October 30, 2019

1 million educators, students, business users and friends have signed up to Sutori since our inception five years ago.

Thomas Ketchell

Please introduce yourself (name, age, country, job before starting a company) and what you are working on

I’m Thomas Ketchell, the CEO and co-founder of Sutori and have started a new project called Curvo. I’m 31 and currently living in Helsinki, Finland. I’ve been working on Sutori for six years now and love seeing our product used by thousands of teachers and students every day.

Following on from my university studies of History & Chinese, I started my first business which was a pub crawl around Brussels for tourists; thankfully I ended up doing something more worthwhile. That’s when I started Sutori, an educational platform used by over one million educators and students. It’s a collaborative platform and an alternative to Powerpoint or Google Slides. It’s been an exciting journey so far and I can’t wait for the future and continuing to improve our product and offering for schools. I’m also particularly excited about launching our new project Curvo sometime in 2020.

What were you doing before starting a business and why did you decide to start a business?

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and am lucky to have chosen that path from the start. I used to buy and sell arcade machines, fix broken Playstations and then sell them for a profit. I sold my first website when I was 19 and that gave me the confidence that I could create value on the web. After studying, I worked for a little bit in China on different campaigns for environmental companies. I really enjoyed the environment but knew I wanted to run things on my own which lead me to start Sutori with me co-founders.

Describe the process of starting and launching your businesses.

Starting a business is a tough process. As a first time entrepreneur, you end up wearing numerous hats and working across the board. As a non-technical founder, I ended up doing marketing, sales, business development and customer support. As well as making sure the business had enough money in the bank to grow. You don’t have to be an “expert” at any particular field but rather a generalist where you can work on numerous different things at the same time in order for your business to grow. It can be daunting at first but the results make it worthwhile once you have your product in the market.

It’s been advantageous to have two fellow co-founders in building Sutori; our varied skill set has allowed us to really grow the product. One thing that has helped us as a remote team is having a proper structure in place — we worked in short sprints (two weeks) for development projects as well as some long-term plans. This early habit has enabled us to stay disciplined and focused on building out the product in a consistent manner.

We were also fortunate to ride the wave of Google Chromebooks hitting digital classrooms at the right time. Considering we focused on building out a web app (and not native-like most companies were doing at the time), this was a good call — over 70% of our users are on a Chromebook!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Since we started Sutori, we’ve focused on word-of-mouth and organic growth:

  1. Cold outreach by email and Twitter. When we first started out, we had just a beta for teachers and struggled to get those first users. We used a combination of emails and tweets to get the first users to try our product. But once they started using it with their students, our numbers grew exponentially. One teacher brought in around 20 to 25 students, and the numbers kept going up. Those tweets and emails were very casual and we did our best to assure them that we were looking to assist them in their teaching.

  2. Finding EdTech influencers. We started to figure out who were the most influential bloggers in the EdTech space, and we reached out to many of them to ask for a product review. We were fortunate to get some early coverage and a subsequent snowball effect. More users were reviewing and talking about our product. If you scroll down this timeline on Sutori you can see all the blog articles about us in the early days: https://www.sutori.com/press. This definitely helped us a lot and that helped us grow to a few thousand teachers.

  3. Getting listed as a "top tool for timelines. Once we had some initial traction, we were featured in an article that ranked high on Google — it still drives around 100 signups every day to Sutori. This has been a huge factor for growth.

  4. SEO and user-generated content. When you create a timeline on Sutori everything is private by default, but there are some teachers and users who make their work "public" to share with the community. If they do so, the content is indexed by Google. And since we have thousands of original pieces of content, we get a lot of traffic from random searches. We also allow users to "embed" their Sutori presentations on their websites, which then provides backlinks back to Sutori.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re in a fortunate position with Sutori as we’re self-sufficient and continuing to grow our metrics on a monthly basis. We’re hoping to make some improvements to the tool and are looking to translate our platform into multiple languages in order to get a more global reach with Sutori.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One thing we’ve learned the hard way is to make sure to speak to your customers as soon as possible in the process of creating your product. We wasted some valuable time building features that weren’t necessarily improving the experience for teachers and students. When we focused on the core experience and getting a teacher to their “aha” moment through the product journey, we began to see some success and growth. Don’t build anything before speaking to a handful of your core users!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • We use a variety of tools and like many startups, we focus on the cost:
  • Slack (for communication)
  • Crisp (helpdesk and live-chat)
  • AWS (cloud storage)
  • Heroku (back end)
  • Forest Admin (to manage our users)
  • Amplitude (analytics)
  • Slite (note-taking and resource sharing)
  • Buffer (social media posts)

What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

There’s a great community of entrepreneurs on Reddit and IndieHackers. I recommend joining in those conversations and asking for help when you’re starting out.

Advice for professionals who want to get started or are just starting out?

Speak to entrepreneurs and learn from their experiences. They’ll provide you with some great advice and tips!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re looking for some marketing support to grow our business and users across the spectrum. Feel free to reach out to us to learn more about what we’re looking for and what it’s like to work with us.

Where can we go to learn more about you and your business?

Head on over to www.sutori.com and check our “About” page to learn more about our business. Feel free to drop me an email at thomas@sutori.com or else you can find me on Twitter https://twitter.com/tomketch — always happy to talk about EdTech and growing a business in the education market.