TPC Member Spotlight: Gimkit -- Josh Feinsilber & Jeff Osborn

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Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Gimkit for those reading who aren’t familiar?

Jeff: Gimkit creates memorable learning experiences. Currently, we make a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win. Teachers create quiz games (we call them Kits) that they play in their classrooms to teach new material, review for tests, or achieve mastery on elements of a unit. Gimkit is designed to help teachers effectively teach their material while keeping students engaged and excited.

How did Gimkit get started? What got you all to this point?

Jeff: Josh created Gimkit as a school project during his junior year at Gibson Ek, a project-based public high school in Issaquah. The first place Josh ever published Gimkit was on Product Hunt at the end of October, 2017. (You can see that original post and a pretty awesome thread of comments here.)

The reason Gimkit is at where it’s at is because we worked to create a deep connection with the teachers and students who use Gimkit. And we started building that relationship from day one. Josh and I had personal conversations with Gimkit’s first users to see what worked well and what could be improved on. In those early conversations we also got a ton of student feedback. Josh took what he heard and developed the product to match not what he wanted it to be, but what teachers and students needed. 

May 2019 was our last full month of normal usage for the school year and we had 3M MAUs. We attribute each of those people to the early users who took time with us to help us understand the product better and create something teachers and students truly needed and wanted.

Josh, what is it like to be a full-time developer, founder, & business owner just out of high school?

Josh: It’s pretty crazy, but I’m incredibly fortunate! Running a business is extremely stressful & crazy, but also beyond rewarding. I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without the tremendous support of my family, friends, school staff, and mentors.

In many ways, I’m extremely excited to focus more on Gimkit now that I’m out of high school. I get to spend most of my day building something that helps students & educators. But, I’m also a bit sad -- I loved my school and all the people there; it will be weird not seeing them almost every day!

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How did the two of you meet and what led you to work together? Would you say your skill sets and work styles are similar and additive or different and complementary?

Jeff: I saw Gimkit, then called Gimlet, on Product Hunt. I reached out to Josh to see if I could help with his name/branding issue. We met up a few weeks after that and I advised/mentored Josh for over a year, then came on full-time at the end of January 2019. Up until that point, Josh had been managing the business, going to school, and going to his internship at FiftyThree. It was a lot for anyone and it forced him to think deeply about whether he wanted to commit to Gimkit full time after high school. Toward the end of 2018 he decided that he did and I joined shortly after that. 

We’re both super silly and have always worked well together. We think in similar but different ways, which helps balance the partnership out. Josh is an incredibly empathetic problem solver and I think I’ve always helped him find ways to connect and hear from the people he wants to help. Also, from the beginning, we’ve never taken anything we say to each other personally, which allows us to focus on teachers, students, and the work.

What do you see as the future of Gimkit? Where would you like it to go?

Jeff: We currently make only one tool for the classroom, but our vision is to build a suite of engaging, easy to use tools that help reshape education for teachers and students.

What are some of the difficulties that come with being a small tech company, particularly working in education?

Jeff: We haven’t experienced many of the difficulties yet, but the big one everyone talks about, and the one that’s right around the corner for us, is the bureaucracy of dealing with districts. Our business model is selling subscriptions to individual teachers. But we want schools and districts to cover as many of those subscriptions as possible. And since group subscriptions (department, school, and district purchases) are a rapidly growing part of our business, we will be dipping our toes in the exciting world of government contacts more and more. We already accept purchase orders from schools, which have a pretty incredible lead-time from quote to purchase, and collecting payment on POs can sometimes be an adventure. But, again, it’s important to us that teachers’ Gimkit purchases are supported by their schools and districts, so we’re happy to learn about that world and figure out how to thrive in it!

Mostly, working in education has been incredible so far. I’ve never seen something spread via word of mouth like Gimkit has in Educator circles. We’ve also seen an unbelievable amount of support from others in our space, large and small. The prevailing attitude seems to be that we’re all in this together to help improve education.

Why is working in education so important to you? What makes you so passionate?

Josh: Education is at the core of almost everything. All the amazing things going on in the world wouldn’t have been possible with education to get to that point. For as much as education has helped so much, it also needs a lot of work. Educators are extremely underpaid and many students aren’t enjoying school every day. I’m passionate to work in education in help solve some of those problems. The effects will ripple throughout everywhere else!

Jeff: I agree with everything Josh said. The added factor for me is that I have two little kids. Since my son was born 5 years ago, I’ve found myself thinking about education more and trying to find ways to be active in education and youth-related organizations. If I can improve the education experience even just a 0.001% before my kids start school, I’ll be happy. The goal of course is to make a larger, longer-lasting impact. Learning is one of the most exciting things in this life, but somehow our education system has turned school into the last place so many students want to be. Josh and I both feel strongly that school can and should be a place teachers and students are excited to be.

So here’s the question we’ve all been waiting for, what was your favorite subject in school?

Josh: Ooh, that’s really quite a tough one. I would say science. It was so interesting to me to discover and investigate about all the things around us and far away.

Jeff: I honestly didn’t like school when I was in it, but I always loved sports. Some of the most important life lessons I’ve ever gotten have come from team sports. I also enjoyed my science classes. I never did well in them, but science always fascinated me. In college, my favorite classes were astronomy and linguistics. 

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FILL IN THE BLANK!

A perfect weekend starts with _______ and ends with __________? 

Josh: A perfect weekend starts with my dog Finn, and ends with 8+ hours of sleep!

Jeff: A perfect weekend starts with sleeping in and ends with outdoor family time!

_____ is totally underrated.

Josh: Mr Robot

Jeff: Vegetables are totally underrated.

_____is totally overrated.

Josh: Importance of higher education

Jeff: Grades are totally overrated. Also, Chipotle is pretty overrated.

If I could eat any meal in the world, it would be _______ prepared by ______.

Jeff: If I could eat any meal in the world, it would be chili crab in Singapore prepared by the chili crab guy at Newton Food Centere. While I’m there I’ll also have laksa and carrot cake, please!

If I got a surprise day off  tomorrow, I would _____.

Jeff: If I got a surprise day off  tomorrow, I would take my kids outside in the morning, go see a movie with my wife in the afternoon, and grab a torta at Taco Chukis for dinner.