Last week, the edtech startup announced the launch of a standalone file sharing product, Cloudup, which promised an easy, lightweight way to drag, drop and share any variety of files and media content into a web browser.
The consumer-facing tool is a departure from its beloved flagship product, a freemium online gradebook and lesson planning service. And it puts the company in a very crowded space with a number of established and upstart file-sharing startups, as TechCrunch noted.
Still, it might be an easier way to make a buck.
LearnBoost, founded in 2010, put up a danger sign this March when its founder, Rafael Corrales, departed. He later joined Charles River Ventures, one of the company’s early investors. In total, the company has raised over $2.8 million that also include money from Bessemer Venture Partners and Atlas Venture.
But as other competitors such as Engrade and Edmodo leaped into the market, figuring out how to generate revenue proved to be a challenge. “A lot of things that we thought would be applicable in both the consumer and education spaces were not as straightforward as we envisioned,” current LearnBoost CEO, Thianh Lu, shared in an interview with EdSurge.
“...things that we thought would be applicable in both the consumer and education spaces were not as straightforward as we envisioned.”
The company’s pivot was driven in part by difficulties in achieving scale in the K-12 market. Getting LearnBoost in the hands of classroom teachers was no problem, shared Lu, who declined to disclose specific user numbers. “But there’s another narrative that happens when you want roll out beyond a classroom into schools and districts. There’s another conversation that needs to happen with administrators, other stakeholders and other parents and others who are part of this conversation. That slows down the process.”
Evidently, that process took a toll on the small team of nine. Still, Lu said the idea for Cloudup was inspired by feedback from the teacher community. “We fell back on lessons that we learned from LearnBoost,” he said. “Teachers were using the sharing features on LearnBoost to share all kinds of content--text, media, documents, videos, links--and not just lesson plans.”
According to the Cloudup blog post: “It became evident that the available sharing tools weren’t cutting it for one reason or another, and we started seeing opportunities to reach outside of the education world to offer everyone a new way to share and consume content.”
But despite paying homage its education roots, the LearnBoost team appears intent on shedding its old brand. While LearnBoost remains the official company name behind Cloudup and the original gradebook and lesson planning tool, its employees have listed Cloudup as a separate company on their LinkedIn profiles.
Lu said the company will continue to maintain LearnBoost’s original gradebook and lesson planning service, but most of the research and development will be focused on shoring up technical backbone for Cloudup before its public release.
LearnBoost’s pivot is the latest reminder of the tenuous space that many edtech startups inhabit as the goals of mission and money can sometimes lead down divergent paths.
Wikispaces has become famous as an example of company that started offering a general service and realized that schools could become its best market. Now LearnBoost will be an example of the opposite: a company that started in education and hopes to pivot into a broader market.