Newsela, the replacement for textbooks, raises $100M and becomes a unicorn

Newsela, a SaaS platform for K-12 instructional material backed by the likes of TCV, Kleiner Perkins, Reach Capital, and Owl Ventures, announced today that it has raised $100 million in a Series D round. The financing was led by new investor Franklin Templeton, and brings Newsela’s valuation to $1 billion. The new round is larger than the aggregate of Newsela’s prior capital raised to-date.

“Hitting $1 billion [in valuation] doesn’t change a thing,” Newsela CEO Matthew Gross told TechCrunch. But the startup is joining Quizlet, Applyboard, and CourseHero as companies within the sector that have hit the unicorn mark as remote education continues to gain traction.

Newsela has created a platform that strings together a number of different third-party content, such as primary source documents or the latest National Geographic articles. Gross defines it as “material that isn’t purpose-built for education, [but] purpose-built for being interesting and informative.” If Newsela is doing its job right, the content can replace textbooks within a classroom altogether, while helping teachers give fresh, personalized material.

“Textbooks are dead in classrooms, but are well-and-live in district purchasing,” Gross said. The startup is on a mission to distribute its product better, and the money will be used to get it into more classrooms. Part of this, Gross explains, is telling teachers what else it can provide along with textbooks. Analytics has become a big part of Newsela’s business, as remote learning hurts student engagement.

The startup’s paid product is between $6 to $14 per student, which contrasts with textbooks that can cost a school $20 to $40 per student “even on an annualized basis.”

Like other edtech companies, Newsela offered its product for free in the beginning of the pandemic, which gave it a healthy bump of new users.

Newsela estimates that gross bookings have grown 115% over the pandemic, and that revenue grew 81%. It declined to share revenue numbers or if it has hit profitability. There will be over 11 million students using Newsela licensing by the end of 2021, Gross said.

Newsela estimates that two-thirds of public schools in the United States are using their platform, likely aided by school district flexibility that has grown amid the pandemic.

#edtech, #education, #franklin-templeton, #media, #newsela, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #teaching, #textbook


James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems leads $31 million investment in India’s Doubtnut

Doubtnut, an Indian startup that helps students learn and master concepts from math and science using short videos, has raised $31 million in a new financing round, months after it rejected an acquisition offer from India’s largest edtech firm Byju’s.

The three-year-old Gurgaon-headquartered startup said SIG and James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems led the $31 million Series B funding round. Existing investors Sequoia Capital India, Omidyar Network India and Waterbridge Ventures also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to about $50 million to date.

The Doubtnut app allows students to take a picture of a problem, and uses machine learning and image recognition to deliver their answers through short-videos. These videos offer students step-by-step instructions to solve a problem.

The app supports multiple languages, and has amassed over 2.5 million daily active users who spend 600 million minutes a month on the app, the startup said. More than half of the users have come online for the first time in last 12 months, the startup said.

The startup said it has developed a bank of over 65 million questions in nine languages for students from sixth grade to high-school. Unlike several other popular edtech firms, Doubtnut said its app reaches students in smaller towns and cities. “85% of the current base comes from outside of the top 15 Indian cities, and 60% users study in state boards where typical medium of instruction is the local vernacular language,” the startup said.

TechCrunch reported last year that Byju’s was in talks to acquire Doubtnut for as much as $150 million. Byju’s later lowered its deal offer, after which the two firms ended their talks.

James Murdoch last month announced he was reuniting with Uday Shankar, an executive who helped him build the Murdoch family’s Star business in India, which was later sold to Disney. Shankar will work with Murdoch to “accelerate” Lupa’s efforts in India, Murdoch said last month. Lupa has backed nearly a dozen startups so far, including Indian news aggregator and social app DailyHunt.

“Doubtnut has been built with a vision to improve learning outcomes for all students, especially those outside the major Indian cities. We specialize in developing content in vernacular languages and use technology to create affordable solutions for people in this large target segment,” said Tanushree Nagori, co-founder and CEO of Doubtnut, adding,

“We are pleased to welcome onboard SIG and Lupa; SIG brings in strong experience of investing in ed-tech companies globally and Lupa Systems brings unparalleled experience of building world-class businesses and harnessing high-impact technologies,” she added.

The startup said it will deploy the fresh capital to add support for more language and broaden the scope of subjects it covers today. Doubtnut is also planning to introduce paid courses.

#apps, #asia, #byjus, #doubtnut, #edtech, #education, #funding, #india, #lupa-systems, #sequoia-capital-india, #sig, #unacademy, #waterbridge-ventures


Codecademy eyes the enterprise with $40 million in new capital

After going over four years without raising any capital, coding class platform Codecademy has raised a new tranche of money: a $40 million Series D round led by Owl Ventures, with participation from Prosus and Union Square Ventures.

The startup is the latest edtech business to bring on capital after years without it, a list that includes ClassDojo, CourseHero, Quizlet and Udacity. But founder Zach Sims, who began the company in 2011 as a Columbia student, says that Codecademy’s growth, and hunger for new capital, isn’t due to a pandemic bump.

“A lot of that edtech bump came in K-12 and college solutions, or in leisure educational things like MasterClass,” Sims said. “Ours was less pandemic-induced.”

The business, which helps students and employees learn how to code in an interactive environment, is currently bringing in $50 million in annual recurring revenue. That figure is on track with Codecademy’s normal growth trajectory, which has been doubling since 2018. The startup has still seen some areas of growth. It took Codecademy four years to reach their first 100,000 users; however, they added 50,000 more paying users in their fifth year alone.

Codecademy’s funding signals that investors aren’t just looking for exponential growth, they are looking for sustainable, historical growth. The startup has been cash-flow positive for years, and has $20 million of its $30 million Series C, closed in 2016, still in the bank. Two-thirds of today’s capital is going straight to the bank, Sims says.

Still, raising itself costs money in the form of equity for founders and a startup. So why raise if you still have cash and aren’t struggling to keep up demand?

Sims says that the new cash will be used to acquire businesses, grow internationally in India and other countries, and hire. He also wants to “invest deeply” in a paid product it launched in the wake of the pandemic, Codecademy For Business. The product is Codecademy’s foray into selling coding classes for the enterprise, a shift from its direct-to-consumer route.

Codecademy For Business launched in beta last year and grew to 600 paying clients. Half of those customers are non-technology companies like banks, consulting firms and small businesses that want to train employees in data literacy and tech-specific programing. Sims says that the product was launched due to customer demand, and piggybacks on what investors see as an awakening among companies that it is necessary to train and reskill employees.

The growth mirrors the gains recently enjoyed by Udemy. The re-skilling company similarly has an enterprise and consumer product, but is seeing more monetary gains in the former. We scooped last month that Udemy for Business has secured 7,000 customers, and is bringing in roughly $200 million in ARR.

Sims says that its enterprise operation, which competes with products like Udemy or Coursera, requires upfront research and development “before it starts to pay itself back.” He thinks that building a bottoms-up enterprise product, fueled by tens of millions of Codecademy users, will be both the big opportunity and a big challenge for the company. The end goal here for Codecademy is to have a 50% split between its consumer and enterprise business.

“The number one biggest differentiator has been interactivity,” Sims said. “Everyone is tired of Zoom, and our thesis since the beginning is that video is not the best way to learn, and that learning by doing is.”

While the startup wouldn’t disclose valuation, Codecademy’s growth feels mature and unicorn-like. The startup is diversifying revenue, adding offensive cash to its bank, and even not-so-subtly added a CFO from Chegg to its ranks. IPOs are in the air.

#codecademy, #coding, #edtech, #education, #owl-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #zach-sims


ErudiFi raises $5 million Series A to give students in Southeast Asia more education financing options

Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.

ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.

To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.

By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.

Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”

In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”

ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.

#asia, #education, #erudifi, #finance, #fintech, #fundings-exits, #indonesia, #philippines, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc


Miami edtech startup Nearpod acquired by Renaissance

Nearpod, the Miami-based edtech company, is being acquired by Renaissance Holding Corp., a group that develops education technology. While Nearpod isn’t announcing the news until later this month, the information leaked to Yahoo! Finance yesterday, and a source inside the company confirmed the sale with TechCrunch this morning. The acquisition price, and further details, have yet to be disclosed.

Nearpod offers an edtech platform that K-12 teachers use in the classroom to create interactive slides filled with videos, quizzes, questions and other activities. Students can use any device to participate in the lessons in real-time; there is also a student-paced learning mode. In response to the pandemic, Nearpod now also offers remote learning, too.

It’s been a busy year for Nearpod. The company, which was founded in 2012 by three Argentinian entrepreneurs, is now led by Pep Carrera who was brought on in early 2020 just as the pandemic gained traction. The company has raised more than $30 million in venture capital according to Crunchbase, and we last profiled the startup in 2017 when it raised its Series B.

In a previous interview, Carrera told me “My first day on the job, I’m driving to the office [near Dania Beach] and talking to the management team on the phone, and we decided that we needed to close the office due to the pandemic. This was in March.” Nearpod currently employees about 250 employees, most of which are at their Dania Beach HQ.

While the pandemic has posed many questions around remote work, under the leadership of Carrera, Nearpod has seen explosive growth in 2020. While Nearpod was primarily designed to be used in the classroom, the team was able to turn it into a remote-learning platform, too, making it a forerunner in K-12 distance education.

Nearpod is used in all 50 states, and in more than 1,800 school districts. In 2020 alone, the company grew by about 50% with more than 1 million teachers using the product, and 2-3 million students online per day. In a December 2020 interview, Carrera told me that all the money being generated right now is being put back into the company to propel its growth, which has been organic. Nearpod spends very little ad dollars on marketing. The real marketing, he said, is by word of mouth.

