Nikki is the Co-Founder and Director of ‘Mark It!!’: a self-made, instantly trending business responsible for a nifty new Maths app that helps students “master A Level questions” to get them exam success. “We believe that testing students is pointless without the appropriate feedback” she told us. “It has got to be relevant and immediate. ‘MarkIt!!’ can be used on the go, and explains mistakes instantly so students can fix exactly what they get wrong. That’s why it is so effective.” With the likes of leading teaching bodies and corporates behind them, including UCL, London Business School and the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship – the latter of which dubbed them Winner of most impactful business idea, and granted them the Founder Award in November 2015 - the experts seem to agree. But, as Nikki explained, her notability has not been borne of some calculating, clinical strategy. Rather, a deep and genuine desire to help others navigate through life: “I grew up in three different countries, so I moved schools a lot,” she continued. “Maths lessons seemed to have been the constant through a sea of change. Maths was a universal language, and was what kept me afloat. Adapting to different school systems was a struggle I learnt to overcome. This helped me connect with struggling students later when I moved into private tutoring. I knew well what they were going through. ”
Indeed, what makes the ‘Mark It!!’ app so unique are the helpful little nuances which speak at a human level. These include giving hints as to why a student might have a gotten a question wrong, as opposed to just feeding them the answer, and allowing sixth-form teachers to track their classes’ progress, without the onerous wad of paper marking. “I carried on teaching on the side throughout university to eventually build this hobby into an obsession. By trial and error, I taught myself how to completely turn around any students’ grades. The leap to technology was quite organic: I wanted to help more people and I found it to be the best medium!” A sense of empathy hard-wired into her product, Nikki not only shows the accessibility of division signs and numbers, but the way to investing in yourself.
Tell us a bit more about your wonder app please?
It is as if students have a teacher sitting by them: we can help identify exactly where a student has gone wrong within the long exam questions. Any maths student in the country can do at least an hour’s worth of revision for free, and the rest of the content can be accessed for a charge.
How exactly did you and co-partner Charles Dupont work together to develop ‘Mark It!!’?
Charles and I met at UCL and chose very different career paths. He went to work for a start-up and I went down the finance route. I left KPMG to pursue education at around the same time that Charles’ SME got bought out by Google. By now, we had been close friends for 8 years and knew our passions. I took charge of creating and editing the content and he managed the technology and business operations.
Do you feel that maths is encouraged enough at schools?
Being encouraged to do well at Maths is different from encouraging Mathematical thinking. The latter is lacking. School encouraged me to get the answers right, but the real joy of Maths is in the ‘confusion’ in getting TO the answer. The composing of clear logical arguments to solve problems is where the magic happens. Students today undervalue this process and consider not knowing immediately what to do as a weakness.
Did you have to have good business acumen, or was having a pure passion for the subject enough?
I never thought I would be an entrepreneur; I had to be one to do what I love. When I do make decisions that require acumen, I find myself having to work backwards from the desired end goal. It’s a very natural sort of process. Having a tech-savvy Cofounder to check plans and grow alongside with is also a big help!
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
My comfort zone consisted of tutoring and reporting to parents. In the last two years, I have had to learn and deliver on pitching, sales, marketing, business planning and product management. Each of these was scary, but they were all worth doing. When you work on something you love, problems feel like they already come with solutions; you just have to find the right one. Challenges are an impetus to keep you going, never a reason to give up.
You said that Simon Sinek’s TED talk on ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’ really resonated with you; please elaborate?
The crux of the talk was: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. My motivation to help students with difficult subjects and my belief in every student’s ability is what drives me. That I do this via an app is just a small detail of the much bigger picture.
Where would you like to take ‘Mark It!!’ in the future?
We want a future where the number of students in a class makes zero difference to the level of help each person gets.
Finally, what would be your motto for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Do it because you want to solve a problem you have experienced, in a field that gets you out of bed! Entrepreneurship in itself, is not a goal.