Techstars Boston grad Memrise has just announced that they have raised $1 million in venture funding from a very impressive list of investors. Their investors include Avalon Ventures, Balderton Capital, Matt Mullenweg’s Audrey Capital, Lerer Ventures, Nabeel Hyatt, Partner at Spark Capital and former head of Zynga Boston, Jeff Hammerbacher, former head of data at Facebook, and Bill Warner, founder of Avid. The money comes just 8 months after the Techstars program finished.
Memrise was founded by a PhD in neuroscience from Princeton (Greg Detre) and the so called “memory Grandmaster” (Ed Cooke) who taught the journalist Josh Foer to win the US memory championships in a year. These two mind wizards are hoping to bring together science and the practice of learning to help make learning simple and fun. “There’s all this wonderful science of learning and memory that’s never seen the light of day in education” says co-founder Greg Detre “A big part of our mission is to harness that knowledge.”
Most of Memrise’s content is currently aimed at teaching foreign languages and SAT vocabulary, but there are some lighter lessons as well – like cheeses, herbs and tropical fish.
“Memrise wants to change not just the way people learn, but the reason they choose to do so in the first place” says Cooke. “People think of learning instrumentally- as something you do for school or your career. We think that’s boring and counter-productive, and we want to re-invent it as a recreational activity- as something you’d do instead of watching TV, surfing the web or playing World of Warcraft.”
While learning software and tools are nothing new, Memrise hopes to differentiate themselves through mobile usage. Their first mobile app should be ready in about a month or so, I’m told, and a bulk of this new money will go towards building out a mobile team.
Memrise is currently based in both Boston and London. The team first came to Boston for the Techstars program and fell in love with the city and the people. Cofounder Ed Cooke referred to Techstars as “a friend who once saved my life,” over the phone to me yesterday evening. While that is certainly a powerful statement, Cooke, furthered it by stating his company wouldn’t be where they are today without the help of their incredible mentors, especially Bill Warner and Nabeel Hyatt, he said.
Warner and Hyatt gave the Memrise team a new look on what it takes to really build a company – passion and love for the product.
Keep an eye out for Memrise and in the meantime, check out the cheese lesson. It’s badass.