For me, one of the hardest aspects of college was trying to figure out how to manage my time. I thought I had this skill down when I graduated high school, but with constant temptations (which ranged from all-night chats in dorm hallways to “necessary” afternoon naps) combined with a lot more free time, college was a whole new ballgame. Budding edtech startup zabzo is tackling this classic problem head on with the world’s first no-maintenance task list—essentially, they organize your to-dos for you.
Recently, I chatted with zabzo co-founder and CEO Kristina Chang and rest of the zabzo crew at their headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, a house where three team members are living for the summer. The zabzo headquarters were exactly what you would expect from a young, social, and hardworking startup. The glass walls and mirrors double as brainstorming surfaces where team members jot down notes and charts in expo marker.
Chang explained how their product works: “Students send us their syllabi at the beginning of the term, and we give them a clean, beautiful online calendar that comes fully loaded with all of their assignments for the semester.” Even better, zazbo partners with local businesses to make it a free service. Students can also win rewards from these companies every time they check an item off their zabzo to-do list. “Essentially,” Kristina said, “we’re getting you organized and rewarding you for staying organized.” Gamification of organization? Count me in!
Kristina, an avid surfer, let me try balancing on her Indo Board while she explained how she thought of zabzo. She identified the issue during her first term at the Stanford Graduate School of Business when friends asked her how she had time to surf nearly every day and stay on top of her studies. She attributed her ability to balance everything with understanding how to effectively organize her schedule and decided this would be something she would want to work on as a project.
When Kristina told co-founder Malika Felix about zabzo and the problem she wanted to solve, Malika — who has a background in education and recently graduated law school—knew that she wanted to be involved. “Edtech is really hot right now and there are lots of tools out there,” she explained. “Everybody else is targeting professors and universities — it’s creating a very fragmented experience for students, where you have one professor using X tool, another using Y tool, and the university endorsing a whole other learning management system… so, as a student, you don’t have much ownership or control over how all this information organized.” Zabzo addresses this by attacking the problem from the students’ perspective. No matter which tools professors are using, zabzo provides one place where students can access the most basic information they need: assignments for every class.
In seven months, zabzo has grown from an idea to a full-fledged product: their first university-wide launch is this fall at Syracuse University. In early stages, Kristina made sure to test her ideas with the most basic version of zabzo: a paper version of the product that told students everything they needed to know for the school week in one page. The success of this preliminary testing brought them to Stanford’s Launchpad class last spring. Launchpad, an intensive quarter-long boot camp for entrepreneurial students, has gained recognition for turning out successful startups.
Like any startup, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “One of the main challenges with the timeline we have been working with is which features to launch as we develop,” Kristina explains. This has forced zabzo to pare down their feature set to what is minimal and useful. Instead of including functionality that Kristina or Malika want in their product, they are focused on understanding what students will actually use and find valuable.
In order to facilitate their quick growth, zabzo has opted to forgo traditional VC funding for now and stick with funding from friends and family until they launch. Kristina feels this was the right choice for their startup: “The most important thing was to get the capital as quickly as possible so we could continue moving at the rate we have been moving in the last seven months, especially leading up to a back-to-school launch, which we view as a very big milestone for the company moving forward.” Regarding future plans to scale zabzo, Malika stressed that scaling is less of a concern than building a product that will scale. The launch at Syracuse, a medium sized school with 10,000 students, will tell the team a lot about what it is going to be like bringing zabzo to 50,000, 100,000, or millions of students in the future.
Zabzo understands the needs of students, and how these needs are not being met—even by the plethora of current edtech tools out there. No matter how students are receiving their class information, this is a service that allows users to engage with their material. “This is important now,” said Kristina, “ and is going to be even more important as education technology grows in the next five to ten years.”