Paper’s fast learning curve
How an online tutoring startup is becoming a one-stop shop for student support
From educator to
Students in the driver’s seatPaper’s portfolio of products—what it decided to build and what shape each offering took—is based largely on feedback from students, teachers, and administrators. That approach to innovation in learning was embraced by Cutler and Cipriani shortly after they conceived the initial idea for the Paper online tutoring service. The founders thought sessions would take place over video chat, but student feedback caused them to pivot. “It became clear from our conversations with the students that the idea of video conferencing with some stranger was highly uncomfortable and felt very invasive,” Cutler says. Cipriani had developed some video conferencing software, but they junked it and decided on a messaging-based service. Students can upload photos and PDFs, but never do they turn on a camera. “That was very counterintuitive to me, but our engagement went up as a result,” Cutler says.
A portfolio that grows methodically
Live HelpPhilip Cutler and Roberto Cipriani co-found GradeSlam in Montreal. They launch their first product, a free tutoring service called Live Help, in 2015. The company would change its name to Paper in 2020.
Review CenterPaper introduces Review Center, an asynchronous service to help students with their essays. The service is an outgrowth of Live Help and is shaped by feedback from students, who soon began using it not just for class, but also for college essays and resumes.
Paper ChaseWith hundreds of thousands of students using its services, and customers that include major school districts from Atlanta to Boston and Irvine, Cutler and Cipriani begin the process of branching out into new products.
Paper MathPaper Math, the result of a strategic acquisition, launches at the beginning of the 2022 school year, offering daily math challenges tailored to students’ needs.
PaperLiveThe company introduces PaperLive, an interactive, online after-school program, for the 3 million students it serves. Shortly after, it introduces Paper Accepted and Paper Hired, a college and a career prep service, respectively.
Lessons on expanding a product portfolio from Paper
Users know best. Everything at Paper, from its initial tutoring service to a growing portfolio of new products, was developed with input from students.
Dedicated teams. To avoid distracting other groups, Camp Paper, the company’s biggest new product initiative, was developed by a small, dedicated team—a startup within the startup.
The mission is your guide. The goal to close the inequity gap in education acted as a North Star for all of Paper’s new product ideas.
Don’t buck trends; ride them. Young people were most comfortable communicating through text; trying to force video chat on them proved a distraction.
Be patient, iterate and obsess over customer feedback. Paper Live went from video to text; Camp Paper, from summer camp to after-school program, all because that’s what customers wanted.
Building for the long term
Thirteen countries, one culture
How Norwegian robotics maker AutoStore spread its small-town identity across the globe.
Brand new: How a new identity became a unifying force for LTK
A corporate rebrand can be hard and risky; this creator-guided commerce high-flier shows how to do it well.