“You know that thing where you’re researching something new, like a paper at uni or a holiday in a new country, and you end up with dozens of browser tabs, bookmarks, and a Word document full of notes?” asks Twingl CEO Andy Wilkinson.
“We’ve built a browser extension that turns all those tabs into a map which shows you why that tab is open and shows you where to go next. It also automatically organises the notes that you take. And, in schools, your teacher will be able to see your map as well, so that they can become better at teaching you how to research better online.”
Ask most startup CEO’s why they are doing what they’re doing, and you’ll probably get a slightly altered version of, “We want to change the world.”
We’re not questioning their integrity when they make these statements, but when Andy says it, you know he means it.
Twingl’s mission is ambitious. Their goal is to create a world where you can say: “I’ll send you everything I know about this”, and be telling the truth.
This is important, Andy says, because the free sharing of ideas and knowledge between people is what drives the human race forward.
“We saw it when apes began to talk, when we learned to write, and we saw it with the invention of the printing press and the internet,” he says.
So while other companies are finding ways to analyse, create, or sell information, Twingl wants to help people share it.
Trailblazer is a tool that’s designed by Twingl to be the first step of this mission. It works by taking the mess out of online learning and making your educational processes visible – their tagline is “Learning made visible.”
The theory behind the product is captivating. Think about how the Internet has become our go-to source for information. Can you remember that last time you pulled a dusty encyclopaedia off the shelf anymore? Many people in their late teens and early 20’s will have never even touched the famous Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
That’s because the internet has become like an amplifier for the individual voices of everyone on earth, a library of collective information, if you will. But while we continue to improve the way we can interact with the internet, we haven’t made significant progress in using it as a tool for learning.
“There’s still a lot of knowledge locked up in people’s brains,” Andy explains.
“I want Trailblazer to be the tool that you use every single time you want to learn something new online. When we pull that off, it’s going to be an order of magnitude easier for us all to learn from each other.”
The company raised $100,000, which is $10,000 more than what they asked for, and this will be used to fund a pilot programme in Kiwi schools. Twingl will continue developing its product until they get something that students and teachers absolutely love. They plan to go back for a bigger equity round once they’re confident that the product is ready for wide-scale release.
We’ve asked all of the Lab graduates this year what it was like to go through the accelerator, and most of them found it to be a challenging experience, but positive nonetheless. Andy found that, since he wasn’t accustomed to the constant commotion, this made it difficult to take away key information from the mentoring sessions.
“Lightning Lab was really awful for us in some ways, but really amazing in others,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge was with the environment. The schedule was always haphazard, you were consistently bombarded with meetings and interruptions, and there was quite simply no space to sit, think, and absorb all of the information you were getting,” he continued.
Although difficult at the time, the stress that the Lab created was what Andy enjoyed the most about the experience. It was like 3 years of personal development boiled down to 3 months, and that’s exactly what the Lab is for. It’s an accelerator after all, and the environment within the programme is designed to test the core of every team so that the bonds and structures within the company are accelerated too.
In a previous interview, Mike Neumegen, CEO of Cloud Cannon, described the Lab as “pivotal.”
“During the programme,” he wrote from San Francisco, “we evolved from two guys hacking in our bedrooms to full blown entrepreneurs who are taking on the world. Before, we had no network. Now, we’re embedded in the startup scene in New Zealand and have contacts all over the world.”
“Some days are magical, others are tough to get through to say the least,” Mike added.
Twingl’s biggest challenge was balancing their long-term vision, which was still fuzzy at the time, with the right product and market for getting there. Andy said that they had a lot of false starts in markets that were focused, but felt really wrong.
“Fortunately, it all fell into place in the last two weeks of the Lab; after one of those lightning-bolt style epiphanies that you see in the movies,” Andy said.
“I was on a very long walk at the time.”
Another valuable piece of advice that Andy learned was that titles are prison. People told him that, as the CEO, he should be doing many of the important runway tasks. But Andy found that by delegating the customer relationships, financial modeling, and business development to Twingl co-founder Matt, he could ensure the tasks would be done efficiently and to a high standard.
“Simultaneously, I had more time to sit and reflect and I became much better at setting direction for the company,” Andy said. “Play to your strengths, not to a title.”
The Twingl team will continue developing Trailblazer until it has reached a satisfactory level of performance for a wider release. You can register your interest by entering your email address here.
This story originally appeared in NZ Entrepreneurs.