Posts from 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

Tech Jobs For All Who Want Them

The tech sector is the fastest growing sector of the economy in NYC and around the US and around the world. The tech sector offers high paying jobs and a growing number of them.

But, as we all know, the tech sector lacks the gender and racial diversity that would allow everyone to benefit from this growing sector of the economy. Most of the studies that have looked at the lack of diversity point to a skills gap standing in the way.

So last year Tech:NYC (where I am co-chair) and a few large employers (Google, Verizon, Bloomberg LP) and the Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund commissioned a study of the skills training programs in NYC to see where there are gaps and what must be done to close them so that tech jobs are available to everyone in NYC who wants one.

This report was done by the Center for an Urban Future and was released yesterday. You can read it here.

What the report reveals is that NYC has a rich and expanding ecosystem of tech skills training opportunities, including K-12 and adult education. But, as we all know, the quality is uneven and so are the outcomes.

The report makes twelve recommendations which are detailed here. They are:

1. Make a significant new public investment in expanding and improving New York City’s tech education and training ecosystem. 

2. Set clear and ambitious goals to greatly expand the pipeline of New Yorkers into technology careers. 

3. Prioritize long-term investments in K–12 computing education. 

4. Scale up tech training with a focus on programs that develop in-depth, career-ready skills. 

5. Build the pipeline of educators and facilitators serving both K–12 and career readiness efforts. 

6. Close the geographic gaps in tech education and skills-building programs. 

7. New York City’s tech sector should play a larger role in developing, recruiting, and retaining diverse talent. 

8. Increase access to tech apprenticeships and paid STEM internships through industry partnerships, CS4All, and the city’s current Summer Youth Employment Program. 

9. Expand efforts to market STEM programs to underrepresented students and their families. 

10. Develop and fund links from the numerous computer literacy and basic digital skills-building programs to the in-depth programs that can lead to employment. 

11. Expand the number of bridge programs to provide crucial new on-ramps to further tech education and training for New Yorkers with fundamental skills needs. 

12. Develop major new supports for the non-tuition costs of adult workforce training. 

I participated on the advisory board of this study and support all of these recommendations. Elected officials and policy makers in NYC (and really everywhere) should read and heed these recommendations.

The tech sector faces many headwinds in society right now for a host of reasons. Not all of them can be solved by an employee base that mirrors the planet. But many of them can be and we need to work to get there.

I want to thank the Center For An Urban Future, Tech:NYC, Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund, Google, Verizon, and Bloomberg LP for giving us a roadmap on how to get there.

#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#hacking education#hacking government#management#NYC#policy#Politics

Computer Science For All NYC

About ten years ago, I started asking why were weren’t teaching computer science to every student in the NYC public school system. That led to a journey that started with some computer science high schools and eventually got to a ten year program to get computer science teachers in every school building in NYC and computer science classes for every student. That program is called Computer Science For All and this short three-minute video explains what it is and how it works.

#hacking education#NYC

The Education Transformation

Back in March 2009, USV hosted an event called Hacking Education. It was the beginning of our effort to invest in the transformation of the education sector.

A few weeks ago, USV held its annual meeting, roughly 15 years after we closed our first fund. And our partner Rebecca gave a presentation on our education portfolio, which is now one of the strongest parts of our entire portfolio.

As Rebecca was developing her presentation, I wrote an email to her that said:

when did we do Hacking Education? Was that ten years ago now? That may also be a useful reference, maybe at the start of the presentation

And so she went and pulled some photos of that event to start her presentation.

Today she wrote a blog post on USV.com featuring the big themes of her annual meeting presentation. And she posted a few of those photos, in which we are all looking quite a bit younger.

Rebecca concludes her post with these optimistic words:

Our education portfolio has become a core value driver in our funds. In part, we think this is because we have hit the tipping point in consumers’ interest in self-driven, direct-to-learner education because technology has enabled higher quality education to be delivered at a lower price point, a counter-balance to the inflationary trends we’ve seen to date. Appetite for products and services that reframe what it means to learn – and how to learn – is high, and quickly accelerating.

As Bill Gates famously observed, we overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in a decade. A decade after hacking education, we are working with a bunch of high growth companies that are helping to transform what it means to learn and be educated and we are very proud of that.

#hacking education

Outschooling

A few months ago I posted some data on this blog that showed the growth of homeschooling in the US with almost 5% of K12 students being schooled at home. I wrote at the end of that post:

This is a trend to watch and, possibly, to invest in

Well, invest in it we did.

Yesterday Rebecca posted our investment rationale for Outschool, a company that offers real time group classes taught largely by very experienced K12 teachers over live video.

I encourage all of you to click on that link and go read our investment rationale. There are a number of interesting trends we are betting on here and Rebecca articulates them well. There are also some examples of classes your kids can take that are amazing.

But what I want to talk about is how important services often start in the fringes and over time move into the mainstream. We are certainly betting that is the case with crypto-currencies. We have seen that with Airbnb (couch surfing>hotel alternative), Uber (ride sharing>car alternative), YouTube (video sharing>TV alternative), and so many other examples.

Homeschooling is a fringe market right now. But education is not.

Outschool can exist with excellent unit economics for the students, teachers, and company because there is a market of almost 2.5mm students in the US who need to learn things like Algebra, European History, Biology, etc, and will pay to do so.

But of course, there are over 50mm K12 students in the US and many more around the world who need to learn these subjects as well and often don’t learn them very well in the legacy schooling model.

When our kids were in school and struggled with a class/teacher/subject, we would get them a tutor to come to our home in the evenings. That is a 1%er solution and is not affordable for most families.

But the Outschool model, because of the scale it has reached in the homeschooling market, is driving down the cost of learning these subjects and can and does replace the high cost tutorial market for a number of families already. As its scale increases and economies kick in, it can reach more students and families desperate to master challenging material.

Great teachers are one of the most valuable resources we have in our society. I can trace much of what I know to a handful of these people.

But school buildings, classrooms, and the supporting Infrastructure for them are very much replaceable with new technology. Outschool is showing a way how to do that.

At USV, we seek to back trusted brands that can open up access to knowledge (and wellness and capital). Many (most?) of these brands start out on the fringes and move into the mainstream over time as they scale and the benefits become obvious to mainstream consumers. Outschool is squarely in the sweet spot of our thesis and I am excited to see what it can do for learners around the world in the coming years.

#hacking education