A teacher uses Nearpod to deliver digital curriculum to students’ mobile devices, during class. Photo via Nearpod.

Prior to joining Nearpod, Carrera was president of ProQuest Books, where he led a team focused on providing innovative software that made the acquisition, management, and delivery of books to academic learners, researchers, and librarians efficient and impactful. And even prior to ProQuest, as president and COO, Carrera grew VitalSource Technologies, the digital learning division of Ingram Conte Group, serving more than 20 million learners per year globally, by 10x over his six years there.

M&A activity in edtech has accelerated as VCs have splurged funding into the space. As my colleague Natasha Mascarenhas wrote recently, edtech M&A is leading to mass consolidation in the space. Nearpod joins a number of other edtech companies like Symbolab and Woot Math that have exited in recent months.

#edtech, #education, #ma, #miami, #nearpod


‘I Am Worth It’: Why Thousands of Doctors in America Can’t Get a Job

Medical schools are producing more graduates, but residency programs haven’t kept up, leaving thousands of young doctors “chronically unmatched” and deep in debt.

#alabama, #assn-of-american-medical-colleges, #barbados, #doctors, #education, #foreign-students-in-us, #hospitals, #medical-schools, #your-feed-healthcare, #your-feed-science


Japanese Student Forced to Dye Her Hair Black Wins, and Loses, in Court

In a split ruling, a court in Osaka ordered the school to pay some damages for emotional distress, but it said the rule that students’ hair must be black did not violate regulations.

#dyes-and-dyestuffs, #education, #education-k-12, #hair, #japan, #osaka-japan


Native Americans ‘Left Out in the Cold’ Under Trump Press Biden for Action

After showing political clout in the 2020 election, tribal communities are hoping for more attention and money to address their long-running problems with poverty, health care and other issues.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #education, #federal-lands, #haaland-deb, #indian-health-service, #infrastructure-public-works, #land-use-policies, #monuments-and-memorials-structures, #national-parks-monuments-and-seashores, #native-americans, #pipelines, #presidential-transition-us, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-politics-and-government


Tired of ‘Zoom University’? So is edtech

The rise of “Zoom University” was only possible because edtech wasn’t ready to address the biggest opportunity of the past year: remote learning at scale. Of course, the term encapsulates more than just Zoom, it’s a nod to how schools had to rapidly adopt enterprise video conferencing software to keep school in session in the wake of closures brought on by the virus’ rapid spread.

Now, nearly a year since students were first sent home because of the coronavirus, a cohort of edtech companies is emerging, emboldened with millions in venture capital, ready to take back the market.

The new wave of startups are slicing and dicing the same market of students and teachers who are fatigued by Zoom University, which — at best — often looks like a gallery view with a chat bar. Four of the companies that are gaining traction include Class, Engageli, Top Hat and InSpace. It signals a shift from startups playing in the supplemental education space and searching to win a spot in the largest chunk of a students day: the classroom.

While each startup has its own unique strategy and product, the founders behind them all need to answer the same question: Can they make digital learning a preferred mode of pedagogy and comprehension — and not merely a backup — after the pandemic is over?

Answering that question begins with deciding whether videoconferencing is what online, live learning should look like.

Ground up

“This is completely grounds up; there is no Zoom, Google Meets or Microsoft Teams anywhere in the vicinity,” said Dan Avida, co-founder of Engageli, just a few minutes into the demo of his product.

Engageli, a new startup founded by Avida, Daphne Koeller and Serge Plotkin, raised $14.5 million in October to bring digital learning to college universities. The startup wants to make big lecture-style classes feel more intimate, and thinks digitizing everything from the professor monologues to side conversations between students is the way to go.

Engageli is a videoconferencing platform in that it connects students and professors over live video, but the real product feature that differentiates it, according to Avida, is in how it views the virtual classroom.

Upon joining the platform, each student is placed at a virtual table with another small group of students. Within those pods, students can chat, trade notes, screenshot the lecture and collaborate, all while hearing a professor lecture simultaneously.

“The FaceTime session going on with friends or any other communication platform is going to happen,” Avida said. “So it might as well run it through our platform.”

The tables can easily be scrambled to promote different conversation or debates, and teachers can pop in and out without leaving their main screen. It’s a riff on Zoom’s breakout rooms, which let participants jump into separate calls within a bigger call.

There’s also a notetaking feature that allows students to screenshot slides and live annotate them within the Engageli platform. Each screenshot comes with a hyperlink that will take the student back to the live recording of that note, which could help with studying.

“We don’t want to be better than Zoom, we want to be different than Zoom,” Avida said. Engageli can run on a variety of products of differing bandwidth, from Chromebooks to iPads and PCs.

Engageli is feature-rich to the point that it has to onboard teachers, its main customer, in two phases, a process that can take over an hour. While Avida says that it only takes five minutes to figure out how to use the platform to hold a class, it does take longer to figure out how to fully take advantage of all the different modules. Teachers and students need to have some sort of digital savviness to be able to use the platform, which is both a barrier to entry for adoption but also a reason why Engageli can tout that it’s better than a simple call. Complexity, as Avida sees it, requires well-worth-it time.

The startup’s ambition doesn’t block it from dealing with contract issues. Other video conferencing platforms can afford to be free or already have been budgeted into. Engageli currently charges $9.99 or less per student seat for its platform. Avida says that with Zoom, “it’s effectively free because people have already paid for it, so we have to demonstrate why we’re much better than those products.”

Engageli’s biggest hurdle is another startup’s biggest advantage.

Built on top of Zoom

Class, launched less than a year ago by Blackboard co-founder Michael Chasen, integrates exclusively with Zoom to offer a more customized classroom for students and teachers alike. The product, currently in private paid beta, helps teachers launch live assignments, track attendance and understand student engagement levels in real time.

While positioning an entire business on Zoom could lead to platform risk, Chasen sees it as a competitive advantage that will help the startup stay relevant after the pandemic.

“We’re not really pitching it as pandemic-related,” Chasen said. “No school has only said that we’re going to plan to use this for a month, and very few K-12 schools say we’re only looking at this in case a pandemic comes again.” Chasen says that most beta customers say online learning will be part of their instructional strategy going forward.

Investors clearly see the opportunity in the company’s strategy, from distribution to execution. Earlier this month, Class announced it had raised $30 million in Series A financing, just 10 weeks after raising a $16 million seed round. Raising that much pre-launch gives the startup key wiggle room, but it also gives validation: a number of Zoom’s earliest investors, including Emergence Capital and Bill Tai, who wrote the first check into Zoom, have put money into Class.

“At Blackboard, we had a six to nine month sales cycle; we’d have to explain that e-learning is a thing,” Chasen said, who was at the LMS business for 15 years. “[With Class] we don’t even have to pitch. It wraps up in a month, and our sales cycle is just showing people the product.

Unlike Engageli, Class is selling to both K-12 institutions and higher-education institutions, which means its product is more focused on access and ease of use instead of specialized features. The startup has over 6,000 institutions, from high schools to higher education institutions, on the waitlist to join.

Image Credits: Class

Right now, Class software is only usable on Macs, but its beta will be available on iPhone, Windows and Android in the near future. The public launch is at the end of the quarter.

“K-12 is in a bigger bind,” he said, but higher-ed institutions are fully committed to using synchronous online learning for the “long haul.”

“Higher-ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step,” he said. “Whereas with a lot of K-12, I’m actually seeing that this is the first step that they’re taking.”

The big hurdle for Class, and any startup selling e-learning solutions to institutions, is post-pandemic utility. While institutions have traditionally been slow to adopt software due to red tape, Chasen says that both of Class’ customers, higher ed and K-12, are actively allocating budget for these tools. The price for Class ranges between $10,000 to $65,000 annually, depending on the number of students in the classes.

“We have not run into a budgeting problem in a single school,” he said. “Higher ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step, whereas K-12, this is the first step they’re taking.”

Asynchronously, silly

Engageli and Class are both trying to innovate on the live learning experience, but Top Hat, which raised $130 million in a Series E round this past week, thinks that the future is pre-recorded video.

Top Hat digitizes textbooks, but instead of putting a PDF on a screen, the startup fits features such as polls and interactive graphics in the text. The platform has attracted millions of students on this premise.

“We’re seeing a lot of companies putting emphasis on creating a virtual classroom,” he said. “But replicating the same thing in a different medium is never a good idea…nobody wants to stare at a screen and then have the restraint of having to show up at a previous pre-prescribed time.”

In July, Top Hat launched Community to give teachers a way to make class more than just a YouTube video. Similar to ClassDojo, Community provides a space for teachers and students to converse and stay up to date on shared materials. The interface also allows students to create private channels to discuss assignments and work on projects, as well as direct message their teachers.

CEO Mike Silagadze says that Top Hat tried a virtual classroom tool early on, and “very quickly learned that it was fundamentally just the wrong strategy.” His mindset contrasts with the demand that Class and Engageli have proven so far, to which Silagadze says might not be as long-term as they think.

“There’s definitely a lot of interest that’s generated in people signing up to beta lists and like wanting to try it out. But when people really get into it, everyone pretty much drops off and focuses more on asynchronous, small and in-person groups.”

Instead, the founder thinks that “schools are going to double down on the really valuable in-person aspects of higher education that they couldn’t provide before” and deliver other content, like large lecture-style classes or meetings, through asynchronous content delivery.

This is similar to what Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of Coursera, told TechCrunch in November: Colleges are going to re-invest in their in-person and residential experiences, and begin offering credentials and content online to fill in the gaps.

