Posts from hacking education

Sora

My partner Rebecca wrote about our most recent education investment, Sora, on the USV blog today. We have been investing in learning for over a decade at USV and have built a terrific learning portfolio focusing on companies that are providing services direct to the learner (as opposed to selling “ed tech” to institutions).

What we had not done, until now, is backed a company providing an alternative learning “institution.” Sora does that. And so I thought it would be worth talking a bit about that.

Sora is a high school “built for you.” As Rebecca wrote in the USV blog post about Sora:

Through a combination of small social pods, self-directed projects, and student-run organizations, high schoolers shape their academic and extracurricular experience, as well as the governance of the school. Instead of tests and assessments, high schoolers prove what they know by what they can do –  code a video game, wire a miniature greenhouse, or produce a paid ad spot for a company.  Students are encouraged to lean into subjects that speak to them and build a project portfolio in the disciplines where they’re most excited.

and

Over time, Sora students hit all of the traditional curriculum milestones essential for high school graduation, in a more tactile, self-directed manner and without exams as a benchmark of their mastery or creativity. Even in these early days, Sora is wrapping up the final stages of accreditation and is part of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, meaning students graduate with a transcript easily understood by colleges if they choose to pursue that path.  

So if you or your child is/are not having a great high school experience and you want something else, check out Sora. Sora is not free, like your local public high school, but it is very affordable and we hope that it becomes even more affordable over time as it scales into a new, different, and possibly better way for some to go to high school.

#hacking education

Funding Friday: NextMaker Box

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan and funder of teaching kids to code. I believe helping young people learn to think logically via coding exercises is helpful to their development in so many ways.

So when I came across the NextMaker project on Kickstarter, I backed it instantly.

NextMaker is a monthly box that comes with a project that your kids can do combining coding with making things. The programming is all block based (visual) so youngsters can do it easily and it is fun for them.

I’m embedding the video here on the web, but if you get this via email, click on this link and watch it.

#crowdfunding#hacking education

I'm No Good At Numbers

In the final presentation session of our Summer Bridge internship program yesterday, an impressive young man told us that he had stayed away from a career in business because he “was not good at numbers.”

I stopped him and suggested that maybe he is good at numbers but only numbers that interest him. He pondered that for a minute and agreed that when numbers matter to him, he’s interested in them.

That’s how everyone is in my experience. If things get too abstract or too fuzzy, people tune out and then convince themselves they aren’t any good at the subject.

Of course some people are better at numbers than others. I’ve always had a feel for numbers. But I can’t sing. So everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

But I reject the idea that some people are not good at math. I think if you make math interesting and relevant to them, everyone can and will do math.

#hacking education

Quizlet’s State of Remote Learning Report 2020

Our portfolio company Quizlet put out a “State of Remote Learning Report” this week based on what they are seeing across their global learning platform during the pandemic. Quizlet wrote a blog post about it as well.

There are some very interesting data points in the report:

Quizlet explains this chart in their report this way:

Although no country was prepared for the quick pivot to remote learning, most were able to not only return to their pre-COVID-19 online study levels, but actually became more engaged than before. In fact, across Quizlet’s top 50 markets, we saw a 200 to 400percent increase in new students and teachers signing up to use the platform as schools moved to distance learning models. This was especially true in countries, such as Singapore, where the national government mandated classes to resume and provided guidance on the structure and tools to use in a remote setting. The U.S. however, was far less prepared than many other countries to pivot and engage their students online through the rest of the school year. As shelter in place orders came into effect, U.S. high school student visits dropped, and even as students tried to finishout the school year and regained some of their study habits back, the U.S. did not return to normal study engagement levels.

So the US has not reacted to the shift to online learning nearly as successfully as many other countries around the world.

It also seems that subjects like math tend to work better in an online environment.

These are just two of the interesting data points in the report. The entire report is worth a read and it is only ten pages. You can read it here.

#hacking education

Investing In Learning

USV has invested in the education sector for a bit more than ten years. We kicked things off with an event we called Hacking Education back in March 2009.

We have focused on “direct to learner” businesses and have mostly avoided investing in companies that sell to the established education system.

This has been a good strategy and we have assembled a fantastic direct to learner portfolio that includes companies like Duolingo, Quizlet, Skillshare, Codecademy, and Outschool.

We’ve been doing some work to understand this portfolio in the light of this remote learning moment we are in.

This portfolio reaches hundreds of millions of learners all around the world each month. Many learners use these products for free. A small percentage of learners pay. And yet this portfolio will generate close to a half a billion dollars of revenue in 2020.

Another interesting thing about this portfolio is that none of these companies have spent a lot of capital building their businesses. They have all been very capital efficient and most are cash flow positive at this point.

What this tells me is that direct to learner businesses are very attractive. They can serve a very large number of learners very efficiently, they can lightly monetize and yet produce massive revenues because of their scale, and they don’t require a huge amount of capital to build.

We hope to find more businesses like this to invest in as we think we are just at the beginning of rethinking how we want to learn and educate.

If you want to see some of this in action, you should check out Codecademy’s Learn From Home Day tomorrow, May 13th, starting at 10:45am ET. It looks to be a fun day of learning.

#hacking education

Learn To Code If You've Lost Your Job

Learning to code was the thing that unlocked it all for me. I learned to hack in Basic during high school. I parlayed that into a programming job in college, which led to my first job out of college, which then led to a job that helped me pay for graduate school, which led to a job in venture capital.

That is why I have made getting computer science broadly deployed in the K-12 system in NYC and around the US the philanthropic effort that I put most of my charitable time into. I really believe that learning to code can put you on a path of opportunity.

