Langford Learning Experience: Intro to Stackup

introduction to stackup

Hi everybody, this is David Langford again, for the Langford Learning experience. And today I wanna take you on a little journey and introduce you to the founder and CEO of a company called Stackup. So welcome Nick Garvin.

– Thank you, thank you, David.

– So I ran into Nick a couple of years ago, became so excited about the product that he had created, especially in this whole world of COVID and online learning, it just seemed like the perfect piece. And I got so excited about it that I sort of signed on with the company to become Vice President of Education to help promote Stackup because I think it’s a vital piece in the whole online world that we’re in. So I invited Nick to come on today just to talk about the beginning of Stackup, where did it come from? Because I think that whole idea and the background of that is really great. And then I plan to do several other videos, just talking about what is this product and why is it so great, and why is it so necessary in this online world of learning that we’re working in right now? So Nick, take us back to when you were first even thinking about an idea like this, what was happening with you and what was going on?

– Yeah, thanks David. So at the start of the year, the birth of the idea of Stackup really does take us back quite a few years when I was finishing my formal education and it was time to start looking for a job. And I was very interested in, and always been interested in the automotive industry, everything cars, car technology, car trends, and so on. And so I went to apply for a job at Tesla Motors. And when I went to see how I would be positioned or accepted into, or even looked at as a potential candidate, I realized that all of my qualifications or passions and interests that would make me a good fit for Tesla was all, well, it all happened informally. It wasn’t part of my formal education. I had spent hundreds or maybe thousands of hours on the internet, whereas, you know, maybe started reading magazines, but it quickly transitioned to the digital world. So reading about the latest car manufacturers, the latest technology, Tesla being one of them, I was frustrated that all of this time learning couldn’t be captured, I couldn’t showcase it. I couldn’t put it on a resume. And I couldn’t just tell them, “Hey, I love, and I’m interested, and I’m passionate, “and I’m educated about the automotive technology “and industry world, trust me,” you know? I couldn’t just put that on my resume, just, “Trust me, I’m really interested,” because everyone at least says that they are.

– Yeah, I think we all really identify with that, that we have hobbies, we have interests, all those kinds of things, but if you try to show that to somebody else about what you actually have learned over a period of time, years, months, whatever it might be, it’s impossible to do, so I can identify with that.

– Right, and so we went down this path of, or I started to go down this path of how do we, you know, is there a technology that already does this? I figured there has to be a way, you know, the computer and the device is the most powerful learning device ever made. And with access to the internet, we’re plugged into the biggest library in existence. And since, there has to be a way to capture this, but there really wasn’t. And so we went down and started talking to lots of great minds and started building this technology that is now a patented system that measures real time engaged across the Web. And we do a good job with high accuracy of measuring that engaged time.

– So you had this idea and then you started to talk to some people about how this could work, and then, what, you just started hiring some programmers and start saying, “Hey, let’s make this thing. “We don’t know exactly what it is, “but let’s start making this thing.”

– Yeah, you know, it was really just like chipping away at something. It was, you know, how do you go about doing that? What do you need to do? Are there other technologies that exist that you can borrow pieces of it and parts of it? And you just, it wasn’t one person. It wasn’t, it definitely wasn’t all me, it wasn’t all one particular developer or engineer. It was just a bunch of minds kind of chipping away at this for quite some time, and then we formed this system that has, of course, evolved significantly since we started. And it continues to evolve on a weekly and monthly basis, We push improvements.

– So in any entrepreneurial adventure in where that the entrepreneur is sort of leading this and leading this charge and going through there, you have to have the kind of a single-mindedness about where this is headed and what what we hope to accomplish in the future. What was driving you to really start investing, bringing people together and trying to make this a go? I mean, what was the big drive beyond just documenting?

– Yeah, so the original value proposition, or I guess, business plan, was to successfully quantify all of this learning and time and engaged engagement that we have on the biggest library in existence, the Web, and quantify it into a number or score that could be used to put on your resume, an authenticated number. And so that would be used for job seekers, and on the other side, employers. So it would give Tesla a better look and understanding of, you know, they might get thousands of applications, great, highly educated individuals, but how do they pick out those passionate, interested in truly the best–

– Yeah, so the idea would be like, if I was interested in medicine and I did all this massive study, and then I went to apply for a job in the medical field, I would get a score of what, like 88? And what would that tell somebody?

– Yeah, so we had an overly complicated scoring system that we thought was pretty clever. And so, yeah, I mean, the idea was, and in some ways still is, is that an employer on the other side would be able to make better hiring decisions. And there is an abundance of data that, at the time, this was years ago, about $150 billion annually is just wasted on miss-hiring, on just mismatches. So hiring the wrong person. And passion and interests has become just this really important indicator for good fits. So there’s, you know, rivaling IQ is EQ, emotional quotient, and PQ, passion quotient. And Thomas Friedman even wrote for the “New York Times” many, many years now back that PQ and CQ, curiosity quotient is another one, rival IQ in terms of success in the job and on the job. So we really felt like that was an important component.

