Table of Contents
An exclusive Interview with Rami Akily, Co-Founder of YouMakr, sheds light on the remarkable business journey.
Rami Akily is a man of many talents but just one real passion – inventing new things.
Akily, the co-founder of the EdTech AI start-up YouMakr, says his career as a boffin started early.
“I spent my childhood inventing things. Practically all my toys as a child were ones I invented.”
He has never lost his childlike enthusiasm for dreaming up new inventions. But that doesn’t mean he’s a head-in-the-clouds type of inventor, knocking up fanciful designs in his garden shed that never find a market.
First as a designer of electric bicycles and most recently as the builder of an AI-powered EdTech platform, Akily has always found to monetise his inventions.
He has reinvented himself several times, too. Iraqi by birth, Akily spent his formative years living under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The outbreak of the first Gulf War meant his family was forced to flee the country and build a new life in Sweden.
“I went through a lot of challenges as a student in Sweden. I didn’t speak Swedish and I struggled with school assignments.”
He eventually mastered Swedish and learned a couple of other important life lessons along the way. Perhaps most importantly, as a refugee, he learned to look at things from an outsider’s point of view.
His empathetic outlook has served him well and is the main driver behind his ambition to address some of the failings in the way we educate our young people, especially those who find themselves at some sort of disadvantage.
“I am always on the side of the underdog. I want to help those students who are struggling not because they’re not smart or not working hard but maybe because they’re a refugee.”
Akily spoke exclusively to LBN about his early days as an inventor, his pivot into AI and EdTech and how his commitment to revolutionising the way children learn helped YouMakr secure $500K recently.
The Early Days of YouMakr
YouMakr is the brainchild of Akily and his business partner, Abbas Moledina.
The pair first met, fittingly for future EdTech entrepreneurs, in a London library.
“We have very diverse skills, but we complement each other so well. I focus on the vision for the product and have the technical skills to realise that vision. Abbas is the face of the company. He is an incredible salesperson, and he knows how to do PR.”
Their vision for the first version of YouMakr was a very different one from the AI-driven platform it is today.
It was a collaborative tool that sought to put inventors in contact with the engineers who could help them bring their designs to life.
“We wanted to help inventors who may have a great idea but didn’t have the technical skills to bring it to fruition to connect with engineers who might help them realise their inventions, collaborate and build and share experiences.”
Akily says he became too emotionally involved with this first version of YouMakr and ‘romanticised’ his vision to the point that he persisted with it even when it was evident it wasn’t working.
“We found that inventors are naturally paranoid, and they simply would not share their ideas via the platform because they feared it might be stolen by another person. We tried to introduce NDAs on the platform, but it wasn’t enough.”
Rise & Fall of YouMakr with the Emergence of ChatGPT
He did, however, find one group of people receptive to his idea – final-year undergraduate students who were looking to build a prototype for their third-year projects.
Not only that, but they also wanted help writing up the report on their prototypes that they could submit to their tutors.
“This was a different direction from what we had envisaged, but we go where the users go and if there’s a need in the market, we try to cater for it. So, we started thinking about how we might help students write their project reports.
“We asked ourselves: ‘Shall we bring in writers on the platform instead of engineers? What do we do? Is it even ethical to have someone else write your report for you?’”
This was during the early days of AI, which was still a bit of a niche field and largely confined to academia. But it was starting to gain some traction in business and Akily spotted an opportunity to use the technology to give students what they were asking for.
He quickly pivoted YouMakr to become a text-based generative AI platform, one that students could use to produce their reports with a few simple inputs.
It didn’t take long for the new product to take on a life of its own.
“The use case had such a good product market fit that we grew to 100,000 users in just a few months. We were on a real high.”
The company pursued an aggressive growth strategy on the back of its initial success, but they were eventually outflanked by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the free-to-use chatbot that responds in a human-like way to user inputs.
“We started losing all our users to ChatGPT– it’s free, easy to use, and open to everybody. It was the fastest-growing app in the world and was in our backyard.”
