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Lexel interview with James Gupta CEO of Synap

Lexel interviews CEO and Founder of Synap an educational website and mobile application that helps students improve their test results and directly impacts on their exam results. We talk to James Gupta about why he choose Lexel and the Synap mobile and website application.

Why did you choose Lexel?

We’ve always developed Synap, and its predecessor MyCQs in-house. My co-founder, Omair, and I both have mobile app development experience and working on Synap whilst also using it to study ourselves allowed us to stay very close to the product, and ensure everything was in line with the vision we had for it. However, there are limits to what we can achieve this way, and we’ve been keeping an eye out for a professional development agency that would let us take Synap to the next level, creating a more consistent and intuitive user experience. We turned down a lot of offers, and Lexel came highly recommended. We were impressed by work they’d done for other clients and by how quickly they just ‘got’ the idea behind our product, and since then have been working closely with them to create the next version of Synap.

How was Synap initially started?

We were fed up of the standard way of learning in university: attend lectures in the day then spend your evenings re-reading from a textbook in the hope that some of the information would eventually stick! Omair and I started to use our course material to write questions for each other, and it became a bit of a competition. After a while, we realised that we’d stumbled across something that was actually a very powerful way to learn. When you create questions, you’re consolidating information from different areas of your brain into a more cohesive, reliable form of memory, and by practicing them regularly you’re more likely to remember the information in the future. We developed a basic mobile app and website called MyCQs that let students create, practice and share their own questions, and it ended up getting really popular, amassing 13,000 downloads in just one day despite having no marketing budget! It told us we’d tapped into something very interesting, so we’ve been looking to scale it since then. 

What is Synap?

Synap is a mobile app and website that uses AI algorithms to enhance the way people learn and retain knowledge. The algorithms are based on some fascinating research coming out of fields such as educational psychology and cognitive neuroscience into how the brain actually works - it’s incredible stuff because it shows that the methods we currently use to learn: whether in school, our careers or our hobbies, are incredibly outdated and ineffective. Synap understands how your brain learns better than you do, and it basically acts like a personal trainer that can guide you to learn in a way that delivers the best results.

Specifically, Synap encourages students to create their own quiz questions - which as said above helps massively in re-organising and structuring how information is represented in the brain, and we then send questions out to them at the optimum time for them to re-engage with a particular set of questions. We also let them share their quizzes with the rest of the Synap community, adding in a much-needed social element into an activity that is usually very isolated! 

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a medical student at Leeds University, and I’ve always been fascinated by technology and enterprise. I started building websites as a teenager, and have maintained an interest in programming since then. Last year I worked as the Chief Technical Officer for a student-focused taxi sharing platform called JumpIn with two other Leeds students. We grew JumpIn to 5 major UK cities before being acquired by Addison-Lee. It was a really incredible year and it threw me in to the fast-moving ‘tech startup’ scene. After exiting JumpIn, it wasn’t long until I started looking to fill the time I suddenly had with a new project, and that’s Synap! 

What are your day to day responsibilities?

It varies from week to week, and that’s why I love it! Now that we’re building a team around Synap, I’m starting to give control of various aspects of the business to people who are more experienced in specific areas - this is why, for example, I forced myself to step back from development and let the expert team at Lexel handle it, whilst also maintaining oversight and input into the process.

We’ve been preparing for our Crowdfunding campaign for the last few months and that’s been the major focus of my time recently: there’s a lot of work involved in getting the business plan and financials ready, meeting with potential investors and producing a pitch video. We’ve actually launched the campaign now, so my main focus for the next month is going to be making sure we hit our investment target of £180,000. 

What advice could you give other people in a similar situation to yourself with an app idea?

Make sure that your idea is actually going to add value before you invest your time and money into it! The app ecosystem is booming at the moment, and its great how they’ve inspired a whole generation of people to engage with technology and enterprise, but there’s a lot of apps out there which are just gimmicks really, and whilst they might get an initial surge of interest, something will only be successful if people will really use it regularly. Consider your competition, and remember that doesn’t just include other apps. For example, when developing JumpIn, our biggest competitor by far was people phoning a taxi. For us to have any chance of success, we had to be at least as easy as that and to offer something extra. Synap also has competitors in terms of apps and websites, but our biggest competitor are the ‘ineffective and outdated’ study methods I mentioned earlier. 

How do you see Synap helping students?

It lets them learn more in less time. Not only that, but the knowledge they’re building using Synap is much more robust - it’s not simply a textbook paragraph they’ve memorised, it’s information they’ve quizzed themselves on and attacked from multiple angles, meaning they can recall it more reliably in the future. Finally, it’s just more fun too! ‘Studying’ for most students means locking yourself in your room or a dark university library all evening and staring at a book or powerpoint presentation. With Synap, you’re actively engaged in the process, and you can do it in short blocks throughout the day whilst also competing with your friends. 

What are your plans for Synap? Where do you see it in 3 years?

Right now, we’re looking for £180,000 investment through our crowdfunding campaign. Once we secure that, we’re using the money to complete development on the mobile app and website, and to launch a national marketing campaign to put Synap in the public eye.

We see a huge potential for Synap - we’re initially focusing on university students but have had interest from corporate training companies, airline pilots, professionals in various fields and school students - so we think it’s got a great growth potential over the next few years. I’d like to see us as a dominant player in the personalised learning space, building on the algorithms and community we already have to create the best personalised learning experience in the world!

You can reach James on Twitter @gupta_james, or by email at james@synap.ac

For more information on Synap, you can visit their website at http://synap.ac, and if you might be interested in investing, their campaign page is at http://crowdcube.com/synap - you could become a shareholder in this exciting business for just £10!