– Yeah, so this would be a way that you could document that passion, that there’s really no other way to do that. I know in my teachings, we teach people how to make portfolios in classrooms, and teachers made portfolios. And basically that’s what we were trying to do, is just document all the stuff you’re learning, and here’s this three-ring folder or a folder online, et cetera, and here’s your portfolio. But your idea really sorta leapfrogs it into the 21st Century saying, “Hey, it’s really hard to put that I read an article “in a portfolio,” and make that work.

– Yeah, we were trying to build the credit score for the mind of what you do in the digital world. So, so yeah, kind of fast-forwarding here, we thought it was amazing, and it was amazing. But what we figured out is that employers weren’t going to accept this new credential, being the Stackup score until we had millions, tens of millions of users. And we weren’t going to be able to successfully get millions of users until we had the biggest employers in the world demanding it. So we had, in many ways, a classic chicken or the egg problem. But all while we were doing this and deploying, and very slowly, we did it in many stages to learn, and quickly rebuild, and change the system. We learned that teachers were gravitating to our product more and more. And we always knew there was another vertical, but we weren’t really paying attention to it.

– Tell me a little bit more about that. Why were teachers gravitating to it?

– I think that they saw the obvious applications and maybe were a little bit ahead of employers in their interest of measuring all this informal learning, and engagement, and passion interest that students are doing on their own.

– So you had teachers saying to you, “Hey, can this measure students?

– Yeah, “Can I use this in my classroom?” I mean, we were kind of like, “Yeah, of course, go for it,” but then enough knocks on the door, We said, “You know what, let’s, “in a classic startup pivot, let’s pivot this system, “because it really wasn’t built for K-12.” They’re, you know, we hadn’t paid an overly amount of attention to sharing with individuals within the platform. And obviously, that needs to be extremely locked-down in the K-12 world. And there were certain permissions. We didn’t have like really, a teacher version to oversee students. So we said, “Classic startup pivot, “this could be more compelling, “and add more value.” But what’s neat is it kept everything intact that we had always set out to do. So it wasn’t like a change in our mission or our vision. It was just a change in the look and feel of it to make it just work inside of the paradigm that is K-12. So changed it, you know, increased all of our, our data integrity systems, our privacy policy, built the teacher dashboards, school leader dashboards, and district leader dashboards, and pushed in and moved into K-12. Which I should then probably tell you what that means, right?

– Well, I love these entrepreneurial stories, whether we’re talking about Steve Jobs starting in his garage or Microsoft or whatever beginnings of companies. And I think it also always has a big impact on the DNA of a company, how they, when a company grows and adds new employees, do they align with that story? Are they onboard with that? Do they really see the value in that process? So here you are. You’ve got sort of this online program that will monitor or give you feedback on what you’ve actually studied online. And now you’re getting this idea about K-12. So did you start just to start talking to some teachers and say, “Well, how would you use this in your classroom?” Or, “How would it work?” Or, how did you start making that pivot?

– Yeah, so the core of our technology, which was successfully measuring online reading, learning, and engagement, fit perfectly into K-12. But then it was, how do we keep diving deeper into that and make it even more valuable? And that was things that, features that we built based on interactions with educators, such as being able to measure the reading level of every article, web page and program across the Web. And then we had already categorized the Web, but how do we adjust those categories to be more relevant in K-12? So we started changing our categories. And then this system really evolved to be this learning engagement system. And so now in the K-12 world, we measure all online reading, learning, and engagement in a school or a district. And then with that, another feature that was super important was deployment. How do we make it one-click deployment so every student in the school or district instantly has Stackup? And how do we make it so they don’t have to sign in on their own? Because we know getting 50,000 kids to sign in with their username or password, or even just with a button can be difficult. So we made auto sign in for every student. And so all of those features wrapped in is now the Stackup K-12 learning engagement system, which instantly can be deployed and measure every, every bit of learning and engagement that happens on a school-provided, or a school-provided account device.

– Yeah, I find it ironic that when I first met you, and we started having conversations, and I think I asked you, had you ever been, you’ve never been a teacher or administrator or anything in K-12, yet you were actually doing a Stackup kind of learning, learning about, gee, what causes engagement, and what, you know, how do you improve reading time? And all of a sudden I realized that you were stacking up a massive amount of knowledge that I wish every educator had that same kind of knowledge. Where does interest come from? And how do you know if your students are reading something online and going through that? So I think that’s a fantastic thing, and forms the foundation of why I think Stackup is so successful today in monitoring that student interest.

– Yeah, I never thought of that. It’s a little bit ironic that my education Stackup scores and the hundreds of hours stacked, you know, and it was all going down that path of understanding even just the part of our nation’s crisis in education, that 2/3 of K-12 students don’t read at grade level. And it was said, well, can we help with that? You know, we’re really successful at measuring reading time. Is reading time important? So then it was another dozen or couple dozen hours reading and understanding the research around reading, and finding out that the number one indicator to reading ability and reading success is actually simply time. Of course, comprehension is super important as well, following up with occasional quizzes and tests can be required, but reading time is actually paramount. So stuff like that, but yeah, I do have a Stackup score, but no formal, beside teaching a little, teaching for a few summers, no formal education or hands-on experience in K-12.

