Apple expands its free coding courses and materials for educators

Apple today announced its plans for a new, free resource aimed at helping educators of all skill levels gain the ability to teach both Swift and Xcode — the latest in Apple’s educational initiatives focused on encouraging more students to learn app development. On July 13, Apple will begin offering free online training to educators that will serve as an introduction to its Develop in Swift curriculum.

This curriculum has also been completely redesigned to meet students learning styles, based on user feedback, says Apple.

The new series will now include four books, “Develop in Swift Explorations,” “Develop in Swift AP CS Principles,” and “Develop in Swift Fundamentals,” all of which are available today. A fifth book, “Develop in Swift Data Collections,” will become available later this fall. All are available in Apple Books.

The curriculum is geared towards high school and higher education students and focuses on the open-source programming language Swift, designed by Apple, and using Xcode on the Mac.

Image Credits: Apple

For younger learners, grades 4 through 8, Apple’s Everyone Can Code curriculum instead uses puzzles and games to teach the building blocks of coding in Swift through the Swift Playgrounds app. This course is now being expanded, as well.

For all the students who have already completed the “Everyone Can Code Puzzles” book, they can now move on to a new book, “Everyone Can Code Adventures.” This book includes more advanced activities where students can practice building with Swift while also learning about important programming concepts.

The company says its intention with the new and expanded courses is to supplement the need for computer science instructors in the U.S., where there is often a need.

Apple noted that The Computer Science Teachers Association claims that fewer than 50% of all American high schools offer computer science classes today and many college students aren’t able to get into the computer science courses needed to graduate, due to a teacher shortage.

In addition, the courses are also being offered to parents, many of whom are now making the transition to become homeschool teachers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Also for parents of homeschoolers, Apple added a new set of remote learning resources for ages 10 and up, including “A Quick Start to Code” with 10 coding challenges on iPad or Mac. Plus, there are resources on Apple’s Learning from Home website, launched this spring. The site includes on-demand videos and virtual conferences on remote learning, and options to schedule free one-on-one virtual coaching sessions, hosted by educators at Apple.

The long-term impacts of Apple’s push for increased coding education still remain to be seen. “Everyone Can Code” was only launched in 2016, for example, and the “Develop in Swift” curriculum arrived just last year. Combined, the programs today reach 9,000 schools and higher education institutions worldwide.

The idea that “everyone” can and should learn to code is still somewhat controversial. While many may be able to learn coding fundamentals, not everyone will enjoy coding or excel at it. Plus, people often turn to coding for the wrong reasons or get duped by coding bootcamps into thinking that a few weeks of training will have them sailing into six-figure careers with ease.

On the other hand, exposing more kids to coding concepts may help to uncover the potential talent and interest in programming that would have otherwise been overlooked. And that interest can then be nurtured by future courses and education as the child grows.

“Apple has worked alongside educators for 40 years, and we’re especially proud to see how Develop in Swift and Everyone Can Code have been instrumental in helping teachers and students make an impact in their communities,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Markets, Apps, and Services, in a statement. “We’ve seen community college students build food security apps for their campus and watched middle school educators host virtual coding clubs over summer break. As part of our commitment to help expand access to computer science education, we are thrilled to be adding a new professional learning course to help more educators, regardless of their experience, have the opportunity to learn coding and teach the next generation of developers and designers,” she added.

The coronavirus pandemic is expanding California’s digital divide

If every California student without an adequate internet connection got together and formed a state, it would contain more residents than Idaho or Hawaii.

A total of 1,529,000 K-12 students in California don’t have the connectivity required for adequate distance learning.

Analysis from Common Sense Media also revealed that students lacking adequate connection commonly lack an adequate device as well. The homework gap that separates those with strong connections from those on the wrong side of the digital divide will become a homework chasm without drastic and immediate intervention.

