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FoondaMate picks $2M, South Africa’s edtech uses WhatsApp & Messenger to teach the underprivileged

Image credits: FoondaMate

FoondaMate, the startup behind the chat-based, AI-powered learning bot assisting students to get fast, easy and safe access to study materials as well as help via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger has just today announced securing $2M in Seed funding. The bot is already in use by 400,000 students, speaking 11 languages across 30 countries. Its user base has more than doubled in the past six months owing to its viral growth.

This round of financing was led by LocalGlobe with participation from Emerge VC, Odunayo Eweniyi via FirstCheckAfrica, Iyin Aboyeji via Future Africa and LoftyInc alongside angels from Luno (Marcus Swanepoel) and Justworks (Isaac Oates). FoondaMate co-founder and CEO Dacod Magagula commented on the funding news stating, “It’s humbling to think so many children trust us to support their desire to learn and it’s a responsibility we take incredibly seriously. It’s why we’re thrilled to have investors that share this passion and who believe in the power that revolutionising how and where students learn truly has.

Built with inclusivity at its core

The edtech with South African roots aims to remove the high technological, economical and societal barriers observed across the wider edtech market. The service only requires students to have access to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, and a desire to learn.

Students send a message to the FoondaMate chatbot asking for study assistance in the same way they’d text a friend. The chatbot returns relevant files and information from trusted sources. This beats the conventional path in which students are sent to a browser and have to sift through a mountain of data and information. FoondaMate’s curated and summarised information is sent as text blocks within the messaging apps themselves. Files are equally sent as replies within the same chat window and are shareable & downloadable.

This direct, curated and low-data approach avails to all students equal opportunities and access to materials and resources. To further empower a student’s knowledge and learning, the chatbot suggests follow-up questions and related topics. It also provides the definitions of words and helps students work out simple maths equations without having to leave the chat.

Inspired by founder’s childhood struggle

FoondaMate was founded in 2020 by Dacod Magagula and Tao Boyle with the goal to help bridge the educational inequality gaps found across Africa. Less than 7% of African households have a computer, whereas the majority of students in the developing world are well exposed to online forms of learning. When this is coupled with poor quality schools, the lack of access to extracurricular support and overcrowding in classrooms, many students from these countries remain lacking access to quality learning. 

Magagula experienced this first-hand, attending school in his rural township of Mpumalanga, South Africa in a 70+ children class and not enough teachers to teach them. After he and his brother saved up for their first computer, which was basic, and dial-up internet, the pair found they could utilise online study resources to improve their education, particularly in the subjects where they lacked teachers. This empowerment that was enabled by a common technology of the day and mobile data influenced Dacod and Tao to set out on a journey to empower students from all backgrounds, worldwide, to take control of their learning.

Growth for FoondaMate

On top of its growing use across Africa, Asia and Latin America, word-of-mouth has contributed to viral growth that led to a record number of signups in March this year. In the past six months alone, this user base more than doubled, up from 150k in December to 400k currently. FoondaMate’s advanced natural language processing tech now understands context and intent in 11 distinct languages, in a growing list. The bot has the ability to adapt and mirror local dialects including slang in its interactions with students.

The bot has been built with inclusivity, kindness and a friendly tone at heart. Students often report feeling an emotional and personal relationship with the bot. Many students are already engaging informally with the bot in ways they would with friends besides using the bot formally within the traditional school or homework times. 

Owing to the fact FoondaMate is a proxy for the internet working within WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, all chats are encrypted by default whereas all data presented is age-appropriate. The FoondaMate team actively monitors the AI’s results and tweaks where the bot sources its information from. This means it’s not possible for children on the platform to access adult content or harmful material. With its funding, FoondaMate plans to grow its team with a particular focus on engineering and product teams while expanding into more regions. The first of these regions is Indonesia, where FoondaMate is operating in beta, then Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Brazil.

A LocalGlobe spokesperson stated, “FoondaMate’s viral growth over the past year speaks to how well the bot resonates with students and to Dacod and Tao’s unique approach. Having launched with a view to transforming how students across Africa study and learn, FoondaMate has evolved into a tool that’s now used and loved by students from a range of backgrounds, with a range of needs and learning styles. It takes true visionaries to build something so impactful and so technologically advanced while making it so accessible and we’re delighted to be supporting the FoondaMate team in its mission towards education for all.”

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