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The Surprising People Behind Education Start Up Tract

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at September 9, 2021

Tract is an innovative edtech startup with education resources developed for K-12 students by high school and college students. 

The Tract materials are not the kind of free-for-all, low value junk education videos that we’ve seen before. They aren’t just youthed-up video lectures with emojis and trendy music but require students to engage the material through tasks, projects and direct peer-to-peer connections. 

What also separates the company in the market is that, while its educational content is produced by students, it’s heavily curated, vetted and reviewed by teachers. That means that the voices, faces, and stories are new and different, but the educational rigor remains legitimate. 

Being student created means the topics in the Tract library are as diverse as their creators. Sure, there are learning paths on science and math but also popular culture, sports, current events, music, entrepreneurship and more – embedding learning lessons in topics students already care about like Roblox, Minecraft, TikTok, or Disney. Moreover, the entire ecosystem is set in a collaborative, social media environment in which learners and young educators alike earn coins, badges and awards. What they’re doing feels like the best version of the gamification and customized learning we’ve been promised for years now. 

And if what the company is doing doesn’t turn your head, who’s doing it should. 

There aren’t many education rock stars, but Esther Wojcicki is unquestionably one. Known as “the Godmother of Silicon Valley” it’s implausible to recount her academic and teaching and publishing here. Wojcicki is Tract’s co-founder. 

The other co-founder is Ari Memar, who’s educated as a chemical engineer – UCLA, Magna Cum Laude by the way – and worked for more than a decade at Uber and ExxonMobil. Aside from being one of Wojcicki’s former students in high school, chemical engineering and Uber are an unusual career path for an education technology founder. 

“I kind of stumbled into chemical engineering,” Memar told me. “I was good at math and science as a child, my father was an engineer, and all the external influences around me, the school system, mentors, role models all promoted careers in STEM,” he said. 

“But, in hindsight, my internal motivation and natural passion was always driving me toward business, education, and the arts. I was constantly tinkering with business ideas, investing, and creating art and music,” Memar said. “My first job, as an arts and science camp counselor, I found to be more fulfilling than working as an engineer.” 

For Memar, it’s not an interesting side note but more of a fundamental tenet of how he sees education and, by extension, the proposition he sees in Tract.  

“The standardized testing system and conventional wisdom drives kids toward careers in STEM,” he said. “But what I found is that in place of taking, quote, fun classes in the arts, I was forcing myself to learn theoretical math, physics, and chemistry. Practicing theory and taking standardized tests with no practical application. Science, technology, engineering and math were important, but incomplete without some higher order creative purpose or real-world application.” 

With that experience, it begins to make sense that this engineer is now invested in re-engineering education with fun, peer-to-peer learning resources that don’t neatly fit into the typical education boxes. 

And while it may not seem like it to an outsider, Memar says working at Uber and Exxon were good training to start and run an education company. “When you are new to a job there’s always this feeling of imposter syndrome. Like, do I deserve to be here? Will I ever be as capable as those around me or above me? Do I have the skills I need and capability to be good at my job? I felt this on day one at Exxon and Uber. I think most people feel this way.” The experience, Memar, says, helped him find self-confidence and develop flexibility and leadership skills. 

“While at Uber I was surrounded by entrepreneurs — people had started businesses and were starting businesses all around me. The distance between them and me felt like inches instead of miles. And that gave me the confidence to know I could do this. I could start a company of my own,” he said. 

Still, someone with Fortune 100 companies on their resume and a degree in engineering could start a business doing just about anything and education may not seem like the obvious choice. 

“I saw so many incredibly talented people around me dedicate their best years in life toward problems or opportunities that were relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and were not improving our world. Enterprise software. Ads-based businesses. Consumer goods, hurting our environment. K-12 Education felt like the single most important thing — the one silver bullet that could solve every world problem at once,” Memar said. “If I could put a dent in the universe, I wanted it to be the most meaningful dent,” he said. 

And a dent may be coming. Tract is on an early explosive growth trajectory. In just a few months, the company has already welcomed more than 2,000 students who have created more than 500 learning paths and more than 5,000 projects. The company says those numbers are on pace to double every month. 

Looking ahead five years, Memar said he sees Tract, “As a household brand that’s a part of every child’s coming of age experience, a generational brand,” he said. “I want every kid to feel they are good at something, a genius in some way. And I also want every kid to say that Tract was their favorite part of school.” 

Given where this ship is headed and who’s already on board, it would be foolish to say any of that was wishful thinking.


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