The Guide to Successes and Failures of EdTech Startups
Picture this. On the right hand, there is company A. On the left hand, there is company B. Both companies operate in the EdTech industry.
Their owners are ambitious. They have vision and resources. They follow all the EdTech trends and have everything to be recognized as EdTech companies.
Yet, as time flows, something strange happens. Wham! Company B goes belly up, while Company A becomes a successful EdTech startup with real chances of becoming an enterprise in the near future.
But hand on a minute. How can that be? You might wonder. Bear with me because I will show you how and why two seemingly similar EdTech companies might have completely different futures.
Wait, but what is EdTech in the first place? In simple terms, EdTech is all about integrating various IT tools into different educational settings. Just imagine, you can have the latest technologies like virtual reality or augmented reality introduced into classrooms all over the world to create particularly engaging, inclusive, and personalized learning.
Why should we care? Get this: the evidence offered by Yahoo Finance suggests that the global EdTech market is a whopping $84.61 billion right now. It gets better. By 2026 the market is expected to grow to a staggering $241.58 billion.
When you see the numbers, that's when you know that EdTech is something to invest your time and efforts in. Sounds good? Besides, knowing how to succeed in the EdTech market is not only an excellent opportunity to get profits. It is also a massive chance to improve millions of people's learning and teaching processes.
What's the catch? To rip the benefit and contribute, you need to understand what EdTech is about and the critical elements of success.
What EdTech Brings to People?
Let’s get this show on the road. Most EdTech companies work for the sake of two key shareholders — students and educators.
For students, EdTech creates a range of new opportunities:
- Improved collaboration through mobile devices, cloud-based tools, and online platforms. Tons of apps and instruments bring learners together and help them collaborate when facing complex academic challenges.
- EdTech software provides continuous access to learning regardless of geographic or cultural boundaries. The EdTech technologies and the Internet of Things create digital environments that learners can access from their homes.
- Get this: EdTech is turning the traditional vision of classrooms and education upside down. The conventional model focused on students interacting with a teacher in a physical classroom and doing their homework at home. With EdTech software, learners can receive their education at home while following a comfortable pace.
- EdTech is all into personalized educational experiences. With the technology, students receive personalized learning plans and strategies best applicable to particular individual needs. With EdTech tools, one can track and evaluate academic progress with a few clicks.
For educators, EdTech software provides even greater opportunities:
- Do you think grading presents a significant concern to educators? If you think yes, you are entirely correct. EdTech software can bring educators an effective relief — automated grading. There are available artificial intelligence tools that make grading flexible, elaborate, and accurate. It grants teachers more time to devise personalized approaches toward students while automating mundane tasks like grading.
- What about multitasking? It is no secret that educators often experience burnout because they need to handle many tasks simultaneously. EdTech software provides well-designed classroom management tools, the ones people can easily employ even without prior technical and technological expertise.
- Care about the environment? Moving toward sustainability is vital for many reasons. EdTech software creates the foundation for paperless classrooms. Picture that: educators and administrators do not need to print budgets, use the copy machine, or waste paper taking notes. EdTech companies can propagate a greener approach toward education.
You should understand that these elements are only a few to mention. Without a doubt, many more shareholders can benefit from EdTech software. With the growing development of EdTech, one can expect people to find many new ways of employing the technology.
Five Successful EdTech Startups
How can people teach? The first thing that comes to mind is a classroom full of students whose gaze is directed toward an educator leading the teaching process. Yet, the introduction of digital technologies and the COVID-19 pandemic have integrated irreversible changes. Teaching is a process not bounded by physical, geographical, and cultural boundaries.
Does learning stop when you leave school? Is there academic life beyond the classroom? EdTech startups show that lifelong learning is a new normal. People need to adapt to the constantly changing job market. EdTech companies help clients resolve this by introducing EdTech software, the one integrated through online platforms and mobile applications.
These are the key areas in which selected EdTech startups managed to succeed.
ABA English and Teaching Through Video
The ABA English is the EdTech company that managed to find a way to commercialize live learning through video. The startup launch was presented with the platform offering clients an immersive experience of learning English. Each client is assigned with an educator, who guides the personalized learning process and answers every given question.
Does the company know what it is doing? The ABA English combines unique video-based technology and certified teachers. The used method proved to be incredibly effective.
Does it get any better? Yes. The company offers a free 30 days trial. During that period, a customer can pass a free level test, choose a particular learning method, and receive management and evaluation reports illustrating your progress.
Students and teachers can access the EdTech software through designated Web Campus and Mobile applications.
