Slader: The "cool" homework help platform that your mom doesn't know about

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on October 11, 2013

From The News Desk

High school homework is one of those shitty things most people are glad they no longer have to endure. For me, the bane of my existence was always AP Physics. Not only did I not understand the subject, but my teacher would assign me additional material to help explain it. It never worked. The only solace I found in that class was when my friends and I worked together to solve problems. As cliché as that sounds, it was truly the only real resource that helped me pass that class.

Now there's a website that is trying to make that kind of student interaction into a sound business model for an ed tech platform.

Peter Bernheim, Kyle Gerrity, and Scott Kolb believe they've built a new ed-tech website that is helping students better understand their homework. Their company, Slader, provides a platform for students to submit and search for answers to homework problems. To use Slader, students log on, find their classroom textbook, and then search for the for which they need the most help.

Launched in January 2011, Slader has a very simple hypothesis: Students helping other students is a more effective aid than supplementary study aids written by educators. The co-founders saw a bunch of online resources out there, but none necessarily focused on creating a student hub where students could both help out and commiserate.

The three founders perfectly fit the culture surrounding Slader. They're Southern California-raised 20-somethings wearing hip clothes in their Lower Manhattan office space, who can easily talk your ear off about anything from New York life to coffee. They're smart, but they're definitely not geeks. And they also all admitted to having some trouble with specific subjects in high school. And to cap it all off, they named their company after the bro-iest character from "Saved By The Bell." This isn't your average homeroom study session.

Slader believes that students will have more of a buy-in with homework if they are able to get help from other students. At the same time, the Slader team wanted to encourage students to submit their own answers. To do this they implemented a system, where students could put up a "bounty" for an unanswered problem. If another student answers it, he or she receives the bounty (if the students find it a worthy answer). And these bounties can translate into real cash.

According to Gerrity, one student has already earned $8,000. What a nerd.

Of course, some could say that this sort of platform encourages cheating. Kolb rebuts this by saying that "students are going to cheat regardless." What he means is that while Slader does give the answers to homework problems, it makes students record the entire process and encourages them to submit their own responses. Any student who copies every answer without engaging with the work will just end up failing the test anyway. So what's even the point of getting the answers, if users aren't trying to actually understand it?

With all of these factors, the site has been gaining student popularity. Slader received 2.1 million visitors in September, who viewed 20 million pages of the site overall. In addition, it received 625,000 uniques over the course of September. To put that into perspective, that's about one-third the amount of uniques SparkNotes (the resource I and all of my friends always turned to) received.

The co-founders aren't afraid to brag about these numbers either. Gerrity told me that many high school students are "completely addicted" to the site. Additionally, he said the site's total traffic has tripled over the last year.

So, why is it so successful? The Slader team has a few theories. For one, while there are a bunch of online student resources; this one is for students and by students. It's not marketed as secondary guide the teacher recommends; it's a "secret" that students share with each other. In addition, it incentivizes submitting submissions, and then lets students assess how accurate and helpful each answer is.

So, if you're a smart and industrious kid, you could end up getting a real payday from going to Slader. Of course, most don't as 72 percent of the users who provide answers have submitted less than five solutions.

Given its success with students, now Slader team is looking for ways to further build the platform out. One goldmine is its user statistics. Given that students frequent the site looking for homework help, Slader has been able to amass heaps of data. This includes numbers about what problems and areas of study the students find most difficult, what kinds of content they prefer to interact with, and when and how students use the site. Slader is in a unique position with this data because students seek the website on their own accord, and not because it was assigned.

Bernheim has spent his time analyzing this data and thinks it could be useful for both the site to learn how to brand itself, and for third-party academic resources who are trying to analyze student learning trends. He sees this kind of data could be immensely helpful to both educators and ed-tech administrators.

All of Slader's funding up until now has come from friends and family, and co-founders don't appear to be searching for any extra funds right now. They say the business is currently cash-flow positive, and they're hoping to be able to find monetization opportunities from Slader's student data.

While other ed-tech platforms do exist like Shmoop and SparkNotes, Gerrity, Kolb, and Bernheim believe Slader is the only one that comes at it from the level of a student helping another student. And they also see Slader's status as an under-the-radar, almost rogue website helping sustain its popularity among the swathes of disinterested teens hoping to prove that their homework website is the most obscure.

But while its "cool" factor does probably help it gain some traction among high schoolers, becoming less obscure shouldn't really be an issue. While there are always new bands to listen to, accessible study aids will forever be indispensable.

[Image Credit: x-ray delta one on Flickr]