It’s time for student-first edtech

About 75% of my portfolio is consumer edtech, and half of that is k12. I’m proud to be an investor in Outschool, Epic!, Lingokids, Juni and many more. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that there are basically two kinds of consumer edtech companies, ones where the student adopts the product and ones where the parent adopts the product. Traditionally, everyone markets to the parents. Every company on the list above is parent first. Obviously that can work since many of these companies are very successful.

However, recently I have begun to see companies which are student-first. Companies like Abwaab, StudyStream, Fiveable and Bindr are all student first. They have found channels that reach the kids they want to serve, market to them, build deep engagement and then involve the parent when it is time to pay. These companies grow much faster and it makes sense to me. If your company is solving a problem for the child like loneliness or boredom or even just learning something they care about, that problem is theirs and they care a lot more about it than their parents. Kids are also much better with technology, especially discovery. If you doubt that, watch a thirteen year old girl use Instagram some time. Their fingers move so quickly that you can’t even tell what they are doing. In language learning, we call that fluency. They don’t have to think about it. They are fluent and we adults are not.

Astute readers will note that the set of student first companies I mentioned above are primarily focused on high schoolers. That makes sense because they have more autonomy and digital freedom than younger kids. But I think the ability to reach younger kids is increasing exponentially every year. Roblox, Twitch, Tik Tok, and Discord are increasingly used by younger kids and new channels are being created for this demo constantly.

Hopefully as consumer edtech matures in the US, we will see many more companies try to build something kids fall in love with, and then get to the wallet when it’s time. I think the growth of these companies will be as fast as any consumer Internet service in any market.

Co-founder and CEO NetGravity, Rocketship Education, Zeal Learning, Dunce Capital. john@danners.org https://dunce.substack.com/