Francesco Polizzi: A Successful Equation to Tutor Students in Math
Hi! I’m Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference in education all around the world! Today’s rockstar is Francesco Polizzi, Head of Product at Photomath. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Welcome Francesco, so fill us in! What challenges are you addressing?
Francesco: Thanks for having me, Spiffy. The inequality that exists, in regards to access to educational resources, is often driven by income, and the COVID-19 epidemic has only made this issue worse. In fact, during the rise of remote learning during the pandemic, 56% of parents reported being unable to help their children with math, with clear disparities between households that can afford to hire a tutor versus those who can't. It's more important now than ever for students to have the tools they need to support learning— both inside and outside of the classroom—regardless of their economic status.
Spiffy: That is absolutely true! So, what motivated you to get involved with Photmath?
Francesco: My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Italy in the 1960s with less than middle-school levels of education. Given that they only spoke Italian, my dad learned English as an elementary school student. He went on to become an elementary school teacher himself, following in my mother's footsteps. So I was raised by two school teachers and learned about the value of education as a means for economic mobility. Of course, there were plenty of classes I hated (including math!) but I always cared about knowing things and was enamored by the internet as a way to learn. It's now my motivation to use the internet to help our next generation find the inspiration that my parents and grandparents have gifted me.
Spiffy: That’s an incredible gift! Can you tell me how you are working at creating a more equitable world?
Francesco: Photomath is mobile-first, making it convenient for students to access, especially during COVID-19 where they have been spending over 50% more time studying. It's also free to use and has been downloaded over 200 million times by students, parents, and teachers throughout the world. In March of 2020, in response to widespread pandemic school closures, Photomath rolled out free access to Photomath Plus (our paid subscription) for the entire months of April and May. Our goal with this initiative was to create a more equitable environment for the unprecedented challenges students faced, especially those unable to afford outside tutoring.
A Photomath user with one of our new features, Animated Tutorials. (Image courtesy of Francesco Polizzi)
Spiffy: It’s amazing how this could help level the playing field. Are there any recent milestones that Photomath has achieved that you could tell me about?
Francesco: Yes, Spiffy! Photomath recently announced two major milestones: a $23 million fundraising round led by Menlo Ventures, and 200 million cumulative app downloads. This fundraising milestone provides a big step forward, and will help us expand the number of math topics covered by Photomath to support our next 200 million users.
Spiffy: I’m curious, have you ever experienced failure? What did you learn?
Francesco: I never enjoyed learning in a traditional classroom setting, especially in high school, and always felt it was something I wasn't good at. If you asked me at the time, I probably would've told you that I didn't like learning very much. In reality, I loved learning, just not about the sorts of things I was supposed to learn at school—I preferred dissecting computers, programming, or building businesses. College offered a new perspective on my education. All that time I spent programming came in handy as I began a computer science degree. My entrepreneurial ventures eventually helped me land an internship on the Firefox team at Mozilla. I learned to embrace failure—it's a part of life and helps us grow.
Spiffy: Well Francesco, I’m so glad you didn’t shy away from failure. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. It’s been an honor!
Francesco Polizzi is Head of Product at Photomath, the #1 education app in the US used by tens of millions of students every month to learn math. He's an alumnus of Dropbox and Mozilla, where he drove millions in incremental revenue through growth experimentation and A/B testing. (Nominated by Pathway Ventures)
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog