Wonderschool raises $20M to help people start in-home preschools

Educators already don’t get paid enough, and those that work in preschools or daycares often make 48% less. Meanwhile, parents struggle to find great early education programs where kids receive enough attention and there’s space, but they don’t need special connections or to pass grueling admissions interviews to get in.

Any time there’s a lousy experience people have an emotional connection to and spend a lot of money on, there’s an opportunity for a startup. Enter ‘Wonderschool‘, a company that lets licensed educators and caretakers launch in-home preschools or daycares. Wonderschool helps candidates get credentialed, set up their programs, launch their websites, boost enrollment, and take payments in exchange for a 10 percent cut of tuition. The startup is now helping run 140 schools in the SF Bay, LA, and NYC where parents are happy to pay to give their kids an advantage.

That chance to fill a lucrative gap in the education market has attracted a new $20 million Series A for Wonderschool led by Andreessen Horowitz. The round brings the startup to $24.1 million in total funding just two years after launch. With the cash and Andreessen partner Jeff Jordan joining its board, Wonderschool is looking to build powerful lead generation and management software to turn teachers into savvy entrepreneurs.

Finding good childcare has become one of the most difficult experiences for families. I’ve seen parents who are making a livable wage in urban cities like San Francisco and New York still struggle to find and afford quality childcare” says co-founder and CEO Chris Bennett. “We wanted to deliver a solution for parents that also had the potential to create jobs and empower the caregiver — that’s Wonderschool.”

By spawning and uniting programs across the country, Wonderschool could scale as the way software eats preschool. But without vigorous oversight of each educator, Wonderschool is also at risk of a safety mishap at one of its franchises ruining the brand for them all.

Airbnb For Schooling

Wonderschool started when co-founder Arrel Gray was having trouble finding childcare for his daughter close to home. “My little sister went to an in-home preschool, so I suggested he check them out” says Bennett. “But he wasn’t very satisfied with the options – the majority were full and some didn’t meet the expectations for his family. We also found that they didn’t use the internet much so they were hard to find and contact.”

The two were seeking to pivot their social commerce startup Soldsie after Facebook algorithm changes curtailed its growth. Their research led to the discovery of just how much lower preschool and daycare workers’ wages were. “When we had the idea we thought, ‘what the best way to test this?’ Why don’t we start a preschool ourselves'” says Bennett. “So we rented a home in the Berkeley Hills, hired an amazing educator, set up a school and started one. The school ended up being a huge success. Five-star reviews on Yelp. A high NPS. Parents loved the place.” It also netted the teacher a 3X higher salary than before.

With that proof, Wonderschool went on to raise $4.1 million from Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Omidyar Network, Cross Culture Ventures, Uncork Capital, Lerer Ventures, FundersClub, and Edelweiss. That let Bennett and Gray flesh out the business. Wonderschool would recruit existing teachers and caregivers or guide people to get licensed so they could become “directors” of in-home schools. Wonderschool acts almost like Airbnb by turning them into small businesses earning money from home.

Teachers can pick whatever schedule, curriculum, or format they want, like Montesori or nature-focused learning. Wonderschool now has over 500 directors working with its software, with some making as much as $150,000 or $200,000. In exchange for its 10 percent cut of tuition, Wonderschool provides directors with a “bootcamp” to prep them for the job. It pairs them with a mentor, then helps them build their website and figure out their pricing options. Coaching guides train the directors to scout for new leads, offer appealing tours, and track their fledgling business.

The $20 million from Andreessen, OmidyarGary Community Investments, and First Round will go to expanding the Wonderschool software. Each student slot it can help director fill, the more it earns. The startup will also have to compete with  companies like Wildflower Schools, which Bennett admits has a similar business model but he says “We are focused on in home and they also focus on Montessori while we are curriculum agnostic.” There’s also Cottage Class which powers homeschooling for students up to age 18, Tinkergarten that concentrates on short-term outdoor education, and VIPKid connects kids in China with U.S. teachers over video chat.

They, like Wonderschool, are trying to scale up to meet the massive existing demand. “The challenge is that there aren’t enough programs for the number of children needing public or private schooling – 1st grade or earlier – and our goal is to provide enough supply for every child” Bennett explains.