“We’ve been on the journey to create a more and more complete platform that our customers can use since almost day one,” Silagadze said. “What the pandemic has brought is much more comprehensive testing functionality that Top Hat has rolled out and better communication tooling so basically better chat and communication tooling for professors.”

Community costs $30 per semester, per student. Currently Top Hat has most of its paying customers coming in through its content offering, the digital textbooks, instead of this learning platform.

College spin-out

InSpace, a startup spinning out of Champlain college, is similarly focused on making the communication between professors and students more natural. Dr. Narine Hall, the founder of the startup, is a professor herself who just wanted class to “feel more natural” when it was being conducted.

InSpace is similar to some of the virtual HQ platforms that have popped up over the past few months. The platforms, which my colleague Devin Coldewey aptly dubbed Sims for Enterprise, are trying to create the feel of an office or classroom online but without a traditional gallery view or conference call vibe. The potential success of inSpace and others could signal how the future of work will blend gaming and socialization for distributed teams.

InSpace is using spatial gaming infrastructure to create spontaneity. The technology allows users to only hear people within their nearby proximity, and get quieter as they walk, or click, away. When applied to a virtual world, spatial technology can give the feeling of a hallway bump-in.

Similar to Engageli, inSpace is rethinking how an actual class is conducted. In inSpace, students don’t have to leave the main call to have a conversation during inSpace, which they do in Zoom. Students can just toggle over to their own areas and a professor can see teamwork being done in real time. When a student has a question, their bubble becomes bigger, which is easier to track than the hand-raise feature, says Hall.

InSpace has a different monetization strategy than other startups. It charges $15 a month per-educator or “host” versus per-student, which Hall says was so educators could close contracts “as fast as possible.” Hall agrees with other founders that schools have a high demand for the product, but she says that the decision-making process around buying new tooling continues to be difficult in schools with tight budgets, even amid a pandemic. There are currently 100 customers on the platform.

So far, Hall sees inSpace working best with classes that include 25 people, with a max of 50 people.

The company was born out of her own frustrations as a teacher. In grad school, Hall worked on research that combined proximity-based interactions with humans. When August rolled around and she needed a better solution than WebEx or Zoom, she turned to that same research and began building code atop of her teachings. It led to inSpace, which recently announced that it has landed $2.5 million in financing led by Boston Seed Capital.

The differences between each startup, from strategy to monetization to its view of the competition, are music to Zoom’s ears. Anne Keough Keehn, who was hired as Zoom’s Global Education Lead just nine months ago, says that the platform has a “very open attitude and policy about looking at how we best integrate…and sometimes that’s going to be a co-opetition.”

“In the past there has been too much consolidation and therefore it limits choices,” Keehn said. “And we know everybody in education likes to have choices.” Zoom will be used differently in a career office versus a class, and in a happy hour versus a wedding; the platform sees opportunity in it all beyond the “monolithic definition” that video-conferencing has had for so long.

And, despite the fact that this type of response is expected by a well-trained executive at a big company in the spotlight, maybe Keehn is onto something here: Maybe the biggest opportunity in edtech right now is that there is opportunity and money in the first place, for remote learning, for better video-conferencing and for more communication.

#class, #classdojo, #edtech, #education, #engageli, #enterprise, #inspace, #remote-work, #startups, #tc, #top-hat, #zoom


Leverage Edu raises $6.5 million to help Indian students land in top colleges abroad

Each year, millions of students in India rush to get an admission in universities abroad. Often they don’t know which program they should focus on, or the college that is right for their skillset and ambition.

Scores of legacy and newfound firms are attempting to offer counselling to these students. But despite India accounting for more students than any other country, most firms aiming to address this challenge are not focused on India, and struggle to understand some unique problems students from the world’s second most populous country face.

An Indian startup that is bridging this gap on Thursday said it has raised $6.5 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale its platform in the world’s second largest internet market.

Leverage Edu said Tomorrow Capital led the Gurgaon-headquartered startup’s Series A financing round. Existing investors Blume Ventures and DSG Consumer Partners also participated in the round.

Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and chief executive of Leverage Edu, told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes that eventually the firm that is going to serve the students best and emerge most successful will be the one that is physically closer to them, and not to the universities.

Chaturvedi, 30, has been experimenting with the right model for his startup for over five years. One of the earliest iterations of Leverage Edu offered mentorship to students and rewarded counselors with points.

Today, the startup offers a broad range of services in addition to offering personalized mentorship. Through its workshops, it helps students find the right college, guides them with complex applications and grade conversions, as well as assists with education loan, VISA, and accommodation. “It’s one digital dashboard. You get everything from flight ticket to local phone number, to education loan in one place,” he said.

“We believe it is inevitable that the next stellar brand in the global cross-border education space will be a home-grown one. We have a great belief in Akshay as a founder – he has a fantastic roadmap for scaling the business and the passion to build a truly global Indian edtech brand – and are excited about working with the Leverage Edu team on this journey,” said Rohini Prakash, chief executive of Tomorrow Capital, in a statement.

Leverage Edu helps students land admission in the most prestigious colleges, but also works with those that didn’t score the most marks and find high-profile colleges.

“Students going to the top colleges is just 10% of the potential audience,” explained Chaturvedi, who spent his teen years attending talks from startup founders and also made money by bringing more people to those talks.  “There are many universities that don’t have the best branding. To connect them with students, we have,” he said.

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to help students find colleges in more geographies including UK and Australia, he said.

“We want to focus on a few things and do them really really well. There is also this myth around foreign education being expensive that we’ve been busting for last four years. 18 months from now, we want to be among the top study abroad companies in India, both by number of students and a roof-hitting NPS – because a happy student is why we are all really motivated everyday to do this!”, he added.

#asia, #education, #funding, #india


New Zealand to Roll Out Free Period Products to All Students

The program, designed to reduce “period poverty,” will begin in June.

#ardern-jacinda, #education, #menstruation, #new-zealand, #politics-and-government, #poverty, #women-and-girls


Pandemic-era growth and SPACs are helping edtech startups graduate early

Special purpose acquisition vehicles regained popularity in 2020 as an alternative way to take startups public, and now they are eyeing edtech companies.

So far, Skillsoft has gone public through Churchill Capital, and Nerdy, parent company of Varsity Tutors, did the same through a reverse merger with TPG Pace Tech Opportunities. On the investor side, Edify and Adit EdTech Acquisition are both separate, $200 million SPACs for education companies.

SPACs are not being used to prop up companies that can’t go public through traditional means.

But is there anything specific to SPACs that makes them a better route for edtech companies than a traditional IPO or direct listing? To explore the question, I reached out to Chuck Cohn, CEO of Nerdy, which is currently in the process of being SPACed by TPG, and Susan Wolford, chairperson of Edify Acquisition, a $200 million SPAC for edtech companies.

Nerdy’s business is growing, but the company doesn’t expect to be profitable until 2023 and wants to drive revenues up 31% and 43% from its 2020 and 2021 expectations, respectively. Cohn said the balance sheet looks the way it does because they are heavily investing in product and engineering, and focusing on being well-capitalized.

The SPAC, he said, is an opportunity to accelerate Nerdy’s core business: “It’s less about going into the public markets, and more about that this transaction allows us to take an offensive position and lean into the big opportunities.”

Cohn said they pursued a SPAC because it is a faster route to going public. As vaccines roll out, growth in remote learning will slow, which could hurt growth expectations — especially ones as ambitious as Nerdy’s. For that reason, it’s clear why some edtech companies want to get out to the public markets as soon as possible.

Despite some naysayers, Cohn said SPACs are not being used to prop up companies that can’t go public through traditional means.

“I think that perception was fair a year ago,” he said. “But if you look at companies that have taken this route recently, including OpenDoor, they are very high quality. There’s a fundamental perception change.” He added that “SPACs have been reaching out over the years,” but the timing felt more fortuitous due to TPG’s interest and track record.

On the other side of the table, Wolford said she is currently searching for an edtech company to bring public on behalf of Edify, a $200 million SPAC she has raised. She noted that PIPE instruments, aka private investments in public entities, have helped de-risk SPACs for the general audience. These instruments have been around for decades, but Wolford said they recently became more mainstream to use in SPACs.

#ec-edtech, #edtech, #education, #ipo, #private-equity, #spac, #startups, #venture-capital


Google to roll out slate of over 50 updates for Classroom, Meet and other online education tools

Google today introduced a suite of updates for its online education tools whose adoption and further development have been accelerated by the pandemic, including Google Classroom, Google Meet and the next generation of G Suite for Education, now rebranded as Google Workspace for Education. In total, Google is promising more than 50 new features across its education products, with a focus on meeting educators’ and admins’ needs, in particular, in addition to those of the students.

When Google first introduced Google Classroom, it didn’t set out to create a Learning Management System (LMS), the company says. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google found that many educators had begun to use Classroom as the “hub” for their online learning activities. Today, the service is used by over 150 million students, teachers and school admins, up from just 40 million last year.

As a result of the pandemic-prompted adoption and user feedback, Google is introducing a range of new features for Classroom this year, some of which will be made available sooner than others.

To better cater to those who are using Classroom as the hub for online learning, a new marketplace of Classroom “add-ons” will allow teachers later this year to select their favorite edtech tools and content and assign them directly to students, without requiring extra log-ins. Admins will also be able to install these add-ons for other teachers in their domains.

Also later this year, admins will be able to populate classes in advance with Student Information System (SIS) roster syncing and, for select SIS customers, students’ grades from Classroom will be able to be exported directly to the SIS. Additional logging, including Classroom audit logs (to see things like student removals or who archived a class), as well as Classroom activity logs (to check on adoption and engagement) will be available soon.

