Qstream nabs $4M so that snackable learning for sales reps can last longer


Snacking works better than a big meal.

Whether or not that is true for food, a Harvard Medical School spinoff has just added $4 million in Series A funding to continue applying that concept to learning.

A key problem in learning, according to Qstream cofounder and CEO Duncan Lennox, is that, “as soon as you learn something, you start to forget it.”

He said that 80 percent of standard learning is “gone after 30 days,” with much of the rest vanishing by the end of 90 days. Qstream’s approach of “spaced education,” based on years of research by cofounder and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Price Kerfoot, is intended to increase the retention period to two years.

Qstream uses scenario-based challenges that are presented daily as push notifications to mobile devices, spaced out into short quizzes of two or three multiple-choice questions.

Each question is followed by brief explanatory material that could be a short video, text with images, or audio. The Burlington, Massachusetts-based company said this approach, targeted at mobile devices but also available for computers, has been validated in more than 20 randomized trials.

The quizzes, created by the client companies or institutions and intended to take no more than three to five minutes daily to complete, often repeat earlier content — even if that question was previously answered correctly.

The basic idea is that retention is greater when it is delivered in short bursts, reinforced with supplementary material, and then repeated. The company also uses gamification techniques to encourage participation, such as a running score, a leaderboard, and team competition.

“We end up encoding the information in your brain a different way,” Lennox said. An analytics engine points out to managers the content strengths and weaknesses of specific users. Results can be integrated with customer relationship management or other systems to bolster sales efforts.

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Qstream has targeted salespeople for life sciences companies, notably pharmaceuticals, since they need to continually learn and retain a variety of complex information. The company says its platform is currently being used by 40 percent of the top 50 pharmas, and that 94 percent of the salespeople in those client companies are regularly participating. Customers also include medical institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.

The $4 million in today’s announcement completes the second tranche of a Series A round that began with the closing of $2.85 million in September of 2013. The company, which started in 2008 and launched its platform in 2011, previously raised a seed round of about $1.5 million. The most recent funding came from Excel Venture Management, with participation by existing backers Frontline Ventures and Launchpad Venture Group.

The new money, Lennox told us, will continue the first tranche’s focus on building out the sales and marketing efforts. There will also be new investments in engineering to expand the analytics engine, and in developing a service organization to better support efforts by clients to write good questions.

Lennox said that the key competition is “the status quo” of using WebEx, conventional elearning modules, and other standard training practices.

Others might try to present information in short, reinforced clusters with game elements, he said. But Qstream has “broken down the whole thing and reconstructed it at the atomic level,” with a unique “methodology that hides all the complexity.”

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