To raise awareness of the enormity and immediacy of the digital divide, I started No One Left Offline (NOLO) in San Francisco. It’s an all-volunteer nonprofit that’s creating a coalition of Bay Area organizations focused on giving students, seniors and individuals with disabilities access to high-speed, affordable Internet.

During the week of July 27, the NOLO coalition will launch the Bridge the Divide campaign to raise $50,000 in funds that will be used to directly cover broadband bills for families on the edge of the digital divide.

At this point in our response to COVID-19, emergency measures have only stopped the homework gap from growing rather than actually shrinking it. That’s precisely why we need a new form of addressing students’ lack of adequate internet and devices. The digital “haves” should embrace directly covering the broadband bills and upgrades required by the “have nots.” This form of direct giving is both the most effective and efficient means of giving every student high-speed internet and a device to make the most of that connection.

But too few people are aware of just how dire life can be on the wrong side of the digital divide. That’s why I’m hoping you — as a fellow member of the digital “haves” — will join me in taking a day off(line) on July 17. I’m convinced that it will take a day (if not more) in the digital dark for more Americans to recognize just how difficult it is to thrive, let alone survive, without stable internet, a device and a sufficient level of digital literacy.

The increased attention to the digital divide generated by this day off(line) will spur a more collective and significant response to stopping the formation of a homework chasm.

Current efforts to close the homework gap have at once been laudable and limited. For example, internet service providers (ISPs) deserve praise for taking a voluntary pledge to limit fees, forgive fines and remove data caps. But that pledge expired at the end of June, months before school starts and in the middle of an expanding economic calamity.

It’s true that many ISPs are still going to extraordinary lengths to help those in need — look no further than Verizon donating phones to Miracle Messages to help individuals experiencing homelessness connect with loved ones. However, even these extraordinary measures will not fully make up for the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are experiencing greater financial insecurity than ever before. They want and require a long-term solution to their digital needs — not just voluntary pledges that end in the middle of a pandemic.

In the same way, many school districts in the Bay Area have rapidly loaned hotspots and devices to students and families in need. In fact, even before COVID-19, the Oakland Unified School District and the 1Million Project were providing hotspots to students in need. These sorts of interventions, though, do not afford students on the wrong side of the homework gap the same opportunity to fully develop their digital literacy as those that have devices to call their own and internet connections sufficient to do more than just homework.

Every student deserves a device to call their own and a connection that allows them to become experts in safely and smoothly navigating the internet.

Direct giving is the solution. Financially secure individuals across the Bay Area can and should “sponsor” internet plans and devices for families in need. By sponsoring a family’s high-speed internet plan for a year or more, donors will provide students and parents alike with the security they need to focus on all of the other challenges associated with life in a pandemic. What’s more, sponsored devices would come without strings attached or “used” labels.

Students would have a fully equipped laptop to call their own as well as one that didn’t lack key functionalities, which is common among donated devices.

Because access to the internet is a human right, the government should be solving the homework gap. So far, it hasn’t been up to the task. So, in the interim, we’ll need a private sector solution. The good news is that we collectively seem up for the task. According to Fidelity, most charitable donors plan to maintain or increase their giving this year.

Consider that even 46% of millennials plan to increase their philanthropy. Unfortunately, one inhibitor to giving is the fact that “many donors don’t feel that they have the information they need to effectively support efforts” to address the ramifications of COVID-19.

That’s where NOLO and other digital inclusion coalitions step in. We’re sounding the bell: The public sector isn’t closing the homework gap; it’s on us to make sure kids have the connections and devices they need to thrive. NOLO is also providing the means to act on this information — during its Bridge the Divide campaign, donors will have a chance to sponsor broadband bills for community members served by organizations across the Bay Area including the SF Tech Council, BMAGIC and the Mission Merchants Association.

Our collective assignment is making the homework gap a priority. Our due date is nearing. The first task is taking a day off(line) on July 17. The next is donating to the Bridge the Divide campaign during the week of the 27th.

Let’s get to work.