What about the reasons for the company’s success? The critical factor promoting the success of the ABA English stems from the proper connection of technologies with certified professionals. Besides, the platform works for its clients and provides personalized approaches. The company managed to occupy its niche and establish a solid reputation.
The ABA English is the case of a successful EdTech company that understands the value of personalized care and proper integration of technologies and human capital.
Looking for Online Tutoring — Choose Preply
Preply is one of the leading startups in the online tutoring marketplace. As you noticed, 2020 was the year when almost every business tried or entered the digital realm. It is merely the reaction to the pandemic and the desire to offer clients safe means of product and service delivery.
The key startup strategy revolves around adaptation to changing trends within the EdTech market, thus meeting the demand for online learning. The evidence from the World Economic Forum shows that the demand skyrocketed as thousands of educational institutions closed their doors for students.
Recently, Preply has raised more than $10 million to move its platform toward North America, thus scaling its original position in Europe.
How does startup funding work at this point? Imagine — you are a wealthy investor looking for new opportunities to make your capital work and not stagnate. Perhaps, you have a financial advisor or a person responsible for looking for prospective startups you can invest in.
What are the factors that you or your financial advisor will consider? The facts are simple. Reputation and ability to meet the existing demand are the factors to determine the viability of the prospective company.
Preply managed to establish a good reputation, predominantly because of high-quality services and proper startup marketing strategy.
What do you receive when working with Preply? When using the platform, you get an opportunity to choose a tutor while employing a range of filters. The software will mitigate the communication between a learner and an educator with the match insight. Besides, the platform helps process the payment and includes the particular payment package for any given client.
As a result of using the service, a client leaves a review about the tutor and the platform. It is a hybrid mouth-to-ear approach that helps establish the accurate and transparent reputation of Preply.
Preply is the EdTech startup you must not avoid looking for an online tutoring platform.
LearnLife and What Lies Beyond School
Is there life on Mars? Perhaps. Is there life when you graduate from school? Definitely.
Many students face various challenges when leaving a typical classroom and campus. Luckily, EdTech companies work to ease the weight put on learners’ shoulders in post-academic life. LearnLife is one of such EdTech startups.
Founded in 2017, the company is bound to innovate the traditional education system and shed some light on what people can do to engage in lifelong learning and improve their professional and personal skills beyond the classroom setting.
The company’s key focus lies in developing innovative learning elements, technologies, and spaces. These are called to redefine the learning experience and help learners meet academic and professional life challenges.
LearnLife cooperates with multiple stakeholders to be the beacon of positive change in education. The startup captured attention and market with its bold move and collaboration. They presented a new learning paradigm, and the one digressed into respective elements revolving around three core principles — preparing, implementing, and sustaining.
Along with digital presence, LearnLife occupied a physical niche as well. What does it mean? The startup attracted enough investment to open the first learning hub in Barcelona. It is a significant move allowing LearnLife to make itself visible on the market and illustrate how corporate social responsibility can be transformed into real, tangible changes.
What is LearnLife’s recipe for success? It is simple. Think big, take action, and put a massive emphasis on responsibility. While there are various startup funding sources, you are more likely to attract investors when your product or service makes real change.
Helping learners succeed beyond school is something that LearnLife can be proud of.
Learning from the Best with MasterClass
Want to cook like Gordon Ramsey? Does not have the writing skills of Stephen King? Dream of learning from the best world-renowned musicians? Do not worry; with MasterClass, you receive access to the top knowledge and expertise offered by celebrity writers, musicians, and artists.
The EdTech company has become a loud voice within the scope of the educational industry. With its unique concept, the firm managed to bring world-renowned celebrities and top experts closer to people.
The masterClass is an online learning platform. For a subscription fee, you get both education and entertainment. The celebrity-taught classes cover a broad range of topics and offer competition certificates.
There are different types of startup funding. MasterClass managed to find the one bringing it about $2.5 billion, as estimated by TechCrunch. The system used by the firm proved to be highly beneficial. Many EdTech startups try to replicate it.
However, not all copycats can achieve the degree of success acquired by MasterClass. Why is that? The simple truth shows that the EdTech company managed to find a sweet spot between personal and professional skills.
While companies are offering professional boosts, MasterClass made the process entertaining. It shows that in the EdTech business, the application of proper marketing strategy presents an utmost advantage.
Want to be closer to your role models and learn new skills? Having a subscription to MasterClass offers you such an opportunity.
