In the Field: Brett Kopf

Author: In the Field

Brett, a 2017 College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Outstanding Young Alumnus recipient, discusses Remind, the app he co-created with his brother.

May 22, 2018

Brett Kopf

Brett, a 2017 College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Outstanding Young Alumnus recipient, discusses Remind, the app he co-created with his brother.

brett kopf

In the Field: Brett Kopf - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In The Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm your host, Kraig Ehm.

Parent: ... her phone.

Brett Kopf: Oh, really?

Parent: And then she put it on the table and showed them.

Kopf: Wow.

Parent: Then we had a gentleman on the phone who's based out of St. Louis. He goes, "Hold on, my wife handles the school stuff," because he works for ABM. He goes, "I got a response back. Yup. It's on her phone."

Kopf: That's great.

Ehm: In this episode of In The Field, I'm joined by Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind and the 2017 MSU, CANR Outstanding Young Alumnus Award recipient. Brett, thanks for joining me.

Kopf:  Thanks for having me.

Ehm: Brett, how did you end up at MSU?

Kopf: My brother actually came here first, and I had some close relatives who lived here. So I actually came to Michigan State a few times before I actually got to college. When I visited the university my senior year of high school, it just felt right. I visited a bunch of different universities, and for some reason something in my gut wasn't passing. It just felt like it was comfortable, so I chose it. It wasn't so far from home; I live in Chicago. If I wanted to, it's a four-and-a-half-hour drive, but I needed to get away. It was still far enough where you can't just jump on a car that easily. That's how I got here.

Ehm: What are some of your favorite memories of campus?

Kopf: A lot of them are actually built around the Bailey Scholars Program. I'd come in Bailey and just hang out with some of my closest friends and start working on business ideas that I had at the time. That or sitting in my room at my house on Stoddard street trying to start my first company.

Ehm:  What or who influenced your decision to join Bailey Scholars?

Kopf: Kianna Miller, one of my closest friends who I actually just hung out with from Detroit. It was kind of by happenstance because I lived in the same floor as her. Once I met the former director of Bailey Scholars, Glenn Sterner, we really clicked. I think I was having a hard time finding my place in the university because it's really big place. Bailey provided a small community of very like-minded people with a very diverse set of backgrounds. I really liked that. They let me learn whatever I wanted to learn about and gave me the confidence to realize, that the world truly is my oyster and I could learn anything I want. That's the whole model of the program. From there it just took off and a lot of my friends joined it. It had enormous impact on my life.

Ehm: If you could give a couple-sentence encouragement for other students who might be looking for their way on campus, what would you say to them to encourage them to check out Bailey?

Kopf: You have nothing to lose. It might not be for everyone. You might go try it and you might not like it, but if you're someone who's really creative and you're a little bit lost, and the functional major that you have isn't resonating for some reason; you're either not getting good grades or you're trying hard or it's just not interesting, you should explore it. There's no better gift in the world than having the opportunity to have a really good education and literally be able to do anything you want with it. In Bailey, you can walk in and say, 'I want to learn how a dairy farm works.' The person next to you can say, 'I want to learn about nutrition,' and the person next to that person will say, 'I want to learn about technology.' You build your own curriculum and you figure out how to learn about it. You translate that to the real world and having a full-time job or whatever you may do with your life. Those are all the same skills that apply. Even the thought of going through Class 2-10, which is the first class, I believe really help you grow. You have nothing to lose.

Ehm:  What was the impetus for Remind?

Kopf: I like to tell people I started the company in fifth grade. That's a lie. But, I was diagnosed with a bunch of learning disabilities as a kid and I really struggled in school. I had this teacher that totally changed my life, named Miss Whitefield. My parents were really involved in my education. So the whole hypothesis of the company was based on the belief that, if we could figure out a way to increase parental engagement and help make teachers better teachers; if I can give every kid and Miss Whitefield at really big scale, what does the world look like? I actually started it while I was at Michigan State; I think I was a sophomore or junior. Just to add onto that, I had a Blackberry at the time. Those things were in then. I was messaging all of my friends and I thought, 'Well, all my friends are messaging on Blackberry, but I have to use this old clunky software,' of which I'm not going to name names. 'It just doesn't make sense. Why can't they just get it on my phone?' And then I just started working on it with my brother and since then we've grown quite a bit.