Still, safety remains a top concern. Bennett notes that “Wonderschool has a support team that helps school Directors prepare their homes for operation. With regard to safety, each state’s licensing office covers this in their approval process for being granted a license to operate.” But could a problem at one school shake the businesses of all the rest of its franchises? “We have a system of checks in balances in place that we feel confident would allow us to anticipate any potential issues, including regular, weekly check-ins with Directors and a feedback loop with parents. We also email parents on a regular cadence to get feedback from parents and we step in and work with the Director if we find that there are issues” Bennett insists.

If Wonderschool can keep its brand clean through thorough oversight, it could both create better paying jobs in a field rife with undercompensated heroes, and open early schooling to a wider range of students. Bennett’s parents moved to the U.S. from Honduras, pouring their efforts into supporting his and his sister’s education. Now he’s building the next generation of teachers the tools to give more kids a head start in life.

Online learning platform Unacademy gets $21M Series C from Sequoia India, SAIF and Nexus

Unacademy founders Roman Saini, Gaurav Munjal and Hemesh Singh

Bangalore-based Unacademy will add more educators to its online learning platform, which claims to be India’s largest, after closing a $21 million Series C. The funding comes from Sequoia India, SAIF Partners and Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from Blume Ventures (all four firms are returning from Unacademy’s Series B last year).

Originally a YouTube channel created in 2010 by Gaurav Munjal, Unacademy was officially launched as a startup in 2015 by founders Munjal, Roman Saini and Hemesh Singh. It has now raised $38.6 million in total.

While Unacademy offers a wide range of courses, its most popular offerings include preparation for important exams in India. Its platform includes two apps: one that lets educators create lessons and another that allows users to access them. Unacademy says it has 10,000 registered educators and three million users. Last month, the startup claims 3,000 educators were active on the platform and lessons were watched more than 40 million times.

Many lessons are available for free, though last year Unacademy launched a paid service called Plus that gives users access to features like private discussion forums and live video classes for a per-course fee. Unacademy claims it has achieved six times growth in monthly revenue since launching Plus. The premium classes also help it differentiate from other online learning platforms like Mrunal, a popular site that provides free test preparation for Indian students.

In addition to bringing on more teachers, Unacademy will use its new funding to expand key categories like pre-med, the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) and the Common Admission Test (CAT), which are required by many post-graduate programs.

In a media statement, SAIF partner Alok Goel said “Unacademy has demonstrated tremendous progress towards their goal of delivering personalized learning by connecting great quality educators and students on their platform. The company has diversified across several new domains and has achieved amazing word of mouth among learners.”

PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell to talk high school eSports at Disrupt SF

The gaming world is evolving at a rapid clip. No longer is the idea of the lonely gamer a reality. Twitch and Discord have brought gamers together and given everyone the opportunity to see just how talented some of these young players are. Meanwhile, publishers and eSports organizations have built out an infrastructure.

But there is plenty left to do, and PlayVS founder and CEO Delane Parnell is well aware of this.

We’re amped to announce that Parnell is joining us at TC Disrupt SF in September to talk about how high school esports could pave the way for even more growth in this industry.

PlayVS is a startup that has partnered with the NFHS to bring esports to the high school level, providing infrastructure around scheduling, refs, rules, and state tournaments. Not only does this allow high school students to get extracurricular experience doing what they love (playing video games), but it offers a new way for esports orgs and colleges to look at the bright young talent coming up through the ranks.

PlayVS launched in April after securing its partnership with the NFHS. Through this partnership, the company will be able to bring organized esports to more than 18 states and approximately 5 million students across 5,000 high schools.

The company has since raised $15 million in Series A, and the inaugural season begins in October of this year.

We’re absolutely thrilled to get the chance to sit down with Parnell to discuss the launch of the platform and hear about how high school esports could set the tone for the industry as a whole.

Tickets to Disrupt SF are available here.

Apple launches its free Schoolwork app for teachers

Apple this morning launched Schoolwork, a free app for teachers that was first introduced at Apple’s education event in Chicago back in March. The cloud-based app allows teachers using iPads in the classroom to create and distribute handouts and other assignments, collaborate individually with students, track students’ progress, and – perhaps most notably – allows teachers to assign specific activities within educational apps.

