Tag Archives: teachstreet

Tutorspree shutdown

[UPDATED] Sunday Review Special: Lessons from the Tutorspree Shutdown

Tutorspree shutdown

Editor’s Note: Tutorspree co-founder and CEO Aaron Harris reached out to me to point out that PandoDaily’s report of the startup having problems to raise a follow-up round are inaccurate. I inserted Aaron’s comment below.

In today’s Sunday Review I will focus on one story only. Last Sunday we learned through PandoDaily, VentureBeat and others that jumped on the story that tutoring marketplace Tutorspree, a startup we covered on EDUKWEST early on, is shutting down.

Now, startups in the education space are of course in many aspects just like other startups, the vast majority fail. Unlike other news outlets the fact in itself doesn’t make me want to write up their story for EDUKWEST. The Tutorspree case, however, teaches us some lessons about the viability of online marketplaces and the direction tutoring takes in general.

The interesting part about the story is that Tutorspree did not run out of money and was also not lacking business model (as so often in edtech); the reasons seem to be more complex and the main issue probably was scale.

In a post published on the Tutorspree blog especially one paragraph stands out and got quoted in each article about the shutdown.

Ultimately, we learned about the challenges of willing a company into existence, of building an incredible and unique team to tackle constantly shifting challenges. And finally, we learned about how to make the toughest decision of all – to shut Tutorspree down, not because it was not a business, but because we could not make it the company we wanted.

I added the emphasis to mark the two points I want to focus on. Let’s start with the challenges.

Challenge 1: Playing in Google’s Sandbox

This is a lesson another education marketplace startup had to learn the hard way about two years ago. TeachStreet, still one of my favorite edtech startups, was essentially killed by the infamous Panda update. Just before the implementation TeachStreet was pretty close to profitability, but from one day to the other it’s traffic got cut by half. Not long thereafter founder Dave Schappell sold TeachStreet to Amazon.

The problem is that a marketplace needs to be found by its potential users in the first place. And how do you find stuff on the Internet? By looking it up in search engines. As Google is more and more moving into additional verticals that rely on search traffic, like restaurant reviews and other local information for instance, I assume Tutorspree was facing a similar problem like TeachStreet did two years ago.

Google is constantly adapting its search algorithm which can have a huge effect on the amount of traffic a marketplace like Tutorspree gets. Another indicator is Aaron Harris’ blog post “How Google is Killing Organic Search” in which he analyzed how Google is dominating the search pages with its own estate compared to the space it gives for organic search results in which Tutorspree accounts would eventually be displayed. The post got picked up by the major blogs, got some critique but I think it underlines the problems of running such a startup pretty well.

If you don’t get the visitors you won’t be able to scale your marketplace, something Aaron Harris also pointed out to TechCrunch when asked for further information on the decision to shut down Tutorspree.

“We built something we were incredibly proud of, but got to the point where we realized it would not scale in a way that would meet our goals.”

Challenge 2: Student Poaching

This is one of the issues I came across very early on in my career as an online teacher. Back in the days when I was offering language classes on platforms like Myngle, student poaching was a big deal for the startup. Most marketplaces rely on the tutor paying commission for each lesson that gets arranged via the platform.

“Clever” tutors find ways to save on that commission (usually between 15% to 18%) by offering the students a better deal when they book their next lesson directly with the tutor. Most students are open to such a deal as the personal connection has already been established and they don’t really care about the middleman.

As this already was common practice in an online setting with pretty low margins, I imagine in the high-priced tutoring environment of New York City it is even more interesting for parents and tutors to cut deals aside of the platform. And there is basically nothing Tutorspree or any other platform could do to prevent this from happening. The only option is to offer such a good service that no one in the triangle wants to screw the platform over.

Challenge 3: On Demand and Right Now Mentality

Another problem is that we tend to prefer solutions that fix a certain problem the moment it occurs. Tutoring seems to move towards two directions. One the one hand, you have the on demand tutoring provided via video lectures and other asynchronous, self paced content.

The other direction goes towards services like InstaEDU that offer a connection to a live tutor the moment the student needs an answer. According to the site the average waiting time is less than 30 seconds.

No need to arrange a meeting with a tutor a week or two in advance, no delays due to traffic, no cancellations due to illness, no need to buy a big package in advance. You only pay for what you need, when you need it.

Now that we have talked about some challenges, let’s get to the point that Tutorspree shuts down though it was a legit business.

Series A Crunch?

According to CrunchBase Tutorspree raised $1.8 million in total funding. As PandoDaily’s Erin Griffith points out one of the problems the startup ran into was the team’s inability to raise a new round early this year. Only Resulute.VC agreed to invest $800k with the option to add more if Tuturspree managed to get more investors on board. Apparently that did not happen.