When students attend in-person school, teachers can easily notice when a student is falling behind. A new set of Classroom tools aims to do the same for virtual learning, as well. With the new student engagement tracking feature, teachers will be able to see relevant stats about how students are interacting with Classroom, like which students submitted assignments on a given day or commented on a post, for example.

Image Credits: Google

Other tools will tackle the realities of working from home, where internet connections aren’t always reliable, or — for some low-income students — not available at all. With an updated Classroom Android app, students will be able to start their work offline, review assignments, open Drive attachments and write in Google Docs without an internet connection. The work will sync when a connection is again available. And when students upload assignments by taking a photo, new tools will allow students to combine photos into a single document, crop and rotate images and adjust the lighting.

Classroom will also gain support for rich text formatting — like bold, italics, underline and adding bullets across web, iOS and Android.

Image Credits: Google

Originality reports, which help to detect plagiarism, will be available soon in 15 languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Italian, Indonesian, Japanese, Finnish, German, Korean, Danish, Malaysian and Hindi.

And Google’s own free, introductory computer science curriculum, CS First, is immediately available in Classroom.

Beyond Classroom itself, Google Meet is also being updated with the needs of educators in mind.

One must-have new feature, rolling out over the next few weeks, is a “mute all” button to give control of the classroom back to teachers. In April, teachers will also be able to control when a student can unmute themselves, as well.

Image Credits: Google

Other moderation controls will roll out this year, too, including controls over who can join meetings, chat or share their screen from their iOS and Android devices. Policies over who can join video calls will be able to be set by admins in April, as well, enabling rules around student-to-student connections across districts, professional development opportunities for teachers, external speakers visiting a class and more. Students will also not be able to join Meets generated from Classroom until their teacher has arrived. Teachers, meanwhile, will be made meeting hosts so multiple teachers can share the load of managing classes.

Google Meet is adding engagement and inclusivity features for students, too. Students will be able to select emoji skin tones to represent them and react in class with emoji, which teachers will be able to control.

Image Credits: Google

Finally, Google’s “G Suite for Education,” which includes Classroom, Meet, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and more, will be rebranded as Google Workspace for Education. The tools themselves, now used by 170 million students and educators globally, won’t change. But the set will be available in four editions instead of just two to better accommodate a wider variety of needs.

The free version will be rebranded Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals, and will remain largely the same. The paid version, meanwhile, will become available in three tiers: Google Workspace for Education Standard and Google Workspace for Education Plus, as well as the Teaching and Learning Upgrade, which can be added on to Fundamentals or Standard to provide video communication in Google Meet, and other Classroom tools, like originality reports.

Standard has everything in Fundamentals, in addition to enhanced security through Security Center, audit logs and advanced mobile management. Plus has everything in the three other versions, as well as advanced security and analytics, teaching and learning capabilities, and more.

Fundamentals and Plus are available today and the others will go live April 14, 2021. Those who already have G Suite for Enterprise for Education will be upgraded to Education Plus.

Related to these changes, the storage model will be updated to a new, pooled storage option that aims to better allocate storage resources across educational institutions. The new model offers schools and universities a baseline of 100 TB of pooled storage shared by all users, which goes into effect for current customers in July 2022, and will be effective for new customers in 2022. Google says less than 1% of institutions will be impacted by the updated model, whose baseline supports over 100 million documents or 8 million presentations or 400,000 hours of video, to give an idea of size.

The company plans several updates for its Google Workspace for Education product line in the weeks to come, including saved drafts in Google Forms (in Fundamentals) Google Meet meeting transcripts (in the Teaching and Learning Upgrade) and more.

Outside of software product updates, Google is launching over 40 new Chromebooks, including a set of “Always Connected” branded devices that have an LTE connectivity option built in. Chrome’s screen reader, ChromeVox, has also been improved with new tutorials, the ability to search ChromeVox menus and voice switching that automatically changes the screen reader’s voice based on the language of the text.

Parents, who are now participating in their child’s online learning in a number of ways, will be able to add their child’s Google Workspace for Education account to their child’s personal account with Family Link — Google’s parental control software. That means kids can still log into their school apps and accounts, while parents ensure they stay focused on learning by restricting other apps and overall device usage.

#edtech, #education, #google, #tc


Goldman Sachs and Sesame Workshop pour money into this edtech firm’s newest fund

Shauntel Garvey and Jennifer Carolan liked edtech before the sector was cool, so the duo co-founded Reach Capital in 2015 with a $53 million debut fund. The San Francisco-based venture firm has since put checks into education startups including Newsela, Sketchy, ClassDojo and Outschool, landing six exits so far.

Now, after seeing its portfolio accelerate in the wake of the coronavirus, Reach is announcing its third fund aimed at backing edtech startups. Reach Capital III is a $165 million fund, the firm’s biggest to date. Reach’s team, which also includes Chian Gong, Wayee Chu and Esteban Sosnik, started raising the investment vehicle over the summer. New LPs in the fund include Sesame Workshop, National Geographic, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Goldman Sachs.

The Reach Capital team. Image Credits: Reach Capital

Reach plans to reserve half of its fund for follow-on investments for its startups, and the other half will go toward net-new investments. The firm intends to back 20 startups through Reach III, targeting about 15% ownership in each deal.

The edtech market raked in more than $10 billion in venture capital investment globally in 2020, but for students, parents and teachers, the past 12 months were defined more by its scramble than its surge. Reach as well as other firms have the opportunity to back startups that could change the broken bits, which is no easy feat.

Carolan, who taught in Chicago public schools for seven years before joining venture, said that the entire education system’s restructure has opened the door for more innovation and opportunities.

“What parents were experiencing with remote learning was the result of underinvestment in edtech for a long time,” she said. “The companies that were adopted to meet the ends were fragmented, many of the products were inoperable and many of them were built for the home school market and repurposed for schools.” Now, Carolan sees opportunity in the fact that more students have digital devices due to 1:1 technology infrastructure in schools.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be investing in education,” she said. Reach plans to back companies across edtech subsectors, from early childhood to K-12 to post-secondary learning. The firm is also joining a number of investors betting on lifelong learning, a term being used to describe education opportunities outside of a traditional classroom context.

Reach is one of the few venture capital firms that specifically back edtech companies. Others in the category include Owl Ventures, which closed $585 million in a pair of investment vehicles in September, and Learn Capital, which closed $132 million in December.

The pandemic has opened the software market in education and we’re just in the beginning of that opening,” Carolan said. “Education has gone from let’s hire 10 instructional coaches to let’s adopt some software to do that.”

#early-stage, #edtech, #education, #fund, #goldman-sachs, #jennifer-carolan, #new-fund, #quizlet, #reach-capital, #sesame-street, #shauntel-garvey, #tc, #venture-capital


Labster gets millions from a16z to bring virtual science lab software to the world

Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm with $16.5 billion in assets under management, has poured millions into an edtech startup that sells virtual STEM lab simulations to institutions.

Copenhagen-based Labster, which sells virtual science laboratory simulations to schools, announced today that it has raised $60 million in a Series C round led by the prominent Silicon Valley firm, including participation from existing investors GGV Capital, Owl Ventures and Balderton Capital. Labster has now raised $100 million in total known venture capital to date.

Like many edtech companies, Labster has found itself centered and validated as the pandemic underscores the need for remote work. In April, Labster signed a contract to bring its services to the entire California Community College network, which includes more than 2.1 million students. Months later, the startup brought on $9 million in equity funding to bring GGV’s Jenny Lee onto the board and expand its Asia operations.

“A16z is very excited about investing in technology companies that have a big impact and potential to become massive global successes’,” CEO and co-founder Michael Bodekaer Jensen said. “The fact that Labster is a platform innovating learning at scale is really what attracted them.”

The new capital will help Labster increase its staff, grow into new regions that include Latin America and Africa, as well as invest in new product development to better support teachers.

Jensen says that today’s raise, which is singularly larger than any capital Labster has raised prior, “dramatically increased” the valuation of the company. Jensen did confirm that Labster has not yet hit the $1 billion mark in terms of valuation, nor did he comment on whether the startup had hit profitability or not.

What Jensen did share, though, is that he thinks Labster’s new capital brings the startup one step closer to two big goals: serve 100 million students in the next few years, and become a platform to “enable anyone in the world to customize and build their own simulations on their platform.”

“We’re not a content company,” the co-founder said. “We’re a platform for immersive learning.”

Currently, Labster sells its e-learning solution to support and enhance in-person courses. Based on the subscription an institution chooses, participants can get differing degrees of access to a virtual laboratory. Imagine a range of experiments, from understanding bacterial growth and isolation to exploring the biodiversity of an exoplanet. Along with each simulation, Labster offers 3D animations for certain concepts, re-plays of simulations, quiz questions and a virtual learning assistant.

Image Credits: Labster

Jensen is hinting that the startup might finally be able to move past pre-determined learning tracks and into the world of customizable immersive learning. Other startups, including Inspirit, are also aiming to bring the creativity associated with games such as Minecraft or Roblox to the day-to-day schoolwork of students around the world.

With platform ambition, Labster is pausing its virtual reality efforts, which requires acquiring headsets at scale.

“VR is good for learning, but we need to make sure that we understand and provide services and solutions that work with the hardware that institutions already have and are available,” he said, adding that many institutions have been unable to afford headsets for all students. The fact that Labster is stepping away from virtual reality and framing itself as an immersive learning environment is more than a branding decision, but suggests that the future of scalable edtech might look less like goggles and more like a customizable web page.

“In the early days there was definitely a little naïve entrepreneurial mindset to build it and suddenly all teachers will come,” Jensen said. “[VR] was in no way as revolutionary as we hopped and thought of.”

