May 11, 2017
SimpMe Uses Analogies to Help Students Learn

Have you ever struggled to understand a complex concept?

Jordan Perry was in that position in 2013 while interning at John Hancock. Early on that summer, Perry was handed a list of financial terms and investment concepts to learn. Many of the terms circulated around the idea of a portfolio of investments.

Jordan Perry, Founder of SimpMe
Jordan Perry, Founder of SimpMe

Perry equated it to an NFL general manager’s mission on draft day. Just as people investing in stocks and bonds are seeking different returns, GMs draft different kinds of players to generate the maximum amount of return for their team. It was one of several analogies Perry created as he waded into the highly technical, acronym-laden world of financial services.

“As a kid, I’d always try to find different ways to explain things to myself or my friends,” Perry says. “It was just about simplifying things and making learning easier.”

The studying method must have worked: John Hancock offered Perry a full-time job after he graduated Villanova University in 2015.

However, Perry’s studying technique sparked more than just a successful summer internship. Nearly four years later, Perry is set to bring analogy-based studying to the masses with SimpMe.

“I’m trying to empower people to understand tough concepts,” Perry says. “It’s about opening their minds so they can improve themselves.”

SimpMe is a database of analogies based on popular interests designed to help explain complicated terms. The company’s launch this week is the culmination of years of work since that fateful summer at John Hancock.

After returning to school for his senior year at Villanova, Perry made it to the final round of a campus-wide entrepreneur competition pitching SimpMe with a group of classmates.

“In Villanova I had the rough idea for SimpMe, so the competition was a way to see what people thought of it,” Perry says. “We had a barebones website, and so it helped me test the market and practice the pitch.”

Following the competition, Perry returned to his high school, St. Sebastian’s in Needham, to pitch the idea to the finance academy in front of students. Some teachers liked the idea so much they gave students extra credit to contribute to the site.

Now that the site is live, Perry is focused on creating a buzz around SimpMe to attract learners and contributors alike.

He has also been studying crowd-sourced sites like Quora, Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary to explore different ways of incentivizing people to submit analogies.

“I’ll be implementing some sort of badging or ranking system on the site,” Perry says. “It can’t be a chore, it has to be something that people want to join.”

So far, the website has a feed called SimpList that shows some of the most recent analogies posted. The most popular analogies are also featured on the homepage, although the five star rating system and comments section are still being worked on.

“There’s a dropdown menu that lets you sort by type of analogy, but I didn’t want too much filtering,” Perry says. “That might confuse people, and at first I think easy navigation is crucial.”

Perry reviews all submissions before posting the strong ones in the SimpMe format.

“It’s just me working on this right now, although I’ve gotten a lot of help from my network and my family,” Perry says. “I work on SimpMe pretty much every day, even weekends. It’s a crowd-sourced website but I’ve been putting in the work getting ready for launch.”

Now that the launch is complete, Perry hopes to establish a loyal following that helps him refine the service. He says he’s heard from teachers and professors interested in helping SimpMe evolve.

“The goal of the launch is to see how it will be used,” Perry explains. “I think it can be beneficial in a lot of areas. After I work with more people in the educational field I’ll have a better idea of how to expand.”

Perry believes the most immediate path to scaling is a partnership with an established company. There are many non-profit educational organizations in the area that work to provide academic assistance to underprivileged students.

Platforms like Blackboard Learn and McGraw-Hill Connect are also always looking to differentiate themselves with new add-ons, although Perry admits SimpMe is not quite robust enough to garner any serious interest yet.

“First, I want to get SimpMe in a number of Boston-area schools,” Perry says. “It’s like wildfire: Once one teacher starts using it and it works others will, and then it will spread to neighboring schools.”

It’ll be like when advanced statistics started helping one baseball team, so all the teams in the league started using it.

“Learning is most fun when you’re able to connect what you’re learning to other things, that’s the bigger goal,” Perry says. “It’s not just about analogies, but about exploring different ways to define how people think and learn in education.”

Zach Winn is a contributor to VentureFizz. Follow Zach on Twitter: @ZachinBoston.

Images courtesy of SimpMe.