Startup Interview with Catherine Whitehead, MathforMoney COOby@mathformoney

Startup Interview with Catherine Whitehead, MathforMoney COO

by August 19th, 2021
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MathforMoney is an app that incentivises children to solve daily maths problems in order to unlock their pocket money. Co-founders include Nick Hill and Nick Parkin, who studied in Berlin and has a masters degree in finance and design. A recent study found that less than half of South Africa's population is financially literate. The app is designed to teach children how to use their money to build their savings accounts and earn 'interest' The founders say they are a team of professionals who are passionate about education and business.

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HackerNoon Reporter: Please tell us briefly about your background.

My background and passion are in Human-centered Design. Growing up in South Africa, I thought my time would be best spent solving our many problems and building businesses around the solutions, which in turn, could hopefully put a tiny dent in our unemployment rate. While I spent many years working for product development companies, helping large corporates innovate and build startups, I wanted to develop a product that was important to me and my values. That’s when I joined my co-founders, Nick Hill and Nick Parkin, in building MathforMoney. Their mission to develop incentive-based education resonated with me; the potential to pay children to learn and invest in their financial future would honestly be a dream come true.

What's your startup called? And in a sentence or two, what does it do?

MathforMoney is an app that incentivises children to solve daily maths problems in order to unlock their pocket money. Children can either choose to spend it, or save towards their savings goal and earn ‘interest’. This encompasses the 3 key skills identified by the OECD to teach children financial literacy; 1) Numeracy, 2) Using numeracy in the real world, and 3) Building positive and sustainable savings habits.

What is the origin story?

Unlike most origin stories, ours is long and academic. We read a research paper about Financial literacy in South Africa conducted by our Labour and Development Research Unit, and it found that less than half of the South African population is financially literate. Eek.

While the problem was quite evident to us locally, the harder we looked the more we discovered that this problem was occurring global problem, not only in developing countries. In a recent FINRA Study only 37 percent of respondents were found to have a solid understanding of financial literacy, down from 39 percent in 2012 and 42 percent in 2009. An example of one of the questions in the study is: “I have $100 in a savings account earning 2 percent interest a year. After five years, would I have more than $102 or less than $102?”… and only 42 percent of respondents could answer this? - Come on, clearly a massive problem.

Furthermore, a Cambridge study revealed that children start developing their money habits from as young as 7, so it was evident to us that the solution needed to be implemented amongst the youth. That being said, there are schools which have implemented financial literacy, but the study also showed that children receive most of their financial education from their parents, so which brings about another couple of issues:

  1. The financial education they’re taught in schools is ineffective, because before you actually start earning an income and managing your own money, things like compound interest and inflation are irrelevant to you. By the time you get to age 21, or whenever you start earning, that information is already lost.
  2. Even though parents are the most influential in terms of teaching their children about money, many parents lack the time, confidence or even financial literacy themselves to teach their kids about money. Not only this, but for many families it’s even considered rude to talk about money!

What do you love about your team, and why are you the ones to solve this problem?

We couldn’t have asked for a better team for MathforMoney. The three of us are a perfect blend of finance, data, development, and design. We’ve also had experience in both FinTech and EdTech startups.

My two co-founders, a.k.a The Nicks, have worked together on a previous EdTech project called Thutor, which was a platform where lecturers could upload tests for accounting students and track performance. Actually, a lot of this tech was reused for the early versions of MathforMoney (then called Pocketjam).

Nick Parkin lives in Berlin and studied business, majoring in information systems, finance and economics. He also has his masters in management from IE. Nick has a lot of experience in data and analytics from his time at Audible, and also a lot of experience in corporate strategy.

Then the other Nick, Nick Hill, and I worked together at an incubation company where we met (he was the CFO). He is a chartered accountant, has his masters in finance, and has also completed his CFA Level 3.

And then, lastly, I come from a product development background, with a degree in design which focused on UX and creative problem solving. So our range of skills have been extremely valuable for creating the product PLUS we work well as a team.

If you weren’t building your startup, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t building MathforMoney, I’d be building a different EdTech startup. If I wasn’t building an EdTech startup, I’d be building something else relating to economic empowerment. If I wasn’t doing that, I’d be creating something linked to sustainability. And if all of that failed, quite frankly, I’d be drinking a glass of Pinot Noir reading pretty much whatever I can get my hands on.

At the moment, how do you measure success? What are your core metrics?

For MathforMoney, our most important metric is retention (Daily Active Users). It is important that children keep returning to the app to complete their math challenges in order to develop strong, healthy habits.

Second to retention is improvement. This relates to both improvement in their math abilities as well as progress towards their savings goal.

What’s most exciting about your traction to date?

The number of downloads we receive are increasing at about 25 percent per month, without spending a cent on marketing. We’ve been using this time to rather test the app and make the necessary iterations before giving it a proper push. Naturally, retention was quite low at this time since the app was definition MVP, but since launching the latest version our retention has improved by 43 percent. We’re eager to see what happens from here!

What technologies are you currently most excited about, and most worried about? And why?

We are most excited about leveraging blockchain to facilitate pocket money transactions, improve efficiency, and add further value to our customers.

What drew you to get published on HackerNoon? What do you like most about our platform?

We’d been wanting to publish on HackerNoon for quite some time, but it was the nomination e-mail which gave us the final nudge that we needed to hit “submit”. We’re excited to form a part of it and have always enjoyed the HackerNoon community.

What advice would you give to the 21-year-old version of yourself?

Don’t be afraid of being naive - it encourages you to dream big.

Also, no, you’re not supposed to frown that much when you read. Get your eyes tested.

What is something surprising you've learned this year that your contemporaries would benefit from knowing?

As soon as you stop learning -about your customer, your industry, new related technologies, etc.- it’s time for a change.

Math for Money was nominated as one of the best startups in Zurich in Startups of the Year hosted by HackerNoon.