New investments for the startup include Labster Portal, which is a dashboard for teachers to understand how individual students are using the immersive simulations and what lessons make sense to embed together. The company is also focused on landing partnerships with institutions, on either a country or state-wide level or district-level. Jensen says that the bigger the contract, the bigger the discount because it saves them money on onboarding costs. Labster recently signed a deal to bring its technology to the entire country of Denmark.

Labster currently has more than 2,000 colleges, universities and high schools on its platform.

“Post-COVID, the growth will slow,” Jensen said. “When we have conversations with institutions we are increasingly talking about post-COVID and continuing how we can further use Labster in new and innovative ways.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #edtech, #education, #ggv, #jenny-lee, #labster, #michael-bodekaer-jensen, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #virtual-reality, #vr


VC Alexa von Tobel on the most overlooked driver of social-media-driven stock trading

Alexa von Tobel has always felt strongly that too many people are shut out of the stock market. She felt this as a 23-year-old who didn’t have $5,000 to open a brokerage account. She felt it while building LearnVest, a financial planning startup she launched in 2009 and sold in 2015 to Northwestern Mutual for what she says was ultimately $375 million. In fact, von Tobel — who two years ago launched her own venture firm with fellow entrepreneur and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker —  cares so much about the yawning gap between investors and non-investors that she has written books about how to take control of one’s money. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is also a certified financial planner.)

Little wonder that in late January, for a podcast that von Tobel routinely hosts for Inc., she interviewed Robinhood Vlad Tenev about the company’s quest to make investing accessible to all and how it had shaken up the brokerage landscape in the process. Neither foresaw what would happen days later, when a Reddit community of amateur investors didn’t try to occupy Wall Street so much as turn it upside down by using Robinhood, in part, to drive up the share price of companies like GameStop and AMC Theatres — then unwind those positions. As a 21-year-old college student who lost $150,000 over the course of several days told the outlet Vice, “This whole thing has numbed me to money.”

What went wrong? Education, in the view of von Tobel, who says it never became an integrated part of bigger picture. While the GameStop saga has “brought a lot of new learnings and new things that people have to process and consider,” paramount among these is the inadequate financial training that Americans receive.

“I want the tools to be democratized, where everyone can get equal access to the financial system,” said von Tobel in a lively chat with us late last week that you can hear here. “But I also want equal education, and that’s where we’re woefully falling behind as a society. It’s not taught in high schools, colleges, or grad schools. Very few schools even teach the basics.”

The issue only grows more important to address each year, she says. People are living longer, and they’re more responsible than ever for their financial well-being. Meanwhile, because of innovations in fintech, including at Robinhood — which became wildly popular very quickly precisely because it dispensed with many of the barriers to participating in the stock market — there is little to keep someone from making lousy decisions with outsize consequences.

So what’s to be done? For starters, she suggests that society begin to place as much emphasis on financial health as physical wellness. “If you’re close to having a major health crisis, doctors do a really good job of saying, ‘Here’s all the things that you need to do to protect yourself; here’s what needs to happen. The same needs to exist in the financial world.”

It will take a number of stakeholders, she believes. One of these is “platforms – all of them — that provide you with [financial] tools and resources, so you can understand the kind of risks you’re taking on [to the extent] that they can provide it.”

Another, she said, is regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Created in 2010 to safeguard consumers in banking, mortgage, credit card and other financial transactions, the CFPB’s very constitutionality was called into question by the Trump administration, yet its guidance is sorely needed, suggests von Tobel. (“Regulation is always a step behind, and that’s a little bit of what we’re feeling” as a society right now.)

Of course, the third and biggest stakeholder of all is the U.S. educational system, says von Tobel, adding that “you need all three, working in unison” in order to have real impact.

As for any structural changes in the meantime that von Tobel thinks should happen — according to CNBC, for example, Robinhood is preparing to lobby against a trading tax that’s been floated as a way to dampen some of the frenzied activity seen in recent weeks — she declines to “pontificate too much.”

Still, she said she thinks that “getting a Citadel and everyday Americans on equal footing is where we want to end up,” and she isn’t without hope that we’ll get there.

For example, she thinks crypto is “here to stay” and that the infrastructure being created around it will be positive for innovators as well as end users. She’s also expecting “self-driving wallets” that pay bills and make investments to become the new normal, and she thinks they could minimize some of the financial distress we might continue to see otherwise.

Considering the chaos of late, the latter almost sounds too easy, but the “wallet is simply a math equation every day,” she says. “If you have so much [money] available free, where should it go? What’s the most optimal place? It’s a math equation that updates every single hour, and I do think elements of it will be self-driving based on your goals and what you want to accomplish.

As she puts it, “I can’t wait for the day that that actually exists in a way where it automates on its own. I do believe that’s the future.”

And that’s absent the other changes she’d like to see or, more ideally, in addition to them.

#airtable, #alexa-von-tobel, #education, #finance, #fintech, #gamestop, #inspired-capital, #learnvest, #lemonade, #robinhood, #tc, #venture-capital


SplashLearn raises $18 million for its game-based edtech platform

SplashLearn, a 10-year-old U.S.-headquartered edtech startup that teaches children through a game-based curriculum, has raised $18 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand to more markets.

San Francisco-based Owl Ventures led the Series C funding round in SplashLearn, and Accel, which had earlier invested $7 million in the startup’s Series B, also participated in the new round.

In an interview with TechCrunch, SplashLearn co-founder and chief executive Arpit Jain said one of the biggest hurdles the education system faces today is that kids do not wish to learn, so you have to broach the subject in a way they find engaging.

His startup offers math and reading courses to students in pre-kindergarten to grade five. It has developed, with guidance from teachers and other experts, over 4,000 games and other interactive activities to explain various concepts to the children.

In a demo, Jain showed an adventure game that was riddled with hurdles. A kid needed to visually apply the concept of addition to progress forward in the game. “When the kids are engaged, there is improvement in their learning outcome,” said Jain.

SplashLearn platform additionally provides 15 minutes to 20 minutes of personalized learning experience to each student every day, he said.

The startup charges $12 a month to parents for its service. Alternatively, the service is free for schools. Currently, one in every three schools in the United States use SplashLearn, Jain said.

“One of our goals has been to make quality education available to students for free. Our business model has enabled us to work on this,” he said. SplashLearn doesn’t reach out to schools, he said. Teachers use our platform, and if they like the offering, they make the case for wider adoption at the school, said Jain, who like the other three co-founders, is an alumni of IIT Kharagpur.

Image: SplashLearn

The team first created an edtech platform that was similar to what Coursera has evolved into over the past decade. But their previous venture failed to gain traction as the Indian market, which had fewer than 50 million internet users then, wasn’t ready for it, said Jain.

SplashLearn today caters to more than 40 million registered students on its platform, 10 million of whom joined last year as the coronavirus shut schools worldwide. More than 750,000 teachers have also joined the platform.

The startup is currently largely serving students in the United States, which accounts for 80% of its revenue. But students from over 150 other markets, including the UK, Australia, Canada and India use the platform today.

“SplashLearn is well poised to bring about a distinct change in the digital learning space with its unique blend of scientifically designed curriculum and its pedagogical methods with global appeal. SplashLearn fits into our objective of supporting innovative companies in the edtech space, helping drive a paradigm shift in the way education is imparted, bringing it to scale,” said Amit A. Patel Managing Director, Owl Ventures, in a statement. Patel is joining the SplashLearn’s board along with Abhinav Chaturvedi, a partner at Accel.

Last year, SplashLearn also started a tutoring service for kids, where teachers teach a group of three to five students. This service costs $10 to $25 an hour. “Even at this cost, we are offering the service at a fraction of what it would cost students in a private tuition,” he said.

The tutoring service is currently available in the U.S., and Jain said the startup plans to grow it within the country this year.

#accel, #apps, #edtech, #education, #funding, #owl-ventures


Ethena, which sends bite-sized nudges for compliance training, shifts its focus amid new capital

Ethena co-founders Roxanne Petraeus and Anne Solmssen began their company with a clear goal: There needs to be a more modern, and effective, way to deploy anti-harassment training to employees. Ethena’s solution is to send employees bite-sized monthly “nudges” or pings with five-minute lessons, replacing the usual one-hour annual workshop with more flexible learning.

The startup raised $2 million off of that vision in June, and today has announced it has raised follow-on funding with the same exact amount, led by GSV. The startup currently has $5 million in venture capital, with investors including Homebrew, Neo and Village Global.

The follow-on capital comes right after Ethena has had some solid growth itself. The startup closed a couple major contracts with companies including Netflix, Zoom and Zendesk, and tells TechCrunch that more than 20,000 active employees complete its monthly training.

Solid growth and new cash is where the story could stop for now, but Petraeus tells TechCrunch that early momentum has also inspired a shift of sorts in what Ethena is trying to accomplish.

“When we initially launched in Feb 2020, we thought that for our first year, we’d focus entirely on scaling companies because only startups would be interested in an innovative approach to compliance training,” she said. “What’s changed is we’ve learned that even large enterprises want a better approach, deeper impact and are willing to be innovative in a space historically dominated by lawyers and legacy e-learning providers.”

The startup is expanding its offering from anti-sexual harassment training to a wide variety of training courses focused on compliance, from financial compliance to code of conduct measures. The shift wasn’t because of a lack of interest from customers, the co-founder said, but instead demand from existing enterprise customers to offer more than just a singular topic.

“We think taking a specific sector-based approach can actually narrow the impact we’re having,” Petraeus said. “So we are trying to take a really inclusive approach,” from the start on what kind of topics should be treated as more than “just checking off a box.”

