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ClassDojo’s second act comes with first profits

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ClassDojo’s first eight years as an edtech consumer startup could look like failure: zero revenue; no paid users; and a team that hasn’t aggressively grown in years. But the company, which helps parents and teachers communicate about students, has raised tens of millions in venture capital from elite Silicon Valley investors including Y Combinator, GSV, SignalFire and General Catalyst over its life.

If you ask co-founder Sam Chaudhary to explain how the startup survived so long without bringing in money, he responds simply: “When you have something that you think will be for the long term you can put [in] a lot of energy. So, we always kind of maintained the belief that like bringing people together and helping them be connected, especially last year when they needed to be apart, physically apart, was going to be really important.”

In layman’s terms: ClassDojo has been playing the long-game in edtech since 2011, quietly aggregating free users-turned-fans across the world’s public schools, which are notoriously hard to sell due to tight budgets. Every engineer on the team serves a population that is the size of the city of San Francisco. The company has been intentionally frugal throughout the process. Its core service, which is an interface that allows parents and teachers to communicate updates and stay involved in the classroom, is free for anyone to download.

“Our view from the start was actually that the idea of districts isn’t the customer of education, [that’s] kind of backwards,” he said. “It’s like Airbnb saying we’re going to transform travel by selling to hotels.” The route has helped ClassDojo gain traction with 51 million users across 180 countries.

Two years ago, ClassDojo tested this customer love. It launched its first monetization attempt in 2019: Beyond School, a service that complements in-school learning with at-home tutorials. Within four months of launching the paid service, ClassDojo hit profitability. In 2020, the added dimension of COVID-19 helped ClassDojo triple its revenue and grow to have hundreds of thousands of paying subscribers.

It’s a lesson in how a venture-backed startup can successfully live for years without any plans to monetize, grow a super-fan user base, and eventually turn those users into paying customers if the fit is right.

The acceleration of ClassDojo’s business got noticed by Josh Buckley, the new CEO of Product Hunt and a solo capitalist.

“For years, they’ve quietly been building the most adored brand in the industry; kids, teachers and families they serve love it. Their business model follows that vision; they’re focused on serving the consumers, not the ‘system’” Buckley said.

Buckley led a new $30 million financing round for ClassDojo, he tells TechCrunch. The round also includes Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra, Coda CEO and former Youtube head of product and engineering Shishir Mehrotra, former product lead of growth for Airbnb Lenny Rachitsky, and others.

The financing comes nearly two years after ClassDojo raised a $35 million Series C round led by GSV. When new capital is less than the preceding round it usually signals a downround, but Chaudhary says that ClassDojo had a “significant markup on valuation” with the extension round. The trend of opportunistic extension rounds has grown for edtech startups recently as the pandemic underscores the need for remote learning innovation.

ClassDojo’s next act

With new financing and massive scale, ClassDojo is now trying to evolve from a communication app into a platform that can help students get better learning experiences beyond the one they get from schools.

Chaudhary says that they plan to double ClassDojo’s 55-person team, invest in product, and enter new markets.

“For me, I’d always thought ClassDojo could enable a better future, specifically one where kids’ outcomes aren’t entirely determined by what their ZIP code can offer them,” Chaudhary said. “That’s the kind of future we’ve been building toward.” He likened ClassDojo’s goal as similar to Netflix: provide a broad scope of material for a broad scope of people, not just on-demand political dramas.

ClassDojo is already creating content around topics not discussed in school such as how to fail and how to become an empathetic person, as part of its Big Idea series. The Beyond School offering helps students set goals and track activities, as well as find activities such as dinner table discussion starters or bedtime meditations.

Image Credits: ClassDojo

ClassDojo charges $7.99 a month, or $59.99 annually, for its premium content. The platform is finding small ways to add personalization and spice to its content, such as customized avatars, but further innovation will be key in making its next phase work.

While ClassDojo certainly has a strong user engine to monetize off of, the content game is difficult to win at. Content, to an extent, is commoditized. If you can find a free tutorial on YouTube or Khan Academy, why buy a subscription to an edtech platform that offers the same solution? The commodification of education is good for end-users and is often why startups have a freemium model as a customer acquisition strategy. To convert free users into paying subscribers, edtech startups need to offer differentiated and targeted content.

The United States continues to be a dominant market for ClassDojo, which also has users in the United Kingdom, Ireland, United Arab Emirates and more. While some in edtech express concern that United States consistently lags in consumer spending in education, Chaudhary thinks it’s an unfair assessment.

“To believe that, you have to believe that families don’t care all that much about their kids. And I just don’t think that’s true,” he said. “All the ways that American people express their care for children, there’s such a range, from extracurricular to sports camp to moving to the right zip code.”

And with that mindset, ClassDojo thinks that it can become the brand that families turn to when they think about a child’s education.

“I think there’s just like a missing brand in the world right now,” Chaudhary said. “There’s a blank, a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”

 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Snowflake latest enterprise company to feel Wall Street’s wrath after good quarter

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Snowflake reported earnings this week, and the results look strong with revenue more than doubling year-over-year.

However, while the company’s fourth quarter revenue rose 117% to $190.5 million, it apparently wasn’t good enough for investors, who have sent the company’s stock tumbling since it reported Wednesday after the bell.

It was similar to the reaction that Salesforce received from Wall Street last week after it announced a positive earnings report. Snowflake’s stock closed down around 4% today, a recovery compared to its midday lows when it was off nearly 12%.

Why the declines? Wall Street’s reaction to earnings can lean more on what a company will do next more than its most recent results. But Snowflake’s guidance for its current quarter appeared strong as well, with a predicted $195 million to $200 million in revenue, numbers in line with analysts’ expectations.