So I was excited to see that our portfolio company Codecademy, which helps anyone learn to code online, has a program to provide 100,000 displaced workers a free subscription to their Pro product.

Here is how it works. For every Codecademy Pro membership that is bought, the company is donating 5 to displaced workers.

So far, that has resulted in 50,000 “scholarships” for displaced workers. And I am confident they will reach their goal of 100,000 scholarships for displaced workers.

If you are a displaced worker and want to learn to code for free, you can apply here (need to login first).

And if you want to learn to code and support five scholarships by doing that, you can do that here.

#hacking education

The Duolingo English Test

I wrote about our portfolio company Duolingo’s English Proficiency Test back in August of last year. I have always loved the idea that a company that helps people learn a language can also help people prove their fluency in a language. It is two sides of the same coin.

But the road to success with the English Proficiency Test has been hard. The “incumbent provider” of English proficiency tests, Test Of English As A Foreign Language (aka TOEFL), has had all of the companies and universities who accept it locked up for many years. And if you are required to certify with TOEFL, well then you take TOEFL.

The Duolingo English Test is and has always been a way better product than TOEFL. But in some markets, incumbency matters more than better. One of the primary benefits of the Duolingo English Test is you take it at home on your computer versus having to go to a proctored location. It costs less ($49 vs $205). And the test takes one hour vs three hours. And yet, it has been hard to crack into this market.

And then the pandemic hit. No more in-person testing. As the international higher education publication PIE News puts it:

With the suspension of traditional English proficiency tests in countries most affected by the coronavirus, a wave of US institutions are now accepting the results of the Duolingo English Test, either as stand-alone proof or as a supplement to other measures of English-language proficiency.

https://thepienews.com/news/us-more-heis-accepting-the-duolingo-english-test-amid-uncertainty/

Duolingo’s co-founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn, told me this in an email yesterday:

1. The number of tests we administer per day has gone up 10x!

2. 500 new university programs have begun accepting the Duolingo English Test in the last 8 weeks (we had 1,000 before this). 

3. Both TOEFL and IELTS, after spending a lot of time saying that online tests were no good, now have online options.

So now the market is open to competition and the best product can win. I’m betting on Duolingo (and have been since we made our seed investment in the company in 2012).

#hacking education

The AVC Cap Table Template

I woke up to this tweet this morning:

I went to that blog post and clicked on the link and sure enough someone had swapped out my cap table template from 2011 with their own cap table. I am not entirely sure how that happened and for how long that has been the case, but I was not going to let that stand.

So I went to my google drive and searched and found the cap table that I had built for that post back in 2011, made a copy, made it public on the web but view only, and fixed the link.

Phew.

If you want to see a cap table and waterfall template in the style that I have become accustomed to over the years, here it is. Hopefully, nobody will hack it again. I will be super careful not to permission anyone to have edit capabilities (which is what I think I may have done accidentally).

#entrepreneurship#hacking education#VC & Technology

Summer Internships

There are so many challenges facing us right now that the smaller things often get overlooked. One of those things is summer internships for students who are focused on a career in tech. Many companies are struggling to stay afloat and have canceled all of their summer internships. That makes total sense as you can’t really consider having summer interns when you are laying off half of your workforce or more.

But there are many companies in the tech sector who are going to be able to get through this crisis without major cuts. And I am hoping that they can pick up the slack a bit.

Etsy, where I am Chairman, just notified all of their summer interns that they are maintaining the program, but all of the interns will work remotely this summer. That will be challenging for Etsy and the interns, but I am thrilled that Etsy is able to do this.

Our portfolio company Cloudflare went a step further last week. They are doubling the number of summer interns they will take. And they are encouraging other companies in a position to do this to follow suit.

If you have a summer internship program and are in a financial position to continue it, please consider doing so. A remote internship might not be as great as an in-person one this summer, but it is way better than sitting at home doing nothing.

#hacking education

Teaching Online

I have been teaching in one form or another since college. I helped pay for graduate school by teaching other grad students. For most of my life, teaching has meant standing up in front of a group of people and explaining things to them in a large group setting.

But, like many things, that is quickly changing right now.

I mentioned that we have a new group of analysts at USV. And we are doing an onboarding program for them where the various partners at USV take turns teaching them things they will need to know during their time at USV.

When we planned this onboarding program, we thought those classes would take place in person. But now they are taking place online.

This week, I am going to teach a three-hour class on cap tables and liquidation waterfalls. These are the spreadsheets we use to track everyone’s ownership in a company and how much money each shareholder gets in a sale transaction. While much of this is straightforward, there are edge cases that can be pretty gnarly. I am looking forward to teaching this class.

As I prepared for it this weekend, I decided to create the bare bones of a google sheet that will have one tab for the cap table and another for the liquidation waterfall.

The three analysts will act as the three founders of a company and we will simulate three rounds of financings and then a sale of the company.

We will all be in the google sheet together and also in a zoom room together. I will coach them through the exercise but they will do all of the work.

And as I was planning all of this out and building the bare bones google sheet, I thought to myself, “this may be the single best way to teach this material that I have ever come across.”

I have taught this material to many people, but never quite like this.

We are leveraging two technologies that have come of age in the last ten years; collaborative documents (google sheets) and videoconferencing (zoom). And we are using project-based learning in a small group setting which has always been one of the (the most?) powerful teaching/learning models.

The question I am wondering about is once I teach this subject this way, will I ever want to teach it any other way? I think maybe not.

#hacking education