Strive School wants to increase the number of job-ready software engineers in Europe

College in the United States is expensive and, for many, comes with massive student debt. The price tag has led to the increase of coding bootcamps and alternative schooling options to help students gain employment, and a salary, without taking on millions of dollars in debt.

In Europe, the picture looks vastly different: A majority of universities are low-cost or free to attend. Students have to front the cost of living, textbooks and other externalities, but overall education in Europe comes with a lower price tag than the United States.

But accessibility doesn’t equate to effectiveness, according to Tobia De Angelis, the co-founder of Berlin-based Strive School.

De Angelis launched Strive School to address what he sees as an existing weakness in European universities: outdated STEM course material. The company, which is currently going through Y Combinator, connects students to a six-month coding program and then connects them to a job in exchange for a portion of their future salary, also known as income-sharing agreements (ISA).

“The market is demanding [from] universities something they’re not meant to deliver in the first place: more high quality, job-ready software engineers,” De Angelis told TechCrunch.

ISAs are often used by companies as a pitch to help students forgo the expensive price tag of a university or online degree. The idea is that students only need to pay for the education once it works, or once it leads to a job.

Strive School, with its focus on Europe, needs to convince students to pay for education they could otherwise get low-cost because of the job prospects.

It’s hard to do, but so far Strive School has placed five out of seven students in its inaugural class. The second class is being placed, and the third class is in session. The company is accepting applications for its fourth cohort, starting in late September.

The company uses Europe’s free education model to its advantage by going to STEM faculties around Europe to recruit talent and students. The first focus for Strive School programming is full-stack web engineering.

Beyond that, Strive School looks and feels like a digital bootcamp. Students, or “strivers,” learn to code with deadlines, in a team environment and within the scope of a project. Lessons are taught fully remote with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication. 

Strive’s curriculum, according to De Angelis, is more focused on soft skills (like applying code to real-life situations) than hard skills. The teachers on the platform are engineers, scientists and coders. 

Once a student completes the coursework, Strive School will help them get placed. Its ISA terms are that it charges 10% of salary for four years with a maximum total of €18,000.

The ISA space has grown considerably in recent years, bringing with it a whole bunch of regulatory and legal scrutiny. Another Y Combinator company, Lambda School, tackles the coding skills shortage through an ISA model and launched in 2017. Since, students have complained about the quality of education a company can bring when it demands venture-sized returns with an ISA model.

Lambda cut staff and executive pay in April, citing the coronavirus and a general dialing back of growth plans. Strive School’s De Angelis said that the coronavirus makes placing students into jobs harder due to layoffs, thus hurting the upstart’s main source of revenue, but he is hopeful of growth in sub-sectors within tech like e-commerce.

ISA struggles doesn’t mean companies are straying away just yet. Within the YC alumni network, Blair helps college students finance their education through income-sharing agreements. And VCs recently bet millions in Microverse, a Lambda School for the developing world.

De Angelis is confident that Europe is big and diverse enough to need a platform that is specialized in working for its student base.

De Angelis spent time working at two early-stage funds in Italy and Denmark, and his co-founder Diego Banovaz is a software engineer who worked at startups and taught postgraduate courses in Trieste, Italy.

The coronavirus has forced the world to rethink online education models and move past the status quo put in place by institutional universities. It has brought re-skilling networks into the mainstream and forced questions about inclusion to be dealt with head-on. But perhaps Jomayra Herrera, an investor with Cowboy VC, puts it best: “You can give someone access to something, but it’s not true access unless they have the tools and structure to really engage with it.”

Dear Sophie: What does the new online classes rule mean for F-1 students?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

One of our founders is currently in the U.S. on an F-1 STEM OPT. Our company is sponsoring her for an H-1B visa, and we recently received an RFE.

What does yesterday’s F-1 visa international student immigration announcement mean for her? Is the H-1B going to be denied? Do we need a backup? What should we do?

