Alumnus designs, prepares to launch new technology website

Sophie Kupiec-Weglinski

Charlie Stigler ’11 created Zaption, a website that allows users to add interactive elements to clips of videos from sites like Youtube.

Zaption will be open for public use in the coming weeks.  A user can add multiple choice questions when the video pauses to quiz viewers.

“Medical schools have large databases of surgery video, but no way to effectively use this video to help medical students learn,” Stigler said. “Using Zaption, they could create an interactive experience that pauses the video at given points and asks the student to circle the part of the body where they should make the next incision.

The professors could then look at a heat map of where the students circled, to see whether the students were learning well and what they need to clarify in their next lesson.”

Stigler conceived the idea in the summer of 2011.

He wanted to create a tool that would allow teachers to critique other teachers using classroom videos.

“For example, your physics teacher could create an experience combining a video lecture with quiz questions for the students to help them engage more and learn more from the video,” Stigler said. “These both play into the educational concept of the flipped classroom, where lectures are largely delivered outside of class time so that your class time can be used more productively.”

During his first year at Columbia University, Stigler applied for the Thiel Fellowship, a fund that gives young entrepreneurs a chance to work on their ideas by giving them $100,000 to leave college and focus on their work.

After applying, being interviewed by phone, and flying with 40 finalists to San Francisco for another interview, Stigler was granted the fellowship and moved to California to focus on Zaption. Stigler does not know if he will go back to Columbia and continue his studies.

“Leaving Columbia was the only way I could make Zaption happen,” Stigler said. “College has an unbeatable environment socially, and I was sad to leave some great friends, but hopefully this time will let me grow both as an entrepreneur and as a person.”

As the only full time employee, he built the website entirely by himself in the last six months and is still fixing bugs and ensuring compatibility with older browsers. Stigler doesn’t want the public to see the full website until it is working well and smoothly.

When he posted a naming contest online, Zaption was chosen and the winner was paid $150.

“I think of it as representing the way we add context to a video, the same way a caption adds context to a video,” Stigler said.