Comment from Aaron Harris:

I won’t comment on the majority of it, which is mostly opinion, but did want to correct something factually innacurate – we had no trouble raising money, at any point. Pando got the story wrong, probably because they didn’t actually talk to us or any of our investors.

Now, there is the question whether Tutorspree needed the money to stay afloat or if it was raising money to grow. I think it is pretty telling that none of the excisting investors followed on their previous funding in Tutorspree.

Again, this does not mean that the startup was not generating revenue and not only could have survived but slowly grow based on its revenue. But there sure was no hockey stick growth that investors like to see at this stage of a startup.

I am pretty sure the Tutorspree users, especially the tutors and parents are going to miss the service and got some real value out of it. We saw the same when TeachStreet shut down without a real alternative for tutors and learners to move to.

In the end, we probably have to see marketplaces like Tutorspree and TeachStreet as features of bigger platforms like Google, Bing or Yahoo for instance. Search engines nowadays want to own more than the brief moment a user finds a result for her inquiry, they want to extend the reach to the next step and eventually the sale.

The last thing that I noticed is that there is apparently no acqui-hire for the team and data as this is usually the way “failed” edtech startups go these days. If not even the accumulated data of tutors and learners is worth something then the decision to shut down Tutorspree was probably the right one in the end.

TeachStreet

TeachStreet “Acqhired” by Amazon – Shuts Down February 15th

TeachStreet

According to Seattle based tech blog GeekWire TeachStreet has been acquired by Amazon. It is a talent acquisition and the service will be shut down on February 15th. Team TeachStreet already joined the AmazonLocal team.

Teachers can export their data with a tool provided by TeachStreet and there is also a special FAQ for the transition.

The main reason for this acquisition seems to be the infamous Google Panda update back in February 2011 which has had a negative effect on the traffic of various companies that relied on SEO driven visitors. Apparently TechStreet never really recovered from this blow.

Dave and I talked about the issue on KWestions in March 2011 and back in January, hence right before the Panda update, I talked to Jason Calacanis whose company Mahalo has also been hit heavily by the algorithm change. Both interviews are embedded below.

I will share some personal thoughts on this on KirstenWinkler.com but I can already say that I am of course happy for Dave and the team but also pretty sad to see one of my favorite startups go. I also need to find out how the acquisition of TeachStreet might affect their Australian partner doMore.

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review:ed Audio Podcast

review:ed #12 The Textbook Revolution that wasn’t (Audio)

review:ed Audio Podcast

review:ed Episode #12

“The Textbook Revolution that wasn’t”

  • recorded: January 20th 2012
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Acceptly - College Prep Done Right This Interview is sponsored by Acceptly – College Prep Done Right

Acceptly is making it easier for students everywhere to get accepted to college. Increase your chances through step-by-step guidance and secrets for overcoming the admissions process. Try it for free today.
Languagelab.com - Bringing the World of English to You This Interview is sponsored by Languagelab.com – Bringing the World of English to You

Languagelab.com offers total immersion in English. Learn online in Languagelab’s English City, a virtual 3D city full of real English-speakers. Discover Languagelab.com’s specially designed courses for General English, Business English, Oil & Gas and Aviation English.

Show Notes

  • [01:07] Welcome Dave Schappell of TeachStreet
  • [02:13] Back in April 2010 Dave and Kirsten talked about the same companies on review:ed
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [03:00] Recap of the Apple Education event
  • [05:09] Was Christopher still excited one day later?
  • [06:12] The iBook Author EULA
    Source: ZDNet
  • [16:40] iTunesU App –  a hidden LMS?
  • [18:40] What will Amazon’s answer be?
  • [21:15] Kno’s answer to Apple entering the market
    Source: TechCrunch
  • [27:42] Kno Me & automated Flashcards
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [34:10] Chegg launched eTextbook Reader based on HTML5
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [35:30] Wolfram launched Education Portal
  • [40:10] Thank you to Dave for joining us
  • [42:45] Chris talks about the interview with Osman Rashid
  • [49:30] How Chegg and Kno compete
  • [52:00] Livemocha Scholarship Program
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [57:30] $100 million Venture Fund for traditional colleges
    Source: Inside Higher Ed
  • [1:01:00] Thomas Fordham Institute shares data on costs vs quality of online and offline schools
    Source: EdExcellenceMedia
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reviewed 12 blog

review:ed #12 The Textbook Revolution that wasn’t

Dave Schappell TeachStreet

Dave Schappell

Christopher and I were joined by Dave Schappell, founder and CEO of TeachStreet to talk about the Apple Education event, the iBook Author EULA, Kno’s and Chegg’s answer to Apple entering the textbook space and much more.

