Building a company isn’t easy. Any business owner will tell you that. If they say otherwise, they’re lying. Point blank. Needless to say, navigating a business through COVID-19 hasn’t been a walk in the park either.
The past several months have been a whirlwind for our team, just like they have been for everyone else. Luckily, in our case, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve grown by triple digits since the pandemic began. As a result, we’ve welcomed six new team members to The Knack Pack. We’ve even launched a new partnership with our Alma Mater, the University of Florida.
As Gator alumni, we’re thrilled to be able to bring our mission back to where it all began, and we can’t help but reflect on how much has happened since we left Gainesville and moved to our new hometown of Tampa just four years ago.
This is the story of Knack. Where we came from, and where we’re going.
For those of you who don’t know, I was born in Abu Dhabi, UAE. When I moved here, my mother was told I was the “opposite” of gifted and that, to succeed in school, I would need extensive, individualized support. She became my first tutor, and after proving the system wrong (thanks mom!), I left high school after my sophomore year to pursue an Associate’s Degree at St. Petersburg College where I became Student Body President; then transferred to the University of Florida where I graduated early. Go Gators!
After graduation, I was working as an Emerging Technology Account Executive at Gartner, and the sharing economy was exploding. I was incredibly invested in understanding why people do what they do, perhaps from my sociology background at UF. We’ve been taught all our lives not to get in the car with strangers, and, suddenly, here comes Uber and Lyft. I became more and more interested in this concept of leveraging tech as a trust mechanism and, after a conversation with Dennis, who is now Knack’s Chief Product Officer, I realized the huge impact it could have on higher education.
Inequity and limited access have always been problems with our educational system. Tutoring is no different. Set aside the financial and emotional support private tutoring requires, there’s still a long-established stigma surrounding the need for a tutor, to begin with. Not to mention, 80% of college classes don’t offer tutoring, and going to office hours with a professor carrying a Ph.D. in their respective field can be incredibly intimidating to 18 or 19-year-old students. It simply isn’t relatable. In pursuit of a better, near-peer option, I quit my job at Gartner to enroll Knack in The Gator Hatchery.
When we joined The Hatchery (the first graduating class!), we really wanted to validate our idea and test our assumptions. As part of the program, we also decided to participate in a Startup Weekend. It didn’t go well.
So, we tried again. We focused. In 2016, we beat out 300 other teams to win the Big Idea Gator Business Plan Competition. Dennis, our CPO, Austin, our Partnerships Director, and Shawn, our CMO, were right there with me. David, our now CTO, was also with us. Given that his wife was a teacher herself, he saw the importance of technology bolstering education firsthand.
Not long after, we set our sights on Tampa. We had graduated from UF already, now it was Knack’s turn.
In 2018, we raised $1.5 million in a Seed round led by Charles Hudson’s Precursor Ventures and Tampa Bay Lighting owner and Tampa magnate, Jeff Vinik, and won Village Capital’s Peer Selected Investment Program where we welcomed ETS (creators of GRE) as a strategic investor. Since then, Knack has launched on over 70 campuses across the United States and moreover, we’ve struck direct partnerships with dozens of colleges and universities and have added Higher Ed experts such as George Kuh to our team as our Senior Advisor. In 2019, Knack won the Lumina Foundation’s Education Innovation Grant Prize. In 2020, Dennis and I were named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30, and we’ve partnered with Florida Power and Light and Community Partners of South Florida to provide tutoring, Google Chromebooks, and Wi-Fi hot spots to K-12 students in need across Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
When COVID-19 threw higher ed into a tailspin, we stepped in to help as much as we could — and we’re just getting started.
Written by Samyr Qureshi, CEO & Co-Founder of Knack