Why We Invested in Sketchy

by Jennifer Carolan

Reach is investing in Sketchy’s $30M round led by TCG. Sketchy fits neatly into our digital curriculum thesis: bottoms-up, freemium, digital curriculums based on timeless pedagogy that wins the hearts of users. Our investments in Mystery Science, Newsela, Nearpod, and Desmos are other examples of this thesis at work.

Sketchy was founded by medical students Saud Siddiqui, Andrew Berg, Bryan Lemieux and Aaron Lemieux who wanted a better way to learn the vast amount of content needed to prepare for their careers as physicians. Instead of flashcards and textbooks, they created sketches with humorous storylines and characters to make the information fun to learn and easy to recall.

As it turns out, their study approach was rooted in an ancient and proven pedagogy called method of loci (MOL, also known as the memory palace), a mnemonic device from Roman and Greek rhetoric that is used by modern-day memory masters like Dominic O’Brien, the eight-time world memory champion, who once memorized 54 decks of cards in sequence with only one glance at each card. Memory palaces gained mainstream popularity with the 2010 BBC TV series Sherlock and the 2011 book Moonwalking With Einstein.

Their funny sketches went viral and became so popular that medical students began dressing as Sketchy characters for Halloween (or SketchyWeen) and their Sketchy Holiday Ugly Sweater sold out in days. Today, about 25% of all US medical students are Sketchy customers.

Here’s how it works: The information to be memorized is associated with specific loci (i.e. locations) in a familiar, visualized spatial environment. Sketchy creators use symbols that represent discrete pieces of medical information introduced step-by-step in a narrated video. Examples of Sketchy videos can be seen here (salmonella) and here (sepsis). For example, the sketch below is used to explain a bacteria called Bartonella Henselae, how it manifests in bodily disease and its treatment (see footnote for full explanation of this sketch¹).