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Education and influence: Kami co-founder and Women of Influence finalist Alliv Samson on EdTech and empowering young women

Let’s talk about notes. Or, rather, the business of notes. Because, yes, it is a business – and one a New Zealand company just so happens to be a world leader in. But co-founder Alliv Samson says there’s a whole more to Kami than just a way to digitally take notes.

“Kami is an online document annotation app that over five million users rely on for annotation and collaboration,” she explains. “Over 15,000 American schools are using Kami in the classroom to complete worksheets and collaborate in class. They use Kami with their Chromebooks or other devices to read and annotate on their publisher-supplied e-books, teacher worksheets and more.”

Samson – currently the COO – says the Kami story dates back to 2013, when she, Hengjie Wang and Jordan Thomas co-founded the company while they were still in university. “It was called Notable back then, and we created it to solve our own personal problem,” she explains.

And what was that problem? “We wanted to have a better note taking experience during lectures to improve collaboration, to have a real-time note taking app working alongside the presentation slide. Initial growth was slow, so we honed in on the education sector, reworked the product and changed the name to Kami, meaning ‘paper’ in Japanese.”

Today backed by investors including Sam Altman (Y Combinator), Scott Nolan (Founders Fund), Right Side Capital Management and Flying Kiwi Angels, the five million user mark is something Samson is particularly proud of – perhaps even more so than winning the 2015 New Zealand Innovators Award and 2017 American Chamber of Commerce NZ Exporter of the Year.

“When we were Notable, we gained 5,000 users within the first year,” she marvels. “Nowadays, we grow by more than 5,000 new sign-ups a day. This is us growing organically through referrals, ratings, and more without any advertising spend.”

She says she isn’t surprised at the growth.

“We have learned a lot from pivoting from our first product to Kami. What surprises me more is the growth we are gaining from non-education users as professionals and big corporations are now buying Kami for their workspace.”

And that means Kami has its sights set on another goal: 10 million users by the end of this year. In other words: literally doubling their users in just a few months.

Far-fetched? Don’t tell Samson. After all, she and the Kami team recently returned from the biggest education technology conference in the US, exhibiting with none other than Google.

Plus, they’ve learned a few lessons Samson thinks other entrepreneurs could learn from, too.

“Execute and fail fast. An entrepreneur should not be afraid of failing or pivoting. You always hear ‘don’t quit,’ but an entrepreneur you should be brave enough to fail, then learn from it, so you can do better and move forward and upward.”

Oh, and aside from her work with Kami, there’s this: Samson was recently announced as a finalist in the Women of Influence awards in recognition of her efforts to support young women eager to enter the industry.

“I grew up in a society with a lack of resources, where women aren’t encouraged to do great things, or even having a career is mostly frowned upon,” she explains of receiving the honour. “So when my family moved here a few years ago, New Zealand became a great place for me to discover what I can do and has contributed to my achievements so far.

“Being recognised as a finalist alongside amazing women doing exceptional things makes my heart full. And hopefully, I can encourage other young immigrants and young women to do great things in this country. I also want young women to know that they can achieve their goals and be as successful as they want to be.”

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