Amazon invests $700 million to retrain a third of its U.S. workforce by 2025

Amazon announced this morning a plan to invest over $700 million to retrain workers across the U.S. to allow them to move into skilled technical and non-technical roles across its corporate offices, tech hubs, fulfillment centers, retail stores, and transportation network. The company’s goal is to “upskill” 100,000 of its U.S. employees for more in-demand jobs by 2025 — or, one in three of Amazon’s U.S. workers.

In particular, Amazon has its eye on job roles like data mapping specialist, data scientist, solutions architect, and business analyst, as well as logistics coordinator, process improvement manager and transportation specialist, it says. Based on a review of its workforce and U.S. hiring, these are the fastest-growing, highly skilled jobs over the past five years.

For example, data mapping specialists have seen job growth of 832% in the past five years, based on Amazon’s own data, while data scientists jobs grew 505%, solutions architect grew 454%, security engineer jobs grew 229%, and business analyst jobs grew 160%. Meanwhile, the highly-skilled job roles in customer fulfillment have grown by 400%.

Amazon’s U.S. workforce is expected to reach 300,000 employees this year, and it will reach 630,000 employees worldwide.

The retraining investment breaks down to around $7,000 per worker, and it one the largest corporate retraining programs to date.

The funding will be distributed across a range of programs, including both existing programs and new initiatives. It will also be focused on training people both with and without existing technical backgrounds.

These programs include the new Amazon Technical Academy, which will train non-technical Amazon employees with skills that allow them to transition to software and engineering careers; the new Associate2Tech program that will train fulfillment center associates to move into technical roles; and the new Machine Learning University, to train those with a tech background to branch into machine learning.

Amazon will also expand its Career Choice program, launched in 2012, which offers pre-paid tuition to fulfillment center associates who want to move into high-demand jobs; plus Amazon Apprenticeship, a Department of Labor certified program offering paid classroom training and on the job apprenticeships with Amazon; and its AWS Training and Certification programs focused on closing the skills gap.

“Through our continued investment in local communities in more than 40 states across the country, we have created tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S. in the past year alone,” said Beth Galetti, Senior Vice President, HR, in a statement released this morning. “For us, creating these opportunities is just the beginning. While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations. We think it’s important to invest in our employees, and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves. With this pledge, we’re committing to support 100,000 Amazonians in getting the skills to make the next step in their careers,” she added.

The investment follows Amazon’s raising of its minimum wage to $15 for all U.S. employees last year, after the retailer was increasingly under attack for how its workers were treated and paid. Senator Bernie Sanders, in particular, had called out Amazon for engaging in “corporate welfare,” noting that Amazon wages were so low that workers couldn’t take care of their families — meaning thousands were on government subsidy programs, like food stamps.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos later challenged other retailers to follow his lead, and raise their minimum wages too. But that’s easier said than done as Amazon is so far ahead that its nearest e-commerce competitor, Walmart, is losing $1 billion this year on its e-commerce division as it tries to catch up.

The news also comes at a time when the role of technology’s impact on jobs is starting to take shape. As warehouses become more automated and jobs, overall, become more technology-dependent, it makes sense that Amazon would want to look internally to fill these new roles.

 

Bankrupt Maker Faire revives, reduced to Make Community

Maker Faire and Maker Media are getting a second chance after suddenly going bankrupt, but they’ll return in a weakened capacity. Sadly, their flagship crafting festivals remain in jeopardy, and it’s unclear how long the reformed company can survive.

Maker Media suddenly laid off all 22 employees and shut down last month, as first reported by TechCrunch. Now its founder and CEO Dale Dougherty tells me he’s bought back the brands, domains, and content from creditors and rehired 15 of 22 laid off staffers with his own money. Next week, he’ll announce the relaunch of the company with the new name “Make Community“.

Read our story about how Maker Faire fell apart

The company is already working on a new issue of Make Magazine that it will hope to publish quarterly (down from six times per year) and the online archives of its do-it-yourself project guides will remain available. I hopes to keep publishing books. And it will continue to license the Maker Faire name to event organizers who’ve thrown over 200 of the festivals full of science-art and workshops in 40 countries. But Dougherty doesn’t have the funding to commit to producing the company-owned flagship Bay Area and New York Maker Faires any more.

