While the importance of reading for educational attainment and brain development is well documented, the low levels of reading across the region are, unfortunately, also well documented - with some reports indicating that on average the Arab child reads for pleasure for less than 15 minutes per year. There are growing efforts regionally to correct this reality and improve upon it such as We Love Reading and the Arab Reading Challenge. Other providers are also battling the need to create more high quality Arabic content such as Lamsa, 3asafeer, and Little Thinking Minds. In this interview, QRF sat down with Yusuf Chaib, one of the founders of Quizzito which is taking a creative approach around getting children excited to read in Arabic.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
QRF: Thank you for being here with us. We are excited to learn about your journey. Can you tell us about yourself - what is your story?
I graduated as an IT engineer in Algeria and supplemented my studies with online coursework on social entrepreneurship and design thinking at Stanford. During my engineering degree, I completed a thesis focused on edtech and a placement at Edraak.org - an online learning portal.
The idea started when a friend living in Switzerland, who had grown up with the love of reading, realized that his children who had grown up in the Arab world did not develop this same passion for reading despite his efforts. Effectively, that is the problem we at Quizzito want to solve.
We came up with the tagline: read - play - win. We leveraged gamification techniques to get students to love and enjoy reading. We first started with the lowest performing students and prototyped the product with them - think of the students that sit at the back of the class. The design is simple: if you want to win a gift, you have to read a story and answer comprehension questions. We quickly realized we had a winning formula and took our prototype to market and over time developed it into the product it is today which basically consists of two offerings. First, “Quizzito Families” which is focused on household and allows parents to set point target rewards for reading milestones and these points are then attached to physical gifts defined by the parents themselves. Second, “Quizzito Teacher” is targeted at schools and allows the teacher to integrate stories into the formal curriculum with the same game-dynamic. It allows teachers to launch mini-games with leaderboards within their classroom - tracking the students that read the most.
We operate on a freemium model. Free users can access the content without the ability to launch their own competitions. Premium subscribers that are teachers can launch 12 competitions with 30 students per competition - at $14 per year. For parents, it’s $12 per family - up to 5 children for a full year. We are also growing a revenue stream from corporate partners that sponsor competitions that are open for free to existing subscribers.
We currently have users across Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We have 20,000 readers who have collectively read nearly 200,000 books.
QRF: What are the biggest challenges you are facing today?
We have internal challenges, and there are challenges that are related to operating in the Arab region. Internally, we are working to bring down our burn rate to make sure we can scale effectively. Our biggest costs come from content and quiz creation. We are working on AI-powered solutions that can help us generate content and quizzes at a more scalable cost point. We are also trying to refine our business model to ensure that teachers are able to attract corporate sponsors for the competitions they run in their schools.
On a regional front, we are struggling to help parents make the connection between the love of reading and educational attainment. Although such a concept is obvious in many developed countries, parents in our region do not make the direct link yet and tend to define educational strictly as studying for school. We are hoping to eventually be able to track improvements in literacy and learning engagement through the app. If we are able to secure that data we can then work on marketing the causal link to parents.
QRF: What are your top two or three lessons from your journey so far?
The most important lessons for us as entrepreneurs center on 3 themes. First, when determining your product-market fit, it’s important to be very targeted and specific in who your early adopters could be. In our case, for example, we quickly realized that we shouldn’t target teachers as a whole, but young tech-savvy teachers first. Second, we learned the importance of using machine learning in education to ensure you can personalize the experience for your users - which is a key to keeping young readers engaged. Third, you do not need a large marketing budget to scale your product - instead, you should spend time identifying the right partners whose business model aligns with you. If you do that, you can scale with a small marketing budget and a small sales team.
QRF: Most education entrepreneurs enter the space with the goal of creating a positive impact in addition to healthy returns. How do you balance mission and profit at Quizzito?
Our first priority is to ensure there is always a free route to learners and teachers to our product. Second, we always seek the relevant partnerships with NGOs and corporates that can help us offer as much value to users for free by subsidizing or fully sponsoring our offerings.
QRF: In closing, what recommendations or thoughts do you have for improving the state of educational innovation and entrepreneurship in the MENA region?
My message to entrepreneurs that are keen to improve education in our region is to keep in mind that it’s possible to be profitable in our region with a freemium model. Second, it’s important to focus on data. If you have the right data, you can offer a better product and improve learning outcomes more cost-effectively. More data helps us make better systems-level decisions. My final recommendation for policy makers, on that note, is the importance of creating open databases that can help us crowdsource innovation for our different challenges.
QRF: Thank you for your time and insightful answers. We wish you and the team the best of luck going forward.