I would not invest in the product at this time, however I do find the idea intriguing. The idea of a peer-driven, collaborative discussion tool for encouraging academic reading in higher education is fantastic. Allowing professors to highlight specific sections and embed questions, comments or discussion parameters within the text is also a great idea. Suggestion: you might also allow professors to embed video or audio to turn that article into a blended delivery lesson, using shorter video clips to address specific sections within a larger article.
There are a few specific concerns and questions that I have for the product at this time, and I don’t feel you have answered those issues enough for me to invest at this time.
First of all, I would like more explanation on how the analytics work. How will this be collected, what kind of information, and how can it be used to target learning objectives?
Secondly, I do not think your ask of $500,000 is enough to carry your business through to profitability. You have a large staff (it appears to be about 20) and you will need to float the business for 18-24 months. I am not sure that you will have the legs to get there on a $500, 000 investment.
Next, I am quite concerned that you have not clearly addressed the issue of getting access rights to the journal articles. There are many platforms that deliver/manage/control and profit from the control of information from academic journals. How will you fit content from vendor-curators like Wiley Online Library and JSTOR, for example, into your platform? Won’t your customers (schools and professors) have to pay an additional content license to use these materials in your product? There may be restrictions in use from these vendors, as you are essentially republishing (or presenting) their content in a for-profit 3rd party application. Many of these vendors make it difficult to students download or use their PDFs, even for institutions that have licenses with them to do so. I suspect that this will be a substantial hurdle to overcome. In addition, it seems as if there is little coordination between content curators at this time (there seems to be no standardization of presentation, delivery, or even archival and searching) and this might mean negotiations will need to be conducted with each vendor of content.
Finally, the big weakness: your revenue model. I have many issues with the idea of a new classroom tool that forces students to bear the cost of implementation. It might be the quickest way to reach a large market, but it means that students will be forced to buy a product that also requires a computer and Internet access. I know that most students these days do own connected devices, but I am not sure that it can be made a mandatory part of education (but then, it is a long time since I have been a student at a Canadian university). I suspect that there will be resistance from students. In addition, I suspect that you will meet with resistance from administrators or even faculty at the idea of making this a mandatory purchase for students.
If it isn’t mandatory, then I wonder at the longevity of the product. If students do not NEED it, then many will not BUY it. If this trend continues, how long will it be used by professors? Students often take the path of least resistance, and not buying a tool that makes them do more work seems like a “path of least resistance” to me.
It might be better to examine a revenue model where this is integrated into the suite of products used by a school for their students. You might do better to target professors or institutions to implement your product. Institutions of higher education have budgets available for products such as this. It takes longer for you to expand into your market, but it seems like a more reliable revenue model in the end.
Finally, there is a legal consideration. As soon as your product starts hosting comments by students, you have to deal with security of their identities. This is why I wonder if this might not be better to develop this as a plugin for some of the more popular LMS products on the market. Access to your plugin would sit behind the universities login and would shield you from some of the legal issues that might make this problematic for larger scale deployment. I do not have experience in 3rd party for-profit plugins, however, but I suggest that it might be worth considering.