Being Mobile with Brainly
Most EdTech startups have online learning platforms ready to meet the demands of their users. However, not all companies have mobile applications that simplify the provisioning process. Brainly is the EdTech firm that managed to build a robust online platform and mobile app.
With its app and platform, the company unites learners, parents, and educators worldwide. How does it manage to do so? The company integrated a robust and sophisticated Q&A platform within its mobile application. When using the platform, both students and parents can be connected to educational experts who suggest an expert opinion on boosting academic expertise.
One of the critical aspects of Brainly’s success is linked to its core values translated through the firm’s platform. The company has a motto, “Always wonder. Always explore.” While it may sound a bit cheesy, Brainly managed to translate its values into action.
At this point, there are about 55 million unique app users globally. It means that Brainly’s approach works to unify different people across geographic and cultural boundaries.
Another prominent key feature of Brainly’s app. is about sharing and review. The platform has an integration option that helps users share lessons and learn in groups. While it promotes diversity and collaboration, the platform also has a robust system of reviews.
Did something go wrong during the lesson? You have easy access to the support department, and you can be sure that your request or complaint is processed in a matter of hours and not days. When there are millions of users, being that efficient is extremely valuable.
What have we learned about Brainly? Being a successful EdTech startup is about having both an online platform and an app, bringing different users together, and having instruments to hear and understand their needs.
Five Failed EdTech Startups
Thinkers and successful people often suggest that the path toward prosperity lies through the ability to overcome failures. However, wouldn't it be better to know how to avoid failures first? Right? It seems that learning from the mistakes of others is a tweak in the system.
It is better one time to see than a thousand times to hear. Here, we would like to present five examples of EdTech startups who did not make it in the industry and became learning material for others.
The story of inBloom started with significant success. The EdTech startup emerged in 2011. The prominent Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funnelled a whopping $100 million to offer inBloom a major push. However, even though the company received a significant financial boost, the startup collapsed three years later in 2014.
InBloom should have been an open-source platform that helped educators and administrators process data effectively and improve students' learning outcomes. Sounds like a decent mission.
The company managed to get people, resources, and clients. It put forward ambitious objectives and took upon the firm's role that would redefine the data processing methods. However, as it later turned out, having an ambitious idea is one thing, and properly implementing it is entirely another.
What happened? InBloom failed to integrate adequate security measures to help protect its users' sensitive information. Why did inBloom fail to do so? The company was unable to comply with the new educational reform, which put a greater emphasis on data security.
inBloom failed because it focused on the idea and did not consider crucial aspects that would have helped turn the idea into reality.
SharpScholar is another example of a failed EdTech startup. The company was founded in 2014 and managed to operate for only two years, which means the firm collapsed in 2016. After its inception, the startup experienced a major degree of success, with 5,000 students using the platform all across Canada.
SharpScholar built an effective and innovative platform that helped make the educational process more interactive. As mentioned previously, EdTech startups rely on various forms of funding. However, companies like SharpScholar often directly depend on buy-in from different stakeholders.
What does it mean? It means that to succeed, a company needs to find enough clients for its product or service. The firm should create a bring with educators, administrators, learners, and the government.
SharpScholar was an effective platform. Its failure came as a major shock and success to many people. When digressing the startup’s story, there are several lessons to learn.
At first, the company had a great start and achieved resounding success. It even won several awards. Yet, having a good start does not mean that you will survive for a long time. Some say that SharpScholar’s product was way too innovative for its time. Others suggest that the firm did not find common ground with the regulators.
Taking all the evidence together, SharpScholar failed because it could not attract enough clients.
TutorSpree was founded in 2011 and collapsed in 2013. It appears that many failed startups managed to stay afloat for about two years. One can assume that it is how long it takes to determine whether the EdTech startup will fail or succeed.
The company had proper funding and received praise for its marketing efforts. The startup created a connection between tutors and tutees, effectively serving as a middleman.
At first, it all went well. The company established its presence. It initiated an effective marketing strategy aimed at the $90 billion industry. Yet, it appeared that the startup had a significant, fatal flaw.
While TutorSpree served as a middleman between the shareholders, when tutors and tutees often used the firm’s services, they abandoned the platform and chose to work directly. The further investigation revealed the mere fact that the startup had a significant weakness.
Why is it important? While there are many online tutoring platforms like TutorSpree, most avoid failure. The company's primary weakness stemmed from the fee it took from tutors. TutorSpree wanted to accumulate capital fast, which motivated it to take 50% of the tutor’s fee.
