Zubair is the founder of ZNotes and in his Master’s year studying Mathematics at UCL. He is on a mission of making it possible for anyone, anywhere to make their life better through access to education and is hugely passionate about UNSDG4. Zubair also holds ambassadorial roles for the One Young World and IMPACTR, working towards sustainability and the future of education. Alongside this, he is a STEM ambassador for the Mayor’s London Scientist programme, helping inspire more young Londoners, especially in low-income schools, to consider careers in STEM. He is a super outdoors person, a streak and marathon runner, inline and figure skater and enjoys swimming in everything other than swimming pools.
1) What is ZNotes?
ZNotes is the ultimate revision platform for students to revise for their high-school exams. Built on the principle of ‘for students, by students’, it harnesses student power to provide high-quality and concise revision notes on individual subjects for the International GCSEs and A-Level exams, branching out to SATs and IB too. The ideology behind this is that high-quality resources should be available easily and free of cost to students all over the world.
2) How did you come up with the idea for ZNotes?
Picture this: a 16-year-old Zubair, studying at a British international exam, and heading into first proper exams – the International GCSEs. And yet, he couldn’t find a single resource online which consolidated the syllabus and kept it concise for his final revision.
To solve this, I scoured the internet, used all my notes from class and even went through past papers to come up with the ultimate set of notes: covering every syllabus point and packaged together into a sleek-looking document. Having done all this, I just couldn’t let these resources hideaway in a folder. And having personally faced the difficulty of finding good resources, I realised an even deeper problem; that hundreds of thousand students all over the world will be giving the same exams as me but face disparities in their grades due to an uneven distribution of academic resources. So I set up a simple blog to share the documents and told a few friends. Today, with just the word of mouth and many website versions later, we boast more than a 100 sets of notes contributed by students from across the globe and have reached almost 3 million students, teachers and educators!
3) How can you compete with the generic modes of revision such as tutors, textbooks and the internet?
ZNotes definitely doesn’t replace the textbook – we are quite focused on skipping the waffle and making sure you are ready for the exam with super-specific notes. Similarly, tutors are often hugely valuable resources and can help prepare you with individual attention. However, neither of them are affordable en masse and with ZNotes always being open-access for students, we want to make sure that no one is left behind. The internet is (often) a wondrous place bursting with content and I’m sure, like the rest of the world, we are super grateful for finding a YouTube tutorial for pretty much everything. It is also sometimes overwhelming and we want to help you by providing exactly what you need – no fuss!
4) What hurdles did you face in getting to point of having a functioning platform with users today?
One too many… I remember vividly, just a week before my A2 exams when we were DDOS attacked by someone and our hosts told us they couldn’t provide their service to us anymore. Why were we attacked? No idea but it left me shocked and with hundreds of emails from students asking what had happened and how they could access the notes. Needless to say it was a pretty stressful time, with the exams which determined my future just days away while trying to get the website back up and add all the subjects onto it. During this journey, we’ve been ripped off (and even resold!), let down by people with promises and received hurtful comments. But all of these have just been bumps on the road and has made us better and stronger in what we do. One of the most important things for me is to always stay loyal to your users and keep hold of your principles because that community will always keep you strong!
5) What do you think the future of education around the world will look like in the coming years?
Personalised. For too long the education system has been run like a factory where maximising efficiency rather than boosting creativity and expanding horizons has been its driving force. But now with technology advancing in leaps and bounds and amazing solutions being developed and implemented by educational technology companies, the educational revolution is imminent! Harnessing technologies like AI, AR/VR and even just your phone, it is now possible to deliver personalised learning experiences at fractions of costs. And with the job sector changing so rapidly, a radical change in the way we learn is necessary.
6) What advice would you give to young aspiring entrepreneurs?
I never set out to turn ZNotes into a startup and didn’t even think of myself as an entrepreneur until I was suddenly called one. But this in itself highlights an important point: entrepreneurship is more than just coming up with an idea and starting a business. Too many times have we witnessed pitches that are impossible to implement and with all the hype around entrepreneurship, we are falling into the trap of thinking there is a straightforward method to becoming the next Uber. My advice? Build relationships, be consistent in your efforts and always be hungry to learn. You might not end up with a unicorn startup but those skills will always drive you to success!
We would like to thank Zubair for speaking with us.