About five years ago, a whole group of education startups launched with the premise of bringing live video lessons to the masses. Today, nearly all of them are history — they either crashed and burned, or got acquired.
Interestingly, one startup that had live lessons as an important cornerstone when it launched managed to come out on top as one of the most promising edtech startups today: Udemy. You can watch my first interview with the co-founder Gagan Biyani to get an idea of what the early concept looked like. However, the team decided to ditch the live part in favor of video-based courses pretty early on, a good decision in hindsight.
Too early to the party
But the main factor in the demise of live lesson platforms was not that the concept was a bad idea in and of itself; they were simply too early and could not achieve the scale needed to make it a viable business. Back then, Skype was still an application for the technorati. Also, payment methods across borders were tricky, with PayPal as the only option.
And while there were not enough potential students who would go online and search for a tutor or trainer, there were also not enough tech savvy educators who saw lessons via VoIP as a viable alternative to meeting your student at home or do training on-site for a company.
Since then, a lot has changed. Skype hit the mass market and its integration into Windows 8.1 will further its reach over the coming years. More importantly, people in general are far more open to the idea of having a video call now than four or five years back. They use Skype and other services to connect with their family overseas, and companies use video conferencing to bring distributed teams closer together.
This levels the playing field for new startups that offer essentially the same services as the ones back in 2008. The difference is that they don’t need to educate their users about the basics of video calling anymore. This way, the teams can focus on the product and be picky about the tutors they recruit.
InstaEDU builds a 24/7 tutor cloud
One of the rising stars in the video lesson space is InstaEDU which connects students with tutors from top universities on demand. I predicted a 24/7 teacher cloud back in March 2011, and InstaEDU comes pretty close to it. According to the site, the waiting time is usually less than 30 seconds. As soon as a student and tutor are connected, they can interact via webcam and an interactive whiteboard.
The startup just raised a $4 million Series A to further develop the service.
Betterfly moves from off- to online
On Wednesday, Betterfly announced a new $1 million funding round for its self improvement and lifelong learning platform. Betterfly has been connecting students and instructors for real life lessons, but with the new round it pivots into an online service.
Interestingly, this pivot is based on how the Betterfly founders saw their community use the platform. There has been a shift of professional instructors who started to offer online lessons through Skype and other services. Based on talks with the community, the team therefore decided to rebuild their platform in order to cater this growing group of tutors and learners, according to TechCrunch.
Google enters the market
Last but not least, there is the old investor question for founders “What happens if Google enters your market?” In the case of live video lessons, this might happen earlier than usual. There are rumors that Google is working on an expert version of its Google Hangouts. The project title: Google Helpouts.
Skype actually tried something similar back in the days with an expert directory and the option to charge for Skype calls by the minute. But as so often with early products, it never really took off.
Back to Google Helpouts. The project is still in closed beta, but you can already sign up to get a notification when it will launch. Experts who want to offer their services through Google Helpouts need to accept payments with Google Wallet, and Google is getting a 20% cut.
Google also wants to make sure that the quality of the services offered is decent. Therefore, experts need to provide certifications and prove their teaching experience.
First published on edcetera – straight talk on edtech