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“Every year there are billions of study documents being created. ” With Marnix Broer

Every year there are billions of study documents being created. The problem is that those stay locked inside files on computers. We are setting all this knowledge free by offering students the tools to share all kinds of study materials online — like notes, summaries and practice questions — with their fellow students all over […]

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Every year there are billions of study documents being created. The problem is that those stay locked inside files on computers. We are setting all this knowledge free by offering students the tools to share all kinds of study materials online — like notes, summaries and practice questions — with their fellow students all over the world.

Furthermore, by offering all this knowledge to anyone (and 80% of it is completely free) we are creating a level playing field for any student. From now on, advantaged students with more connections and access to study resources do not have an advantage anymore. We’re giving everybody the same info and tools to prepare for their exams.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marnix Broer, Co-Founder and CEO of StuDocu, the online student community where students can share notes and discuss study-related topics. For Marnix, what began as a dorm-room experiment with friends looking to help each other prepare for their exams has become a burning ambition to help all students excel in their studies and in life, wherever they are. In his time at StuDocu, he has helped guide an initial idea into an international effort, with over 15 million students per month (and growing) benefiting from the simple acts of note sharing and mutual collaboration.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

While studying mechanical engineering, me and my friends noticed that any time the exams were coming up, we would spend a lot of time — even days — gathering all the relevant study material to prepare for our exams. We would ask all our friends, fellow students, and project group members if they had useful documents to share. Time and also information were lost because the documents were not properly stored and saved. We wanted to change this by simply having all the documents online, easy to be found by anyone. Luckily, after launching our version one, we noticed that we were not the only ones who had been struggling with this problem.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Every year there are billions of study documents being created. The problem is that those stay locked inside files on computers. We are setting all this knowledge free by offering students the tools to share all kinds of study materials online — like notes, summaries and practice questions — with their fellow students all over the world.

Furthermore, by offering all this knowledge to anyone (and 80% of it is completely free) we are creating a level playing field for any student. From now on, advantaged students with more connections and access to study resources do not have an advantage anymore. We’re giving everybody the same info and tools to prepare for their exams.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Our funniest and biggest mistake must have been a bug in our password reset function on the website. After making it live, none of our users could log in anymore. What happened: the bug caused the new version to overwrite the passwords for all accounts. Luckily we were not too big back then, and could get away with having 20,000 students reset their passwords after we fixed the bug. 🙂

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

To be honest, I do not have a real mentor to support me or look up to. However, I do look up to the work ethics of my father and older sister. So far in life, I have learned that persistence and determination are key to making a business work. Hard work and dedication simply always pay off.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I agree that disruption is mostly positive, but could end up being negative sometimes. Still I think it is a necessity that disruption happens. For both a healthy market and technological innovation it has to be done.

Regarding education, I think it makes a lot of sense that memorizing information is not what we need anymore. We need people to understand and comprehend things, not just know them by heart. Especially now that we have vast knowledge at our fingertips, I think it’s more important to understand and be able to use this knowledge. This is a great disruption for sure.

I think Uber is a great example of positive disruption of an old-fashioned industry. In the traditional taxi industry, the price for a simple ride could be as high as the crankiness of the driver. Without Uber, this would never have changed. Of course we can argue that as soon as Uber has a monopoly, its prices will sky-rocket. Time will tell.

Next up: study books will become available on a Spotify model. Tuition fees will go down as the coronavirus crisis will prove that paying for an Ivy League university does not make sense anymore. And notary services will disappear as many standard documents with old-fashioned legalization methods will become digitized.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The best words of advice I’ve received are about team work and collaboration. Communication towards your team is key. Your team is super important. Dare to delegate (still tough for me.)

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I think that StuDocu can help educators as well as students, and we want to start building tools to help educators next. Educating in a good way is very difficult and time consuming, and we hope to make that a bit easier for educators in the next few years.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The recent documentary from David Attenborough, A Life on Our Planet, really made me even more aware of the coming climate crisis. We have to act now to be able to save ourselves, and for the planet to be able to survive. We have to make everybody conscious that the way we are living is not something we can keep doing. Hopefully more sharing of knowledge will make more people aware and will help fight this enormous problem.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In Dutch it would be: “Niet geschoten is altijd mis.” In English: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’ve learned that if you combine that advice with a large dose of persistence, you have an all-time winning combination.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

People really love and enjoy being in nature. Next to solving the climate change problem, I encourage everyone to support any movements having missions and visions that make sure we can keep enjoying nature and life outdoors. I support organizations like Just Diggit, The Ocean Cleanup and any company investing in sustainable energy sources.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.studocu.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/marnixbroer/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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