The Importance of Contacts and Research On the Ground
When friends Johan Hägglund and Nima Marefat were students at the Stockholm School of Economics in 2011, they felt frustrated that the final exam was still done with old-fashioned pen and paper and other students they talked to seemed to feel similarly. After speaking to teachers at the school, Hägglund and Marefat learned that they too had gripes with the antiquated system that led them to waste time deciphering students’ handwriting.
Enter DigiExam, Hägglund’s and Marefat’s revolutionary full-scale platform that has tools to create, plan, supervise, take, and grade exams—and more—for teachers, students, and school administrators. This streamlines administration, curbs paper use, and makes exams more secure and reliable. DigiExam also switches seamlessly to offline mode in the event of a student getting disconnected during a session, thus eliminating a common issue with conventional online exams.
The need turned out to be enormous: Six years after the idea was born at the Stockholm School of Economics, DigiExam has users in more than 95 countries, including the United States, where the system was pioneered at the Columbia School of Law. ”That was extremely important, in part to create credibility for us as a new Swedish company and startup, but also in the visa process,” says Ida Eklund, Business Development, North America.
Eklund and Hägglund moved over to start up a sales office in New York City in 2015. The initial contact with Columbia happened through friends and they also found guidance and encouragement in participating in SACCNY’s Innovate46 four years running. ”Innovate46 helped us understand that you can make the move even as a small, but promising tech company. It was an eye-opener in terms of possibilities.”
As for growing their user base and promoting their product, Eklund says part of the growth has been organic. Individual teachers can sign up for free to create an account. ”What we often see are a few core teachers who are super tech savvy and are early adopters, and when they have seen that DigiExam really adds value for them in their work and also for the students, that is usually when they will talk to a tech director, or supervisor, or the principal,” Eklund says.
That is not to say that they don’t do marketing the traditional way. One vital difference they have noticed in the United States compared to Sweden is that schools, especially in New York, get far more sales calls in general, making it harder to stand out here. Eklund also finds Sweden to be more open to new technologies in general, even as American schools tend to have more existing digital learning-management systems, which DigiExam in turn needs to make sure to be compatible with. ”Working with education that is an extremely traditional and bureaucratic field, and then with technology that is changing so fast, is a challenge, but it is also extremely rewarding.”
Johan Hägglund, CEO
How to Make it In New York
Three Quick Tips from a Successful Startup
1. Customer service is key:
In the United States potential clients expect exceptional service—even before they are customers. Make sure they get it.
2. Meet contacts without expectations:
The initial meetings with professors at Columbia University happened through friends and without expectations, but they were interested in what we were doing and introduced me to the central university administration, which in turn put us in touch with the Law School.
3. Know when to cut your losses:
If we could do it over we would skip the effort we put in to the Public K-12 market. It was too complicated and regulated to be worthwhile for us in our current phase.