Maker Faire Layoffs

“We’ve succeeded in just getting the transition to happen and getting Community set up” Dougherty tells me. But sounding shaky, he asks “Can I devise a better model to do what we’ve been doing the past 15 years? I don’t know if I have the answer yet.” Print publishing proved tougher and tougher recently. Combined with declining corporate sponsorships of the main events, Maker Media was losing too much money to stay afloat last time.

On June 3rd, we basically stopped doing business. And, you know, the bank froze our accounts” Dougherty said at a meetup he held in Oakland to take feedback on his plan, according a recording made by attendee Brian Benchoff. Grasping for a way to make the numbers work, he told the small crowd gathered “I’d be happy if someone wanted to take this off my hands.”

Maker Faire

Maker Faire [Image via Maker Faire Instagram]

For now, Dougherty is financing the revival himself “with the goal that we can get back up to speed as a business, and start generating revenue and a magazine again. This is where the community support needs to come in because I can’t fund it for very long.”

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Maker Faire founder and Make Community CEO Dale Dougherty

The immediate plan is to announce a new membership model next week at Make.co where hobbyists and craft-lovers can pay a monthly or annual fee to become patrons of Make Community. Dougherty was cagey about what they’ll get in return beyond a sense of keeping alive the organization that’s held the maker community together since 2005. He does hope to get the next Make Magazine issue out by the end of summer or early fall, and existing subscribers should get it in the mail.

The company is still determining whether to move forward as a non-profit or co-op instead of as a venture-backed for-profit as before. “The one thing i don’t like about non-profit is that you end up working for the source you got the money from. You dance to their tune to get their funding” he told the meetup.

Last time, he burned through $10 million in venture funding from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. That could make VCs weary of putting more cash into a questionable business model. But if enough of the 80,000 remaining Make Magazine subscribers, 1 million YouTube followers, and millions who’ve attended Maker Faire events step up, pehaps the company can find surer footing.

“I hope this is actually an opportunity not just to revive what we do but maybe take it to a new level” Dougherty tells me. After all, plenty of today’s budding inventors and engineers grew up reading Make Magazine and being awestruck by the massive animatronic creations featured at its festivals.

Audibly peturbed, the founder exclaimed at his community meetup “It frustrates the heck out of me thinking that I’m the one backing up Maker Faire when there’s all these billionaires in the valley.”

Maker Faire lives

India’s Byju’s raises $150 million to expand globally

Byju’s, India’s most valuable edtech startup, has received new $150 million as it races to expand the reach of its learning app in the country and some international markets.

The unnamed financing round was led by Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar, and included participation from Owl Ventures, a leading investor in education tech startups. This is Owl Venture’s first investment in an Indian startup. A person familiar with the matter said the new round valued Byju’s at $5.75 billion, up from nearly $4 billion last year.

The startup, which has raised about $925 million to date, said it would use the fresh capital to aggressively explore and expand in international markets. The startup has previously said it plans to enter the U.S. and UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

It acquired Osmo, a U.S.-based learning startup that is popular among kids aged between five and 12 for $120 million early this year. Osmo recently unveiled a new product to serve the pre-schoolers market.

Byju’s helps all school-going children understand complex subjects through its app where tutors use real life objects such as pizza and cake. It also prepares students who are pursuing under graduate and graduate level courses. Over the years, Byju’s has invested in tweaking the English accents in its app and adapted to different education systems. It has amassed more than 35 million registered users, about 2.4 million of which are paid customers.

“Investment from prominent sovereign and pension funds validates our strong business fundamentals. Indian ed-tech firms attracting interest from eminent investors demonstrates that India is pioneering the digital learning space globally,” Byju Raveendran, founder and CEO of Byju’s, said in a statement.

In India, Byju’s competes with a handful of players, including Bangalore-based Unacademy, which is aimed at students who are preparing for graduation-level courses. It raised $50 million last month.

India has the largest population in the world in the age bracket of 5 to 24 years. A report by KPMG and Google in 2017 estimated that the country’s online education market would grow to $1.96 billion of sales by 2021.