—Concerned in Cupertino

Dear Concerned:

To find out if an F-1 student is affected by the Trump administration’s international student ban, watch my latest YouTube Live. For more on the H-1B visa ban, please read last week’s Dear Sophie column.

International students have been allowed to take online classes during the spring and summer due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that will end this fall. The new order will force many international students at schools that are only offering remote online classes to find an “immigration plan B” or depart the U.S. before the fall term to avoid being deported.

At many top universities, international students make up more than 20% of the student body. According to NAFSA, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported or created 458,000 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year. Apparently, the current administration is continuing to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to immigration.

Universities are scrambling as they struggle with this newfound untenable bind. Do they stay online only to keep their students safe and force their international students to leave their homes in this country? Or do they reopen to save their students from deportation, but put their communities’ health at risk?

For students, it means finding another school, scrambling to figure out a way to depart the States (when some home countries will not even allow them to return), or figuring out an “immigration plan B.” Yesterday’s video explores F-1 visa alternatives.

Fortunately, since your co-founder is on OPT, I don’t think the latest F-1 restrictions will affect her based on my initial reading of the tiny bit of info that trickled out of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) yesterday and the slightly broader SEVIS broadcast message guidance for schools. (“For the fall 2020 semester, continuing F and M students who are already in the United States may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they make normal progress in a program of study, or are engaged in approved practical training, either as part of a program of study or following completion of a program of study.”)

On the RFE front, I don’t know if it’s any comfort, but you’re definitely not alone: The percentage of H-1B petitioners that receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) has nearly doubled since 2016. Nearly 21% of petitioners received an RFE in fiscal year 2016 compared to more than 40% in 2019. During the first two quarters of the current fiscal year, 41% of all H-1B petitions received an RFE. Check out my podcast because we’ll be covering RFEs, Requests for Initial Evidence (RFIEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs) soon.

Just to be totally clear in answer to your first question: No, getting an RFE does not mean your H-1B application is more likely to be denied. In fact, an RFE offers a final opportunity to strengthen your petition for approval. Because the stakes are so high, I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer when crafting a response to an RFE.

Make sure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your response to the RFE by the deadline printed on the RFE. Last week, USCIS extended its deadlines: The deadline for RFEs issued between March 1 and Sept. 11 is automatically extended by 60 calendar days after the due date due to the COVID-19 crisis and the budget shortfall facing the agency. If your response is not received by the deadline, USCIS will deny your company’s H-1B petition.

You always want to make sure you understand exactly what additional evidence USCIS is seeking from you. Check your original application package to make sure that the requested document or evidence was not included. Sometimes, USCIS mistakenly overlooks information already submitted. If that’s the case, resubmit the requested document in your response package. If you can’t provide a requested document, explain why and provide alternative evidence if possible. Otherwise, provide the document or evidence as requested.

Among the top reasons why USCIS issues an RFE are for failing to show that the position qualifies as a specialty occupation or that a valid employer-employee relationship exists. If the RFE you received is for either of these reasons, here’s a quick reminder of what USCIS is seeking for each requirement.

To qualify for an H-1B visa, your petition must have demonstrated to USCIS that the position sought by the international professional is a specialty occupation. You should have provided evidence that the job requires the understanding and application of highly specialized knowledge and that it usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree — or equivalent experience — in a particular specialty. In recent years, USCIS has narrowed its interpretation of what qualifies as a specialty occupation. For instance, it no longer considers computer programming to be a specialty occupation. USCIS has also challenged positions that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and positions with titles such as computer systems analyst, financial analyst, market research analyst and human resources manager.

Making the case that an employer-employee relationship exists is tricky when it involves a founder working for the company she helped create. An employer must demonstrate that it will control the work of the H-1B beneficiary. For founders, that means someone at the company — either the board of directors or a co-founder — would have to supervise the H-1B beneficiary and have the authority to fire the individual. There are lots of ways to set this up properly.

