Gareth Lisle, founder of Business Up North, recently had the chance to interview James Gupta, one of The North’s most innovative and successful young tech entrepreneurs. James is the brains behind Synap; a fast-growing online education platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help students learn more in less time. Since Synap was launched in 2015, the company has gone from strength to strength and has since attracted crowdfunding worth £200,000 to help the business refine, grow and make new contracts. Synap is based at Leeds University Enterprise and Innovation Centre – we think James Gupta is a fantastic example of a Northern Powerhouse success story as we sure you’ll agree.
How long have you been running Synap, and what does Synap do?
We came up with the idea behind Synap just over two years ago whilst looking for a more engaging way to study for our own university exams. In a nutshell, Synap is an online platform that helps students to learn more in less time. We encourage people to create their own quizzes, share them with friends, and practice them in short, regular bursts. We then use machine learning techniques to identify which areas people are struggling with and use that data to create a personal study routine, tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses.
What or who was the inspiration for the current path you are on?
Synap was really born out of a frustration with the technology currently available to students. We see examples of technology being successfully applied to other aspects of people’s lives, yet EdTech seems to be lagging behind. We’re inspired by what platforms like Fitbit are achieving by applying motivation, gamification and behaviour change principles to exercise – and in our own field of education, there are some examples of great practice with companies like Duolingo, who have created a product that’s making learning fun for millions of people.
One bit of advice you wish you’d been given before you started?
People have been giving me advice for years, and as much as I try to take it onboard at the time, I think that a lot of the time you have to go through a certain experience yourself in order to fully appreciate it.
The one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience?
One thing that I have learnt is to trust your gut feeling. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t deal in facts and figures, but ultimately your gut or instinct is probably what inspired you to start a business in the first place, and it’s the collected wisdom from everything you’ve read, seen and experienced telling you what you should do – you may not be able to articulate or quantify it, but you shouldn’t completely disregard it either.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
It’s all going to be about growth from here! We launched our first premium subscriptions a few months ago and since then have acquired our first 1,000 paying users which has been a real game changer for all of us. Having regular users is amazing, but having some of those users willing to pay for your service really tells you that you’re doing something right. Especially if it’s students who are famously tight!
I believe we’ve now proven our core business model – the next stage for us will be to scale up and start moving into new markets. That’s going to involve us taking on a lot of new hires, building and training a team and increasing our offering to universities and schools, as well as the students themselves.
Your biggest business achievement so far?
Getting our first 1,000 customers. We hit that milestone a couple of weeks ago, and it meant a lot to everyone on the team – we’ve been working on Synap for a number of years but it’s only been a few months since launching our paid content. To get to 1,000 customers is just a great way to validate what we’re doing. Also, my girlfriend bet me that we wouldn’t hit it by Christmas, so I won a quid!
What do you do to relax?
I love music, so I always have something on in the background, play guitar and try to see some live shows and festivals when I can.
Your biggest achievement outside of business?
Finding a partner who puts up with my working hours.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running Synap?
God knows… I’ve tried a bunch of different things in the past from playing in bands (badly) to writing. Ultimately, I’ve always been a huge geek and I’ve always tended to gravitate towards business so, to be honest even in an alternate universe, I’d probably still be running a tech company.
Are you a business personality who is a leader in their field?
Whether through business innovation, growth, business excellence or the impact they’ve had on our region. It’s our aim to get to the bottom of what makes them tick and the secrets of their success, whilst gaining a few insights into their particular area of expertise. We always welcome ideas on who to feature and if you would like to be involved, please contact us at [email protected]