People

Edtech is booming: Shauntel Garvey weighs in on what will stick — and what won't

"People see the growth, but the question is still: Will that growth be sustained over time?"

Shauntel Garvey

"What's nice is that we're kind of seeing this acceleration of the adoption curve. So where there's been hesitancy or resistance to adopt edtech, this kind of forced it to happen all at once," said Reach Capital's Shauntel Garvey in an interview.

Photo: Courtesy Reach Capital

With kids home from school around the world, online learning and edtech have suddenly captured the spotlight. Many investors, scrambling to chase hot deals, are already preemptively offering term sheets to companies that are enjoying unprecedented levels of growth, Reach Capital's Shauntel Garvey said in an interview.

Unlike the trend chasers, Garvey's firm has been specializing in edtech deals for years. She started investing in the sector first at the nonprofit NewSchools Venture Fund in 2012. The seed fund spun out into Reach Capital in 2015, when Garvey co-founded the firm alongside colleagues Wayee Chu, Jennifer Carolan and Esteban Sosnik with a debut $53 million fund.

It's since gone on to raise a second $82 million fund to double down on its belief in investing in education companies, and Garvey is on the boards of companies like coding school Holberton and skills gap platform Riipen. Now that edtech is in high demand, she's the one fielding calls from generalist investors looking to understand what's happening.

Protocol spoke with Garvey about what's changed (and what hasn't) since school went virtual, her bet that there's a big opportunity in reskilling a new unemployed workforce, and why she doesn't think the online graduation business will stick.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Obviously kids are home and there's a big focus on education both from within households and on the VC side. So how has the world changed for you in the last six weeks as a specialist in edtech investing?

What's interesting is this is not just a U.S. problem. This is a global problem. A lot of companies who maybe were very U.S.-focused are now seeing that a good majority of their growth is coming internationally, which also just opens up the [total addressable market].

We are seeing just tons of unprecedented growth. A lot of our companies have made some of their products free right now, given what's going on. One of them is Epic — they are basically Netflix for kids' ebooks. They added over 2 million new students to their platform so they can basically access a digital library of over 40,000 titles. It's unprecedented growth.

We have another one called Outschool, a live online platform where teachers can do synchronous classes. Typically they really focused on the homeschool market. Now that everyone's home, they've seen over 30,000 students, thousands of classes added. That started a supply problem for them, so they did a whole campaign to add 5,000 teachers to start teaching on their platform.

What's nice is that we're kind of seeing this acceleration of the adoption curve. So where there's been hesitancy or resistance to adopt edtech, this kind of forced it to happen all at once. One of the things we're wondering now is how much does this stick.

What about interest from other venture capitalists?

Oh my gosh — I'm getting calls every other day. There's definitely a renewed interest from generalist investors, and I think they're starting to see just this massive opportunity moving forward. A lot of our companies have received preemptive term sheets already, just based on the growth. People see the growth, but the question is still: Will that growth be sustained over time?

There's definitely a renewed interest, and it's coming from all different levels. You have all those companies that are helping the K-12 market, and you have solutions that will persist in terms of helping schools with online and remote learning.

You have the higher-ed marketer, and I think that's going to be totally unbundled and disrupted. What will college look like, and what will people want that experience to really be? What are some options that will help people who maybe want to do alternatives, like the boot camp space?

And then there's reskilling and up-skilling. All these Americans are unemployed now, so what are they going to do, reskill and find a pathway to new careers? We're seeing interest in all these different levels from generalist VCs that we haven't really seen in the past.

Are there any areas within edtech that have actually cooled or are less attractive right now?

Anything that's happening directly within a school is still a question mark. You're still selling directly to a school for an in-class use case, and that's cooled off because obviously there's just no sales happening. Kids aren't even in school, so they can't even use those tools. So the concern is that when we go back, what are those budgets going to look like? As we see the budgets from states and cities now get decreased, one of the first things that gets cut is education budgets, so that has large implications for what they can spend on some of these tools.

What hasn't changed in the edtech scene in the last couple of weeks? Is there anything that's continued to be normal in this environment?

It's normal and a continued emphasis, but one thing I'll call out is how this has actually highlighted inequities within edtech. Not everyone has Wi-Fi at home. Not everyone has devices at home. So when schools are implementing solutions, it's highlighting those inequities. We still have a ways to go in terms of device penetration and broadband access.

I think the other piece that continues to be at the forefront is data privacy. Who owns the data? Now you have students in these video chats and you really are amassing a massive amount of data. And so those personal data and privacy concerns are also being elevated.

