While the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for many businesses, it's caused a surge in demand for a startup that helps kids learn at home.
Outschool, a San Francisco-based ed-tech startup, connects students at home with teachers and other instructors with particular areas of expertise. As elementary and secondary schools across the country close their doors, parents have been stuck trying to help their children keep up with their schoolwork.
Co-founder Amir Nathoo says Outschool had 80,000 students in its system as of March 13 and has seen 37,000 new students sign up since then. The company has added hundreds of new teachers to its roster, which now numbers about 1,500, and is seeking many more. Nathoo says the company will need to add 4,500 more teachers in the coming weeks to keep up with demand. Teachers create courses on topics ranging from multiplication to government to video game design, and then teach students in groups via the video conference app Zoom.
In late February, when the CDC first mentioned the potential of mass school closures and the switch to internet-based learning, the 26-employee Outschool started to brace for what might be coming. "We didn't think parents at home teaching their kids with online content was going to cut it," Nathoo says. "They were going to need some more social interaction."
The courses, which usually run between 30 and 60 minutes long at $5 to $20 per hour, are meant for children ages three to 18. The enrollment size is set by the instructor, with each class holding a maximum of 18 students. Outschool takes a 30 percent fee and the remaining 70 percent goes to the teacher. The company declined to disclose its revenue.
Nathoo, a former Square product manager, co-founded Outschool in 2015 with former Google product manager Mikhail Seregine and Nick Grandy, Airbnb's first engineer. The initial concept was to serve as a place where instructors could post video lessons for children to watch at home, but the founders soon discovered that groups of families were organizing their homeschooled children into groups to take the courses at the same time. That prompted the company to switch to a live model. "That way the kids could still interact with each other, see each other, talk to each other, see and interact with their teachers," says Nathoo. "It's much more like an in-person class, but with the benefits of being able to take it from anywhere in the world."
Today, online learning is far more seamless than it was just a few years ago, something the rollout of 5G will continue to improve. "Fast internet connections are key for our business and for this style of learning," he says. "We see kids joining class from mobile phones and tablets in the car. I don't think this would've been possible a few years ago."
Outschool teachers are not required to be certified educators. The company vets each teacher by performing a criminal background check and ensuring that they have expertise in the subjects they want to teach. At its current capacity, the startup can add about 200 instructors per day. The company has $12 million in funding from investors including Union Square Ventures and Reach Capital.
To help address the current crisis, Outschool has set up a donation-based nonprofit arm so that families in need can take courses free of charge. The teachers get paid their usual rate through the donation pool, while Outschool waives its fee. The company has contributed to the fund, as has Zoom.
In mid-March, the startup launched a series of webinars for teachers and school administrators whose schools have switched to a learn-from-home model. Each contains tips and tricks for homeschooling through Outschool or otherwise. It also launched a daily newsletter earlier this week with homeschooling tips for parents.
Parents looking to sign up can visit the company's website, and anyone looking to donate for courses for families in need can go to Outschool.org.