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Subscribe to review:ed Audio via iTunes
Download Episode Download Episode Video Download Episode Audio
Acceptly - College Prep Done Right This Interview is sponsored by Acceptly – College Prep Done Right

Acceptly is making it easier for students everywhere to get accepted to college. Increase your chances through step-by-step guidance and secrets for overcoming the admissions process. Try it for free today.
Languagelab.com - Bringing the World of English to You This Interview is sponsored by Languagelab.com – Bringing the World of English to You

Languagelab.com offers total immersion in English. Learn online in Languagelab’s English City, a virtual 3D city full of real English-speakers. Discover Languagelab.com’s specially designed courses for General English, Business English, Oil & Gas and Aviation English.

Show Notes

  • [01:07] Welcome Dave Schappell of TeachStreet
  • [02:13] Back in April 2010 Dave and Kirsten talked about the same companies on review:ed
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [03:00] Recap of the Apple Education event
  • [05:09] Was Christopher still excited one day later?
  • [06:12] The iBook Author EULA
    Source: ZDNet
  • [16:40] iTunesU App –  a hidden LMS?
  • [18:40] What will Amazon’s answer be?
  • [21:15] Kno’s answer to Apple entering the market
    Source: TechCrunch
  • [27:42] Kno Me & automated Flashcards
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [34:10] Chegg launched eTextbook Reader based on HTML5
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [35:30] Wolfram launched Education Portal
  • [40:10] Thank you to Dave for joining us
  • [42:45] Chris talks about the interview with Osman Rashid
  • [49:30] How Chegg and Kno compete
  • [52:00] Livemocha Scholarship Program
    Source: EDUKWEST
  • [57:30] $100 million Venture Fund for traditional colleges
    Source: Inside Higher Ed
  • [1:01:00] Thomas Fordham Institute shares data on costs vs quality of online and offline schools
    Source: EdExcellenceMedia
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Ed News Ticker

ENT: DreamBox, TeachStreet, Math Apps that work, TV Textbooks and Trojan Horses

Ed News Ticker

Ed News Ticker December 7th 2011


Reed Hastings And John Doerr Put $11M In Adaptive Online Math Learning Platform DreamBox

DreamBox Learning, an adaptive learning startup founded in 2008 raised $11 million from Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix and John Doerr. The new round brings the funding of DreamBox to $18 million.

DreamBox Learning will use the new funds to expand its curriculum, fuel future product development, and expand distribution and adoption.

Source: TechCrunch


TeachStreet adds basic formatting to listings

TeachStreet added a small new feature that enables teachers to better format their texts in the listings.

Teachers can now do the following:

  • Bold text
  • Italicize text
  • Add bulleted or numbered lists (like this one!)
  • Edit in HTML

Source: TeachStreet


Proof in Study: Math App Improves Test Scores (And Engagement)

There is more and more evidence and data that math applications like HMH Algebra 1 by ScrollMotion (EDUKWEST interview) and Motion Math are indeed improve the skills of students.

“Fifth graders’ fractions test scores improved an average of over 15% after playing Motion Math for 20 minutes daily over a five-day period, a significant increase compared to a control group.”

Source: MindShift


Thompson: Using Philanthropy As A Trojan Horse

The primary threat to public education aren’t budget cuts or teacher unions.

The biggest danger is the alliance between “the billionaires boys club” and corporate-types like Rupert Murdoch who see schools as a $500 billion untapped market.

Source: Scholastic Administrator


Educational Content and Learning Experiences Wirelessly Delivered to Home TV Console

AT&T and TVTextbook partner to bring interactive educational content directly on the TV screen.

Using AT&T’s 3G network, the student’s learning day will be extended to the home, helping to connect households where computers and Internet connectivity are not readily available. TVT’s flexible design fits into any school district’s IT purchasing strategy, as the content runs on any TV, as well as PCs, and, soon, tablets and other media.

Source: AT&T


A New Instructional Model Keeps At-Risk Kids Engaged

Many teachers have been told that they are to teach from bell to bell. These teachers believe the only real way to teach is to lecture in front of the board for 50 minutes.

Big mistake!

Source: Edutopia

logo-swseaedu

Startup Weekend EDU Seattle organized by TeachStreet

TeachStreet is going to lead the Startup Weekend EDU on September 30th to October to 2nd in Seattle. Readers of KirstenWinkler.com might remember the coverage of the Startup Weekend in Indianapolis by George Machlan of the Edupunk Channel back in November.

Startup Weekends take place in a growing number of cities across the globe and the idea is to connect developers, designers and business people who then build a new application, service or sometimes even product within 54 hours.

As you can tell by the title, the weekend in Seattle will be all around education so I expect to see some really great products on October 2nd.