Byju’s generated around $205 million in revenue in the fiscal year that ended in March. It plans to increase that figure to over $430 million this year. Raveendran has stated that the startup intends to go public in the next two to three years.

Google debuts ‘Code with Google’ coding education resource for teachers

Google is offering a new coding resource for educators via Code with Google, which collects Google’s own free course curriculum on teaching computer science and a variety of programs to help students learn to code or build on their existing skills, with stuff for people at all levels of ability.

The Code with Google resources extend beyond just learning, however, and include potential scholarships, for instance, was well as summer programs, internships and residencies.

In a blog post, Google VP of Education and University Relations Maggie Johnson noted that while recognition of the importance of computer science across all levels of education is relatively high, the actual availability of courses that include hands-on programming for students is surprisingly low, and generally only accessible to students in more affluent districts with access to more resources.

All of Google’s Code with Google resources are free, in keeping with many of its other educational offerings, as it continues to drive its education tech leadership position combined with affordable Chromebooks for schools. Google also announced a $1 million grant to the Computer Science Teachers Association alongside the unveiling of this new resource.

Google is smart to continue to approach its education strategy through free resources and easy-to-use, cloud-based software that is accessible to a broad range of both educators and students at all skill and expertise levels.

Calm raises $27M to McConaughey you to sleep

Meditation app unicorn Calm wants you to doze off to the dulcet tones of actor Matthew McConaughey’s southern drawl or writer Stephen Fry’s english accent. Calm’s Sleep Stories feature that launched last year is a hit, with over 150 million listens from its 2 million paid subscribers and 50 million downloads. While lots of people want to meditate, they need to sleep. The 7-year-old app has finally found its must-have feature that makes it a habit rather than an aspiration.

Keen to capitalize on solving the insomnia problems plaguing people around the world, Lightspeed tells TechCrunch it has just invested $27 million into a Series B extension round in Calm alongside some celebrity angels at a $1 billion valuation. The cash will help the $70 per year subscription app further expand from guided meditations into more self-help masterclasses, stretching routines, relaxing music, breathing exercises, stories for children, and celebrity readings that lull you to sleep.

Calm App

The funding adds to Calm’s $88 million Series B led by TPG that was announced in February that was also at a $1 billion valuation, bringing the full B round to $115 million and Calm’s total funding to about $141 million. Lightspeed partner Nicole Quinn confirms the fund started talks with Calm around the same time as TPG, but took longer to finish due diligence, which is why the valuation didn’t grow despite Calm’s progress since February.

“Nicole and Lightspeed are valueable partners as we continue to double down on entertainment through our content” Calm’s head of communications Alexia Marchetti tells me. The startup plans to announce more celebrity content tie-ins later this summer.

Broadening its appeal is critical for Calm amidst a crowded meditation app market including Headspace, Simple Habit, and Insight Timer plus newer entrants like Peloton’s mindfulness sessions and Journey’s live group classes. It’s become easy to find guided meditations online for free, so Calm needs to become a holistic mental wellness hub.

While it risks diluting its message by doing so much, Calm’s plethora of services could make it a gateway to more of your personal health spend, including therapy, meditation retreats, and health merchandise from airy clothing to yoga mats. But subscription fees alone are powering a big business. Calm quadrupled revenue in 2018 to reach $150 million in ARR and hit profitability.

Calm is poised to keep up its rapid revenue growth. After the launch of Sleep Stories, “it was incredible to see the engagement spike up and also the retention” says Quinn. Users can choose from having McConaughey describe the wonders of the cosmos, John McEnroe walk them through the rules of tennis, fairy tales like The Little Mermaid, and more.

Quinn tells me “Sleep Stories is now a huge percentage of the business, and also the length of time people spend on the app has gone up dramatically.” She tells me that so many startups are “trying to invent a problem where there isn’t one.” But difficulty snoozing is so widespread and detrimental that users are eager to pay for an app instead of a sleeping pill. Having the Inception actor talk about the universe until I pass out sounds alright, alright, alright.

