It’s not easy to be Baha’i in Iran, even though they are the country’s largest religious minority. Over 300,000 members in the Muslim-majority nation are banned from higher education, and therefore from holding high-tier jobs or working with people from other countries. An informal, underground university, the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, regularly gets raided and its staff and students jailed.
That’s the life and prospects that drove Shakib Zabihian, an Iranian Baha’i, to seek asylum in the United States. It is that background that drove him to create Toot, a mobile text-based tutoring service that he developed with cofounder Sophia Parsa.
Their startup has caught some attention, receiving nearly half a million dollars from investors like the Getty Family, actor Tobey Maguire, and Kim Salzer. With that money, they’ve contracted over 2,000 tutors in the fields of statistics, physics, math, and the sciences. Eventually, their educational bubble should expand into languages, arts, and the humanities as well.
To sign up, interested students (or their parents) text (424) 292-TOOT and answer several automatically generated questions. A bot then places them with the appropriate tutor, who will walk students through their individual problems with the material, not provide answers. Many of Toot’s tutors are teachers and college professors, with years of experience in their fields.
“We’re in this digital age when students prefer to talk over text than in real life,” said CEO Parsa. “We are recognizing the way that students are learning.”
Zabihian and Parsa hope to eventually be able to work directly with school districts, textbook publishers, and teacher’s colleges, providing a loop of feedback to them about the types of questions their students are struggling with, questions they don’t always share with their teachers.
Currently, Toot costs $40 a month for regular use or $.50 a minute if you just need it now and then. Rates are expected to rise in the future as the service expands.