I attended LaunchX at MIT during the summer of 2019, and I am so excited to announce the launch of Mentorite!
Mentorite is revolutionizing high school peer tutor programs by providing a platform for students to get course help from student mentors at their school.
First, students create an account and wait for approval by a teacher. Each school has its own ecosystem, meaning students can only communicate with others at their school. Once students are approved, they can request help in any subject, browse offers to mentor from approved mentors, and directly reach out to mentors. Students who would like to mentor can fill out an additional application and get approval from a faculty member. Mentorite allows students to set up one-on-one mentoring sessions with in-app private messaging and stay in touch easily. They are in charge of how often they want to schedule sessions and are free to schedule as many or as few as they would like.
Mentorite is in pilot launch at Princeton Day School and is expected to go live in the Fall of 2020, and a demo is available for immediate use. Visit https://www.student-mentor.com/ to experience the platform as a student at Student Mentor Demo School.
How It Got Started
I came up with the idea for Mentorite two months ago when my younger brother, Arshaan, asked me for help with his geometry proof. I am a STEM mentor for my school and help younger students with computer science, algebra, and chemistry, so I was able to help him. However, the mentoring programs have completely fallen apart since the transition to online schooling. What about Arshaan’s friends without older siblings, and the students whom I used to mentor before the pandemic? Going from seeing six teachers every day to seeing zero was a shock to the system, and all of us were scrambling to make up for the lost resources and guidance.
Like Arshaan and me, I realized a ton of students must be struggling with their classes, but there was no way for him or the millions of kids around the country to get structured mentoring help from a student at their own school.
The infrastructure simply did not exist.
Coincidentally, I was signed up for The Global Hack that weekend, an international online hackathon. Over the course of three days (and nights), I worked with my team to build the bare bones of today’s Mentorite. I got amazing feedback from the judges and mentors, and one mentor suggested I launch Mentorite at my school.
Thanks to LaunchX, I had the confidence to reply, “Let’s do it.”
My first step was meeting with our dean of students to pitch the platform. She told me that she liked the idea but wasn’t sure if there was demonstrated need.
I had already seen what happened with my brother, and I set out to prove more demonstrated need. I texted my friends asking if they would be interested in school-exclusive mentoring opportunities, researched existing solutions, and ran a twitter poll asking educators if they need a product like Mentorite. 66% yes to 33% no.
Growing the Program
I then reached out to the three faculty advisors of my STEM mentoring program, SiMS. Within SiMS, I got one tentative yes and two nos. To be honest, I had no clue why they rejected Mentorite, and I was gutted. But the tentative yes was more than enough, and I asked them for insight. Over dozens of emails and zoom calls, those two teachers expressed concerns that I had not previously considered, such as the security of student data or mediating when tutor sessions go awry. They had much more experience in the industry than I did, so I realized I had to listen and adjust my platform to fit their needs.
After a couple of weeks of discussion and compromise, SiMS was on board. I then reached out to the humanities and language mentoring programs with the feedback and support of SiMS, and they agreed to join.
The next couple of weeks consisted of designing, debugging, tutorial-making, explaining, convincing, and more pitching. I ran all of the faculty advisors through the platform, worked out kinks with the tech department, and discussed with the head of school.
Finally, we prepared for pilot launch. The teachers and current mentors registered on the site, and we were live.
Mentorite is prepared for a full launch at PDS next year, and I’ve talked to four other schools who are interested in the platform for the 20-21 school year. If you want to join the team or bring Mentorite to your school, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
A couple of weeks ago, one of my teachers told me that he was proud of my grit and flexibility in revamping student-mentoring at PDS. Those two months were an incredible roller coaster, much like my time at LaunchX. The program gave me a structured path towards creating a startup, and I gained the confidence to work with customers and launch a real product. Here are my tips from LaunchX that kept me going as I built Mentorite that EVERY founder must know.
Tips for Founders
Let your market drive the direction of the product. As founders, we tend to get attached to our vision. I had to let go of some parts of my vision to find a solution that worked for my audience.
Learn to handle criticism gracefully. Listen to what people have to say, oftentimes they have insight that you don’t. The LaunchX mock board members taught me the importance of receiving criticism well, as they left no stone unturned. Something that I learned at Launch is to look past the criticism and analyze the underlying message. It is the most valuable feedback you can get.
Have your pitch straight - then keep refining it. You’ll learn so much about your target audience just by talking to them, and it will be easier to convince others if your message is laser-focused.
Don’t get discouraged at the first, second, or third no. Nos are inevitable - the definition of innovating is disrupting the status quo! At LaunchX and with Mentorite, I got lots of nos. Cherish the yesses and learn from the nos. You are swimming against the tide as an entrepreneur, and it takes time, effort, and persistence to get people to warm up to a new way of doing things.
Find advocates and supporters early on. In my case, it was my SiMS faculty advisors. Having them on my side made it easier to talk to the administration and branch out.