“It was a disaster for us, but it forced us to think outside the box and it needed a wake-up call like ChatGPT for us to rethink our product.”
YouMakr Reborn with an AI Exam Tool
Akily realised that ChatGPT wasn’t going away, but neither was the technology that made it possible.
Large language models and machine learning, he says, represent a paradigm shift in computing, one that holds the unlimited potential to transform all aspects of business and industry.
“If you can get machines to talk like humans you are essentially changing the world and tech as we know it. For the first time ever you are making machines understand humans rather than the other way round.”
In YouMakr’s case, AI has allowed the company to go deeper into the edutech field and come up with something more niche, something that leverages the power of AI to provide students with a personalised learning experience.
“We have developed something more beneficial to students, and we wouldn’t have done it if we weren’t faced with the reality that ChatGPT had come along and taken our business.”
It’s perhaps surprising, given the chastening experience the company had with ChatGPT, that Akily says startups shouldn’t fear competition.
“My advice to would-be startups is don’t worry about competition – worry about your users instead. It’s very rare for startups to be killed by a competitor.”
“Ask yourself if you are solving a problem for them and be ready to pivot and change your idea. If you serve your users, everything else will fall into place.”
The latest version of YouMarkr is still a work in progress, he says, but most of the heavy lifting has been done and it just remains to put the final piece of the jigsaw in place, an AI tool that drills students with predicted exam questions.
“We have built 80% of it and are currently testing it among a select group of students with early access and they are blown away by it.”
The testing stage has involved rolling out the new tool to around 20 handpicked users, one of whom, Akily’s daughter, used the platform extensively when she was preparing to sit her school exams recently.
“She has just received her GCSEs and she nailed her core subjects,” he says proudly.
Akily says the question prediction algorithm has been built around the idea that drilling students on subjects and topics is the most effective way of ensuring they retain the information they study.
Many students fall into the trap of mistaking recognition for recall, he says, but the two are fundamentally different. Only the latter will equip you with the knowledge they need to ace exams.
“Recognition is very dangerous – it plays tricks on you because you’ve recognised the material but, on the exam, what matters on the exam is what you can recall not what you recognise.”
The Future of YouMakr & First Fundraising Success
YouMakr recently completed a successful fundraising round, which saw the company raise $500,000 in capital.
The new AI–powered tools they showed off wowed investors and allowed the company to raise money from a mix of angel investors and venture capitalists, who were eager to hand over their cash for a share in the business.
Akily reflects that this capital raising round passed off far more successfully than previous ones.
“When we tried to raise money in the past and something didn’t resonate with investors.”
“This time round when we showed them the prediction element of our AI, showed that it can help students with recall, and the feedback we have received from early-access students, they could see our software is going to make a huge difference for students around the world.’”
“The money raised will be used to make the algorithm more efficient so that they can cut down on the cost of running the system, and some of the cash will also go on spreading the message through marketing.”
He says the company will probably go back to investors in the next 18 months to raise funds for the next stage of the business.
True to his vision of helping the underdog, he hopes in the next phase of YouMakr’s evolution, the platform will be introduced to some of the poorer parts of the English-speaking world – places such as India and Pakistan.
“We have a vision, and we believe generative AI will change education. We find ourselves in a fortunate position to potentially lead that movement and thankfully our investors agree.”
We thank Rami Akily for sharing his startup insights and lessons with us and wish him and YouMakr all the best!
- Content creator, freelance journalist and writer based in the North West of England | Contributor to several business blogs and publications | University of Durham & UCLAN graduate
- Business SpotlightSeptember 14, 2023AI EdTech Startup YouMakr’s Vision for Helping the Underdog Secures Company $500K in Capital
- Business AdviceSeptember 13, 2023AI & Copyright – Exploring the Legal Implications of AI-Generated Content Usage in Business
- EducationSeptember 4, 2023AI & Personalised Learning – Putting the Learner in the Driver’s Seat
- EducationAugust 24, 2023Top 7 London Universities to Study for an MSc in Artificial Intelligence