Once all the evidence and documents required to respond to the RFE are ready, they should all be submitted together in a single response package with the original copy of the RFE as the first page. Save a copy of the response package for your records and send the response to the correct location using tracking and proof of delivery options.

Given that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have stopped issuing visas and green cards under the executive proclamations issued on April 22 and June 22 and due to the ongoing COVID-19-related travel restrictions, your co-founder should remain in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

For long-term immigration security for your co-founder, your startup should consider sponsoring her for one of the following green cards if she qualifies:

  • EB-1A green card for individuals with exceptional ability.
  • EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card, which is ideal for startup founders.
  • EB-2 green card for individuals with an advanced degree or exceptional ability, which requires a time-consuming PERM labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • EB-5 investor green card, for which your company could provide your co-founder with the investment funds for this option.

Apparently the Trump administration is not yet done with its efforts to further restrict legal immigration. They are taking a look at whether individuals currently in the U.S. on H-1B visas, as well as EB-2 green cards and EB-3 green cards limit opportunities for U.S. workers. Further restrictions or even expanded moratoriums may be put into place. Of course, I’ll cover it all here if and when it happens.

Let me know if you have more specific questions about an RFE. Good luck!

—Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Facebook-backed Unacademy acquires PrepLadder for $50 million

Indian online learning platform Unacademy said on Tuesday it has acquired Chandigarh-based startup PrepLadder for $50 million as the Facebook-backed edtech giant scouts for deals to expand its presence in the country.

PrepLadder, which employs about 150 people, offers courses aimed at medical students. The two-year-old startup, which never raised any capital from external investors, has more than 80,000 subscribers, said PrepLadder co-founder Deepanshu Goyal.

“Unacademy and PrepLadder are working towards the common goal of making quality education accessible to all. We believe that the synergies between both products will truly create a mark in the industry,” he said.

The acquisition of PrepLadder comes as both Unacademy and Byju’s — the two edtech leaders in India — have engaged in M&A talks with several local startups in recent months to further their dominance in the nation. In a call with reporters today, Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and chief executive of Unacademy, said he was open to talking with more startups to explore for opportunities for them to work together.

TechCrunch reported last month that Byju’s is in advanced stages of talks to acquire Doubtnut, another edtech startup, for as much as $150 million. The nine-year-old firm, which was valued at $10.5 billion last month, is also in talks with Whitehat Jr, an online platform that teaches kids how to code, Indian daily the Economic Times reported last week. The Morning Context, which first wrote about Unacademy’s imminent deal with PrepLadder, reported on Tuesday that the Indian startup is also in talks with Bangalore-based tutoring startup Mastree.

Unacademy has accelerated its growth in recent months as schools across the country closed in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The startup, which began as a YouTube channel in 2015, has amassed over 30 million learners on the platform. More than 700,000 users access its app and website each day.

The startup, which offers dozens of courses for school-going students at no charge, last year launched a paid subscription service. Munjal said today that Unacademy has amassed over 200,000 subscribers.

More to follow…

Four views: Is edtech changing how we learn?

In the future, students might dismiss stories about weather-related school closures as folklore.

The COVID-19 pandemic compelled us to experiment with edtech, but it’s still unclear whether attending school virtually with a laptop at the kitchen table offers the same benefits as being in a classroom. One recent study found that only 27% of schools asked teachers to monitor student attendance and 37% were required to do 1:1 check-ins on an ongoing basis.

Can education in a post-pandemic world become more accessible, asynchronous and persistent? Or will our digital divide deepen existing inequities in our educational system?

To consider the issue, four TechCrunch staffers looked at the future of edtech and remote learning:

  • Devin Coldewey
  • Natasha Mascarenhas
  • Alex Wilhelm
  • Danny Crichton

Devin Coldewey: Gaming will transform remote learning, but stigma must be addressed

When I was a kid, we played SimCity in computer class once we’d finished our typing lessons, five-paragraph essays and so on. I always thought I was pulling a fast one by zipping through the assignments and getting straight to building my city, but the truth is I was learning just as much with one as the other. The game fooled me into learning about city infrastructure, taxes and other civic concepts that I probably would have fallen asleep learning had I been reading about them.

