Zoomed Out

Luben Pampoulov
Feb 8, 2021 · 4 min read

Over the past year, more than 1.6 billion students and teachers were forced to go to school virtually. While most Gen Z-ers adapted quite naturally, for many it was the first time to ever experience a virtual lecture on a device. Certainly for everybody, the future got pulled to the present with the Education industry moving from B.C. to A.D. — Before Corona to After Disease.

While I hope that schools will be back to normal very soon, the new normal will be different. The way students learn and the way teaching is delivered will adapt to new standards. A growing list of digital tools is improving the efficiency of teaching and learning, while also improving the outcomes. Teachers have more flexibility with lecturing, and students can more easily receive help. A recent Goldman Sachs survey among U.S. college professors found that only 7% of them used digital-only materials prior to COVID, but 50% post COVID. Meanwhile, “AI Tutors” such as Photomath are surging in popularity among students.

Certainly, Zoom has had one of the biggest impacts on students and teachers around the World (and vice versa). In a period of prolonged lock-downs, more than 130K schools and universities zoomed-in on Zoom, making it their de facto classroom for 2020.

However, Zoom has had its flaws. It was not built for the classroom, nor for replicating a school day experience. As a result, students and teachers have been Zoom Fatigued, and that has led to lower learning outcomes in many places.

But with problems come opportunities — the bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. Enter Class Technologies, a.k.a. ClassEdu. Founded by Michael Chasen, the co-founder and former CEO of Blackboard, ClassEdu is a software solution that has recreated the physical classroom in a virtual format that sits on top of Zoom, allowing schools, students, and teachers to have a much better remote learning experience. ClassEdu aims to eliminate all the pain-points of the virtual school, and filling the gaps created by the Zoom School. Whether it’s taking attendance, handing out assignments, giving out quizzes, or one-on-one talks during class, all these functions are possible on ClassEdu. (Disclosure: GSV owns shares in ClassEdu)

Michael Chasen came up with the idea to launch ClassEdu after watching his kids switching to Zoom school last Spring. Observing the many challenges and difficulties with the Zoom experience sparked the idea of creating a dedicated solution. He launched the company last summer and immediately received demand from over 6K schools and colleges from around the world while still in Beta. Fast forward to today, and ClassEdu is starting to roll out. Last week, the company announced a $30 million Series A led by Insight Partners and Owl Ventures. We at GSV are very excited about the enormous opportunity ahead and participated in their Seed Round and this Series A.

Unsurprisingly, a handful of other Zoom alternatives launched this past year. Given the growing opportunity in the space, we are seeing innovative approaches coming from different angles.

Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller and her husband Dan Avida launched Engageli, which is similarly built from scratch and specifically built for higher education use. Both founders were inspired to build Engageli after witnessing their daughters’ transition to remote learning, and in October they raised a $14.5M Seed round.

Coming from a different angle, Phil Libin’s Mmhmm is less focused on the school element but more on the design and aesthetics of a Keynote or Presentation. The Mmhmm solution is tailored for interactions like doctor or bank visits, concerts, and investor calls that can all be augmented in a better experience than on Zoom. University lecturing or presentations are a natural fit, but not a core use case today. The company raised a $31 million round led by Sequoia last summer.

Hopin has been a champion in the virtual events space, capturing the leadership position as a conference hosting platform. They have been on a meteoric rise since the beginning of COVID, going from zero to $20M recurring revenue and being profitable in 9 months, and going from zero to a $2.1 billion in valuation in just over a year.

The virtual events space has been on fire, both in terms of capital and innovation. It will be interesting to see what else will come on the market, and what will stick once normalcy returns. We believe that schools, students, and educators will have adapted to this new normal, and services such as ClassEdu have an enormous opportunity to lead the way in this new Era.

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