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How A Teacher Turned To Technology To Solve A Thorny Problem And Raised $100K

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The clincher, the thing that made Quick Key go viral, was a poorly-lit video of an excitable guy holding his iPhone up to a Scantron page, one of those test pages you used to fill out in school. He thumbs through page after page, making comments on students’ performance as the app scans the page and instantly reports a grade. The video was amazingly compelling. The creator, Walter O. Duncan IV, can barely contain his excitement. His app looked great, it worked seamlessly, and the video struck a nerve with students and teachers, pocketing 260,000 views on YouTube and popping up on the front page of Reddit.

This, my friends, is how you do a viral video.

Duncan’s company is called Design by Educators, Inc and has raised over $99,500 to build the app and begin bringing on beta testers. The other co-founders are Isaac D. Van Wesep, and Marlon Davis.

“We worked hard to build an amazing prototype. But now we need real teachers to beta test Quick Key. My goal was to recruit 100 teachers with the video. As of tonight, over 1,000 people have signed up to learn about beta testing,” said Duncan.

A 13-year veteran school teacher, Duncan knows how to reach a crowd. He’s worked in inner-city districts in Detroit, DC, LA, and Brooklyn. He’s also host of a Facebook group called Teacher’s Round Table and is still a full-time teacher in Cambridge, Mass. His co-founders, Davis and Van Wesep, are also experience educators and entrepreneurs.

“We do not have customers as we are pre-beta but the video did drive over 10,000 visitors to our site in 48 hours,” said Van Wesep. “Our company is the only one making a product like Quick Key with real working K-12 teachers on the founding team. Since teachers designed Quick Key, it actually works for teachers, instead of making work for teachers.”

The product’s origin story began in 2007 when Duncan began giving his students “exit tickets,” short quizzes on the knowledge learned that day. This helped the teachers know what the students retained and, more importantly, what they’d have to cover again the next day.

“But there was a cost: grading of the exit tickets was done by hand, and all results had to be entered into the school’s central digital electronic grade book, or school management system,” said Van Wesep. “With some 90 students in his care, Walter was spending nearly two hours a night, just grading the exit tickets, and transcribing the results. It was mind-numbing.”

The solution came to him in 2011 when he realized the easiest way to scan these tickets was with a hand-held device – his phone. Thus Quick Key was born.

“If teachers make the best assessments, and the best lesson plans, and the best teaching materials, won’t they make the best software too? the response to Quick Key is bearing out that theory,” he said.

The app is still in early beta but a number teachers have already signed up to try it and they’re working on improving it for general use. It’s rare to see an app go so viral so quickly and it’s a testament to the dedication of a group of teachers and entrepreneurs that they’ve been able to go from zero to viral in a few short hours.