There are tons of educational tools out there that seek to fix some fundamental flaws in the American school system, but Greg Golkin thinks his startup has streamlined a lot of these tools into one easy-to-use place. It’s called ThinkBinder, and it beta launched recently as a way to provide students with a collaborative studying platform. Their tagline? “It’s not safe to study alone.”
Like many of New York’s budding entrepreneurs, Mr. Golkin is a finance refugee, having fled Goldman Sachs and Maverick Capital to focus on a business of his very own. “I was always sort of an entrepreneur at heart,” Mr. Golkin told Betabeat by phone. Mr. Golkin left Maverick in 2011 to focus on ThinkBinder full time, spurred by the education bug that runs in his family: his brother is a teacher at a charter school, and his father is a part-time professor.
ThinkBinder is a social learning platform that sets up a clear space for teachers and students to collaborate and communicate. “Our toolset includes group discussion, file management, text / video chat, bookmarklet for sharing, group calendar and a collaborative whiteboard,” said Mr. Golkin over email. “While simple on the surface, ThinkBinder is a flexible and powerful tool to build engagement and keep everyone on the same page.”
Unlike tools like Blackboard, ThinkBinder is entirely student-focused: students can set up their own virtual study spaces, and teachers and students both have the same admin rights. ThinkBinder also offers privacy controls that other online learning centers don’t.
“In Blackboard there’s only one setting–your whole class sees everything that’s happening,” said Mr. Golkin. “That’s very uncomfortable for students, and what we kept hearing is that you don’t get a lot of discussion because everything that you’re saying is there for everyone to see. And that’s sort of uncomfortable for consumers and students who are used to being able to control everything. We wanted to make sure that students could create an environment that consisted of whoever they wanted.”
In this way, ThinkBinder is a departure from many edutech startups that focus primarily on serving the teacher. “We wanted to put the power in the hands of the student to be the controller of any group,” Mr. Golkin said. “A product like Blackboard is totally teacher-driven; ours is much more about the communication and the sort of real-time discussion, rather than just for announcements.”
ThinkBinder is free to use for both teachers and students, and will stay that way. “We believe students and teachers deserve free products and technology the way any consumer does,” Mr. Golkin told us. “So if we can get on Facebook or Twitter for free, they should have the equivalent of the classroom online for free.”
It’s a very admirable offering, but it does call into question how ThinkBinder will monetize as it begins to scale. Mr. Golkin said that they have some leads, and are currently looking into striking up partnerships with companies that would use the technology in other ways.
ThinkBinder is entirely bootstrapped–Mr. Golkin and his cofounder Dave Lee, the coding brains behind the operation, currently fund it entirely out of pocket. They wanted to focus on building a really great, functional product before seeking out funding, said Mr. Golkin.