by Jennifer Carolan
One of our first investments out of Reach Capital was in a scrappy writing startup spun out of UC Berkeley, founded by English professor Don McQuade and his star student and TA Matthew Ramirez. They set out to solve their own problem: they were drowning in grading papers and didn’t feel as if they were giving adequate feedback to their students.
Yesterday, Chegg announced their acquisition of WriteLab, the AI-driven writing feedback platform. Grounded in a research-based pedagogy, WriteLab relies on machine learning algorithms to provide different categories of advice — grammatical comments, logic, clarity and concision. WriteLab acts as a teacher’s assistant, helping students polish their writing before turning it in. Matthew, who had studied computational linguistics and machine learning, coded the first version and he and Don developed the algorithms that drove the feedback engine.
We’re excited that WriteLab’s technology will be embedded in the Chegg digital services platform which reaches 10 million visitors every month. The WriteLab team is thrilled to be joining Chegg to help them further their work at the intersection of writing and AI.
WriteLab’s novel approach drew a wide range of customers like Pearson, Student Brands, Admitsee, Z-Kai, UC Riverside, and Stanford. We have always believed that the best products are founded by entrepreneurs who understand a pain point deeply and are motivated to solve it. So many companies in the Reach portfolio follow this pattern:
- Gradescope founders Arjun and Sergey were Berkeley TAs set out to automate and enhance the grading process after experiencing first hand how labor intensive and exhausting it could be to grade hundreds of exams
- SchoolMint founders Jinal and Forum had to take days off of work to enroll their children in school and could not get information on school quality
- Epic founders Suren and Kevin wanted a safe place online for their children to find and read books and access other educational content
- Mystery Science co-founder and science teacher Doug Peltz wanted to make engaging, inquiry-based science lessons that elementary teachers with little or no science background could effectively teach
When these founders use technology to solve problems they are intimately familiar with, the result is often a scaled platform that benefits millions of people — especially those who have the most to gain from these solutions. Over 50% of US based WriteLab users are low-income students, and many are English language learners. User data across our portfolio bears this out; our most actively engaged users are isolated and/or under-resourced teachers, low-income students, first generation college-going students and overwhelmed parents.
We are thrilled by the product and team that WriteLab has built in three short years and are humbled by its impact to date. We can’t wait to see the impact the WriteLab team will have in partnership with Chegg.