That means instead of pointing students to download an app and then give them instructions on how to access the individual task, teachers can instead guide students directly to a specific lesson with an app.

This lets schools tap into the power of Apple’s App Store ecosystem, which has benefitted from being a more curated, trusted experience, where many kids’ app publishers launch their new and updated apps first and/or keep larger catalogs.

Select educational apps already work with Schoolwork, including Explain Everything, Tynker, GeoGebra, and Kahoot!.

With this ability to assign in-app tasks, teachers can see how well the student is doing with the given assignment, not just their usage of the app overall. And they can also see how well the whole classroom is doing from their own dashboard, too.

Apple additionally emphasized the privacy elements to Schoolwork when it was first announced, and it reiterates them today.

Schools get to “create, own and control” the accounts used by students, says the company, and they get to determine when student progress information is shared.

Apple cannot see the student activity, either, as it stays within the system.

Privacy is a key selling point these days for Apple products. It could spur more adoption of its hardware and software devices in the classroom, even though its new $299 iPads for schools are higher priced than some of the low-end Chromebook options from Google that can range $100 to $150, for example.

The new iPads, along with software for digital book creation, Classroom for Mac, an updated Swift Playgrounds app, and other educational tools were also shown off at the Chicago event earlier this year.

Schoolwork is designed to work with the Classroom app, which now runs on both iPad and Mac.

The Classroom app lets teachers view students’ screen in class, share documents with students, assign shared iPads, and reset student passwords. Students, meanwhile, use Schoolwork to view the content teachers’ share – like announcements, handouts, documents, PDFs, and web links –  and track which of their assignments are due.

Apple’s efforts in education come at a time when Google is winning the market with its Chromebooks, which have a reported nearly 60 percent share in the classroom, according to estimates.

But Apple’s devices may appeal for other activities beyond word processing and web research – its iPads for the classroom, for example, support Apple Pencil, including within iWork, as well as Logitech’s $49 “crayon.” Teachers can create lightweight iPad-based texts using iPad Author, and kids can learn to create AR apps in Swift Playgrounds.

Teachers can learn more about Apple’s educational tools on its dedicated site here.

China’s VIPKID, which links native English speakers with online learners, raises another $500M, reportedly at $3B+ valuation

The online language school market is continuing to heat up, and a startup that connects native English speakers with an audience of students spanning China and 35 other countries for live language tutorials, is helping fan those flames. VIPKID, based out of Beijing, today announced that it has raised $500 million in funding — a Series D+ round that potentially values the startup at over $3 billion, based on reports in April when it was still raising the money.

(We’ve reached out to the company to see if we can get more detail on that front.)

This latest growth round was led by a group of investors that include both strategic and financial players: Coatue Management, Tencent, Sequoia Capital and Yunfeng Capital — Alibaba chief Jack Ma’s investment company — were all co-leads on the deal.

For some context on that valuation and how it has soared in the last year, it was in August 2017 that VIPKID raised $200 million on a $1.5 billion valuation. It has now raised some $850 million in financing since being founded in 2013.

The company’s size has soared in that time, too. Last year VIPKID said that it had 20,000 teachers and 200,000 paying students from 32 countries. Now those numbers are at over 40,000 teachers and 300,000 students across 35 markets.

With the bulk of the latter group still coming from China — as we have written before, it’s targeting a very large group of upwardly-mobile parents in the country who are looking to improve their children’s English skills — it looks like VIPKID might be looking to ramp up targeting more markets.

But as with many other two-sided marketplaces, VIPKID also faces a lot of competition on the supply front: as we reported in April, it’s competing against the likes of other Chinese companies like VIPABC, 51Talk, and others to hire native English speakers to fuel their live tutoring programs.

VIPKID’s core product is likely attractive to investors because of how it has successfully tapped into more than one growth area in the tech world, namely online education, live video streaming services and e-commerce. Going forward, the company plans to use the funding in three areas, according to founder and CEO Cindy Mi (pictured above), that will help advance all three of these.

“The first is to enhance the student learning experience by adding more leading educational curriculum content and products such as online textbooks, and creating a seamless user experience by enhancing engineering, technology and product,” she said in a statement. “The second is to provide additional tools and assistance to teachers and continued growth of the teacher community to support the increase in product offerings. The third is to leverage the latest advances in machine learning to explore and pioneer the future of learning.”

