Interview with Andrea Chirolli, CEO and Co-founder of Futura, an AI-based edtech platform that automatically creates customised study paths

Andrea Chirolli is the CEO and Co-founder of Futura, an AI-based edtech platform that automatically creates customised study paths and updates them as learning progresses.

Andrea holds a triple business degree as part of the World Bachelor in Business program. He studied at Bocconi University, the University of Southern California and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

In 2020, with Francesco Salvatore and Lorenzo Pinto, you founded Futura, an Italian AI-based edtech platform that automatically creates customised study paths. What led you to this decision, and how did the idea of Futura come about?

Andrea: Futura, or rather Accademia Dei Test, the brand under which we started, was born in March 2020, during the pandemic.

I was still studying at university, the World Bachelor in Business at Bocconi University, which consists of one year at the University of Southern California, one year at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the third year in Milan at Bocconi University. So it was my third year in Milan, but with the pandemic outbreak, I returned home to Puglia.

Back home, with my best friend, Francesco, who is as passionate as I am about entrepreneurship and innovation, we noticed a significant gap in the university admission test preparation market. We analysed the sector and identified some issues, such as the lack of quality and scalability of the business models on the market. Models based on lectures by private professors and large-scale courses could hardly guarantee quality across the entire value chain. The one who would lose out was the end user.

So we started with a lean approach and little money by creating a course delivered on Zoom and Google Classroom. And we managed to break even with 12 participants.

Then, we asked the students what they liked about the course and collected customer feedback to grow the product—something we still do and believe in. All the users told us that what they liked best was the customisation of the course for each student.

So we came up with the idea of creating, through artificial intelligence, a platform that allows for the personalisation of the student experience. On 8 October 2020, we founded the company, and we started with what is now Futura.

So, Futura develops models based on artificial intelligence that revolutionises the study process. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company? How is Futura different compared from other learning platforms?

Andrea: We started with offering study paths to pass the medical admission tests in Italian universities, a hot topic of the moment. In Italy, 4 out of 5 students fail the test. We started with the whole medical area in Italy, i.e. medicine, health professions, dentistry and veterinary medicine.

Then we had to choose whether to expand the offer with tests related to other disciplines in Italy (such as economics or engineering) or to focus on the international market. We chose the latter and are now working on the GMAT, the next product we will launch in November.

The platform consists of several parts.

The first is the simulator, which analyses the skills of each student by looking at the whole experience on the platform. That is, it looks at how the student answers the questions, how much time he/she spends answering them, how often he/she changes the answers, etc. Based on the results, lessons are provided to the students, partly live and partly recorded, based on what is needed.

The second part relates to the lesson calendar, which in the future can be linked and synchronised with the student’s personal calendar applications.

Community is another section, where students can challenge users outside the platform, allowing our user base to grow. Students can also add explanations to questions on the platform and assign grades to the answers. This allows us to have an up-to-date, high-quality database of questions constantly. With around 30,000 questions, our database is currently the largest in the Italian market.

Futura recently announced a seed investment round, with € 1.8 million subscribed by United Ventures, Exor Seeds, LVenture and various business angels. What results have you achieved until now? Also, what are the development plans of Futura for the near future?

Andrea: After establishing the company, we participated in LVenture Group’s acceleration programme in Rome. Our startup was the fastest growing during the programme in terms of number of users and monthly turnover. At the end of the acceleration programme, we bootstrapped for about a year to improve some procedures, and in May 2022, we raised a seed round with the desire to have in the cap table partners who can bring long-term value.

As of today, the Futura team consists of 18 people. We will grow to 22/23 in early 2023. It is an international team. In fact, from day one, we only speak English in the company.

In terms of user growth, we are tripling every year. We had 90 users the first year, they became 400 in the second year, and now there are 1,200. Our target is 3,000 users for the academic year 2022/2023.

We achieved these numbers thanks to our almost obsessive focus on customers. I think this pays off in the long term. The experience the students have is such that they fall in love with the brand, which becomes their benchmark in the industry.

As the development plan, we want Futura to be, in the long term, a company that deals with the education of the student in a broad sense, not only the university admission test but also tutoring. The tutoring market is around € 1.4 billion in Italy and is currently only served by professors offering private lessons.

We want to become a market maker regulator with the highest quality registered courses. And we want to start in Italy and later expand abroad with a very high-quality product at a lower price than private tutoring lessons.

What are the main challenges you experienced in creating Futura? What are your next challenges?

Andrea: The main challenge I am facing lately is scaling up the team and operations. It is sometimes complicated for founders to let things go and organise operations so that their presence is not required. But only then can founders find time to think about long-term strategy and focus on more important topics. That is why we hired a Head of Operations with 8 years of experience right after the round.

Other challenging topics for a startup are talent recruitment and age.

The quality of human capital is crucial to achieving results. However, it is difficult to hire top talent because you do not have an established company structure.

Age is a challenge because I was 22 years old when we started – now I am 24. And this sometimes in Italy can be a barrier both for raising capital and for your company’s credibility compared to peers who have years of experience in the sector.

We overcome these difficulties by surrounding ourselves with people more experienced than us. Instead, we bring other ingredients to the team, such as grit and an ‘irrational’ desire to try new ways of doing things.

One last question. What is your vision for the edtech industry?

Andrea: I am incredibly passionate about this industry because there is still so much innovation to be done. If you think about it, we still study as we did 50 years ago. Technology is purely supporting studying; we went from paper books to PowerPoint slides, not much more.

I think edtech is an area with enormous potential for the impact it can have. Transversally it can impact all sectors. Training people with skills have a more significant benefit than the economic return of the company itself.

And we, as Futura, want to be drivers of this change. We want to ensure the highest quality of education through technology, on a global scale, and by breaking down today’s socio-economic barriers.


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For more info on Futura, visit: https://www.futura.study