Cleverlize launches a wysiwyg (and moneymaking) app builder for teachers

Apart from big data, e-learning and education are much hyped for the moment as the industry where a lot can and must be changed. Khan Academy or Codeacademy are touted as examples of how learning will evolve – more personalised, more on demand and gamified. We’re not exactly at the where you can get a Stanford degree from home, though.

In Munich, an e-learning startup will come out of closed beta this week: Cleverlize wants to put e-learning (or e-teaching) into the hands of the teachers. It is building a platform that allows teachers to build intuitive learning apps, effortlessly, and even monetise their teaching materials if they want.

The promise is that this time, the teaching revolution will empower the teacher, says cofounder Lukas von Steinbacher (31), who worked as a consultant for Daimler prior to launching Cleverlize.

cleverlize european startups“A few years ago, e-learning was also a big hype, but the end result was that the publishers in the teaching industry just started selling professionally made videos. It’s still very top down, and it’s not very disruptive. What Cleverlize wants to do is give the teachers the tools to teach – and even make money. It’s like an AirBnB for teaching.”

Cleverlize makes it possible for teachers to arrange their teaching materials in mobile applications that they can offer to students, either for free or for pay. It’s a wysiwyg framework that should make it really, really simple for teachers to build apps, says cofounder An Tran (29). “I started making the framework when I wanted to learn English myself – you would think there are lots of good apps to do that, but there aren’t. Probably because teachers don’t know much coding. So I thought I’d build a system that enables anyone to make an e-learning app without any programming at all.”

The platform can build articles or pictures with teaching materials, and can make sorting tests, matching test or flash cards for memorising. Cleverlize tested the validity of the concept by releasing a free English testing app into the world – it was already downloaded 500 000 times, which shows the demand for such apps, the founders say.

Cleverlize: a freemium model

Cleverlize uses a freemium model: teachers can install free apps in up to 40 student devices. When they want to install (or sell) more, they have to pay a monthly fee to Cleverlize starting at 29 €. For the moment, apps have to be sold through third party app stores – Cleverlize can’t sell any apps yet, because they first have to sort out the copyright issues, the founders explain. They can’t have teachers ask money for content that they don’t own. But in the future, they do want to build an entire ecosystem of learning and testing.

Their startup story is remarkably effortless. Even how they met is a story of simplicity: they met at a startup event, explains Lukas. “We met each other and An explained his idea. And I said: that could work, and gave him my card (laughs). Then later, we locked ourselves up in a meeting room for three days to look at the validity of the idea. And we still liked it, so we started the company.”

Cleverlize was, from the beginning, an all out attempt, they say. No side projects or consulting for them: “There’s just so many to do’s, and the tech space evolves so fast,” says An. “We just didn’t want to risk it.”

It seems like it was the right choice so far: the two founders applied for the Wayra accelerator, and got in – which gave them office space for six months and 50 000 € starting capital. Next, they were one of fifteen Wayra teams worldwide to be selected to present to a crowd of international investors in Miami in the beginning of December. Teams entering Wayra are expected to find investment before they leave the program. With the hype surrounding e-learning and mobile, you can expect this to go smoothly, especially if Cleverlize can show some traction in adoption by teachers and downloads.

So, where’s the startup hardship, I ask. An Tran: (laughs) “Oh, make no mistake: it’s hard work, definitely. It’s stressful, but we’re very motivated. And it’s not like we never have any differences. Especially for me, as an engineer – for me, my solutions are logical: that’s how it MUST be. But Lukas can convince me that even if it’s the logical way to do things, it might still be too hard for teachers to actually use.”

“Launching a global company from Vietnam”

In a recently published report on the European startup scene, the importance of immigration on a thriving entrepreneurial scene was highlighted. Especially in Germany, maybe, a country that (as Forbes wrote in a piece on the Samwer brothers) “is so risk averse that most people don’t even have a credit card.”

An Tran is a living example of this immigrant entrepreneurial drive – he arrived in Germany seven years ago, after finishing his studies (automation) in Vietnam. In Germany, he studied electrical engineering at the Technical University in Munich and started a PhD in Computer Sciences (which he abandoned when starting Cleverlize).

An Tran: “When I came here, it was more to go look for a job, but as my studies progressed, I felt that I wanted to start a company more than look for a career. So it’s good I came here. From Vietnam, it’s very difficult to start a global company.”

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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