Petraeus, an army veteran, says that Ethena’s confidence in effectiveness and outcomes comes from military data on how adults learn.

“We know that traditional training just isn’t effective at behavior change, and there are some studies that show that it’s a pretty big backlash with increased unconscious bias after training versus before.” The startup differentiates from other micro-learning plays in its curriculum.

The curriculum is designed to be consumed over the course of a year instead of in an annual hour-long session. This tiny iteration is enough to give employees a repetitive way to understand the content. “We’re experimenting with things like graphic novels and podcasts to present training,” Petraeus said. “Just making sure whatever we’re doing yesterday is important tomorrow, because I think it’s important for us to be agile content creators.”

But Ethena’s biggest differentiation, Petraeus says, is its content. The pandemic has boasted a whole new sort of situation that employees need help, or proactive guidance, navigating. Petraeus says that Ethena’s monthly cadence gives it flexibility to adopt “modern” scenarios like Slack culture and Zoom etiquette. Ethena’s top performing training nudges in 2020 included lessons on online harassment prevention and mental health inclusivity.

The micro-learning approach has long been popular among edtech companies as a way to sneak or gamify small lessons into a workflow. So far, Ethena says over 90% of 150,000 in-app learner feedback notes are positive, saying the information is engaging and relevant. In Q4, Ethena saw learner growth of more than 250% quarter over quarter.

GSV’s Deborah Quazzo, who led Ethena’s seed and now this follow-on financing, said that it’s “not a coincidence that they’ve picked up some of the best logos in the world at an early stage,” referring to Ethena’s big customers. Quazzo thinks the compliance market has had very limited innovation so far, even though it’s a massive opportunity.

“They are seeing such strong product market fit and customers are pulling them into areas of content extension, so having more room to run faster made total sense,” she said.

#anne-solmssen, #edtech, #education, #ethena, #gsv, #gsv-ventures, #hr, #recent-funding, #roxanne-petraeus, #startups


BeGreatTV to offer MasterClass-like courses taught by Black and brown innovators

BeGreatTV, an online education platform featuring Black and brown instructors, recently closed a $450K pre-seed round from Stand Together Ventures Lab, Arlan Hamilton, Tiffany Haddish and others.

The goal with BeGreatTV is to enable anyone to learn from talented Black and brown innovators and leaders, founder and CEO Cortney Woodruff told TechCrunch.

“When you think of being a Black or brown person or individual who wants to learn from a Black or brown person, there’s nothing that really exists that gives you a glossary of every business vertical and where you see representation at every level in a well put together way,” Woodruff said. “That alone makes our market a lot larger because there are just so many verticals where no one has really invested in or shown before.”

The courses are designed to teach folks how to execute and succeed in a particular industry, enable people to better understand the business aspect of industries while also teaching “you how to deal with the socioeconomic and racial injustices that come with being the only one in the room. Whether you are a Black man or woman who wants to get into the makeup industry, there will always be a lot of biases in the world.”

When BeGreatTV launches in a couple of months (the plan is to launch in April), the platform will feature at least 10 courses — each with around 15 episodes — focused on arts, entertainment, beauty and more. At launch, courses will be available from Sir John, a celebrity makeup artist for L’Oreal and Beyoncé’s personal makeup artist, BeGreatTV co-founder Cortez Bryant, who was also Lil Wayne and Drake’s manager, as well as Law Roach, Zendaya’s stylist.

Hamilton and Haddish will also teach their own respective courses on business and entertainment, Woodruff said. So far, BeGreatTV has produced more than 40 episodes that range anywhere from three to 15 minutes each.

Image Credits: BeGreatTV

Each course will cost $64.99, and the plan is to eventually offer an all-access subscription model once BeGreatTV beefs up its offerings a bit more. For instructors, BeGreatTV shares royalties with them.

“Ultimately, the platform can include a more diverse casting of instructors that aren’t just Black and brown,” Woodruff said. But for now, he said, the idea is to “reverse the course of ‘Now this is our first Black instructor’ but ‘now this is the first white instructor’” on the platform.

BeGreatTV’s team consists of just 15 people, but includes heavy hitters like Cortez and actor Jesse Williams. Currently, BeGreatTV is working on closing its seed round and anticipates a six-figure user base by the end the year.

MasterClass is perhaps BeGreatTV’s biggest competitor. With classes taught by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Shonda Rhimes and David Sedaris, it’s no wonder why MasterClass has become worth more than $800 million. The company’s $180 annual subscription fee accounts for all of its revenue.

“If you benchmark [BeGreatTV] to MasterClass, we are finding individuals that are not only the best at what they do in the world, but often times these individuals have broken barriers because often times they were the first to do it,” Woodruff said. “And do it without having people who look like them.”


#begreattv, #diversity, #education, #masterclass, #tc, #techcrunch-include


A ‘Masculinity Crisis’? China Says the Boys Are Not All Right

The Education Ministry plans to beef up gym classes after a top official said female teachers and pop culture had made boys “weak, inferior and timid.”

#china, #education, #gender, #men-and-boys, #physical-education-and-training


Class adds $30 million to its balance sheet for a Zoom-friendly edtech solution

Class, launched less than a year ago by Blackboard co-founder Michael Chasen, integrates exclusively with Zoom to offer a more customized classroom for students and teachers alike. The inaugural product, Class for Zoom, uses both management and instruction tools to bolster the video conferencing call experience.

Formerly named ClassEDU, the startup announced today that it has added $30 million to its balance sheet, upping its total funding secured to $46 million. Raising that much pre-launch gives the startup key wiggle room, but it also gives validation: a number of Zoom’s earliest investors, including Emergence Capital and Bill Tai, who wrote the first check into Zoom, have put money into Class.

The money will be used to grow Class’ 60-person team to 100, as well as meet international demand for its product. More than 6,000 institutions from the United States, Dubai, Japan and Europe are on Class’ waitlist.

On the instruction side, Class for Zoom helps teachers launch live assignments, quizzes and tests, which can be completed by students in real time. On the management side, tools range from attendance trackers to features that allow a teacher to see how much time a student is participating in activities. Currently, ClassEDU is in a private, paid beta with more than 60 customers.

Image Credits: Class

Right now, Class software is only usable on Macs, but its beta will be available on iPhone, Windows and Android in the near future. The public launch is at the end of the quarter.

The startup is built entirely atop the Zoom platform, but functions as a standalone business versus a third-party integration, like what one would find on Zoom apps. Class is using the Zoom SDK, which is free, to use its back-end audio and video capabilities but build front-end interface and experience. Like any early-stage startup that relies on another business to work, the platform risk is notable.

At the same time, the risk comes with reward: Zoom is a household name, which helps Class reduce significant friction when selling to schools, says Chasen. Instead of a school having to replace the technology they have been using for the last year, Chasen says that Class can simply make it better.

“We’re going for the broader, larger deployments that just need to know that they have the stability and the scalability of Zoom, with just teaching learning tools built on top of that,” Chasen said. Over 125,000 schools use Zoom already, he said, which is enough to build a big business. The startup has no current plans to integrate with Teams or WebEx.

The startup sees the changing tide in edtech boiling down to a difference in sales, similar to Udemy’s new president’s sentiment with enterprise sales earlier this week.

“At Blackboard, we had a six to nine month sales cycle, we’d have to explain that e-learning is a thing,” Chasen said, who was at the LMS business for 15 years. “[With Class] we don’t even have to pitch. It wraps up in a month, and our sales cycle is just showing people the product.

The big hurdle for Class, and any startup selling e-learning solutions to institutions, is post-pandemic utility. While institutions have traditionally been slow to adopt software due to red tape, Chasen says that both of Class’ customers, higher ed and K-12, are actively allocating budget for these tools. The price for Class ranges between $10,000 to $65,000 annually depending on the number of students in the classes.

“We have not run into a budgeting problem in a single school,” he said. “Higher ed has already been taking this step towards online learning, and they’re now taking the next step, whereas K-12, this is the first step they’re taking.”

#class, #early-stage, #edtech, #education, #funding, #michael-chasen, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #zoom


Edtech valuations aren’t skyrocketing, but investors see more exit opportunities

Less than a year after we put out an initial temperature check survey, it’s clear that specialist investors are even more bullish on edtech. Bears are hard to find right now: the sector, once undercapitalized, has brought in $10 billion in venture capital funding globally in 2020.

As investors told us last week, the biggest consumer opportunity in 2021 and beyond is lifelong learning (and portfolio companies have the profits to prove it).

But despite edtech’s noise, the second installment of our edtech survey shows that VCs think startups haven’t enjoyed parallel gains from a valuation perspective. The sentiment suggests that despite an apparent revitalization, edtech isn’t at the same level of “value” in investor eyes like sectors such as e-commerce, consumer and fintech.

As Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners said, “edtech didn’t tend to have heady valuations before the pandemic, and through 2020 I’m seeing edtech companies raise at valuations that are reasonable for Silicon Valley; still nothing like what we see in fintech.”

Now, valuations aren’t everything — but they aren’t nothing, either. Where edtech lacks in impressive valuations, investors see it gaining in exit opportunities. Many investors think that the exit environment is set to dramatically change in the next few years.

We’ve already seen Nerdy and Skillsoft, two edtech companies, go public via SPACs in the past few months. Private equity ownership is an interesting dynamic to be aware of here, especially as Vista recently scooped up PluralSight for $3.5 billion.