As a preschool teacher I found myself on the other side of this phenomenon, finding ways to impart learning on my little charges without boring them — and they were easily bored. It was always better to learn by doing, but kids don’t do anything unless it’s fun.

The pandemic isn’t just affecting higher education; Fourth graders and middle school kids are being thrown for a loop as well — not to mention their teachers. Gaming has to be part of the solution.

Our education system has a sort of built-in fun-to-learning ratio that gets smaller as the years go on, because many of the tools we use to teach core concepts are dated and static. There are a few “edutainment” products if kids are lucky enough to have the iPads or laptops to use them on, but not enough, and they’re plainly of a lower order than the real games kids play all the time. When a kid’s hobby is playing something like Fortnite or Breath of the Wild, does an algebra worksheet dressed up like a 2002 Flash game really seem like anything more than work?

Educational games are stuck on the idea of adding fun to old methods of teaching instead of rethinking how learning can be accomplished outside of those methods. Yet the possibilities of teaching using remote presence and virtual worlds are staggering.

A simple and laudable example is Ubisoft’s educational mode, present in its last two Assassin’s Creed games set in ancient Egypt and classical Athens. For all that they came up short as AAA games, these astonishingly detailed sandboxes offer an entire college course’s worth of anthropology and history; in fact, a special nonviolent mode exists just for exploring those aspects of the game.

Imagine telling a classroom full of 14-year-olds that their assignment was to play Assassin’s Creed for an hour a day, find something interesting, look it up and write a paragraph about it. Or build a functioning rocket in Kerbal Space Program. Or finish a set of puzzles in The Witness and list the hidden rules that govern them. Or work with three other kids to build a model of the school in Minecraft or Roblox .

Right now, that’s practically unthinkable (outside a few forward-thinking classrooms), partly because the culture around gaming is weird, toxic and few people take the medium seriously for educational purposes. But if remote learning is going to be part of K-12 education from now on — and we’d better plan for that — we need to meet kids where they are, not try to contort them into a mold cast a century ago.

It’s difficult to visualize because “real” games aren’t built for education except as a secondary consideration. But virtual worlds are becoming venues for more than competition, and embracing that from first principles, by involving educators and students to see what is needed and how those needs can be met, will be a fruitful path for the industry to pursue.

Facebook makes education push in India

Facebook, which reaches more users than any other international firm in India, has identified a new area of opportunity to further spread its tentacles in the world’s second largest internet market.

On Sunday, the social juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Through these subjects, Facebook and CBSE aim to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well informed choices,” and think about their mental health, they said.

Facebook said that it will provide these training in various phases. In the first phase, more than 10,000 teachers will be trained; in the second, they will coach 30,000 students. The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences.

“I encourage the teachers and students to apply for the programs commencing on July 6, 2020,” said Ramesh Pokhriyal, Union Minister of Human Resources Development, in a statement.

Instagram’s Guide for Building Healthy Digital Habits, which has been developed in collaboration with the Jed Foundation (JED) and YLAC (Young Leaders for Active Citizenship), aims to help youngsters better understand the “socio-emotional space” they operate in and engage in health conversations.

“I am proud to share that CBSE is the only Board that has introduced the modules of Digital Safety and Online Well-being, Instagram Toolkit for Teens and Augmented Reality. Incorporating technology and digital safety into school curriculum will ensure students are not only gaining knowledge to succeed in the digital economy but also learning and collaborating in a safe online environment,” said Manoj Ahuja, Chairperson of CBSE, in a statement.

The announcement today caps a remarkable week in India that started with New Delhi blocking nearly 60 services developed by Chinese firms over cybersecurity concerns. TikTok, one of the services that has been hit by India’s order, identified Asia’s third-largest economy as its biggest market outside of China.