Ehm: What was your hope when you were first building Remind?

Kopf: My hope was that I could build something that would help kids or students that have the same struggles I did at really big scale. I didn't know anything about anything, in the sense that I didn't really understand what it took to start a business; which, actually was a really good thing because naivety ... if I actually understood what it took to get to the scale we're at now, I would have thought, 'Geez, I'm crazy.' In Yiddish there's a term "meshuga," which means, 'You're a crazy person for doing this.' That was my hope. What ended up happening is that, fortunately, was able to help a lot more students than just ones with disabilities like me.

Ehm: What are some of the responses that you get from people when you meet them and they say, "Hey, I use Remind"?

Kopf: That's the coolest. I was actually just upstairs and a few of my former faculty members and professors, they use it with their kids, which is the coolest thing. We broadly find three pieces of feedback when people use Remind. One, it helps teachers do their jobs better. We believe that teachers provide the best leverage to help improve the education system, and we found that it helps, literally them be more efficient in the day, so they can save a few hours a week. The second thing is, students like that mom or dad, and more so the teacher is messaging them on a platform that they use. Kids just don't check e-mail anymore, so they think it's cool that Mister or Miss Teacher is messaging them on a platform. The third one is that parents are more engaged in their kids' education. There's quite a bit of corollary research that talks about increased parental engagement leading to higher student outcomes. When people see us from the outside in, they see this messaging app or this technology, which it is. But underneath that, what we know, what we believe is that it helps build meaningful relationships. That is where, I believe, education happens. It's not, in my opinion, content and curriculum; which is important, but that's not the key. It's really that teachers have meaningful relationships with their students, and mom and dad know that the teachers really have the best interest in the child. They often do, but the problem is we live in a world where you can click a button, you can have an Uber deliver to you in two minutes; but if your kid's failing school, for six months you might not know. That's something that we're trying to change.

Ehm: Getting that parental involvement is huge.

Kopf: Again, we've seen amazing effects from it. Right now, Remind has about 20 million people, teachers, students and parents actively using it, and roughly 40% of the United States teachers using it. I'm honored to be here on this podcast, but it's really the teachers of the country who are doing the really hard work, and we think our job is to be a support system to them and help them do their job better.

Ehm: Brett, has that hope or dream come true that you originally had for Remind, and was this more than what you expected?

Kopf: The vision of the company is to give every student an opportunity to succeed. By the law of numbers, we have not yet to achieved that vision, so we have a long way to go. On top of that, every day in the United States, eight thousand kids drop out of school; we think we can help change that by helping teachers. I think we've made really good progress, but we are not content with that. There's a big opportunity and a long way to go. Did I ever expect it to ... ? I don't know if I ever expected it to get this big this fast, but we're still pretty hungry because there's a big opportunity.

Ehm: Where do you see Remind in five years?

Kopf: I see it being the central place where all information is passed in schools, whether it's a message or a payment or a signed document. We want it to be almost the ecosystem in which communication and relationships are built on in schools.

Ehm: What do you hope current MSU students learn from your specific journey?

Kopf: That they should just follow their own path. This is what I wanted to do and be an entrepreneur, but they might want to do something totally different. I think it's important that they listen to their gut and they listen to what makes them happy. I think, oftentimes people only follow the money, or they only follow the job that is set for them to follow because they go to a certain college. That's not the case. Technically, I studied agriculture, but I ended up starting a technology company. So I hope they do what makes them happy. If they don't know, that's okay, but they should go search for what makes them happy.

Ehm: What puts a smile on your face every day when you come to work?

Kopf: Well, first thing I get to wake up next to my fiance, who I love, so she makes me smile. The second thing is the millions of teachers and students and parents that we help support every day. That makes me really happy. We have thousands of stories on how Remind has helped support teachers in doing their jobs better; students have decided not to drop out of school. Again, a big part of that is just because they know that the teacher cares about them. We're a simple note in helping connect them and have that relationship. That's the best part in the world.

Ehm: I would like to thank Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind and the 2017 MSU CANR Outstanding Young Alumnus Award recipient for joining me on, In The Field. Have a great day.

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