What’s the latest from the Y? Over Monday and Tuesday earlier this week, entrepreneurs from 189 startups took the stage for Demo Day, the de-facto graduation ceremony for Y Combinator, one of the technology industry’s most recognizable startup accelerator programs.
Among the graduates were a half dozen education technology companies. And if you were to ask their executives about what problems they’re trying to solve, “community” is a word you’d likely hear. From K-12 classrooms to professional sales training, many entrepreneurs would say that learning is better together, with peers and instructors. That also applies to “bootcamp” models of online learning, which made up half of the six edtech graduates.
Here’s a glance at the newest players in the edtech industry.
According to Course Report, there are nearly 600 coding bootcamps in existence. And because many operate on different terms, it’s not always easy to find answers to basic questions like: Which one should I pick? Should I pay tuition upfront, or try an income-share agreement? How long will this bootcamp take? Which ones are even any good at helping me get a job?
Ruben Harris, the CEO of Career Karma, believes his app can provide some answers. A quiz matches users with applicable bootcamps and peer groups. Students connect with volunteer alumni who can questions and concerns. “We’re building the program we wished we had,” said Harris, one of three co-founders and also the man behind the “Breaking into Startups” weekly podcast.
Students use the app for free while bootcamps pay to join. He declined to disclose the exact price, but said it’s a fraction of the roughly $4,000 most programs pay to generate leads and land a student. He added that bootcamps can’t pay for preferential treatment on the app. Currently the app has about 5,000 users, who exchange roughly 6,000 messages a week among peers and mentors. Schools that have signed up include Lambda School, Flatiron School and Trilogy Education Services.
The growing number of Chinese e-commerce companies and their fight for eyeballs has created a business opportunity for Ruiwan Xu and her team at New York-based CareerTu. The online bootcamp of sorts focuses on teaching Chinese students how to sell online.
“Nobody knows how to use” digital marketing tools, Xu claims. “We make sure their dollars are spent effectively.” Xu, 28, formerly served as growth marketing manager for acquisition at Amazon subsidiary Audible. She ran a blog about self-taught digital marketing before launching the online school in April 2018.
CareerTu has grown to 160,000 users, according to Xu. In 2018, it claimed about 6,000 paying one who altogether brought the company $500,000 in revenue. Courses on the platform range from one on fashion marketing (for at least $790) to one on Google and Facebook ads (for at least $4,500). Xu aims to add more engineers to its current staff of about 20 full-time employees and freelancers.
Online learning has a loneliness problem. So says Vasu Sriramdas, who’s trying to tweak the traditional coding bootcamp model to encourage more collaboration and peer-to-peer problem solving. That’s one of the core philosophies behind his company, Edyst.
“That’s the power of the platform,” said Sriramdas, 44, who worked for Deloitte for over 10 years and is one of three Edyst co-founders. “The students help each other.” According to Sriramdas, peer collaboration makes it possible for one instructor to teach up to 700 students on the Edyst platform at once. Users spend about 85 minutes a day on the platform, he boasts.
Edyst currently lists two course packages on its website. One is focused on skills related to jobs at companies like TCS and Infosys, which costs $173 plus one month’s salary after a student lands a job offer. The other is designed toward skills for companies like Amazon and Uber and costs about $216 plus one month’s salary after the job offer. Both courses last about 14 weeks.
Most of Edyst’s revenue to date has come from another line of business in the company, charges Indian colleges fees to place their students in jobs. The Hyderabad, India-based company is profitable, Sriramdas said. Edyst is seeking money to add courses in areas like e-commerce and digital marketing, and expand to other parts of Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Online educational platforms are a dime a dozen. But not too many focus on sales training—which is where Shaan Hathiramani wants to build the kind of learning community that has eluded other sales education platforms. “The sales content out there is from another era,” Hathiramani charges. “It’s in a voice that doesn’t resonate with the next generation of sales leaders.”
Enter Flockjay, which offers 12 weeks of tech sales training—eight weeks of live online videos through Zoom and Slack with sales professionals, and four weeks of sales projects. Currently, the company runs 3-hour classes in the evenings, Monday through Thursday, with recordings available and office hours.
Students can pay $5,000 upfront, or finance their way via an income-share agreement, in which they give Flockjay 10 percent of their salary—up to $9,000—for a year after they finish the program. They also receive a year of mentorship after they complete the 12 weeks. The inaugural class of 17 students finished in January. The next class starts in April.
Hathiramani, the 32-year-old CEO, said his San Francisco-based company of three employees is already profitable. But he’s seeking funding to grow the team. He believes his company’s main revenue will come from businesses contracting with Flockjay to train existing employees and provide a pool of diverse job candidates. He plans to charge employers a fee “in line with the industry.”
After Surya Paneerselvam graduated from college in 2011, he faced a problem common to many other engineering graduates in India: He didn’t have the right skills to land a job.
He eventually went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he got a master’s degree that helped him land a job. But his current venture, Skill Lync, wants to ensure that other students don’t have to make a similar trek before finding employment.
Skill-Lync, based in Chennai in India, offers about 30 online courses in subjects including mechanical engineering and aerodynamics. Students graduate with a portfolio to make them more marketable to job recruiters. Paneerselvam and his team offer live office hours to answer students’ questions.
It took him awhile to figure out the right product. Initially, he tried selling the platform to colleges, but they were slow to adopt. Paneerselvam then tried offering live classes but then learned that students much preferred watching the video recordings.
Since its launch in 2016, Skill-Lync has served about 2,800 students, who each pay about $250 on average for a 12-week course. The company is profitable, he claims, and is experimenting with offering an income-share agreement payment option with a new batch of students in the U.S. He’s raising funds to add more support staff and branch into new content like electronics and chemical engineering.
To Maayan Yavne, social interaction drives learning more than any computer program. That belief is partly what guided her to start Tailor-ED, an online platform that helps teachers group students based on attributes like proficiency and confidence in the subject matter, and have them collaborate on math lessons and exercises.
The platform recommends activities best suited for each group, and after each lesson, the students complete an exit ticket and report on how they felt about the lesson and what they learned. When Yavne invited teachers to beta test the tool about four weeks ago, about 750 responded. Today, Tailor-ED boasts usage by 2,500 students across 120 schools, mostly in the U.S.
So far, teachers have used the tool about three times a week on average, says Yavne, who previously worked in product marketing for Edmodo. Tailor-ED is free for educators to try; a subscription is available for schools that costs about $30 per teacher per month.
Tailor-ED, staffed by four people including 37-year-old Yavne, is involved in a yearlong efficacy study with a New York University research team. The company is not yet profitable and seeks funding to help grow its footprint and add to its library of content. For now, Tailor-ED only offers math lessons for grades three to six.