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The new funds will help the company reach the U.S. and other markets with more social gameplay.
The 3-year-old 99math has a multiplayer math game that teachers use in classrooms around the world. After debuting as a beta tool in 2019, 99math grew into a gaming platform for one million kids, or three times the number it had last year.
Together, students in 99math have solved over 600 million math problems, or three million per day. It turns out one of the tricks to getting children into math is to get them competing with each other in the classroom.
“We have also significantly upgraded our team. The game design thinking is totally a new level. And this is all getting started,” said Tõnis Kusmin, CEO of 99math, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Getting traction helped it landing the funding to boost usage in the classroom and implement monetization.
Proceeds from the current round will be invested in expanding the company’s reach and improving the current product.
“We have an extremely excited fan base, but we are still small in the United States,” he said. “We have a tiny fraction of the 40 million kids. So we are taking the product to more users. And we are improving the classroom experience. We’re already quite good there. And the third mission is building out the full home game.”
The company is focusing on second grade through eighth grade.
Play Ventures led the round, with participation from existing shareholders Flyer One Ventures and Change Ventures.
Courting teachers, monetizing parents
99math is a free tool for teachers and schools to engage students and it works as a platform for game-based math practice.
Starting a game takes less than a minute, and the entire classroom can play at once. Math problems are generated based on a teacher’s choice in a couple of clicks.
Both teachers and parents can track the progress that kids make over time. When children receive negative feedback about their skills, they begin to believe they are not good at it, Kusmin said. Eventually, they try less. The focus for 99math is to design fun games first, Kusmin said.
The game tries to celebrate success and reward the player for progress to motivate the kids to keep at it. So far, key markets include the U.S. and Latin America.
The company lets teachers use the platform for free, but it hopes to make money from parents. Other companies have monetized parent subscriptions as well. That helped the company when it came to fundraising.
An experienced team
Kusmin previously started three different edtech products, including the Tebo platform used by 50% of Estonian teachers. The cofounders include Timo Timmi, who is named in the Transferwise 20 Under 20 entrepreneur list in Europe, and Ain Arend, who built his first content management system in high school and led the tech team at ADM.
The company has 10 people now, spread across Estonia, the rest of Europe, and the U.S. The online education market is expected to reach $580 billion by 2027. It provides a huge opportunity for startups to transform the way they approach teaching and learning.
“We will keep it super lean, and we are working with quite fast shipping and learning cycles,” Kusmin said. “We do a lot of play testing, we spend a lot of time in the U.S. in classrooms.”
“We are very impressed with the 99Math team and how they’ve created a platform that encourages learning by playing,” said Harri Manninen, founding partner at Play Ventures, in a statement. “They have managed not only to make studying mathematics interesting but also to increase the level of involvement of students and their performance! We are supporting the 99math team as they continue to introduce motivational game design into education.”
The company is adding more features. It started with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It has mapped out games for the future from first to sixth grade. Then it hopes to branch out into other kinds of lessons. It’s conceivable that this kind of competitive play could be used for esports, he said.
“There are 40 million students learning math in the U.S. and around one billion worldwide,” said Vital Laptenok, general partner at FlyerOne, in a statement. “The market is huge and definitely needs a tool to keep up with the times and engage students. We are glad to support 99math in their quest to improve the gamified platform and make the learning process more efficient and interesting.”
The startup has recently hired team members – product manager Hanna Talving, an ex-CEO of extremely viral SayAt.me, and Ihor Nikolaiev, an ex-lead game designer and producer on Gardenscapes and several Gameloft titles. The team has been traveling to the U.S. a lot.
“We are learning so much every time we come back. After a couple of days, we have a huge list of improvements,” Kusmin said. “This sounds like this is a process that all startups run. But it’s surprising how many startups are not talking to their users and are not observing their users using the product. I’m very happy that we are really doing this so often.”
Kusmin said the team is improving the classroom multiplayer product a lot and it is also making regular modifications for the home product. Last year, the company piloted its monetization tests for the home game and it was successful.
Despite the fact that math is one of the most important subjects for building a career and future success, it is boring for kids, even hated by them. Student’s poor math skills are a significant problem when applying to college. Therefore, now we are focusing on improving the 99math platfrom further for classroom use, and taking student excitement to the next level.
The company will be adding social features and new game design, allowing children to train specific math skills like a mobile/video game as well as to support the spirit of competition between friends in the app and the desire to win through solving math problems, Kusmin said.
“This is the year when we kind of more focus on building out the whole game or taking it to a whole new level,” Kusmin said.
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