EDUKWEST Sunday Review

Sunday Review: Grockit sells to Kaplan, Voxy raises $8.5m and Hoot.Me joins Civitas Learning

EDUKWEST Sunday Review

Grockit brand and technology sold to Kaplan, team rebrands to Learnist

The writing was somewhat on the wall for a while as Farbood Nivi, founder and CEO of Grockit made clear that the focus of the team had shifted from the test prep platform towards their new product Learnist. Farb and I talked about this in January during our EDUKWEST interview.

Back then he stated that though Grockit was still a very good business he felt that he and the team had achieved pretty much achieved they could do with the startup and that Learnist was far more exciting and had a big potential as a key player in the lifelong learning space. I also imagine it to be pretty difficult to have two totally different products under one roof, as Learnist up to the deal with Kaplan was basically just a product within Grockit, not a startup of its own.

The acquisition of the Grockit brand and technology by Kaplan and the rebranding of the team to Learnist once again shows that Farb is one of the smartest founders in edtech today. It’s a win-win for all sides involved. Kaplan gets a great brand, product and potentially nice group of customers, Farb and the team can now go all in with Learnist with some extra cash in the warchest. Though the details of the deal have not been made public, Farb told AllThingsD that

“Selling Grockit gives us considerable runway without any dilution of shares.”

The interesting part now is whether Kaplan will be able to integrate Grockit into its business and build on the brand. I don’t know how much about the strategy is out there already, but I can say that the “product owner” of Grockit is going to be a familiar face to the EDUKWEST audience. As soon as he has settled into the new role, we are going to have him back for a talk.

Voxy raises $8.5 million from Pearson and Rethink Education

If people ask me about interesting companies in the mobile education space, Voxy is definitely among the names I mention. Paul Gollash and his team have built one of the best mobile experiences in the language learning space, leveraging technology and content in a way that actually make sense.

If you want to know how it all started, I did an interview with Paul just after his first appearance at TechCrunch50.

The latest Series B round led by Pearson brings the total funding to $16.5 million according to CrunchBase. Pearson is planning to integrate Voxy’s technology into its own products for English learners across the globe.

Which leaves us with two questions.

1. Are mobile learning startups FNACs (feature, not a company)?
2. When is Pearson going to acquire Voxy?

To the first question, right now there are not many examples of startups in the mobile space that have managed to create a huge company compared to classic web based companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google etc. Sure, the future is mobile, no doubt about it, but if you take a look at Instagram which built up a huge audience you also see that it ended up as being a part (feature) of Facebook. Vine and Twitter is another example and Rovio is probably the only startup at the moment that made an impact comparable to web startups.

So there is the question if Voxy (or any other mobile first learning startup) is going to be big enough to stand on their own or whether they all end up being part of an established player that has a larger footprint throughout different verticals like publishing, physical schools etc.

Which takes us to the second question. Investing in a startup to later acquire it is a strategy we have seen quite often with Pearson. I would say depending on the acceptance of Voxy among the Pearson audience and the general performance I give Voxy a maximum of three years as an independent startup.

Hoot.Me joins Civitas Learning

I learned about this “acquihire” through a LinkedIn update by Hoot.me founder Michael Koetting who now is product manager at Civitas Learning. There are no terms disclosed but Michael told me via email that

Hoot.Me is now part of Civitas Learning and will continue to be fully supported.

Michael and his co-founders created Hoot.Me after they were not able to get answers to difficult questions in their massive college seminar classes. Over the years more than a million interactions took place on the platform and as more and more colleges and universities jump on the MOOC bandwagon, real interactions with real people could be a key success factor for many students.

Civitas Learning just raised $8.5 million in June for its data driven platform that aims to reduce dropout rates through predictive technology.

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com and the future of learning at Disrupt Education. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+