LOU’s Interactive Tutorials Make Learning Complex Platforms A Breeze
Last month, LogMeIn hosted the MIT Enterprise Forum Beantown Throwdown, an annual pitch competition with student-led tech startups from several of Boston’s most prominent colleges. From MIT to Harvard to schools like Berklee and College of the Holy Cross.
The final pitch came from the Babson representative; LOU, learning software designed to teach anyone complex web platforms through direct lessons. Pitching at the event was LOU’s Co-Founder and CEO Rachel Pardue, a former President of Babson’s E-Tower. During her pitch, Pardue went into detail on how LOU is running a pilot with QuickBooks.
To top off the night, LOU ended up taking the first prize for the pitch competition.
We spoke with Pardue and her Co-Founder Kyle Lawson to learn more about the startup’s connection to Babson and how LOU has started helping enterprise companies. Pardue also shared the personal story behind the startup was founded and how it connects to the name.
Colin Barry [CB]: Every startup has a story to tell. What is the story behind LOU?
Rachel Pardue [RP]: I’m from rural Louisiana, and I am always teaching my grandparents how to use their computer. In the last 10 years or so, everything they have had to do is online. Whether its banking or paying a bill or even Facebook.
One day they asked me how to wish my Aunt Lou ‘Happy Birthday’ on Facebook. So, I did what I had done a million times before; I stood over their shoulder, pointed to every button they need to press, and described each step of the workflow. And as I was doing this, that’s when it clicked that this is how they learn how complete workflows best. I started watching how my friends taught each other how to use web platforms, and a lot of it was very similar.
So, I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a software assistant that could do this for you.
Fast forward to this year, Kyle and I had just finished our tenure at Babson’s E-Tower as Vice President and President respectively. I came to him with this idea, and he said, “Yeah, we can totally build something like that.”
Kyle Lawson [KL]: We were in San Francisco at the time in a class called Silicon Valley Tech Ventures, which is supposed to take you through the design thinking process of an idea and then come out with an MVP by the end of the class. That was when we started to work on it and take a few steps further.
Rachel Pardue [RP]: Throughout the semester, we would have people come in and listen to pitches from the class. There were some early-stage VCs who attended and were interested in us at the time. One of the mentors we were partnered up with at the time helped us put together a launch party for us in San Francisco. It was cool because it happened all within this class at Babson.
CB: How does the software work ?
KL: LOU is essentially a layer on top of a web platform that will highlight all the required steps to complete a task. It works as a tutorial, as LOU will walk you step-by-step, but it’s interactive because it will literally highlight the buttons that a person needs to click on next, so they can learn while they actually complete their work.
RP: We wanted to focus on creating the best user experience possible. We want LOU to feel like someone is standing over your shoulder and guiding you through the process and what that means is that we have chosen to sell LOU directly to web platform companies.
On the enterprise side, we have created the LOU Builder which allows enterprise companies to build these interactive tutorials within seconds without any coding required. We wanted to put the power of interactive tutorials in the hands of customer success teams. Historically speaking, when it comes to interactive tutorials for a company, the engineering team puts it together in a lengthy process.
With LOU, we can sell directly to the company and then anyone can create them, which is essential because, as we’ve learned from working with them, some of these companies undergo updates almost weekly. So, if you have an interactive tutorial already put in place, it can create all kinds of issues. LOU will notify a company if an update has taken place.
On the user side of things, that means the user does not have to undergo any installation process. If a company has already purchased LOU and has gone through the updates and they can access it. There is a button on the overlay that says, “Need Help?” and the user can type in a question. Once it produces a result, then the interactive tutorial will begin.
CB: Was the plan to always go after the enterprise market?
RP: Our original thought was, ‘Well, we’re a couple of students, no enterprise is going to take us seriously. So, let’s think about the end user.’ What Kyle and I did was we took a few HubSpot classes online and started selling LOU to HubSpot users. It was titled 10 Steps to Onboard a HubSpotter which in turn, helped us get featured in Product Hunt where we found that people love interactive tutorials. HubSpot ended up reaching out to us. That’s when we figured out that companies themselves would want something like this.
KL: From our Product Hunt feature, we got a lot of feedback from smaller startups. We did toss the idea around on whether or not to focus on early-stage companies but quickly realized that a lot of these startups are still too small and have much higher priorities than to be requiring software to help onboard customers. So we did try to go after the smaller market, but we were eventually pushed towards the larger companies.
CB: Congrats on winning the Beantown Throwdown! Pitching is one of the more challenging parts of the startup life. What is some advice you can give students who are looking to pitch at events like that one?
RP: I always try and pitch in front of as many people as possible weeks before the event. I think if you try to make changes in the last 48 hours, you’re just going to stress yourself out. So, pitch in front of your mentors first, receive the feedback, and then two days before your pitch, just lock it down.
Also, have fun! Pitching is such an incredible experience because you’re finally getting a chance to showcase what you’ve done.
KL: I’m not the one who usually pitches, but taking in a different perspective I think design can go a lot farther than you’d expect. Little things like having too many words on a slide and having distracting graphics can really take away from someone who’s pitching a great pitch. Making sure to run the pitch deck by a group of people is always a good idea.
CB: LOU is part of the student entrepreneurship space at Babson. Did either of you think you’d ever be involved with startups, or more specifically, tech startups while attending the college?
KL: Personally, I’ve tried to be involved with startups in any capacity that I can be. Freshman year, I had an idea for a company, but I wasn’t too serious about it. In my sophomore year, I ended up working with a friend, who I met in E-Tower, to work on another company. Last summer, I participated in the Summer Venture Program and I’ve been trying to cash-in any experiences since then.
RP: For me, entrepreneurship is the whole reason why I went to Babson. During my senior year of high school, I was in a business accelerator at Louisiana Tech University and that was my first exposure; I was working at this startup for handheld translation devices and I fell in love with technology entrepreneurship.
I discovered Babson and was offered the CWEL scholarship, which I had to travel to the campus in order to interview for it. When I arrived, the first people I met were in E-Tower and I soon connected with other students living there. I was surrounded by this incredible energy. So, I lived in there, ended up becoming president for a year and just immersed myself in the student startup ecosystem at Babson.
CB: You don’t see a lot of tech startups with a person’s name. How did the company come up with the name LOU?
RP: When the Silicon Valley Tech Ventures class started, you had to pitch a storyboard. Instead of pitching an idea, you pitch a problem.
When I got in front of the class, I told them the scenario about my grandparents trying to wish my Aunt Lou a Happy Birthday on Facebook. Once the presentation was done, it was up to the class to vote if the problem was a solvable one, but the professor asked them, “What should we call it?” and the whole class responded with, “LOU!” and it stuck.
KL: I think it works pretty well, because we’re trying to be a virtual assistant and having a personable name to go along with it is great.
Photos courtesy of LOU