Alright Alright Alright

The IPO’d learn investing at First Round’s Angel Track

Startups depend on the angel lifecycle. A few flush post-exit individuals put the first cash into a fresh venture. With some skill and plenty of luck, the early team grows the company into a big success. It sells or goes public and those team members earn a fortune. They then pay it forward by investing in the next generation of startups.

If they hoard their spoils they starve the early-stage ecosystem or leave founders stuck with dumb money from non-strategic financiers. If they redistribute their winnings, they can influence startup culture by deciding what, and more importantly, who gets funding.

But how does a co-founder or VP learn to be a mini-VC? That’s the goal of First Round Capital’s Angel Track, a free three-month workshop series in San Francisco and New York for learning how to source, vet, close, and support angel investments.

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A scene from Angel Track’s first cohort

Every two weeks, an expert on some part of the investing process like finding deals or interviewing founders talks to the class, does Q&A, and then leaves the group to openly discuss what they learned and how to use it. Angel Track sessions have been tought by some of the smartest people in the valley like growth master Elad Gil, #ANGELS founding partner and former Twitter VP of corp dev Jessica Verrilli, and Precursor Ventures managing partner Charles Hudson.

Hundreds of startup execs apply for the 15 spots on each coast. After two classes in SF and one in NYC, today First Round unveiled its recently-graduated third cohort from programs in both cities. Those include Lucy Zhang who sold Facebook her chat startup Beluga that became the foundation of Messenger, and Mented Cosmetics co-founder and CEO KJ Miller. By the end of the program they’re taking joint pitch meetings from startups, showing each other the best questions to ask.

As with Y Combinator, it’s as much about the fellowship between new investors as the education. “It’s both a community and a masterclass” says First Round general partner Hayley Barna who oversees the NYC Angel Track. “It’s about bringing a talented group of emerging angels together to build a productive cohort of collaborators.”

She says diversity and inclusion is a big goal of the program, and it features 50% women and 20% underrepresented minorities. Being rich is not a pre-requisite. Barna declares “We’re not pulling in the bankers and the traders doing angel investing as a side-hustle.”

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LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 29: Confetti falls as Lyft CEO Logan Green (C) rings the Nasdaq opening bell celebrating the company’s initial public offering (IPO) on March 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The ride hailing app company’s shares were initially priced at $72. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

After a slew of big 2019 IPOs from Uber, Lyft, Pinterest, Slack, and Zoom, there are plenty of newly-minted potential angels for First Round to teach. The venture firm benefits by building a cadre of co-investors or alternative backers for deals it vets, and through added visibility into the next top fundraises. Unlike some VC scout programs, there’s no formal obligation to send opportunities to First Round or pledge funding alongside it. That keeps it appealing to future investors that innovation hubs need to keep the circle of life flowing.

First Round Logo 

“A lot of angel investors that got their start in the mid-to late 2000s, they’re almost all fund managers now. They went from angels or super angels to venture investors” First Round partner Brett Berson tells me. “There haven’t been a lot of people who’ve come in and filled that gap”, which could stunt the ecosystem’s growth. Graduates ramp up their angel investing while often staying in their operating roles, though some like former Pinterest head of culture Cat Lee who became a partner at Maveron turn investing into their day job.

First Round VP Ben Cmejla who helped launch the program explains that “Some people are doing it for the financial return. Some people want access to new ideas and are curious. Some people have a specific type of community they want to support with their investments.”

What Investors Learn From Angel Track

Becoming a successful angel means a lot more than evaluating term sheets. Just like how ideas are a dime a dozen and it’s about who can execute, fundraises are frequent but getting into the right ones takes hard work. First Round focuses on many of the soft skills required to win. Participants receive mentorship on how to:

  • Develop an area of expertise and personal brand
  • Mine their network for deals and post-investment assistance
  • Assess market opportunities rigorously
  • Judge an unproven startup’s team and product
  • Convince a founder to let them into a round and negotiate terms
  • Support their portfolio companies without being annoying

How to approach the delicate power balance of meetings with entrepreneurs can be especially tricky, so I spoke at length with First Round’s Phin Barnes about the session he teaches on founder interviews. I wanted to get a taste for what it’d be like in the classroom, despite First Round declining to let me attend the real thing. Turns out having a journalist in the room can disrupt a safe learning environment for budding angels.

