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Bringing innovation to our educational systems: Why Index invested in Edmodo

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The recent debate around the adoption of the Common Core is emblematic of the need for transformation in the educational systems of the US – and, perhaps around the world. While we have enjoyed a dramatic rise in social and productivity services as consumers, our children have been largely left with technology solutions from the last century for their learning. Many of the old-school ways of educating our youth clearly aren’t working anymore – from a lack of STEM classes, to disparate achievement rates, to out-of-control costs. That’s why we’re excited to announce that we led a $30 million round in Edmodo, a safe platform where teachers and students can collaborate, share content, and leverage educational apps to augment in-classroom learning.

Facebook has brought us closer to our friends, LinkedIn has provided us with invaluable business tools, and Twitter has brought the world to our fingertips. Edmodo has been bringing the power of the web and mobile to students and has become the largest social learning network in the world for K12 education.

Like many of us that have children in schools, I had been observing my kids’ learning tools for some time.  It was pretty clear that the technology that schools were providing and what the teachers and students wanted were quite different.  Most of the faculty in a school were using Dropbox, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What they wanted was that level of utility, engagement, and fun for their learning system. 

Enter Edmodo.  Edmodo was created with the teacher at the center, and has continued to empower teachers with valuable tools to help students reach their full potential. In its short five year history, Edmodo’s network already reaches more than 35 million teachers and students in over 220,000 schools – and the network effect is driving continued exponential adoption. Edmodo is a free tool for both the teachers and students.  It isn’t “sold” to schools, but adopted organically by teachers.  

Recently, Edmodo launched Snapshot – a suite of tools that helps classroom educators understand and guide the progress that their students are making on educational standards.  A “freemium” tool for teachers and students, Snapshot also empowers administrators at the school and district level with real-time insights into school-wide learning.  We think this is one of the most exciting tools launched on the platform so far, and it enhances a range of Edmodo’s most popular features.  Most significant, though, is that it helps accelerate the company’s mission: connecting all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential.

The ed-tech sector has received a lot of attention lately, with a record-breaking $500 million of venture capital invested in the first quarter of 2014 alone. Many of these companies take a top-down approach – sending an army of salespeople out to sell software to principals and administrators. In other words, software is often foisted on teachers without their consent. We believe teachers want to choose the tools that work best for their students, and already, millions of teachers have adopted Edmodo on their own initiative.  We had the same first principle of letting participants choose the solution when we invested in Codecademy and have found this approach of user-centric thinking to be critical for success in the ed-tech sector.

Edmodo works for teachers because it was built with their input. The company listens to teachers and students and uses an iterative development process that incorporates their feedback into every aspect of product design. Every year, the company hosts EdmodoCon, a professional development conference for its international educator community that draws tens of thousands of people. Last year, 27,000 attendees from 170 countries showed up to discuss how to better use Edmodo to help students learn, as well as to provide in-depth feedback to improve the application.

We have also been impressed by Edmodo’s global reach. While Edmodo’s initial focus has been on the US market, the platform serves students and teachers from over 190 countries. The concept has taken hold in a broad range of educational systems. It’s not surprising, really, since teachers communicate, share content, assess, and engage with students and with each other everywhere in the world.

When we first met Nic Borg and Crystal Hutter, it was clear Edmodo’s Facebook-meets-LinkedIn-meets-education model was unique and powerful. Nic and Jeff O’Hara had worked for many years within the technology departments of large school districts, and they saw firsthand that a new way of connecting students and teachers was required to move education into the 21st century. But what really blew us away was when Edmodo launched only a small fraction of kids in the US had a computing device of their own. Edmodo was able to show impressive rapid adoption when personal computing devices were limited in the classroom, and is continuing to become an increasingly powerful platform as laptops, tablets, and mobile devices are becoming more pervasive in the educational environment.

There are many characteristics of successful start-ups. But at the core, there are three models that we love the most: businesses that are marketplaces, businesses with network effect and businesses that become platforms for an ecosystem. In Edmodo, we see an opportunity for all three of these models in a sector that has fundamentally been a technology laggard.  We’re thrilled to back one of the world’s most promising education startups, and we can’t wait to work side-by-side with the team as they continue to transform the education sector.

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