The interview is prepared by Matthew Furlong and Chengyi Tao, UMass Boston MBA students, graduating in May and Summer 2017 (respectively).

Thomas Ketchell, Sutori

Where are you from?

I was born in St Leonards on Sea in the UK. My father is British and mother is French but I primarily grew up in Belgium. I suppose you can call me European.

Educational background

BA History & Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham
MA Business & Development at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels

What sparked your idea?

The idea behind Sutori began when I was living and working in Beijing. I was working at the time for an agency that worked on campaigns for environmental causes and one of the ideas we had was to compare Beijing’s air pollution today to London’s in 1952. One event stood out – the Great Smog of London – and we created a fictional character that had a smartphone and started tweeting as if reliving the Smog of London but today. The Tweetstorm blew up and received tons of coverage in the UK from major media outlets. From there on, we realized the potential of recreating historical events so we built a platform for teachers and students to create and share these stories like we did with the Smog. Sutori is just like a visual collaborative Google doc. You can create and invite your friends or colleagues and start editing material together. We are targeting anyone and everyone. Although we are primarily used by teachers and students, anyone can sign up and start creating stories.

The company was founded in 2014 and it feels like a long time that we have been working on this! I am very fortunate to have a solid team of co-founders including my friend from school, Yoran Brondsema (our CTO), my business partner from China, Steven Chiu and my brother Jonathan Ketchell (former educator). We are lucky to count some wonderful investors in Sutori. These include prominent business angels in Boston such as Jean Hammond as well as traditional venture firms like Intel Capital.

What have been the greatest challenges to your business’ success so far?

We began primarily in the education with a clear goal in mind: having teachers engage their students in social studies. One challenge we encountered was to monetize in the edtech space by selling directly to teachers. It has proven difficult to get traction on that end.

What have been your greatest achievements so far with your business?

I like to think there’s still plenty left to achieve and we have only just begun. Having schools in different countries collaborate and share stories together using our platform was definitely one of the highlights since starting Sutori.

What are your short-term and long-term business goals?

In the short-term, we’re in the process of fundraising where it’s sometimes hard to see past this upcoming milestone. Long-term, we want to reach 1.5m storytellers by the end of next year. We believe this goal is achievable and we’re excited to make it happen.

How did you arrive at UMass Boston and the VDC?

William Brah is very well known in the Boston community and I was fortunate to be introduced to him via one of our investors, Jean Hammond.

What are benefits of being an entrepreneur here?

The biggest asset of being an entrepreneur here is the mentorship. At Sutori, we’re fortunate to be working alongside John Hamilton, VDC Entrepreneur in Residence,  who provides us with an enormous amount of time and dedication towards our project. I also recommend you come visit to see the space for yourself as the view is quite stunning!

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Keep it simple and build things people actually want to use. We made some mistakes along the way which held the company back. If we had made the most of some early prototyping (even with just some paper instead of building something), we would have made sure to not waste so many resources so I recommend speaking to as many potential users of your product as possible to get an idea of their pain points.

The interview is also published at UMass Boston’s Entrepreneurship Club’s blog