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First Round partner Phin Barnes

“Investing is a sell-side product” Barnes stresses. “Capital is a commodity, especially in this market. What you’re saying with a term sheet is that you think the founder’s equity is worth more than your dollars.” That means investors have to close the value gap with sweat.

Barnes gives me what he calls the ‘chocolate soufflé or brownies’ scenario. “The danger of being a smart, talented executive or entrepreneur is that when a founder talks to you about sugar and flour and butter, you start imagining a molten lava soufflé cake you’d build with the ingredients. You invest, and then the founder comes back with a tray of brownies. ‘That’s not what I thought I invested in!'”

The mistake comes in envisioning what you’d do rather than really listening to the founder — the one who’s cooking. Instead of trying to hijack the roadmap or being disappointed by the direction, angels need to help make those brownies as tasty as possible. That means entering into interviews with an open mind.

“You should be positively inclined to invest and have some critical questions. If you don’t think you should invest, you shouldn’t have the meeting in the first place” Barnes explains. “You want to hold that perspective loosely and as new information comes to light, you want to check ‘Am I still interested?’ By the end you want to know what you don’t know, and the open questions you need to answer to validate your hypothesis.”

The four main areas of evaluation are:

The market — Why does this category of product need to exist? What would the world look like if they dominate the category? Can they clearly explain to a five-year old the problem they’re trying to solve? What’s their contrarian thinking? And what motivation will keep them persevering to address the problem despite setbacks and opportunity cost?

The product — Is addressing this specific customer problem unique and defensible? It’s less about if the product is good or bad, or should the button be red or blue. It’s more about how the founder took the inputs and made the decision and how they process information. Have them walk you through the go-to-market plan and see how they shift between high-level strategy and ground-level tactics.

The team — Do they have on-paper talent like PhDs or experience? Can they iterate quickly? You have to weed out victims and look for people who are learners that evolve when faced with adversity. Do your homework on who they are before so you can dig deeper into how they tick. Ask how they show trust in their team and how they get their team to trust them. Have them tell you about the most important thing that happened at the company in the last week to understand their priorities and emotional connection to the process.

The relationship with the founder — Investors need to ask what the best way to work with them is, and what founders are looking for in support from an investor. Do they want a hands-off investor who only chimes in when summoned, or do they expect frequent co-building sessions? Do they need more help accessing a bigger network for hiring and partnerships, or industry-specific expertise to navigate complex decisions?

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“We have two roles. We interview and then we coach” Barnes says, providing tips for both. “The very best questions are open-ended. They start with a how/what/why and end with a question mark. Double-barreled questions are terrible. Ask them what would you do, and stop. Get comfortable with silence. They’ll usually fill the silence with something off-script that reveals a deeper truth.” Only once has a founder asked Barnes ‘are you ok?’ in response to his inquisitive stare.

Being able to summarize what you’ve learned lets you quickly cross-check your assumptions with the founder and get helpful corrections. That helps you figure out what questions you still need to ask and keep a diligent list of what you’ll need to research after.

When it comes to giving an answer on whether you’ll invest, “Second best to a quick yes is a quick no with a strong point of view and information for the entrepreneur. The worst is ghosting people. 90% of people operate that way but that’s not the way to do it” Barnes emphasizes. “If you walk out without a yes, no, or what to learn more about in specific detail, you’ve failed as an investor and wasted the time of the entrepreneur.”

The antidote to dumb money

“It was like the perfect mix of your favorite college seminar and a super practical apprenticeship” says Ariana Poursartip, the VP of product for fintech startup Petal who was in the first NYC Angel Track class. “I came away with a better sense of my personal investing approach, and a community of fellow angel investors who I’ll continue to learn from for years.”‘

Fostering better educated angels is crucial for enabling founders. “Dumb money” from investors without expertise in a relevant space, connections they’ll leverage to help, or an understanding of what startups need can be dangerous. It can lead founders to raise more but inefficient capital and make slower progress that puts them at risk of a future down-round that can trigger a startup death spiral.

