In the summer of 2021, and old friend Eric Ries introduced us to Aaron and Courtney from Schoolytics. I was initially skeptical of the idea — to build a data and metrics platform for all sorts of schools — but in the very first meeting with Aaron, the CEO, my interest was piqued. I’m glad we pulled on the initial thread, because that eventually led to us investing in Schoolytics, which just announced their seed funding this week.
I will admit that initially I was a bit hesitant to go into this market. Most of the education-based startups that have broken out (and believe me, we missed two big ones — Quizlet and Outschool — though we have Cambly which is still going strong) go for a direct-learning model, using technology and platforms to go directly to students and learners. That makes sense and is an exiting category. But what about distributing software to schools, public or private? What about universities, major or community schools? As an investor, those are not the most attractive or exciting buyers to persuade. In order to penetrate these markets like Edmodo or Google has, one needs a rock-solid platform that’s initially free and delivers value immediately — quite a tall order.
Enter Aaron, Courtney, and the Schoolytics team. Aaron and Courtney met while at Chegg, another ed-tech startup that made it to IPO. In our DD, we learned that Courtney recruited and initially managed Aaron, and that she was impressed immediately any Aaron’s product leadership. That was evident in the first pitch with Aaron, no doubt, and what initially gave us belief in making this investment. Then, as we dug further, we realized Courtney herself had secretly collected a PhD in Economics (!!!) before Chegg, and while being a working mom (!!!), is incredibly active in her kids’ schools PTAs. She never mentioned this in her bio or pitch.
Haystack is excited to also co-lead this investment with a long-term friend, Nakul Mandan and his team at Audacious Ventures. Nakul is one of two friends who literally helped will Haystack into existence nine years ago; now as Nakul starts his debut fund, we have been helping him, we hope. We ended up lining up on this investment given the quality of the team (Aaron and Courtney, wow!) and also the momentum in the business, which you can read about here. If you have kids in school (should be many of you!). please do forward this to your schools so that more schools, administrators, and parents can capture better analytics on what is happening inside these important places.
If you’ve been a reader of this blog over the years, hopefully by now you know the pattern here — these investments are in companies, products, and networks, but those are built by people, and we are blessed to get to meet lots of people every day (thank you, Eric, for this one). We select some well, and others don’t work out. We miss a lot. But when things line up with co-investors who are long-term friends and product leaders (and community leaders) who live and practice their craft, it’s simply a pleasure to get a front-row seat when teams like this embark on such meaningful work.