It’s interesting to note that VIPKID does not seem to be focused right now on moving outside of its core focus of teaching English. However, you could imagine how the same tools and framework could be used for other language vectors — for example, teaching Mandarin to English speakers, or Spanish to an Indian audience. In other words, VIPKID might just be at the tip of the iceberg in terms of its potential.

Online education is getting fuelled by a massive wave of capital at the moment. VIPKID notes that in the first half of 2018, Chinese K-12 education startups picked no less than $1.5 billion in financing. Further afield, Memrise earlier this month raised $15.5 million; and Blinkist — which condenses non-fiction books in aid of encouraging “life-long learning” — yesterday announced $18.8 million in funding. And Coursera may also be due for a financing injection soon, too.

Within the bigger category, there are some clear leaders emerging, and that is where the bulk of money is going, it seems.

“We believe that VIPKID is transforming the shape of traditional education on a global scale and is providing an excellent new model for future education,” said Philippe Laffont, Founder of Coatue Management, in a statement. “Coatue is excited about VIPKID’s opportunity to integrate outstanding educational resources globally and boost its internationalization process.”

Notably, WeChat owner and Internet giant Tencent works with another online education startup, Age of Learning, meaning there is potential for helping VIPKID also grow using its network effect. “Tencent attaches great importance to investment in online education,” said Lin Haifeng, managing partner at Tencent Investment, in a statement. “We hope to have close cooperation with our most important partners like VIPKID and to help the Chinese education industry explore the global market and the boundaries and possibilities of education.”

Other investors have included Kobe Bryant, Innovation Works, Learn Capital, Sequoia Capital, Matrix Partners and Northern Light Venture.

See more from Cindy Mi speaking to us at Disrupt last September below.

Sphero raises $12M as it focuses on education

This year has been a rough one for Sphero. The Colorado-based toy robotics startup kicked off the year with dozens of layoffs, a result of tepid interest in its line of Disney-branded consumer products.

Here’s a little good news, however. The company has raised another $12 million, bringing its total up to around $119 million, according to Crunchbase. The latest round will go into helping shape the BB-8 maker into an education-first company.

“The recent round of funding has currently raised $12 million, and we anticipate at the time of final closing up to $20 million may be raised in total,” Sphero said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. Funding has/will come from existing and new investors and will be used for working capital as we engage in a larger strategy that focuses on the intersection of play and learning.”

It’s a tricky play, given how overcrowded the world of coding toys is at the moment, but Sphero has long been building out its play in the space, in tandem with its more consumer-focused offerings.

Following the success of its The Force Awakens BB-8 tie in, the company quadrupled down on its involvement with Disney’s accelerator, releasing high-tech toys based on Spider-Man and Lightning McQueen from Cars.

“[Education] is something we can actually own,” the company told me after the layoffs were revealed. “Where we do well are those experiences we can 100 percent own, from inception to go-to-market.”

Roblox follows Minecraft into the education market

Roblox, the massively multiplayer online game favored by the under 13 crowd, is following in Minecraft’s footsteps with a move into the education market. The company this morning announced a new education initiative, Roblox Education, that will offer a free curriculum to educators, along with international summer coding camps, and a free online “Creator Challenge” in partnership with Universal Brand Development, which will see kids building Roblox games inspired by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 

The gaming company has been around for many years, but only recently reached a critical mass where it was ready to talk about its numbers. Today, Roblox sees over 60 million monthly active users, and its creator community building new worlds for kids to explore has doubled to 2 million this year from the year prior, it said earlier this year.

Roblox gets kids coding by hooking them on the game itself when they’re young – around elementary school age. By middle school, users are downloading Roblox Studio to build their own games and experiences. And by high school, they’ve learned to code to customize their games even further.

And the kids aren’t just building for fun – there’s money to be made, too. The top creators make two to three million a year, the company claims. The games are free, but creators monetize through the sale of virtual goods. Roblox says it paid out $30 million to its creator community last year, and is now cash-flow positive.

With Roblox Education, the aim is to get more kids coding by working with educators directly.

