Walter Yuan of MobLab

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Walter Yuan (co-founder and CEO) of MobLab, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of MobLab – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Prior to founding MobLab, I helped design and implement interactive experiments for social science research at Caltech and UCLA. Trained as a biologist, it was absolutely refreshing for me to see that experiments can work for the social sciences just like they had been for the natural sciences for centuries. Working on these experiments and seeing them used in laboratories made me see their applications in classrooms as well. While teachers wanted to integrate these activities to better engage their students, running them was inefficient due to time-consuming and laborious pain points such as setting up, repeating the experiment with a variance, and analyzing the results, all of which take up valuable class time.

With all the advancements in technology and readily available smart devices, I wanted to create a solution for this, but that was only our starting point. I co-founded MobLab in 2011 with the mission to encourage learning and engagement for all, and our products and services are all created with this in mind. Our first product was building an education console filled with interactive games and surveys that instructors can conveniently customize in a few easy clicks, instead of draining hours of their time. Over the years, we have listened to the feedback of our educators and added features per their requests, including attendance tracking and making our activities available as out-of-class assignments.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Scaling the business. While working in education is tremendously fulfilling and impactful, scaling the business can be challenging due to long adoption cycles, low affordability, and pedagogical inertia. Fortunately and collectively, with the team members mostly from academia, we have the knowledge of and experience in what works and doesn’t in classrooms, and what drives adoption decisions. Also, working with our valued partners (publishers such as Cengage, Macmillan, and Harvard Business Publishing) helps expand our reach at scale.

What does the future hold for MobLab?

In addition to our continued improvements to our flagship product, the MobLab Education Console, we are developing our learning tools for outside the classroom. Especially with so many families struggling financially, we see the need to teach the younger generation financial literacy. Most schools do not teach this, and we want to make sure we are a resource for them to learn and practice good financial habits early. Separately, there are also businesses that have reached out and requested help in using our simulations for training purposes and talent optimization. MobLab started with a single product in academia, and I am excited that our future is expanding to an even wider reach, allowing us to truly carry out our mission to help make learning and engagement available to people of all ages and in various environments.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Pasadena?

As the home to Caltech, incubators like Idealab, and countless attractions, Pasadena, in my mind, has always been vibrant with entrepreneurship. Whenever I join a local meetup or attend a talk hosted by Innovate Pasadena, I am amazed at the local talents and interesting and challenging problems they work on. One trend I sense is that the reliance of the local startup community on Caltech and hardware-centric initiatives has shifted in recent years to more software technology based innovations. Another is the migration of talents from elsewhere in Southern California or other parts of the country.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Build your network and be open to learning. When MobLab first started, many business decisions were new to me. It was intimidating, but asking people to help me understand the benefits and risks of each challenge was a great learning opportunity as an entrepreneur. If no one in my network had the answers, I asked for an introduction to someone else who might. Thanks to the support of so many people who believe in MobLab and what we do, we are able to help educators and students, as well as plan for a future helping even more people to learn.


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