Interview with John Green of Savvica

jumbotests I had an opportunity to catch up recently with John Green, cofounder of Savvica, and over an early morning breakfast got schooled on what’s new at LearnHub and JumboTests.

StartupNorth: What is What’s the relationship to

John Green: JumboTests is an extraction of core test preparation technology and content from LearnHub, and factored for a different audience and user acquisition model. Both sites are run by the same content, engineering, and community management teams here at Savvica Inc.

SN: So what is the change in target audience with JumboTests?

JG: LearnHub, although useful to English speakers everywhere, is targeted at the Indian student market. More than half of Savvica’s employees are in fact in our marketing team, which is based in Delhi, India.

JumboTests, on the other hand, is not focused on any particularly geography; it is equally useful to anyone studying for the standardized tests covered on the site (including GMAT, GRE, SAT, TOEFL, and others). This makes JumboTests especially relevant in the US and other Western countries which have the majority of the test takers every year.

SN: How are the user acquisition models different?

JG: Visitors to LearnHub mostly come through search engines. LearnHub has several hundred thousand pages indexed by Google and other search engines, and we rank at the top for hundreds of popular search terms. The site has a mix of user generated content and content made by our expert staff. For instance, LearnHub has the world’s largest free GMAT question bank, which has thousands of questions developed by us and our community. It is very popular.

Search engine traffic is less of a factor for JumboTests. Instead we are growing through strategic partnerships. Sites with existing, large, and relevant user bases (such as job sites, education sites, or portals) essentially embed JumboTests into their site using our partner platform. Our partners get hundreds of high quality practice tests that drive engagement, page views, and a split of the revenue.

Since the JumboTests launch 3 months ago, we have entered into long term relationships with 3 partners, all top in their categories: TalentEgg,, and The Globe & Mail. All of these integrations are already deployed and online.

SN: So what’s next?

JG: We feel both properties have a bright future. Between the 2 sites, we help over 350,000 students a month with test prep, university applications, and career advice. That’s a lot, but there are many more students that aren’t on our sites but should be.

LearnHub is the largest education website in India, excluding reference sites like Wikipedia. But India has a long way to go in terms of Internet penetration. It has about 2x the Internet users as Canada, but it also has over 1 billion people. The number of Internet users in India doubled last year to 50-60 million. We are pegging our growth to outpace the Indian Internet penetration rate over the next 5 years.

JumboTests is tackling a more mature market. That is why we are growing it primarily through partnerships. There are a lot of established online channels whose audiences would benefit from our unique content and delivery technology.

Toronto Startup PagerDuty Launches Beta of their Web-based Alert Service

When a critical server crashes in most businesses, an alert email is sent out, often to a group of people, in the hopes that someone will look into it. But who should handle the problem? What if they are unavailable? Or what if no one was checking their emails? A crashed site can result in lost revenue for a company but the problem of alerting the right people in the right way was traditionally only available to large enterprises.

PagerDuty is a new Toronto startup that aims to solve this problem through their newly launched web application at Started by former Amazon employees, the newly launched (and currently free) beta service is a well-executed, easy to use to solution to a common and costly problem.


channels_smallI love how it works. To use it, you sign up using a one-page form, and you’re then set up with your own account (accounts are free during their beta, but it’s not clear how long they’ll be in beta). You then set up your own alert software to send emails to PagerDuty whenever you want a notification (this is the most time-consuming part because you’ll need to set up each monitoring software individually). PagerDuty doesn’t do the actual monitoring; rather, it receives alert messages via email and routes them to the right person on your team based on rules you build. Alerts can be in the form of SMS, phone calls, or email.

Picture 1One of my favourite parts of the software is the great UI on the built-in calendar that allows you to set up which person on your team is on-call at any time.

Here’s how PagerDuty’s Alex Solomon describes the service:

PagerDuty prevents a sysadmin’s worst nightmare: coming in to work on a Monday morning and finding out that their site has been down for the entire weekend. […]  When something goes wrong, PagerDuty springs into action by calling, SMSing, or emailing the engineer on duty.  If for some reason, PagerDuty can’t get ahold of the person on-call, it automatically escalates the alert to someone else.”

Everyone on the PagerDuty team spent some time working at Amazon which uses sophisticated internal tools for handling problem alerts. According to Solomon, they created PagerDuty because, after leaving Amazon, they “spent some time looking for something similar to what Amazon has, but the solutions we found were either lacking key features, or were priced well beyond what we were willing to pay.

The team had the option to possibly start up PagerDuty somewhere in Silicon Valley, but in the end, they chose to start in Toronto because of reduced costs and the fact that they had a better network here. “the Valley wasn’t really an option for us. We chose Toronto because all of us grew up here — most of our network is based here, so it really made sense to try not to stray too far from home,” says Solomon.

PagerDuty has done many things right. The website looks slick and the UI is smooth. (Some have commented that the front page may look a lot like some other Web 2.0 startup websites but that’s probably a good way to start, in my opinion). The problem they deal with is a real one that their team has experienced in the past, and they’ve solved it elegantly. Some of the challenges I expect they’ll have is that the market will be limited to a specific segment of companies that already use server management utilities that send emails – marketing to the right people in these companies and gathering enough adoption will be a challenge at least in the beginning.

PagerDuty founding team is Alex Solomon, Andrew Milkas, and Baskar Puvanathasan.

You can learn more about PagerDuty’s service and sign up for a free account on their website at

I’m going to try using the service at my company. – Local, niche, reviews and communities

Lets say that you run a highly successful online community of blond vegans who have a penchant for Prosciutto. You would like to manage local reviews for that community, but you do not have the technical ability or the data you need to get it kick started.

Montreal based Praized is an innovative solution in the heavily contested local listings and review space. Praized is designed a white-label platform that integrates seamlessly with editorial content by using either an API or plug-ins that are compatible with SixApart?s MovableType and WordPress. Bloggers and site editors can embed snippets of merchant information within posts or news articles to drive traffic to their Praized-powered local section. Praized also designed its platform to be available to Facebook application developers and others through an API.

Praized communities enable users to search, discover and discuss places with like-minded people. Users benefit from discovering the ?long tail? of places via discussions on lesser known local merchants that struggle to be found through Web search. End-users also get real value from social tools that allow them to tag, comment, bookmark, share and vote on places that matter to them.

Praized is bringing a really novel and sensible approach to local listings. Realizing that you can bridge the gap between the hype-local and centralized business models can bring opportunities in a lot of markets, and that is what Praized is doing here.

The first Praized-Powered community is now active at Mocolocal and they also recently announced distribution agreements with Yellowbook in the US and Yellow Pages Group Co. in Canada.

Other Canadian local-search and review companies include iBegin, who have moved in to the data wholesale business, and ZipLocal (TSX:ZIP) who recently launched ZipDating. Praized does go beyond just reviews and listings, they also have a recommendation system that allows users to suggest places and things to friends in their social network, including Facebook.