When Quddus Pativada was 14, he wished that he had an app that could summarize his textbooks for him. Just five years later, Pativada has been there and done that — earlier this year, he launched the AI-based app Kado, which turns photos, documents or PDFs into flash cards. Now, as the 19-year-old founder takes the stage for Startup Battlefield, he’s looking to take his company, DigestAI, beyond flashcards to create an AI dialogue assistant that we can all carry around on our phones.
“If we make learning truly easy and accessible, it’s something you could do as soon as you open your phone,” Pativada told TechCrunch. “We want to put a teacher in every single person’s phone for every topic in the world.”
The company’s AI is trained on data from the internet, but the algorithm is fine-tuned to recall specific use cases to make sure that its responses are accurate and not too thrown off by online chaos.
“We train it on everything, but the actual use cases are called within silos. We’re calling it ‘federated learning,’ where it’s sort of siloed in and language models are operating on a use case basis,” Pativada said. “This is good because it avoids malicious use.”
Pativada said that this kind of product would be different from smart assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa because the information it provides would be more personalized and detailed. So, for certain use cases, like asking for sources to use in an essay, the AI will pull from academic journals to make sure that the information is accurate and appropriate for a classroom.
Despite running an educational AI startup, Pativada isn’t currently in school. He took a gap year before going to college to work on his startup, but as DigestAI took off, he decided to keep building instead of going back to school. Growing up, he taught himself to code because he loved video games, so he wanted to make his own — by age 10, he published a “Flappy Bird” clone on the App Store. Naturally, his technological ambitions matured a bit over time. Before founding DigestAI, Pativada built a COVID-19 contact tracing platform. At first, he just made the app as a tool for his classmates — but his work ended up being honored by the United Arab Emirates’ government.
So far, the outlook is good for the Dubai-based company. Pativada — who says he feels skittish about the CEO label, and prefers to think of himself as just a founder — has raised $600,000 so far from angel investors like Mark Cuban and Shaan Patel, who struck a deal on Shark Tank for his SAT prep company, Prep Expert.
How does a 19-year-old in Dubai capture the attention of one of thee most well-known startup investors? A cold email. Mark, we apologize if this admission makes your inbox even more nightmarish.
“I was watching a GQ video of Mark Cuban’s daily routine,” Pativada said. “He said he reads his emails every morning at 9 AM, and I looked at the time in Dallas, and it was about 9 AM. So I was like, maybe I should just shoot him an email and see what happens.” While he was at it, he reached out to Patel, whose educational startup has done over $20 million in sales. Patel hopped on a video call with the teenage founder, and by the next week, he and Cuban both offered to invest in DigestAI.
“We raised our entire round through cold emails and Zoom,” Pativada told TechCrunch. “It sort of helped because no one can see how young I look in person.”
Before he decided to eschew college altogether, Pativada applied to Stanford and interviewed with an alumnus, as is standard in the admissions process. He didn’t end up getting into the competitive Palo Alto university, but his interviewer, who works at Stanford, did end up investing in his company. Go figure.
“Our goal is to work with universities like Stanford,” Pativada said. The company is also targeting enterprise clients. Currently, DigestAI works with some U.S.-based universities, Bocconi University in Italy, a European law firm and other clients. At the law firm, DigestAI is testing a tool that allows associates to text a WhatsApp number to quickly brush up on legal terms.
In the long term, DigestAI wants to create an SMS system where people can text the AI asking for help learning something — he wants information to be so accessible that it’s “addictive.”
“That is what AI is — it’s almost the best version of a human being,” Pativada said.