Must Read Founder's Five September 1, 2023

Founder’s Five: Jonathan Libov, Antimatter

Founder’s Five is a continuing series from Tyton Partners that invites education company founders to shed light on their own success and illuminate the landscape for other education entrepreneurs and investors by answering five basic questions.

Jonathan Libov founded Antimatter in 2021 to transform complex subjects into shareable, puzzle-like content that sparks curiosity and fosters a love for learning.

Antimatter provides a platform for schools (ages 13 and up) to teach and learn through the creation and exchange of memes. The company’s platform offers a collaborative meme studio for classrooms that employs tools inspired by other meme communities on the internet, and will soon offer learner-to-learner products and experiences. 

By harnessing the inherent virality and relatability of memes, they seek to transform complex subjects into shareable, puzzle-like content that sparks curiosity and fosters a love for learning. With their unique approach, Antimatter hopes to break down traditional barriers to education in favor of interactive and engaging learning experiences. 

The company raised a $2 million seed round in May 2023.

What is your company’s origin story?

When people hear that we’re a platform for teaching and learning through memes, most people think we’re trying to forge a new, wacky idea. But the reality is we didn’t invent Antimatter, we discovered it.

In April 2020, peak pandemic, I decided to stop doomscrolling Twitter and start spending downtime on Reddit. One day I joined the r/physicsmemes sub and realized it was the third learning meme community I had joined, after @historymemes_explained on Instagram and @UpdatingOnRome on Twitter. I had just never thought of “learning meme community” as a compound noun before.

A month later there was a really great video meme posted in the r/physicsmemes about friction. The meme was impressive, but what really stood out was that the top comment went something like, “Great meme but you’re misrepresenting friction…” and went on to describe how and why. That sub is mostly made up of graduate students to the best of my knowledge, and it was really neat to see students behaving as teachers in situ. That’s when I came to realize you can’t learn from a meme alone; rather, memes are puzzles around which people congregate, and the learning happens in the discussion.

Lastly, I took this observation to my best friend from college who’s now a high school history teacher, and I was expecting him to say something like, “That’s cute”. Instead, he relayed how he asks students to create memes all the time for formative assessment and uses memes for test prep, and that all the teachers he holds in high regard use memes too.

That meant we had not one but two emergent behaviors on our hands. When you have one emergent behavior you have to think about a company, but when you have two, you’re more or less obligated to start that company.

How will the market be changed by your company’s success?

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began?

In spite of teachers’ abundant use of memes in the classroom we didn’t want to pursue that use case because it felt like a fork in the road. That is, we either make an EdTech product that would need to be sold to schools, which is really, really hard, or we go the direct-to-learner, consumer route, which is a much larger market.

But it was teachers who took to our first prototype and they kept asking us if it was okay to share the memes created by their students or how to download the memes so they could share them. So we started asking questions and it became clear that teachers were not only open to the idea that their classroom activity would be connected to a network and the broader Internet, but they found it really appealing to see their students’ work shine outside of the classroom context. That unlocked our strategy: Classrooms could not only serve as a use case, but any users’ foray into a broader network.

What non-intuitive insight have you gained through this work?

That if you’re underestimating young people’s ability to consume and create visual work, you’re doing so at your own peril.

If you’re underestimating young people’s ability to consume and create visual work, you’re doing so at your own peril.

Jonathan Libov

While it’s true that not every kid is into memes per se, the vast majority is as fluent communicating visually as they are in their native tongue. Especially when you see data which suggests that kids turn to YouTube and TikTok before Google, you wonder whether we’re on the other side of a long arc from cave drawings to the printing press and then back to visuals as the primary way we communicate about the world.

What other education company besides your own do you wish you had started?

Replit and Synthesis. The vast majority of learning products are Explainer + Quiz, where the explainer could be text or a video – those are finite experiences at best, though in some instances like Prodigy Game you at least get a finite game. Replit and Synthesis enable learning through infinite games, which mirrors our everyday experience and is how life really works. We’re certainly building Antimatter to become an infinite game and hopefully a lifelong obsession.