The service, run by Chinese giant ByteDance, reaches more than 200 million users in India, most of whom live in small towns and cities. TikTok began working with scores of content creators and firms in India last year to populate its short-form video service with educational videos.

Facebook last year partnered with telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms — in which it would eventually invest $5.7 billion — to launch “Digital Udaan,” the “largest ever digital literacy program” for first-time internet users in the country. The social juggernaut has in recent years ramped up its efforts to create awareness about the ill side of technology as its platform confronted misuse of its own services in the country. India is the biggest market for Facebook by users count.

As Q3 kicks off, four more companies join the $100M ARR club

Welcome back to our $100 million annual recurring revenue (ARR) series, in which we take irregular looks at companies that have reached material scale while still private. The goal of our project is simple: uncovering companies of real worth beyond how they are valued by private investors.


The Exchange is a daily look at startups and the private markets for Extra Crunch subscribers; use code EXCHANGE to get full access and take 25% off your subscription.


It’s all well and good to get a $1 billion valuation, call yourself a unicorn and march around like you invented the internet. But reaching material revenue scale means that, unlike some highly valued companies, you’re actually hard to kill. (And more valuable, and more likely to go public, we reckon.)

Before we dive into today’s new companies, keep in mind that we’ve expanded the type of company that can make it into the $100M ARR club to include companies that reach a $100 million annual run rate pace. Why? Because we don’t only want to collect SaaS companies, and if we could go back in time we’d probably draw a different box around the companies we are tracking.

$100M ARR or bust

If you need to catch up, you can find the two most recent entries in the series here and here. For everyone who’s current, today we are adding Snow Software, A Cloud Guru, Zeta Global and Upgrade to the club. Let’s go!

Snow Software

Just this week, Snow Software announced that it has crossed the $100 million ARR mark, according to a release shared with TechCrunch. The Swedish software asset management company has raised a few private rounds, including a $120 million private equity round in 2017. But, unlike many American companies that make this list, we don’t have a historical record of needing extensive private capital to scale.

Chinese online learning app Zuoyebang raises $750M

Zuoyebang, a Beijing-headquartered startup that runs an online learning app, said on Monday it has raised $750 million in a new financing round as investors demonstrate their continued trust in — and focus on — Asia’s booming edtech market.

U.S. investment firm Tiger Global and Hong Kong-based private equity firm FountainVest Partners led the six-year-old startup’s Series E financing round. Existing investors including SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Xiang He Capital, Qatar Investment Authority also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $1.33 billion.

As we have previously noted in our coverage, Zuoyebang’s app helps students — ranging from kindergarten to 12th-grade — solve problems and understand complex concepts.

The app, which offers online courses and runs live lessons, also allows students to take a picture of a problem, upload it to the app, and get its solution. The startup claims it uses artificial intelligence to identify the question and its answer.

Zuoyebang has amassed 170 million monthly active users, about 50 million of whom use the service each day, the startup said in a post (in Chinese). More than 12 million of these users are paid subscribers, it said.

The announcement today further illustrates the opportunities investors are seeing in the online education sector in Asia. Last week, Indian edtech giant Byju’s announced it had received fresh funds from Mary Meeker’s fund, Bond.

SoftBank counts Zuoyebang among its 88 portfolio startups that have demonstrated growth in recent quarters. Zuoyebang was founded by Baidu in 2015. A year later the Chinese search giant spun off Zuoyebang into an independent startup.

Zuoyebang competes with a handful of startups in China, including Yuanfudao, which offers a similar service. In March, Yuanfudao said it had secured $1 billion in a financing round led by Tencent and Hillhouse Capital. The startup was valued at $7.8 billion at the time. Reuters reported earlier this month that Zuoyebang could be valued at $6.5 billion in the new financing round.

According to research firm iResearch, the online education market in China could be worth $81 billion in two years.

Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.