The new curriculum offers teachers 12 hours of step-by-step tutorials, handouts, technical setup guides, outlines, lesson guides, and more. It’s shared freely under a Creative Commons license so teachers can use or modify it as they see fit. In the future, the curriculum will be expanded to include other subjects, as well, like Physics and Design, the company says.

In addition, teaching kids how to use Roblox Studio will be the main focus of more than 500 coding camps and online programs this summer in the U.S., U.K. Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. The kids will learn how to create, publish and market their games to others.


The company will also run its 4th annual Roblox Summer Accelerator, and host 45 young developers at its HQ for the summer. The program has previously produced some of the more popular Roblox titles, like MeepCity and Lumber Tycoon.

And it will host its annual Roblox Developer Conference in San Francisco July 13-15, 2018, and in Amsterdam August 17-19, 2018. It’s doubling the number of attendees this year at both.

Finally, Roblox will host its first Creator Challenge with Universal, where kids learn tricks of game building via a Jurassic Park-themed, self-paced course.

“Roblox’s mission is to power and fuel imagination while inspiring a new generation of creators,” said Grace Francisco, VP of Developer Relations at Roblox, said in a statement about the launch. ”We are thrilled to be launching our education initiative that gives young people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to develop the crucial skills needed to be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and creators.”

Here is where CEOs of heavily funded startups went to school

CEOs of funded startups tend to be a well-educated bunch, at least when it comes to university degrees.

Yes, it’s true college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates can still do well. But Crunchbase data shows that most startup chief executives have an advanced degree, commonly from a well-known and prestigious university.

Earlier this month, Crunchbase News looked at U.S. universities with strong track records for graduating future CEOs of funded companies. This unearthed some findings that, while interesting, were not especially surprising. Stanford and Harvard topped the list, and graduates of top-ranked business schools were particularly well-represented.

In this next installment of our CEO series, we narrowed the data set. Specifically, we looked at CEOs of U.S. companies funded in the past three years that have raised at least $100 million in total venture financing. Our intent was to see whether educational backgrounds of unicorn and near-unicorn leaders differ markedly from the broad startup CEO population.

Sort of, but not really

Here’s the broad takeaway of our analysis: Most CEOs of well-funded startups do have degrees from prestigious universities, and there are a lot of Harvard and Stanford grads. However, chief executives of the companies in our current data set are, educationally speaking, a pretty diverse bunch with degrees from multiple continents and all regions of the U.S.

In total, our data set includes 193 private U.S. companies that raised $100 million or more and closed a VC round in the past three years. In the chart below, we look at the universities most commonly attended by their CEOs:1

The rankings aren’t hugely different from the broader population of funded U.S. startups. In that data set, we also found Harvard and Stanford vying for the top slots, followed mostly by Ivy League schools and major research universities.

For heavily funded startups, we also found a high proportion of business school degrees. All of the University of Pennsylvania alum on the list attended its Wharton School of Business. More than half of Harvard-affiliated grads attended its business school. MBAs were a popular credential among other schools on the list that offer the degree.

Where the most heavily funded startup CEOs studied

When it comes to the most heavily funded startups, the degree mix gets quirkier. That makes sense, given that we looked at just 20 companies.

In the chart below, we look at alumni affiliations for CEOs of these companies, all of which have raised hundreds of millions or billions in venture and growth financing:

One surprise finding from the U.S. startup data set was the prevalence of Canadian university grads. Three CEOs on the list are alums of the University of Waterloo . Others attended multiple well-known universities. The list also offers fresh proof that it’s not necessary to graduate from college to raise billions. WeWork CEO Adam Neumann just finished his degree last year, 15 years after he started. That didn’t stop the co-working giant from securing more than $7 billion in venture and growth financing.

  1. Several CEOs attended more than one university on the list.

Google opens its G Suite for Education to home-school co-ops

Google today announced that it is changing the eligibility guidelines of its free G Suite for Education service to include home-school co-ops. Parents and teachers who run home-school co-ops will be able to sign up for it in the coming weeks.

G Suite for Educations includes all of Google’s usual online productivity tools and then layers a number of education-specific services like Classroom on top of that. Google Classroom, it’s worth noting, was already available to any G Suite user, but to subscribe to G Suite for Education, you needed to be affiliated with a school or school district. Now, home-school co-ops will be able to verify their status and get access to G Suite for Education, too.