– So today, the Stackup program when deployed, you can immediately, you can immediately get insights into, not only what students are interested in. You can understand, are they engaged in what they’re reading? And you can understand exactly how much time they’ve spent in a particular program on time or reading article, is that correct, does that sum it up?

– Yeah, that sums it up. It can be hard to say it in one sentence because who you are, your role in the K-12 environment changes what you do and the value that you gain from Stackup. But we take our core technology, which is measuring online reading, learning, and engagement by reading level, by category, and time spent. And we present those in visualized dashboards to school leaders, or to district leaders like superintendents, to school leaders like principals, teachers, and then even students. Students play a huge part in this, too, of understanding their own digital footprint, and being able to showcase, “Hey, look what I’m doing.” And we’ve always been focused on capturing and showcasing the good. We’re not really interested or focused on, you know, saying here’s bad. Here’s what games were being played on online. It’s really about all of the good in helping, not only find that, which we do have some tools for that, but also showcasing it.

– So I only have a few minutes left in this first segment, and I wanted to kind of zero in on something I find, well, I did, I found it very fascinating when I got introduced to Stackup, because you talked a little bit about, at the beginning, that here we have this World Wide Web, and we have the access now to the biggest library of materials man has ever known. And yet, what are we doing in classrooms? We’re still giving you know, “Read this tomorrow on page 66,” or, “Go to this website and read this article,” but we’re not really unpacking and tapping into everything that the Web has to offer. And so how did you go about sort of tweaking Stackup to tap into that worldwide library? So, what have you done there?

– Yeah, so it’s understandable what you said that is general and standard practice because teachers can’t just unleash students to go read and learn on their own, and then have no accountability. So we kind of check that first box by saying, “Well, no, you can allow students freedom of choice “and allow them to read what they want, “and Stackup will be there for you as the educator “to give you that accountability.” On the other side, students can find stuff that truly interests them. But the internet and the OER, the open educational resources are abundant and enormous. And if you just Google something that you’re interested in, you know, like cars for me, I’m gonna get the closest car dealership. I’m not gonna get the most relevant and interesting article that might be most interesting to me. So a feature that we did add is something called the Stackup Library, where we are curating and pulling in educational articles from all across the Web, from places like to And we’re organizing them by category and subject area and reading level. So we see the library as sort of this launch pad to the biggest library in existence. It’s not, it’s not an infinite library, although there are thousands, I think multiple thousands of articles in it, it’s to introduce students and teachers to these incredible resources that are absolutely free, and are actually infinite or close to it. So, yeah, thanks for asking that.

– Yeah, and my work with schools over the last 30 years, I mean, one of the things I really teach a lot about is the neuroscience and the research behind intrinsic motivation. And one of the things we know for sure to be intrinsically motivated to learn something, you have to have autonomy or some control over what you’re learning. And so as a teacher, if I say, “Go do this,” I instantly am take taking away some intrinsic motivation from that child. But if I can just do a Stackup kind of a challenge for learning and just say, “Hey, you can go read this or go read that,” that’s a little bit of choice and autonomy. But I can even go bigger like you’re saying and say, “Hey, look, go to the library on Stackup. “And I want you to read stuff on aerospace,” or, “I want you to read stuff on entrepreneurship. “And I want you to Stackup at least 30 minutes “of reading time in that area over the next four days “as your challenge to going through that.” Now, as an individual, wow. The world suddenly opened up to me. I mean, as long as I’m in this kind of category, you know, I’m good. And so now I can start choosing, I can start having that autonomy and moving forward. And I think that’s one of the real powerful things.

– And then using the technology to measure engaged time versus asking you to take a quiz right after. I mean, we can all imagine how much we would love reading, if every time we read something, either the news or something that we typically read, and we were asked to take a quiz after, it’s just less enjoyable and pretty clearly less enjoyable.

– But, well you said–

– That, that, what you’re just saying changes teaching significantly. So in the past, the only way I could have, you know, an understanding of did you read something would be to do some kind of comprehension thing, some simple quiz or something like that, that all takes time. But now with Stackup, and we know that reading time is also a strong indicator, not only of improving reading, but improving understanding and comprehension. So if I have some good documentation that you’ve actually read this, I don’t have to spend time on sorta draconian-type tests. And I could spot check that every once in a while and find out, wow, okay, here’s 30 kids. If they actually read this and I could give ’em a test, and I could find out that if they read it, if they stacked up their time on Stackup, I got a 90% accuracy that kids probably understood that article, or they went through that. I don’t have to give the test. And that’s actually improving overall time and function in classrooms.

– Yeah, yeah.

– That’s a breakthrough. So, all right, Nick, we’re gonna stop there today. And I’m going to keep making sort of some series of videos, have you back. And then we’re gonna do some online presentations and demonstrations for people, and really kind of seeing the power of Stackup. But I just wanted to take this time today, just have you tell that story. And I think it’s very fascinating and very important in this time that we’re living in today. So thanks, Nick.

– Thanks David.