22. September 2014–
For many students, learning math is a source of frustration. Their pleas of “I don’t understand” or “it’s too hard” concern parents. Teachers feel both pressure and helpless on how to cater to math students who might be falling behind.
Maxim Nitsche and his brother Raphael recognized this problem as private math tutors when they were aged 15 and 14, respectively. Maxim attributes its cause to an “educational system that has not changed in 100 years.” He continues by saying, “education is becoming a mass product, but you can’t cater to individuals. It is pretty sad.”
Their solution to the problem is MATH 42, an app that helps students practice and learn math step-by-step. It started more than four years ago in Berlin. Now, at 18 and 19 years old, the brothers believe in their original vision more than ever and are ready for expansion.
On Building a Math App
In 2010, when the first generation iPad was released, Maxim knew he was holding in his hand something that had the potential to revolutionize education. “It was such an intuitive platform…It changes the way we react to content and how we learn,” says Maxim. Together with his brother, Maxim came up with the idea to write a program that would help students learn math.
Easier said than done at the time. Still in school themselves, the Nitsche brothers had neither the experience nor the knowledge to start such a project. According to Maxim, however, they do have a “genius father” who created an incubator environment for them to begin.
The result is an app available in four languages – Chinese and Russian to follow shortly – that allows math learners to enter in an equation or any other problem and see the solution down to every step and sub-step. Maxim counters accusations of having created a “cheater app.” He typically shows parents the build-in math dictionary that is the app’s second most popular function. Together with an assessment center function, the brothers point out that students actually use their app to learn and understand.
In order to stay consistent with the founders’ vision to democratize education, instead of charging for the app, MATH 42’s technology is licensed out to education companies. Having bootstrapped with the support of their father up until now, the Nitsche brothers are now searching for funding.
Not Your Average Entrepreneur
A hard to ignore characteristic of the Nitsche brothers is their young age. I asked Maxim whether or not his age presents a barrier or challenge to doing business in the startup scene. He responded by telling me that many people do not take him seriously initially, however, that attitude quickly disintegrates when he shows them what he has accomplished.
During my short time with Maxim, I learned the depth of his knowledge and ambition. He is close to completing three Bachelor’s degrees in Economics, Mathematics and Philosophy. As for the ideas that he has for more startups, there are plenty. He spoke for his brother as well when he said, “We will never be satisfied. There is always more work and it would be strange to witness the problems we face in today’s society being in a position to address them and ignore them and go on with our lives. Because we have so many ideas, my brother and I have a rule that we don’t talk about a new concepts, unless one of us has worked it through on paper.”
Maxim explained his strong desire to continue solving problems. He adds with a laugh, “I’m a bit crazy. This helps a lot, too.”
Thoughts on Berlin’s Startup Scene
Maxim and his brother moved from Munich to Berlin to start MATH 42 – a trend that I have spotted with a few entrepreneurs in this city. Maxim, however, is far from swooning over the startup ecosystem in Berlin.
“I have a love-hate relationship with the startup scene here,” he says. The MATH 42 founder pointed out his fascination with Rocket Internet and its method for rapidly scaling up companies. One thing that irks him though are the startups that have generated little innovation or impact. He frowns upon the “25-year-old economic students who build up a startup not so much for it to carry an idea or proliferate some form of innovation, but more for the lifestyle aspect of being able to say ‘I founded a startup’.”
“I truly believe that what we do will have an impact,” maintains Maxim. I am sure there are very few people who meet him who would disagree.