job they have and they do part-time tutoring from their homes, or we have teachers who are actually teaching in schools who come back in the evening and they actually work for us as well in the evening hours.

All of them are highly qualified and have had experience actually teaching students either in a tutoring context or in an academic context within a private, public, or a charter school.

Sramana Mitra: Is it multi-lingual or English language only?

Raj Valli: It’s currently English language only.

Sramana Mitra: It’s global, but English only?

Raj Valli: That is correct.

Sramana Mitra: It’s K-8 math, you said?

Raj Valli: Yes, K-8 math because we have a unique combination of data-driven tutoring which means that we put an elite dedicated tutor in touch with the student on a daily basis. They get daily personalized set of assignments and worksheets on which they get grading and feedback from the tutor.

In addition to that and depending on the program and pricing they are currently engaged in, they can get either weekly or bi-weekly, private, one-on-one, 30-minute tutoring sessions on top of that as well.

Sramana Mitra: Can you talk a bit about the pricing? How does it progress? What are the different tiers and levels of service?

Raj Valli: We have predominantly two types of service. Maybe we can say three types. We’re just adding some more types as we progress along, but we have what we call a personalized worksheet delivery product which is what we call our Silver program where the student gets, on a daily basis, a highly personalized and curated set of assignments that are assigned specifically to their capacity based on the previous performance in the day earlier or the week earlier.

They would get asynchronous feedback grading and feedback from the instructor. Further, their parents can have one or two parent-tutor conference calls a month. That’s what we call our Silver program.

The Gold and the Platinum programs are nothing but the Silver program plus the opportunity to connect with the tutor. In the Gold plan, we offer two private, one-on-one, 30-minute tutoring sessions in a month. In the Platinum plan, we offer four tutoring sessions in a month.

We do offer opportunities for parents to also tack on additional packages of tutoring in multiples of 5 or 10 for any of these plans.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Raj Valli, CEO of Thinkster
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