Sounds good, right? Apparently being in line with analyst expectations isn’t good enough for investors for certain companies. You see, it didn’t exceed the stated expectations, so the results must be bad. I am not sure how meeting expectations is as good as a miss, but there you are.

It’s worth noting of course that tech stocks have taken a beating so far in 2021. And as my colleague Alex Wilhelm reported this morning, that trend only got worse this week. Consider that the tech-heavy Nasdaq is down 11.4% from its 52-week high, so perhaps investors are flogging everyone and Snowflake is merely caught up in the punishment.

Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman pointed out in the earnings call this week that Snowflake is well positioned, something proven by the fact that his company has removed the data limitations of on-prem infrastructure. The beauty of the cloud is limitless resources, and that forces the company to help customers manage consumption instead of usage, an evolution that works in Snowflake’s favor.

“The big change in paradigm is that historically in on-premise data centers, people have to manage capacity. And now they don’t manage capacity anymore, but they need to manage consumption. And that’s a new thing for — not for everybody but for most people — and people that are in the public cloud. I have gotten used to the notion of consumption obviously because it applies equally to the infrastructure clouds,” Slootman said in the earnings call.

Snowflake has to manage expectations, something that translated into a dozen customers paying $5 million or more per month to Snowflake. That’s a nice chunk of change by any measure. It’s also clear that while there is a clear tilt toward the cloud, the amount of data that has been moved there is still a small percentage of overall enterprise workloads, meaning there is lots of growth opportunity for Snowflake.

What’s more, Snowflake executives pointed out that there is a significant ramp up time for customers as they shift data into the Snowflake data lake, but before they push the consumption button. That means that as long as customers continue to move data onto Snowflake’s platform, they will pay more over time, even if it will take time for new clients to get started.

So why is Snowflake’s quarterly percentage growth not expanding? Well, as a company gets to the size of Snowflake, it gets harder to maintain those gaudy percentage growth numbers as the law of large numbers begins to kick in.

I’m not here to tell Wall Street investors how to do their job, anymore than I would expect them to tell me how to do mine. But when you look at the company’s overall financial picture, the amount of untapped cloud potential and the nature of Snowflake’s approach to billing, it’s hard not to be positive about this company’s outlook, regardless of the reaction of investors in the short term.

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A first look at Coursera’s S-1 filing

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After TechCrunch broke the news yesterday that Coursera was planning to file its S-1 today, the edtech company officially dropped the document Friday evening.

Coursera was last valued at $2.4 billion by the private markets, when it most recently raised a Series F round in October 2020 that was worth $130 million.

Coursera’s S-1 filing offers a glimpse into the finances of how an edtech company, accelerated by the pandemic, performed over the past year. It paints a picture of growth, albeit one that came at steep expense.

Revenue

In 2020, Coursera saw $293.5 million in revenue. That’s a roughly 59% increase from the year prior when the company recorded $184.4 million in top line. During that same period, Coursera posted a net loss of nearly $67 million, up 46% from the previous year’s $46.7 million net deficit.

Notably the company had roughly the same noncash, share-based compensation expenses in both years. Even if we allow the company to judge its profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis, Coursera’s losses still rose from 2019 to 2020, expanding from $26.9 million to $39.8 million.

To understand the difference between net losses and adjusted losses it’s worth unpacking the EBITDA acronym. Standing for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization,” EBITDA strips out some nonoperating costs to give investors a possible better picture of the continuing health of a business, without getting caught up in accounting nuance. Adjusted EBITDA takes the concept one step further, also removing the noncash cost of share-based compensation, and in an even more cheeky move, in this case also deducts “payroll tax expense related to stock-based activities” as well.

For our purposes, even when we grade Coursera’s profitability on a very polite curve it still winds up generating stiff losses. Indeed, the company’s adjusted EBITDA as a percentage of revenue — a way of determining profitability in contrast to revenue — barely improved from a 2019 result of -15% to -14% in 2020.

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The owner of Anki’s assets plans to relaunch Cozmo and Vector this year

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Good robots don’t die — they just have their assets sold off to the highest bidder. Digital Dream Labs was there to sweep up IP in the wake of Anki’s premature implosion, back in 2019. The Pittsburgh-based edtech company had initially planned to relaunch Vector and Cozmo at some point in 2020, launching a Kickstarter campaign in March of last year.

The company eventually raised $1.8 million on the crowdfunding site, and today announced plans to deliver on the overdue relaunch, courtesy of a new distributor.

“There is a tremendous demand for these robots,” CEO Jacob Hanchar said in a release. “This partnership will complement the work our teams are already doing to relaunch these products and will ensure that Cozmo and Vector are on shelves for the holidays.”

I don’t doubt that a lot of folks are looking to get their hands on the robots. Cozmo, in particular, was well-received, and sold reasonably well — but ultimately (and in spite of a lot of funding), the company couldn’t avoid the fate that’s befallen many a robotics startup.

It will be fascinating to see how these machines look when they’re reintroduced. Anki invested tremendous resources into bringing them to life, including the hiring of ex-Pixar and DreamWorks staff to make the robots more lifelike. A lot of thought went into giving the robots a distinct personality, whereas, for instance, Vector’s new owners are making the robot open-source. Cozmo, meanwhile, will have programmable functionality through the company’s app.

It could certainly be an interesting play for the STEM market that companies like Sphero are approaching. It has become a fairly crowded space, but at least Anki’s new owners are building on top of a solid foundation, with the fascinating and emotionally complex toy robots their predecessors created.

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