There's also a need for additional support of teachers. We're asking teachers to be heroes right now, and this is highlighting that we still have a ways to go in supporting them into making the transition to edtech. What professional development training do we need to do to make sure people can make this transition successfully?

Now that you basically have half the world's children learning from home, what do you expect will be a lasting shift or behavioral change?

I think parents are getting more in-tune and involved with what their kids are doing at school. They're getting a front-row view of what's happening, and I think that will persist.

I also think this time has really highlighted the need of school being a place where we teach academics, but we also support a student emotionally. I think it's time that we really thought about how we make sure our students are OK, that our students are getting the social and emotional skills they need. I think coming out of this that a lot of students will have trauma, so I think we need a renewed focus on not just the academics but the whole student.

What kind of startups are you looking for coming out of this?

For us, what it's highlighting is the importance of community and that we should focus on strong support systems both personally and professionally. I do think a sense of community is often found within our schools and within our workplace. It's kind of where we look to others for guidance and mentorship, encouragement, inspiration and all that. So I would actually love to see what I'm calling community-driven learning solutions: solutions that reinforce existing communities, but also create avenues to build up new learning communities that may not be necessarily tied to one physical location.

Are there any areas that right now are spiking that you're actually more bearish on? Or categories of startups that you're cautioning is just a blip rather than a longtime path to growth?

This is probably a broad category, but this idea of "the online virtual experience for X," even within a school environment. Right now, for example, there's a lot of tools like, here's an online experience for your graduation. Here's an online experience for visiting campus. I just don't think there's ever a replacement for actually visiting a campus or celebrating your graduation in person. I do think people will cherish and value those special moments.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


What do you make of the generalist investors getting super interested in edtech? In the past, people have said it's a challenge to invest in, so what's it been like to have this sudden renewed interest from mainstream VCs?

I think it's exciting, and what I'm finding is that people are willing to dig more in the space to learn. Instead of just saying, I'm going to invest in this new hot edtech company, I think investors are looking to understand the space more, and I'm getting a lot of those kinds of calls. I do think this will stick just because there are so many tailwinds happening right now. People had kind of put edtech in this bucket, and now they're realizing that it does go across so many different verticals. So much is embedded in the fabric of their lives that I think it will stick this time.

Entertainment

Google is developing a low-end Chromecast with Google TV

The new dongle will run the Google TV interface, but it won’t support 4K streaming.

The Chromecast with Google TV dongle combined 4K streaming with the company’s Google TV interface. Now, Google is looking to launch a cheaper version.

Photo: Google

Google is working on a new streaming device that caters to people with older TV sets: The next Chromecast streaming dongle will run its Google TV interface and ship with a remote control, but it won’t support 4K streaming. The device will instead max out at a resolution of 1080p, Protocol has learned from a source with close knowledge of the company’s plans.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

Keep Reading Show less
Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Enterprise

Why software releases should be quick but 'palatable and realistic'

Modern software developers release updates much more quickly than in the past, which is great for security and adding new capabilities. But Edith Harbaugh thinks business leaders need a little control of that schedule.

LaunchDarkly was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle.

Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

The CEO of LaunchDarkly, which was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle, is trying to reach customers who want to move fast but understand that moving fast and breaking things won’t work for them. Companies that specialize in continuous integration and continuous delivery services have thrived over the last few years as customers look for help shipping at speed, and LaunchDarkly extends those capabilities to smaller features of existing software.

Keep Reading Show less
Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Workplace

Building an antiracist company: From idea to practice

Twilio’s chief diversity officer says it’s time for a new approach to DEI.

“The most impactful way to prioritize DEI and enable antiracism is to structure your company accordingly,” says Lybra Clemons, chief diversity officer at Twilio.

Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

Keep Reading Show less
Lybra Clemons
Lybra S. Clemons is a seasoned C-suite executive with over 15 years of Human Resources, Talent and Diversity & Inclusion experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives across Twilio's global workforce. Prior to Twilio, Lybra was global head of Diversity & Inclusion at PayPal, where she managed and oversaw all global diversity initiatives. Lybra has held critical roles in Diversity & Inclusion with Morgan Stanley, The Brunswick Group and American Express. She serves on the board of directors of Makers and How Women Lead Silicon Valley Executive Board of Advisers, and has been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the Top Corporate Women in Diversity.
China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

Passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% to nearly 3.3 million from a year ago.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

2021 was a banner year for China’s EV industry. The latest data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that total passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% from a year ago to nearly 2.99 million: about half of all EVs sold globally. Out of every 100 passenger cars sold in China last year, almost 15 were so-called "new energy vehicles" (NEVs) — a mix of battery-electric vehicles and hybrids.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

Latest Stories
Bulletins