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First Round’s Angel Track cohort 3

First Round is far from the only one trying to fill the angel gap. “Initiatives like Spearhead, YC’s Startup Investor School, and scout programs help lower the barrier to entry for many people who will be terrific and helpful investors for startups” says Cmejla. Sequoia, General Catalyst, Village Global and more run their own scout networks. There are some questionable programs out there too, though, like Venture University which charges from $4,000 to $65,000 for its programs that require students to source deals in exchange for a hazy profit-sharing agreement.

Cmejla insists “It isn’t about providing the capital, a short crash course, or a path to becoming a full-time VC, but about building a durable community that members can lean on and lean into as they level up.” Instead, First Round scores a way to connect founders it funds with relevant angels from its classes. That incentivizes the firm to teach savvy etiquette. Barna warns “You want to be thorough, but if you’re putting in a small check, you can’t ask founders to jump through too many hoops . . . and spend five hours just to get that dinky paycheck.”

Past Angel Track participants like Poursartip and Instacart VP of growth Bengaly Kaba tell me they wish the program got them spending more time together both during and after the class, which could spur deeper alliances. “Currently the program ends and there is no formal programming to keep the alumni cohorts engaged and connected” Kaba notes. Many already back startups brought to the class by their peers. Still, Square Cash app product lead Ayo Omojola wanted a stronger structure like perhaps a syndicate so cohort-mates could do more investing together. 

What they all cited was the massive value of learning to codify what they’re looking for and what they bring to the table. Kaba highlighted how he enjoyed “Hearing how Elad Gil, [Floodgate co-founding partner] Ann Muira-Ko, Charles Hudson and other guest speakers defined their investment theses around macro trends, industry specific insights, and founder traits.”

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When the lock-ups expire on recent IPOs and employees start getting liquidity, “you’re going to see a whole new generation of investors get going over the next couple of years” says Berson.

Not every company spawns the same quality of investor, though. Companies like Uber that empower less-senior team members as the ride sharing company does with regional general managers tend to develop talent with the self-direction and conviction to be great angels. Looking back, you similarly see more angels and founders emerging from more decentralized Google than top-down Apple.

As software eats the world, unicorns proliferate, and the proceeds of tech’s winning streak are spread wide, more and more people will be ready to write angel checks. “It will most likely materially accelerate over the next 12-24 months” Berson concludes. Those without the skills could squander what they’ve earned. Angels who know what makes them special and can evaluate startups without getting swept up in the hype will crown the queens of tomorrow.

India’s Unacademy raises $50 million to grow its online learning platform

Big money continues to flow in India’s growing education market. Bangalore-based Unacademy, which operates an online learning platform to help millions prepare for competitive exams in India, has raised $50 million to further scale its reach.

The Series B financing round was led by Steadview Capital, Sequoia India, Nexus Venture Partners and Blume Ventures, with Unacademy’s own co-founders Gaurav Munjal and Roman Saini also participating in it. The new round means the startup has raised close to $90 million to date.

The four-year-old startup is aimed at students who are preparing for competitive exams to get into a college and those who are pursuing graduation level courses. Unacademy allows students to watch live classes from educators and then engage with the team in any questions they may have. It has 10,000 registered educators and 13 million learners — up from 3 million a year ago.

The startup said it will use the new fund to expand the number of educators it has on the platform, and also add more exam courses. It will also improve its product and expand the team.

Unacademy began its journey as a YouTube channel, but has since expanded to its own app where it offers some courses for free and others through a recently launched subscription business. The subscription service — called Unacademy Plus Subscription — has 50,000 users.

Unacademy also maintains an archive of all the classes, giving students the option to reference to older lectures at any time through the app. The startup says YouTube is still its largest distribution channel. Overall, the platform sees more than 100 million monthly views across the platforms.

“We are seeing unprecedented growth and engagement from learners in smaller towns and cities, and are also very humbled to see that top-quality educators are choosing Unacademy as their primary platform to reach out to students. In the last few months, we have taken bigger strides toward achieving this mission. We have more than 400 top educators from across the country taking live classes every day on Unacademy Plus. This is available to every student, irrespective of their location,” Gaurav Munjal, a founder and CEO of Unacademy said in a statement.