“Through technology, home-school co-op teachers can set and change assignments on the fly, students can work together even if geographically separated, and everyone has a common format for collaboration,” writes Darren Jones of the Home School Legal Defense Association, in today’s announcement. “It’s because of this potential that I’ve been working closely with Google this year to make sure that home-school co-ops have the same access as other schools to G Suite for Education.”

Google has piloted this program with a number of co-ops in recent months and given that these groups function a bit like traditional schools, with some being more formal than others, I can see how access to a shared and integrated set of tools would be useful there.

Selected’s recruiting platform matches teachers with schools they’ll love

A “dating app for teachers” is an odd but useful way to describe the startup Selected, which has just closed on $1.2 million in seed funding for its recruiting platform for educators. And, in all fairness, Selected said it first. The startup’s own website describes itself (a bit tongue-in-cheek) as a “dating app for job-seeking teachers and hiring schools.”

Before you roll your eyes at the shorthand being used here, let’s skip ahead to the main point. And that is – like dating apps – Selected takes advantage of profile-matching technology in order to help teachers find good jobs they’ll want to keep.

With Selected, this involves connecting candidates to schools based on mutual fit in terms of personal preferences, school culture, and teaching methods, among other things.

The dating app comparison didn’t just come out of nowhere, though.

The company began as a tutoring app in New York City, during which time it had teachers building out profiles where they would details their certifications and expertise. But the team found that it was schools who had interest in this app, not parents. In fact, the schools asked if they could reach out to the tutors and offer them jobs.

Seeing an opportunity, Selected pivoted to work on a teacher-to-schools matching app instead, instead of one for tutors.

Another reason for the comparison is that early employee, COO Eric Kim, was formerly a senior product manager at the dating app OKCupid.

“We started talking to him early on as we were thinking about how matching should be designed,” explains Selected co-founder and CEO Waine Tam, a Princeton grad whose own background is in software engineering and education.”[Selected is] similar to a dating app-type interface where you answer a couple of questions about what you’re looking for,” he adds.

However, Tam cautions that – also like dating apps – matches often don’t click until teachers and those hiring them meet in real life.

But Selected can at least get the process started by asking teachers to answer questions that help schools determine if they’re a fit – things like “how much do you value progressive education?” or “do you prefer inquiry-based learning over explicit instruction?,” for example.

This is combined with the collection of more objective data schools need to know, like teachers’ certifications or where they want to work.

The company has only been through one school year cycle since its launch in May 2016, and it placed around 100 teachers through the service that was then live only in New York.

It’s since expanded to reach 10,000 teachers and over 500 pre-K-12 public and private schools. The schools signed up on its platform are largely spread across the Northeast in urban metros like NYC, Boston, Newark/Trenton/Camden, N.J., Bridgeport/New Haven, Connecticut; Philadelphia, and D.C.

The startup’s long-term goal is to help teachers find jobs they like in order to reduce turnover in the U.S. educational system.

Today, there are over 3.8 million teachers in the U.S., the company notes, making teaching one of the largest professions in the U.S. But every year, over 500,000 teachers turn over nationally – something Selected sees as an opportunity to make better matches, in the hopes of keeping teachers long-term.

One of the issues is that teachers have trouble finding jobs despite high demand because they apply to schools that have different requirements than what they bring to the table. Other times, they don’t end up in the right jobs, because the hiring process doesn’t offer a lot of transparency around critical topics, like school culture.

“The number one driver of teacher retention, or on the other side – attrition – is a poor culture match,” Tam points out.

After teachers sign up on Selected, they’re screened for certifications before being approved. Selected then helps applicants with their resumé, and offers coaching.

The teachers then just sit back and wait for schools to reach out with offers. In their first week, they receive around 5 matches, and average around 15 in total. It’s too soon to say if Selected’s hypothesis around improving teacher retention is paying off. That won’t be known for several years still.

Schools are charged a fixed fee when a teacher is hired, which is currently the only source of revenue for the company.

Propel Capital led the seed round, which included participation from Kapor Capital and other investors.

With the seed funding, Selected will continue to develop its business in the NE U.S., and, later, the rest of the country.

New York-based Selected is currently a team of four full-time and four part-time, including co-founder and CTO Luis Pazmiño.