Brandeis International Business School

040: Increasing Learning & Engagement Through Gamification

Our guests today are two brothers, Shawn and Devin Young. They are the co-founders of Classcraft, which is an award-winning engagement management system used by five million students and educators worldwide to gamify their classroom experience.

Shawn's taught 11th grade physics for nine years, holds a Bachelor's degree in Physics, a Master's in Education and is a seasoned web developer. Devin is a serial entrepreneur and creative director who previously ran an education technology company and a production company with several large clients.

Classcraft is a platform that empowers teachers to address social-emotional issues, and to manage, sustain and develop engagement in school by making it feel like a game. It’s not a game though; it's a platform where teachers can give points to students for completed work, for showing empathy and for helping each other as they go through quest lines and adventures. All of this was inspired by their experiences as students and as working adults.

From the Dorm Room

Before College, Shawn Devin didn't have a good time in school. Devin faced issues with bullying, and Shawn was pretty bored with his classwork. This caused them to develop an out-of-the-box thinking structure, and lead to them working to find their own path.

Devin ended up studying graphic design in college. He dropped out before completing the last few classes had left, and he just started working and freelancing until Classcraft was born. 

Shawn’s school career was pretty standard in some ways. He finished high school and then went straight to college, where he majored in Physics. He was always into learning on his own, and he thought physics was the only thing he couldn’t really pick up by himself. He ended up getting into teaching by accident while looking for a career in physics. He was the only person on the substitute teacher service for his whole area, and he did that on the side while he was studying.

Devin’s preferred approach to learning was very hands-on, so he really appreciated the autonomy that freelancing gave him. It was a hard path, but he doesn’t want to dissuade anyone from taking it themselves. There’s such an importance in being able to forge your own path, to fail and learn to pick yourself back up.

To the Boardroom

When Shawn finished college, he started teaching. He went on to get a masters degree while teaching and working with Devin on different projects. To him, the goal of education as a teacher was to make school meaningful for kids. And teaching wasn’t too different from being an entrepreneur: You have customers which are your students, you have a lot of freedom to structure things the way you want and you have clear KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that you need to hit around student success. And then you have the intangibles of creating a positive experience for your students.

Shawn wrote his master's thesis on using digital platforms to create community in the classroom and seeing how the digital interactions could translate to real-life collaboration. That's the idea that Classcraft emerged out of. He had the idea of running his classroom as a game, and over the course of three years he kept tinkering with prototypes as a side project.

After three years of that, he decided to put his prototype up on a website so he could start talking about it with other teachers. The day that it went online, 130,000 people came to the website. By the end of that week, it was a quarter million people unique visits. He was getting calls asking people where they could download it, people wanting to interview him. But there was no product yet, it was just a plan.

From there, Devin and Shawn realized that there was a real opportunity here. They started a Kickstarter to try and get some funding, and it failed pretty miserably. Then they brought in their dad, the third co-founder of the company, wrote out a business plan,and applied for a massive grant from the county governments. And they got the grant.

When Devin was freelancing in New York, he was having a rough time. Shawn was with him in those experiences, and they developed a level of professionalism and problem-solving that was essential for Classcraft’s success.

People look at Classcraft and see how fast it’s growing, but they don’t see the 10-year run up where Shawn and Devin are learning and failing through several real-world experiences. It was those experiences that set them up to make something special.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

The common trait between Devin and Shawn is the propensity to learn on their own, to figure things out, to want to do it and to set limits on themselves. That has been part of their success and also defined their careers. Anyone going into any profession or entrepreneurship in the future, that has to be your one superpower. The economy is changing, jobs are being created out of new technologies all the time and the only way that you can actually navigate that is to continuously learn.


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