How I went from a college dorm brainstorm to leading edtech

Have you ever sat in a shared college dorm kitchen space with your roommate and decided to start a business?

I should be clear here: We didn’t really decide to start a business; it was more of a project to create a tool that we could use while studying in school.

Born out of our own frustrations with gathering the right study materials to prepare for exams, Jacques Huppes and I started jotting down what the ideal platform for easily sharing resources like study guides and class notes with other students would look like. We knew we needed to create a simple interface to get started, which was shortly followed by the tedious process of manually uploading hundreds of documents we had gathered from our own previous exam prep and from other friends at the university.

After just three weeks, our idea began to blossom, with friends from other universities asking if we could build the platform to share their school’s study resources as well. We simply asked for their documents and started to subdivide the content based on university. Our company, StuDocu, was officially born and expanding faster than we ever could have imagined.

Our first investment was a USB hard drive, which traveled with us from dorm to dorm — we’d knock on doors to share our story with as many students as possible. We’d use the hard drive to plug into their laptops, copy their files and upload them to the StuDocu website that evening.

While more and more students are now going digital, in 2010 we’d often encounter students with handwritten or printed notes, which we’d collect and carry back on the train ride to Delft to scan and upload in the library. For the first three years, we worked from our dorm rooms in Delft before moving to Amsterdam to grow our business.

We have introduced many iterations of the platform based on feedback and data. In the beginning, we worked based on what we thought was needed, using our own frustration with studying as the guide for how the platform should evolve. One of our other co-founders, Lucas van den Houten, introduced the idea of measuring data we gathered from users via Mixpanel, and from there we were able to give the platform new life. Suddenly, data was telling us where to grow and where to improve. Over the years, we have developed many features and continue to run A/B tests based on the hard data now available to us.

Building a website is a lot of work, but for us, each update had a direct correlation to the increasing uploads and student engagement we set out to achieve. To see those small successes day after day was reassuring.