Acing its biggest test yet Education and test prep company Flocabulary is making the most of a new product that helped it avoid bankruptcy.

The Problem

After narrowly skirting bankruptcy in the spring of 2007, Flocabulary, an education start-up, buckled down and created a more comprehensive line of products for the upcoming school year. That September, Flocabulary launched the Word Up! series, a new hip-hop-based study guide designed specifically as an aid for national standard tests given to third to eighth graders. Flocabulary corralled 30 independent agents across the country to peddle Word Up! to school administrators and threw money into commissioning a study to measure the efficacy of the program. The study found that the series increased students' vocabulary test scores by upward of 20 percent. These findings helped Flocabulary double revenue in 2008. Still, Flocabulary co-founder Alex Rappaport was unsure of where the company could go from there. "The idea is the strength of this company," he said. "It's what we do in the future that is uncertain."

What the Experts Said

Aaron Arnold, CEO of MusicIsMyBusiness.net, suggested that Flocabulary get in touch with PBS or another network with children's programming that could help expand the reach of the brand. Charlie Kireker of FreshTracks Capital thought Flocabulary needed to push the results of its Word Up! study with new marketing materials. And David Kim of C2 Education said a celebrity promotion could do wonders for the business.

What's Happened Since

Soon after the Inc. article was published, in the May 2009 issue, Flocabulary received a call from rapper Snoop Dogg's manager, who complimented the company on what it was doing and said Snoop Dogg might be interested in working on future Flocabulary projects. And last fall, in keeping with Kireker's advice, Flocabulary launched a direct marketing campaign that has "paid for itself in sales," Rappaport says. The campaign focused on promoting Word Up!'s success in improving test scores. Soon after, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt added Word Up! to its textbook offerings in 10 states, Flocabulary's biggest distribution deal yet. Revenue in 2009 was just shy of $900,000, an increase of nearly 55 percent.

What's Next

Though a Snoop Dogg collaboration hasn't yet panned out, Flocabulary plans to reach out to other big-name rappers in the hope of collaborating on a new music video project with Honest Engine TV. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is also considering distribution of the Word Up! series beyond the initial 10-state trial area. "This was a huge move for us," Rappaport says. "We're feeling great about having such a credible partner like HMH."