When Brett Kopf, who had been diagnosed with dyslexia, was in high school, it was crucial for his teachers to keep his mom updated on his assignments and progress. In 2011, he and his brother David–a former IBM engineer–channeled that experience into an app that enables teachers to text and email students and their parents easily about anything, from homework reminders to feedback on a project. Only teachers can initiate communication, and for safety, no phone numbers are displayed. The company, which has raised $59 million and counts 25 million users, is now expanding into countries like Spain and Brazil, where regular communication between parents and teachers is even less common. “We live in an age where you can have an Uber cab show up in two minutes,” says Brett. “But if your kid is failing school, you probably don’t know for three months.”
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
Brett: I talk to teachers. I visit schools; I Skype with them. I ask questions and I listen. When you walk into a school and hear the bell ring and see the kids running around, it is such a different experience. And that is when I find the most creativity and inspiration.
David: We work a lot, and I’m in a lot of data. So I try to do things outside of work, go to concerts, go on hikes. I watch a lot of YouTube videos. Someone introduced me to Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist. I’ve watched every one of his videos online. They have nothing to do with what we’re doing, but I think it helps to get outside of work.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
Brett: #EdChat. It’s a Twitter feed, conversations amongst teachers. Sometimes I just sit and watch it. I can watch all the problems teachers are having.
David: Neil deGrasse Tyson
How do you keep track of everything you have to do?
Brett: When you have ADD and dyslexia, it’s difficult to comprehend a bunch of information and organize it very quickly. So I have a simple note pad, Mac Notes, and every morning when I run through my email, I will prioritize the top 3 things, then put a huge line under 3. Then there’ll be tons of bullet points under that. I have to do recruiting, I have to go to this meeting, etc. And at the end of the day, success is having those 3 things done, those big, big things.
David: I just create events in my Google Calendar.
What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?
Brett: I mountain bike. It took me four years to save up for a bike. I finally got it, and I go with my girlfriend to Santa Cruz or around the Bay Area. That totally clears my head because I’m a bit of an outdoors nut.
David: I do CrossFit, I box, I run. Exercise is a big part of my life. Then just spending time with friends and family. I think that’s really important. Often you come back recharged for the next phase.
Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?
Brett: A teacher from high school, Mrs. Whitefield. She changed my life.
David: My high school football coach. He would always say “find a way” to do things. Again and again. “Find a way.”