Unacademy competes with unicorn Byju’s, which is widely believed to be the biggest edtech startup in the world with its valuation nearing $4 billion. Unlike Unacademy, Byju’s, which has more than 2.4 million paid subscribers, covers primary school and high school courses as well in addition to competitive under graduation level courses.

In recent months, Unacademy has grown more aggressive with marketing. Last year it tied up with web producing house The Viral Fever to fund a show called “Kota Factory”, which revolves around the lives of students who are preparing to go to an engineering college. In the midst of it, Unacademy also offered low-cost, discounted subscription plans to attract users to its subscription platform.

Unacademy has presence in Indonesia as well, where as of last year, it had about 30 educators. The startup did not offer an update on how its international ambitions are holding up. A representative of Unacademy told TechCrunch recently that the platform does not rely on ads for monetization.

How to scale a start-up in school

If you’re serious about starting and scaling your business in school, treat your time in school like an extended incubator. While you may experience high levels of academic stress, your “real world” financial stress and transition to adulthood are buffered.

Understand why you’re in school

The key advantage of starting your business in school is that you have the time to test different ideas and evaluate which idea generates traction without high stakes. You will also gain key subject matter and operational knowledge that you can carry throughout your career.

The challenge of starting a business in school is that it is not easy to devote adequate focused energy to the growth of that business. Student founders cannot attend to the needs of their business whenever they feel like it. It’s a 24/7, 365 job that needs to be managed on top of rigorous schoolwork.

When I started Terravive, I spent at least 4-5 hours throughout each day speaking with our partners and customers and solving problems. Sometimes you must leave class and drop everything to put out fires.

The key to surmounting this challenge is to understand why you want to start this business. If you just want the recognition of starting a business, then I would recommend a different line of work to get the recognition you’re seeking.

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Image via Getty Images / creatarka

If you want to solve a problem that you see in the world and are willing to do anything and everything to realize your vision, then starting a business may be the right path. When you run into problems in the future or question why you’re making all these sacrifices, remember why you started.

Google’s new media literacy program teaches kids how to spot disinformation and fake news

Google announced this morning it’s expanding its two-year-old digital safety and citizenship curriculum for children, “Be Internet Awesome,” to now include media literacy — specifically, the ability to identify so-called “fake news” and other false content. The company is launching six new media literacy activities for the curriculum that will help teach kids things like how to avoid a phishing attack, what bots are, how to verify that information is credible, how to evaluate sources, how to identify disinformation online, spot fake URLs, and more.

The new media literacy classes — which frankly, some adults should read through as well — were developed in collaboration with Anne Collier, executive director of The Net Safety Collaborative, and Faith Rogow, Ph.D., co-author of The Teacher’s Guide to Media Literacy and a co-founder of the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

“We need the right tools and resources to help kids make the most of technology, and while good digital safety and citizenship resources exist for families, more can be done for media literacy,” writes educator and teachmama.com founder Amy Mascott, in an announcement on Google’s blog today. “I’ve worked alongside dozens of educators who believe that media literacy is essential to safety and citizenship in the digital age, but agree that it’s a topic that can be tough to cover.”

The courses offer kids not only instruction, but also a combination of activities and discussion starters aimed at helping them develop critical thinking skills when it comes to pursuing online resources.

Its overall theme, the course material explains, is to help kids understand that the content they find online isn’t necessarily true or reliable  — and it could even involve malicious efforts to steal their information or identity.

The kids learn how phishing works, why it’s a threat, and how to avoid it. They then practice their anti-phishing skills by acting out and discussing reactions to suspicious online texts, posts, friend requests, pictures, and emails.

In the bots section, they learn about how A.I. works and compare and contrast talking to a bot versus talking to a human being.

In the following media literacy sections, kids learn what a credible source is, how to figure out what a source’s motives are, and learn that “just because a person is an expert on one thing doesn’t make them an expert on everything.”

In a related classroom activity, the kids pick a question related to something they’ve seen online or are learning in class and try to get the answers online, while figuring out if the sources are credible.

They also learn to fact check credible sources with other credible sources as a way to look for a variety of sources.

