Photo by: Davor Žunić
Creator of Photomath, the most popular croatian application
To do this interview for ACI magazine, Damir Sabol, the founder and owner of Photomath, arrived in his office on the 14th floor of a Zagreb high rise early in the morning, at a time when most employees’ desks were still unoccupied and the computers were turned off. A little over fifty people work in the open-plan office space of the Photomath company and almost all have a degree in mathematics; only a smaller number, about twenty of them, are talented students in their final year. Apart from Zagreb, Sabol also has a team working in the US, in California.
That morning, instead of reading a newspaper, Damir Sabol, the creator of Photomath – the Croatian application for solving mathematical tasks, which has become globally well-known and popular – was flipping through Croatian, American and some other mathematics textbooks, used to develop Photomath. Compared to the Croatian ones, the American textbooks, he says showing them, “have much more explanation and a far greater number of examples. We use these textbooks; they contain a huge amount of material. Unlike the American ones, the Croatian mathematics textbooks put a much greater burden on teachers because there are too few examples and too little explanation in them, and then it falls to the teachers to decide what to do and whether there is enough time to teach everything that’s required. That’s exactly why Photomath has helped some people more than their teachers,” says Sabol.
In the autumn of 2018 Photomath reached 100 million users, of which 50% were secondary school students, 20% primary school children, and 20% were students who hadn’t learnt their secondary school maths well enough. Most of its users are from the United States, followed by Russia, West European countries, Brazil, Indonesia, etc. Photomath has raised six million euros from Goodwater Capital and Learn Capital, American venture capital firms focused on investing in the technology sector. To say that Sabol is satisfied, and also intensely focused on developing the application further, is an understatement. Still, he doesn’t give the impression of a man who necessarily sees profit as the most important thing; he readily talks and has a lot to say about potential social and educational consequences of the application used by children all over the world to learn maths. Photomath uses the camera of a mobile phone to recognise a mathematical problem, and offers the solution and the explanation method.
“How did you come up with Photomath; where did you get the idea from?”
The idea, in fact, came from – my being lazy. Its background is Microblink, the company in which I’m also the majority owner, which develops the technology that uses a mobile phone camera to recognise a text. Microblink has developed the so-called ‘scan and pay’ technology, which is used to pay bills.
One evening I was helping my son, who was eleven at the time, to do homework. There was a whole lot of addition and subtraction, and I was really tired; the working week was behind me and I just wasn’t up to checking mathematical solutions. Feeling frustrated, I thought there had to be a way to do it faster and it occurred to me that if we take our text recognition technology and develop some mathematical algorithms, we can combine the two and get the software, i.e. an application, that solves mathematical problems, and you don’t even need to input them to your device manually.