It may sound financially beneficial, but in reality, many tutors do not want to give away half of their income. What does it tell us? When you want to make money, don’t be too greedy.
KNO is, sorry, was a company that occupied a niche of mobile hardware and digital textbooks. Back in 2009, it was a booming market. At that time, users started using tablets and mobile phones daily. KNO used the opportunity to create the EdTech product.
However, in 2013, the company’s stock was sold to Intel for pennies on the dollar, which can be considered a failure.
In the beginning, KNO raised $73 million in the capital. It had a significant cash flow, and its products seemed free of any technical flaws. However, as it often happens, KNO could not find the consumer base for what it offered.
What does it mean? KNO suffered from bad timing and the inability to anticipate the competition. The company sold its tablets with an integrated platform full of digital textbooks. Yet, the firm failed to recognize one major looming threat — the emergence of the iPad.
When Apple released its product, the iPad became an instant success. Naturally, KNO’s tablets were pushed far down the food chain.
In KNO’s defence, even after facing a major failure, it tried to claw its way up by changing its business strategies. Nevertheless, the target market was lost, and the EdTech startup became a part of “failed EdTech startups history.”
Now, you should see the value of market research. Finding money is not a problem. Being prepared for the looming market shifts is.
Community Coders is the last EdTech startup on our list. It is one of the most recent cases of failed companies. The firm was founded in 2018 in Canada. Our theory is correct again two years later, and the startup closed its business operations.
The company started as the platform for high school students who seek skills and knowledge in web development and digital marketing.
What was unique about the startup? Its management. University students founded the company.
While many success stories start from people who either drop out from universities or get some idea while being in them, the failure of Community Coders is linked to what university students often do not have — experience.
The critical issue with the company stemmed from its inability to integrate good management and close deals.
The case of Community Coders shows that you can have all the money and all the marketing instruments. However, if you do not have experience and managerial skills, your company has a major chance of failing.
Lessons Learned: What are the Things to Consider with EdTech Startups
We’ve seen EdTech companies rising to the top and firms falling to the bottom. However, if there is nothing to learn from all the cases above, we should not continue. Luckily, there is plenty to learn.
There are two particular patterns you can get from the successes and failures. We would like to offer you a gist of both of them.
What to Avoid
- Poor Market Research. You can have the best idea. You can be the most innovative. People might love how you perform on the market. Yet, if you don't know what to expect from competitors, nothing will save you. Market research is the cornerstone of success. Avoid poor market research at any cost. Even if you do not have sufficient funding, prioritize market research above other aspects.
- Unclarity. Many EdTech companies offer free trial services and products. People can download your application or use your platform during that period. However, it does not guarantee that users will purchase it. You need to have a direct plan of attracting investment without complete reliance on buy-ins and user revenue. Remember, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
- Unnecessary Technologies. The product you offer might save the world. It can reshape society and redesign how people think. Yet, if your extremely innovative product does not have the target audience or does not have a market to be realized, the company will fail. While you might think that you follow the path of innovation, in reality, the path toward success starts from engagement with the target audience and implementing strategies that bring sales.
What to Preserve
- Marketing overselling. You need to understand that clients want to trust you. It is especially important in the EdTech industry. For instance, if you work in food tech, it is all about the quality of your product and the ability to sell it. In contrast, in EdTech getting clients’ trust is paramount, and it is more important than selling. How can I get clients’ trust? Marketing is the key. In EdTech, you need to prioritize marketing overselling.
- Solution, not a feature. Your platform can have a myriad of new features and traits. However, if it does not solve clients’ issues, the platform will fail. EdTech has to be outcome-based. The simple truth is that consumers do not want to know how stuff works; they want to know how stuff can help them. How can you find solutions? You need to think like a client and not a vendor. Get in your target audience’s head and understand their needs.
- Support and feedback. Getting feedback and looking for ways to improve your product is another major component of success. Listen to your clients and give them instruments to vocalize their concerns. It means that your products must have customer support and integrated communication tools.
What are the ways for improvement? Getting feedback, reviewing your product, and understanding that there is always room for development.
To Succeed or Not To Succeed
So, what does all this mean? In a nutshell, there are several key insights you can learn from both successful and failed cases.
Focus on marketing. Understand what the clients need — conduct market research before implementing your idea. Give clients ways to offer you feedback on the product.
Do that, and you’ll live happily ever after. Yet, the final choice is yours. You can either learn from the mistakes of your predecessors or think that your company will fit into the minuscule percentage of EdTech startups that do not obey the rules.
Nevertheless, ask yourself — should I go against the odds?