Here are the investors we spoke to, along with their areas of interest and expertise:

  • Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures (an education fund backing ClassDojo, Degreed, Clever)
  • Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures (a future-of-work fund with portfolio companies LearnIn and TransfrVR)
  • Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies Hone and Guild Education)
  • John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital (an edtech and future-of-work fund with portfolio companies Lambda School and Outschool)
  • Mercedes Bent and Bradley Twohig, partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners (a multistage generalist fund with investments including Forage, Clever and Outschool)
  • Ian Chiu, managing director, Owl Ventures (a large edtech-focused fund backing highly valued companies including BYJU’s, Newsela and Masterclass) 
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education (a leading edtech seed fund in Europe with portfolio companies like Aula, Unibuddy and BibliU) 
  • Benoit Wirz, partner, Brighteye Ventures (an active edtech-focused venture capital fund in Europe that backs YouSchool, Lightneer, and Aula)
  • Charles Birnbaum, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including Guild Education and Brightwheel)
  • Daniel Pianko, co-founder and managing director, University Ventures (a higher-ed and future-of-work fund that is backing Imbellus and Admithub)
  • Rebecca Kaden, managing partner, Union Square Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including TopHat, Quizlet, Duolingo)
  • Andreata Muforo, partner, TLCom Capital (a generalist fund backing uLesson)

Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV

How has edtech’s boom impacted your deal-making? Has the new interest from generalist investors made valuations too bubbly, or is the market growth helping everyone?

We met on Zoom with over 800 founding teams in COVID all over the world. We invested in 14 new companies and are just finishing rounds in two more. Valuation pressures are across tech sectors. I’d argue that education still lags average tech. The question for edtech is whether there is potential for a $100 billion company in the sector — will TAMs support it.

Edtech has traditionally had few exits. When do you expect to see that change? Are you optimistic about the boom in funding lately? On the other hand, what consolidation do you expect to see?

Exit volume is rising already with a wide range of strategic and financial buyers of edtech companies — something that didn’t exist before. You will see numerous high-value exits in the first half of 2021. It’s the public market “exits” that have really lagged and that I hope turns around in 2021 and 2022. There are numerous global companies that could go public and the addition of SPAC IPOs creates another positive dynamic.

Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures

How has edtech’s boom impacted your deal-making? Has the new interest from generalist investors made valuations too bubbly, or is the market growth helping everyone?

The boom has not directly impacted my deal-making. We tend to work with CEOs looking for category expertise and track record in the space. I do worry about overexuberance creating disappointing returns that sour interest in the sector. There are important TAM, business model, pedagogical and regulatory factors to consider in valuation.

Edtech has traditionally had few exits. When do you expect to see that change? Are you optimistic about the boom in funding lately? On the other hand, what consolidation do you expect to see? 

I think that will change shortly … I suspect many of the notable exits will come in future of work/human capital, consumer and in international markets for early education and K-12.

Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures

How has edtech’s boom impacted your deal-making? Has the new interest from generalist investors made valuations too bubbly, or is the market growth helping everyone?
Edtech has a history of going in booms (when investors find new excitement for the sector) and busts (when investors realize the difficulties in scaling companies in the space). We happen to be going through a boom right now, which I think is an overall good thing for market innovation. While valuations across all sectors are expensive right now, I think more capital going toward innovating a sector that has an impact on everyone’s life will result in a net positive. We have a history of investing in the sector and will continue to do so as we see new, category-defining companies arise.

Edtech has traditionally had few exits. When do you expect to see that change? Are you optimistic about the boom in funding lately? On the other hand, what consolidation do you expect to see?
Edtech has had plenty of exits, but they are usually smaller and typically to PE firms or companies that have large distribution channels. There are very few large IPOs. I think we will start to see larger exits for three primary reasons: (I) accelerated consumer adoption of online and hybrid learning will increase market sizes, (II) as educators and institutions get more comfortable with leveraging technology in their practice we may see shorter sales cycle and more budget available, (III) many larger exits tend to be platforms as opposed to content providers (e.g., Canvas, 2U, Instructure) and with a higher standard for infrastructure there is a space for new competitors.
I expect even more consolidation in the bootcamp space. We’re already seeing it with Flatiron, Thinkful, General Assembly, Bloc and many others having already been acquired.

John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital

#education, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital


Language-learning service Babbel adds live classes, games and more

Babbel, the Berlin-based language-learning platform, today announced that it is now going well beyond its core app-based learning service and is introducing live classes.

Capped at six students, these conversation-driven classes will be taught by certified teachers, using Babbel’s existing methodology. Learners can add live classes to their existing Babbel subscription for an additional fee, starting at $110 for five classes/month, or subscribe to them as a standalone product (though they’ll also get access to the Babbel app as part of their live subscription).

That’s not all, though; Babbel is also introducing language-learning games in its app for the first time, as well as short stories to help learners use their new vocabulary, short snippets of fun facts about various cultures and a new set of videos about different places and languages.

Image Credits: Babbel

This launch follows what was a banner year for Babbel. Besides crossing a milestone at 10 million subscriptions sold, the company also realized $150 million in recognized revenue in 2019, Babbel’s U.S. CEO Julie Hansen told me, and that number is significantly higher this year (though Babbel didn’t disclose any revenue numbers for 2020 yet). She also noted that while the company saw growth across markets, the U.S. saw especially strong growth, with revenue and subscriber numbers up 100%.

Image Credits: Babbel

“In the U.S. […] when we ask people why [they want to learn a language], the ones that say ‘for travel’ are the highest converters normally,” Hansen told me. “So I was in such a panic by mid-March, thinking that our business is going to go to zero. No one’s traveling. And it was just the exact opposite. People found in language learning — as they did in bike riding and sourdough bread baking — a creative outlet, self-improvement or a rewarding investment in themselves.”

As for the live classes, the set of available language combinations is still limited as the company starts to scale the program. For now, English speakers can sign up for Spanish and German classes, while German speakers can get lessons in English and Spanish. The plan is to add additional language pairs over the course of the year.

The overall goal for Babbel, Hansen noted, is to meet the needs of language learners across a wider spectrum, be that videos and podcasts, or these new live lessons. “It’s about embracing a more holistic view of the user’s language-learning experience and meeting their needs at more points along that journey,” Hansen said.

She also noted that providing a live experience is, in many ways, about quality control. “We’ve put a lot of work into teacher recruitment, teacher training, teacher reviews,” she said. “We are giving them the tools to be successful. We’re not just saying: ‘hey, there’s the app, go figure it out.’ There’s materials for every lesson. There’s guidance.”

Currently, Babbel is working with about 100 teachers and, after a quiet beta rollout, the company is now seeing thousands of students in class every week. “The end game for this year should be on a couple hundred teachers and tens of thousands of students in class every week,” Christian Hillemeyer, Babbel’s director of communications, noted.

Image Credits: Babbel

While there are plenty of language-learning apps as live tutoring services, Babbel may be the first service at its scale that aims to combine both. And beyond the live classes, Babbel is leaning into its overall content production beyond the core app features, with more podcasts and the short stories and culture snippets it is now adding to the app and — maybe even more importantly — as free videos and podcasts on YouTube and elsewhere.

In addition to all of the new features, the team also took a look at its existing lessons, and over the course of the last year, its teachers spent a lot of time making the course content more concise and the overall lesson length shorter, based on feedback from its didactics team. The team also introduced a new onboarding flow that includes a placement test so that learners can start using the app at the right level.

#apps, #babbel, #berlin, #education, #julie-hansen, #startups, #tc, #teacher, #united-states, #wikis


Udemy’s new president discusses the reskilling company’s future

Udemy, which launched more than a decade ago, has sold courses to 50 million students through its digital learning platform. But new president Greg Brown sees “exponential growth” opportunities in doubling down on its enterprise arm, which currently has over 7,000 customers.

The shift within Udemy has been brewing for years, but recent tailwinds have shifted the way the business closes contracts.

In a phone interview, Brown said Udemy for Business, the company’s corporate learning arm, “blew through $100 million ARR,” a metric it announced in October.

“One hundred million dollars was very conservative,” Brown said. While he wouldn’t share the latest metrics, he hinted that revenue had grown around 90%, which would put Udemy for Business’ new trajectory around $200 million in ARR. That’s a solid bump, considering it took five years for the arm to hit $100 million ARR, and a much smaller time frame to essentially double it.

Udemy declined to confirm the new ARR total, instead opting to share a slew of other growth metrics to indicate growth, including the fact that it has seen more than 480 million course enrollments and owns over 155,000 courses. The startup said that it has 40 million students, but in 2019 the business said it had 50 million users, based on a previous interview. When asked about the user drop, Udemy said that “we’ve made some changes to our metrics as we grow as a company to better reflect user engagement.”

“The opportunity that the company sees has really forced us to reallocate resources and strategy,” Brown said. While Udemy will “continue to invest” in its direct-to-consumer business, it sees bigger potential in its enterprise product.

#coursera, #edtech, #education, #pluralsight, #tc, #udemy


Extra Crunch roundup: Edtech VC survey, 5 founder mistakes, fintech liquidity, more

Edtech is so widespread, we already need more consumer-friendly nomenclature to describe the products, services and tools it encompasses.

I know someone who reads stories to their grandchildren on two continents via Zoom each weekend. Is that “edtech?”

Similarly, many Netflix subscribers sought out online chess instructors after watching “The Queen’s Gambit,” but I doubt if they all ran searches for “remote learning” first.

Edtech needs to reach beyond underfunded public school systems to become more sustainable, which is why more investors and founders are focusing on lifelong learning.

Besides serving traditional students with field trips and art classes, a maturing sector is now branching out to offer software tutors, cooking classes and singing lessons.

For our latest investor survey, Natasha Mascarenhas polled 13 edtech VCs to learn more about how “employer-led up-skilling and a renewed interest in self-improvement” is expanding the sector’s TAM.

