When a bomb threat prompted officials to shut down all 900 schools in the L.A. Unified School District last December, chaos ensued. Confused parents got the news via robocall around 8 a.m. and scrambled to pick up their kids and find last-minute child care. Others didn’t get the call at all. Communication between the district, principals, and teachers collapsed. The threat exposed the existing emergency system’s weaknesses, but amid the mayhem, many educators turned to Remind, the four-year-old messaging tool for students and teachers.
"We saw a 700% increase in messaging usage during that bomb threat," says Brett Kopf, cofounder and CEO of Remind. "We started meeting with some teachers and principals, and they were telling us it was chaos. It made us realize there was a huge need to have all the communication in one single place."
Today, Remind is launching a new product called Remind for Schools, a schoolwide communication tool that lets principals send a message to their entire staff. "Think Slack for schools," Kopf says. Administrators will be verified within the app. Messages come with a delivery receipt and basic stats like which teachers are using the tool most frequently. Later versions will let principals message the entire school, including students and parents, and district-wide support will be available in the second quarter of this year.
Since launching in 2011, Remind has been on a tear. The app is used by 35 million teachers, students, and parents in more than half of U.S. K-12 schools.
Once a teacher starts to use the tool, it tends to spread through the rest of the school like wildfire. Domonique Roberts, a history teacher at University High School in Newark, N.J., has been using Remind to communicate better with parents. "I have been messaging one student’s mom, telling her when he’s not doing homework, or if he fell asleep in class today," Roberts says. "She’s on top of it and his grade improved by two letter grades from the first marking period to the second, just by keeping up with her."
Kopf is obsessed with teacher satisfaction, and this obsession permeates the entire company. Every employee, from the CEO to engineers, spends one hour a week live-chatting with a teacher. To ensure no one interrupts the conversation, the employee dons a blue cape to tell coworkers they’re busy. The company also has nine former teachers on staff. "Our number one company value is teachers," Kopf says.
This same rule applied while creating Remind for Schools, which is designed primarily for administrators to communicate with staff (whereas Remind was designed for one-on-one communication between teachers and students and parents). "We spoke to more than 100 teachers and principals to talk about their current needs," Kopf says. "We learned in talking to principals that the most common form of communication is a robocall or phone tree system. They literally have a spreadsheet that says, ‘Jan calls John, John calls Joe, Joe calls Sally,’ and then a bunch of kids still show up at school."
Kopf says administrators have already been repurposing Remind to communicate on a large scale, so he wanted to design something specifically for them. For example, Paul White, principal of Leal Elementary School in Cerritos, California, has more than 740 students and parents connected to his Remind account, and sent them all the same message during a recent power outage. "We sent out a message saying, ‘Hey, don’t freak out if you can’t get through to the phone because there’s a power outage. I’ll let you know when we’re back up. We’re fine, nothing is wrong.’ Parents appreciated that."
Another school ditched its morning intercom announcements and replaced them with Remind blasts. "They’re just using Remind to send messages out to teachers so they don’t have to waste five minutes of everyone’s day," Kopf says.
The new tool makes it easier to get an entire school on board quickly, rather than relying on individual teachers or administrators to spread the word or send invitations. Like the original tool, it's free, but Kopf says he may explore charging for it down the line. The company has raised $59 million in capital, most of it from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and has been using that money to grow its user base. Roughly 20,000 schools have already signed up for access to Remind for Schools.
"What we’re about to roll out will not only bring communication to one place, but build a community so everyone knows what’s going on," Kopf says. "In education, we believe that it truly takes a village to support a kid, not just a teacher or a parent."