“If you can’t find a variety of credible sources that agree with the source you are checking, you shouldn’t believe that source,” the curriculum explains.

Kids are additionally taught how to spot fake information using clues like deceptive URLs as well as checking the sources for credibility. They’re told that some people don’t know how to do this, and share fake information online — which is how it spreads.

“There are a lot of people and groups who are so passionate about what they believe that they twist the truth to get us to agree with them. When the twisted information is disguised as a news story, that’s disinformation,” the curriculum says.

Kids are also informed that some of the fake news organizations are hard to spot because they use names that sound like they’re real.

And the course delves into various tricks some websites use — like using photos that don’t relate to the story, using clickbait words like “shocking” or “outrageous” which they know make people curious,” using bold, underline, exclamation points or ALL CAPS, to convince you to agree with them.

This section concludes with an online game, Reality River, that asks kids to use their best judgment in order to cross the river rapids. This takes place in Interland, the game developed as a companion to Google’s digital safety and citizenship curriculum.

The overall goal of the media literacy course is to encourage the kids to make checking all news and information a habit — not just those they think seem suspicious.

Google says the new curriculum is available online for both teachers and families alike to use, and are offered in English, Spanish and eight other languages.

Google is partnering with the YMCA and National PTA across multiple cities to host online safety workshops, as well.

 

 

 

Byju’s-owned Osmo education startup enters pre-schoolers market

Osmo, a Palo Alto-based education startup acquired by Indian unicorn Byju’s for $120 million this year, is expanding its product lineup to serve a new and largely untapped market: pre-schoolers.

Osmo today announced Osmo Little Genius Starter Kit, a set of tools that aims to help children that have yet to enter schools to understand letters, expand their vocabulary, and build motor and social skills. The kit is priced at $79 and is available through Amazon, Target, and Apple stores in the U.S.

The kit provides children with sticks and rings of varying shapes, tasking them to assemble them to mimic objects and words that they see through video instructions on an accompanying tablet. Osmo claims its kit for pre-schoolers is based on Friedrich Froebel’s and Maria Montessori’s manipulative with advanced computer vision for a personalized experience.

Pramod Sharma, CEO of Osmo, told TechCrunch in an interview that he believes that the market for pre-schoolers remains untapped with little innovation hitting the space over the last 100 years. This new product launch represents a large and new opportunity for Osmo, which has so far catered to kids aged between five and 12.

In the U.S. alone, there are about 10 million kids who are in the pre-school stage. Additionally, “half of all the toys sale are aimed at kids who have not entered schools,” Sharma said.

The announcement today comes weeks after Byju’s, which acquired Osmo for $120 million earlier this year, expanded its own product catalog. Earlier this month, it partnered with Disney to roll out a new app that aims to educate children aged between six and eight.

Until recently, Byju’s focused entirely on high school students and those preparing for university entrance exams. It has since broadened its courses to cover all school grades. Byju’s, which competes with Unacademy in India, is heavily-funded by investors and valued at nearly $4 billion — it is widely acknowledged to be the leader in India’s e-learning market.

To tackle the pre-schoolers’ market, Osmo is leveraging on the interactive content produced by Byju’s, Sharma said. The nature of the product and market it serves will allow Osmo and Byju’s to expand the kit to many global markets, he explained.

The distribution of the new kit could prove challenging, however, Sharma acknowledged. Osmo has tie-ups with more than 30,000 U.S. elementary classrooms that help it deploy its product to a large number of students. It lacks that for earlier-stage education, but Osmo does plan to replicate that model in some capacity by partnering with pre-schools.

Sharma said also that a number of parents have asked Osmo whether it will have any products for their younger children which gives him confidence that there is raw demand. That said, he acknowledged that Osmo will initially need to be more aggressive than usual with its marketing and other outreach programs to parents.

In terms of subject matter, Osmo has largely focused on science and math to date. Moving forward, though, it plans to broaden its existing product lineup with more content and explore subjects including English language, history and social studies to “cover every aspect of learning,” Sharma said.

Byju’s claims 35 million registered users and some 2.4 million paid customers. It generated around $205 million in revenue in the fiscal year that ended in March this year. The company said it aims to increase that figure to over $430 million this year.