Here’s who she spoke to:

  • Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures
  • Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures (a future of work fund with portfolio companies LearnIn and TransfrVR)
  • Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies Hone and Guild Education)
  • John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital (an edtech and future of work fund with portfolio companies Lambda School and Outschool)
  • Mercedes Bent and Bradley Twohig, partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners (a multistage generalist fund with investments including Forage, Clever and Outschool)
  • Ian Chiu, managing director, Owl Ventures (a large edtech-focused fund backing highly valued companies including Byju’s, Newsela and Masterclass)
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education (a leading edtech seed fund in Europe with portfolio companies like Aula, Unibuddy and BibliU)
  • Benoit Wirz, partner, Brighteye Ventures (an active edtech-focused venture capital fund in Europe that backs YouSchool, Lightneer and Aula)
  • Charles Birnbaum, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including Guild Education and Brightwheel)
  • Daniel Pianko, co-founder and managing director, University Ventures (a higher ed and future of work fund that is backing Imbellus and Admithub)
  • Rebecca Kaden, managing partner, Union Square Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including TopHat, Quizlet, Duolingo)
  • Andreata Muforo, partner, TLCom Capital (a generalist fund backing uLesson)

Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription

In other news: Extra Crunch Live, a series of interviews with leading investors and entrepreneurs, returns next month with a full slate of guests. This year, we’re adding a new feature: Our guests will analyze pitch decks submitted by members of the audience to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’d like an expert eye on your deck, please sign up for Extra Crunch and join the conversation.

Thanks very much for reading! I hope you have a fantastic weekend — we’ve all earned it.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch

13 investors say lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020

After falling into yesterday’s wild news cycle, Alex Wilhelm returned to The Exchange this morning with a close look at venture capital activity across Africa in 2020.

“Comparing aggregate 2020 figures to 2019 results, it appears that last year was a somewhat robust year for African startups, albeit one with fewer large rounds,” he found.

For more context, he interviewed Dario Giuliani, the director of research firm Briter Bridges, which focuses on emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Talent and capital are shifting cybersecurity investors’ focus away from Silicon Valley

A road sign that says "Leaving California."

Image Credits: MCCAIG (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

New cybersecurity ecosystems are popping up in different parts of the world.

Some of of that growth has been fueled by an exodus from the Bay Area, but many early-stage security startups already have deep roots in East Coast cities like Boston and New York.

In the United Kingdom and Europe, government innovation programs have helped entrepreneurs close higher numbers of Series A and B rounds.

Investor interest and expertise is migrating out of Silicon Valley: This post will help you understand where it’s going.

Will Apple’s spectacular iPhone 12 sales figures boost the smartphone industry in 2021?

On Wednesday, 20 January, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Image Credits: NurPhoto (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Today’s smartphones are unfathomably feature-rich and durable, so it’s logical that sales have slowed.

A phone purchased 18 months ago is probably “good enough” for many consumers, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

Then again, of the record $111.4 billion in revenue Apple earned last quarter, $65.68 billion came from phone sales, largely driven by the release of the iPhone 12.

Even though “Apple’s success this quarter was kind of a perfect storm,” writes Hardware Editor Brian Heater, “it’s safe to project a rebound for the industry at large in 2021.”

The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder

Boy Standing with Dropped Ice Cream Cone

Image Credits: Randy Faris (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Finmark co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid wrote a post for Extra Crunch that candidly describes the traps he laid for himself that made him a less-effective entrepreneur.

As someone who’s worked closely with founders at several startups, each of the points he raised resonated deeply with me.

In my experience, many founders have a hard time delegating, which can quickly create cultural and operational problems. Rami’s experience bears this out:

“I became a human GPS: People could follow my directions, but they struggled to find the way themselves. Independent thinking suffered.”

Dear Sophie: How can I sponsor my mom and stepdad for green cards?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I just got my U.S. citizenship! My husband and I want to bring my mom and her husband to the U.S. to help us take care of our preschooler and toddler.

My biological dad passed away several years ago when I was an adult and my mom has since remarried.

Can they get green cards?

— Appreciative in Aptos

Check out the amazing speakers joining us on Extra Crunch Live in February

Extra Crunch Live February Schedule: February 3 Gaurav Gupta Lightspeed Venture Partners Raj Dutt Grafana Labs February 10 Aydin Senkut Felicis Kevin Busque Guideline February 17 Steve Loughlin Accel Jason Boehmig Ironclad February 24 Matt Harris Bain Capital Isaac Oates Justworks

Next month, Extra Crunch Live returns with a lineup of guests who are extremely well-qualified to discuss early-stage startups.

Each Wednesday at noon PPST/3 p.m. EST, join a conversation with founders and the investors who backed their companies:

February 3:

Gaurav Gupta (Lightspeed Venture Partners) + Raj Dutt (Grafana Labs)

February 10:

Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures) + Kevin Busque (Guideline)

February 17:

Steve Loughlin (Accel) + Jason Boehmig (Ironclad)

February 24:

Matt Harris (Bain Capital) + Isaac Oates (Justworks)

Also, we’re adding a new feature to Extra Crunch Live — our guests will offer advice and feedback on pitch decks submitted by Extra Crunch members in the audience!

10 VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021

Photo of a young woman watching TV in the bedroom of her apartment; eating sushi and enjoying her night at home alone.

Image Credits: Aleksandar Nakic (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Since the pandemic disrupted the social rhythms of work and school, many of us have compensated by changing our relationship to digital media.

For instance, I purchased a new sofa and thicker living room curtains several months ago when I realized we have no idea when movie theaters will reopen.

Last year, podcast sponsors spent almost $800 million to reach listeners, but ad revenue is estimated to surpass $1 billion this year. Clearly, I’m not the only person who used a discount code to buy a new product in 2020.

At this point, I can scarcely keep track of the multiple streaming platforms I’m subscribed to, but a new voice-activated remote control that comes with my basic cable plan makes it easier to browse my options.

Media reporter Anthony Ha spoke to10 VCs who invest in media startups to learn more about where they see digital media heading in the months ahead. For starters, how much longer can we expect traditional advertising models to persist?

And in a world with hundreds of channels, how are creators supposed to compete for our attention? What sort of discovery tools can we expect to help us navigate between a police procedural set in a Scandinavian village and a 90s sitcom reboot?

Here’s who Anthony interviewed:

  • Daniel Gulati, founding partner, Forecast Fund
  • Alex Gurevich, managing director, Javelin Venture Partners
  • Matthew Hartman, partner, Betaworks Ventures
  • Jerry Lu, senior associate, Maveron
  • Jana Messerschmidt, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners
  • Michael Palank, general partner, MaC Venture Capital (with additional commentary from MaC’s Marlon Nichols)
  • Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner, Northzone
  • M.G. Siegler, general partner, GV
  • Laurel Touby, managing director, Supernode Ventures
  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital

Normally, we list each investor’s responses separately, but for this survey, we grouped their responses by question. Some readers say they use our surveys to study up on an individual VC before pitching them, so let us know which format you prefer.

Does a $27 billion or $29 billion valuation make sense for Databricks?

Data analytics platform Databricks is reportedly raising new capital that could value the company between $27 billion and $29 billion.

By the end of Q3 2020, Databricks had surpassed a $350 million run rate — a $150 million YoY increase, reports Alex Wilhelm.

At the time, he described the company as “an obvious IPO candidate” with “broad private-market options.”

Which begs the question: “Can we come up with a set of numbers that help make sense of Databricks at $27 billion?”

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business

Tourist route to the top of the mountain. Rope bridge in the clouds. Crimea. Ai-Petri

Image Credits: Natalia Timchenko (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Rapid shifts in the way we buy goods and services disrupted old-school marketplaces like local newspapers and the Yellow Pages.

Today, I can use my phone to summon a plumber, a week’s worth of groceries or a ride to a doctor’s office.

End-to-end operators like Netflix, Peloton and Lemonade take a lot of time and energy to reach scale, but “the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.”

Unpacking Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial

On January 25, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted that he was making two blank-check deals.

Enterprise SaaS company Latch makes keyless entry systems; Sunlight Financial helps consumers finance residential solar power installations.

“There are nearly 300 SPACs in the market today looking for deals,” noted Alex Wilhelm, who unpacked both transactions.

“There’s no escaping SPACs for a bit, so if you are tired of watching blind pools rip private companies into the public markets, you are not going to have a very good next few months.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021

Long exposure spillway shines water and light. Copy space.

Image Credits: dan tarradellas (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

On Monday, we published the Matrix Fintech Index, a three-part study that weighs liquidity, public markets and e-commerce trends to create a snapshot of an industry in perpetual flux.

For four years running, the S&P 500 and incumbent financial services companies have been outperformed by companies like Afterpay, Square and

In light of steady VC investment, increasing consumer adoption and a crowded IPO pipeline, “fintech represents one of the most exciting major innovation cycles of this decade.”

Drupal’s journey from dorm-room project to billion-dollar exit

Dries Buytaert, co-founder and CTO at Acquia

Image Credits: Acquia

On January 15, 2001, then-college student Dries Buytaert released Drupal 1.0.0, an open-source content-management platform. At the time, about 7% of the world’s population was online.

After raising more than $180 million, Buytaert exited to Vista Equity Partners for $1 billion in 2019.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller interviewed Buytaert to learn more about his 18-year journey.

“His story is compelling, but it also offers lessons for startup founders who also want to build something big,” says Ron.

#chamath-palihapitiya, #cloud, #digital-media, #dries-buytaert, #drupal, #education, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #hardware, #media, #private-equity, #rami-essaid, #saas, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital