Clever, a graduate of Y Combinator’s most recent batch of startups, launched in late June to bring a bit of Twilio’s vision to education. That is to say, the startup has been developing a standardized API that makes it easy for K-12 schools to unlock their data and for developers to access and build applications on top of that data.
During their time at Y Combinator, the accelerator’s co-founder Paul Graham challenged the team to integrate with 40 schools by the end of the program. But, as Gigaom reported after YC’s Demo Day, Clever far surpassed that goal, reaching 1,000 schools by the time the co-founders took the stage at Demo Day in late August. Today, that rapid growth continues, as the startup announced this morning that over 2,000 K-12 schools have now adopted its technology since June.
This dramatic growth has not gone unnoticed by investors. The startup is also announcing this morning that it has raised $3 million in seed funding from an impressive list of venture capital firms and angels, including SV Angel, Mike Maples of Floodgate, SoftTech VC’s Jeff Clavier, Google Ventures (Kevin Rose), Bessemer Venture Partners, Mitch Kapor, Ben Parr and Ashton Kutcher.
On top of that, the majority of Y Combinator’s partners also personally invested in the round, including Jessica Livingston, Sam Altman, Harj Taggar, Garry Tan, Paul Buncheit and Aaron Iba, as well as multiple angels from well-known education companies, including the co-founder of The Princeton Review, 2tor and Noodle John Katzman, Inkling co-founder and CEO Matt MacInnis, Chegg co-founder Aayush Phumbhra and GSV Advisors CEO Deborah Quazzo.
So what it is about Clever — besides the impressive early adoption from schools — that has such a wide range of investors participating in its first round of funding? For starters, co-founders Tyler Bosmeny, Dan Carroll, and Rafael Garcia conceived of the idea for Clever based on the observation that, in spite of its potential to transform the industry, technology was still more of a burden to teachers and schools than it was a helpful, and useful, tool.
Like LearnSprout, the Andreessen-backed startup tackling the same problem, the founders learned that one of the biggest challenges facing innovation in K-12 education was data flow — or, really, the lack thereof.
Many K-12 schools use their own proprietary (and legacy) information systems to capture and store data on students — from class lists and attendance to grades. These databases, known as Student Information Systems (SISes) vary from school to school, with each institution developing its own unique applications to transfer, collect and analyze the data within.
This means, among other things, that developers trying to build educational applications have to manually integrate with each different Student Information System. As one might expect, this slows development and provides plenty of friction when it comes to scale and distribution, especially for those looking to distribute apps or software across multiple districts or states.
Because there’s no standard data format for these systems, both developers and developers have to spend far too much time integrating apps or manually entering data. So, Clever set out to build a simple, universal API that allows schools to authorize developers and education companies to access and port information from SISes into their apps.
Clever now pushes data on over 650,000 students to different applications on its platform every day, and that number is growing quickly, because Clever provides clean, up-to-date information directly from schools.
The other attractive part of Clever’s model is that its opted for a B2B play that comes free of charge to schools. In attempt to remove any and all friction from the typically slow process of selling schools, Clever doesn’t charge schools or districts to use its service. Instead, its customers are online learning companies that want to integrate software with the wealth of data found in Student Information Systems. And, naturally, there are more than a few interested in this opportunity.
According to co-founder Tyler Bosmeny, the startup is already working with over 40 education companies, including DreamBox, Scientific Learning and MasteryConnect — to name a few. “It’s amazing to see so many of the top education companies coming together to make technology easier for schools,” Bosmeny told TechCrunch.
By making it easier to sell and integrate educational software, Clever wants to become the standard interface between learning data and those building the applications that can help turn that data into more effective learning tools. In other words, and here it is again: Twilio for the K-12 market. The co-founders said that, by and large, everyone told them that schools would be slow to adopt new technology and would never go for a data play like the one they envisioned for Clever.
But, so far, they’ve found schools to be anything but resistant to this new model. And if Clever continues signing on new schools at its current pace, there’s reason to believe that not only can it help transform education, but become a serious business to boot. At the very least, it shows there’s plenty of room left for innovation in the world of K-12 education.
Find Clever at home here.