The event takes place in Paccar Hall of the University of Washington and the organizing team is expecting 125 to 150 people to take part in the weekend. Dave Schappell also seems to have convinced a good part of the seasoned Seattle tech and investor community to join the event as mentors which in itself will make attending the event more than worthwhile.

Therefore, if you happen to be in Seattle, tickets are available for $99 or $49 if you are a student. You can register as Developer, Designer or Non-Technical.

You can also post ideas on what you think needs to be built to change education. On the bottom right of the SW EDU Seattle site you will find a green “Join the EDU discussion” tab where you can add your feedback and suggestions.

 

Website: seattleedu.startupweekend.org 
Twitter: @SWSEAedu

Tickets: seattleedu.startupweekend.org/tickets

logo-skillshare

Skillshare raises $3.1 million to build Community Marketplace for Offline Classes

Skillshare announced a $3.1 million round led by Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures today. The motto of the startup is pretty straight forward: “learn anything from anyone”. Launched in fall 2010 it is a community marketplace for offline lessons. It is basically the exact opposite to platforms like Udemy, Learnable or eduFire and when I came across the platform the first time, I especially liked the following part in the video that explains the concept of Skillshare.

No webcams, no downloads. Just real classes.

Skillshare wants to take on the education problem in the communities, on a grassroots level if you like. Or, as the founders Michael Karnjanaprakorn & Malcolm Ong wrote on the Skillshare blog today:

We created Skillshare to turn every community into a huge campus, every address into a classroom, and every neighbor into a teacher and student.

An online platform for local lessons and tutoring is of course not a brand new idea and I recently wrote a post at Disrupt Education on “Learning Unplugged – Find it on the Internet but Learn it in Real Life“. There is School of Everything, doMore, Coursehorse and of course TeachStreet. But as Dave Schappell points out in his blog post on the Skillshare funding today

… we see it as validation of the opportunity we’re all pursuing, and we anticipate many other entrants fast on our heels …

I think, we also need to mention Meetup here as back in June 2008 local community meetups around learning something were even featured in the video made by Lee LeFever of CommonCraft.

The idea described in the video is pretty much the same yet the platform seems to be just too broad and overwhelming for many people to find relevant local classes as a Meetup can be about anything. What Skillshare brings to the table is the focus on the learning vertical and the possibility to earn money by sharing your skills.

Besides the $3.1 million that will enable key hires and growth Skillshare attracted some high profile personas in the tech space like who offer classes via the platform. The biggest boost might come from Fred Wilson who announced today that he will teach MBA Mondays at the Union Square Ventures event space. Those classes will also be streamed live and recorded. The attendee fee will be donated to charity.

 

Website: Skillshare.com
Twitter: @Skillshare

teachstreet-tr-d2

TeachStreet’s TR-D2 brings Teachers Business

Teachers meet TR-D2, TeachStreet’s newest way to get you in touch with students and generate business. All active teachers on the platform got an email yesterday with the nice title

“Our robot brings you business”

TR-D2’s job at TeachStreet is to scan all teacher requests posted on the platform and then sort them according to matches, or in other words if your teacher profile matches the student’s criteria you’ll have the option contact the student and potentially generate a new customer. To do so, you’ll have to invest the usual 3 TeachStreet credits which equals US $3.

It sounds like a nice and easy way to generate new customers as TeachStreet’s latest employee is basically doing the tedious work of going through possible matches for you. You can then concentrate on the part of converting an interest in your course offer into getting a new paying student.

reviewed 04 dave schappell teachstreet pic

review:ed Episode #4 with Dave Schappell of TeachStreet

Dave Schappell TeachStreet

Dave Schappell

Dave Schappell, Founder and CEO of TeachStreet joined me for the second time for the fourth episode of review:ed.

We had the following topics on our list:

1) The launch of the iPhone 4 – has it the potential to be a device for online teaching?

2) Textbook Rentals – is Chegg a money printing machine like TechCrunch writes?

3) the Kno – will dedicated devices for education work or will mainstream devices like the iPad win the market?

4) Recent Fundings in online education – Schoology and Lingueo

5) TeachStreet – a turn around from freemium to premium service in 5 steps.


Audio only:

Related Links:

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reviewed 01 dave schappell teachstreet pic

review:ed Episode #1 with Dave Schappell of TeachStreet

Dave Schappell TeachStreet

Dave Schappell

My guest on the first episode of review:ed was Dave Schappell, Founder and CEO of TeachStreet with a guest appearance of Stella, the French bulldog.

Dave and I were talking about the iPad and how it might change the way we teach and learn, the tensions between Apple and Adobe about the use of Flash on Apple products, Ning and the end of its freemium model, Groupon and the different clones around the globe, Zinch and its launch of a platform in China and finally Pearson and its M&A strategy as a possible exit for education start ups.

Audio only:

Related Links:

Dave Schappell on EDUKWEST #13.

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