One Billion Points For ClassDojo
Terms like “teacher-focused” and “student-centric” are quickly becoming clichés these days, especially when they’re tossed around by edtech companies at conferences, pitchfests and to the press.
But when you have 2 million teachers and 30 million students across 180 countries (1 in 3 schools in the U.S.), those terms warrant much more attention than the everyday buzzword.
Those are the latest numbers released today by ClassDojo, which offers a feedback tool that uses positive reinforcement to encourage students to improve their character and behavior. The premise is fairly simple: Students are awarded points for any kind of “good” behaviors that can be specified by the teachers.
Since it graduated from the Imagine K12 accelerator in 2011, over 1 billion points have been awarded by teachers using ClassDojo. The company says that teachers now, on average, give over 5 million points every school day.
Not bad for a company of fifteen employees that “hasn’t spent more than $5K on marketing,” according to co-founder Sam Chaudhary. Aside from some T-shirts, a short-lived Facebook campaign, and the occasional flight to a conference, the team has stayed mostly grounded in its San Francisco offices.
This level of daily activity--and not just the number of users--tells Chaudhary that his tool is addressing a real pain point. He says teachers can spend as much as half of class time dealing with student behavior issues instead of teaching. He references research done on KIPP schools as an example of how character development and academic achievement are linked.
ClassDojo's path to one billion. (Full image)
ClassDojo doesn’t shy away from dropping the “we’re super focused on teachers” statements. But its growth and culture suggest it’s walking the walk.
Back before terms like “personal learning networks” (PLN) entered the vocabulary, Chaudhary and his co-founder, Liam were attending EdCamps and engaging influential teachers on Twitter who later helped them spread the word. The team’s first hire was a former teacher, Kalen Gallagher, who now sits on the Campbell Union High School board. Each week, Chaudhary adds, the team schedules 15 to 20 phone calls with teachers and one school visit.
There is, of course, another big reason for its popularity: the team doesn’t charge teachers. And as with all free tools, it begs the natural question: how do you make money?
Without making a penny in revenue, ClassDojo has raised over $10 million. The latest came in a $8.5 Series A round in March 2013 led by Shasta Ventures, with previous seed investors General Catalyst, SoftTech VC, Lerer Ventures, Kapor Capital, Felicis Ventures and Matt Ocko also participating.
Raising money without revenue makes some worry--and for the right reasons. But by now, it’s a classic Silicon Valley startup story. Getting eyeballs before dollars is typical of those trying to replicate the Facebook or Twitter model. Edmodo ($40 million raised; 32 million teachers and students) and Remind101 ($18.5 million raised; 10 million users) have as clear of a revenue plan as ClassDojo: Think about it later.
“We want to build an incredible consumer company, and that’s why we’re growing in a consumer way,” says Chaudhary.
He believes parents will play an important role as the third piece in the communication triangle alongside teachers and students. And he’s betting they’ll pay for features currently in the product roadmap. “Parents typically see content and academic subjects as the responsibility of the school. But they want to play a proactive role when it comes to character development,” states Chaudhary.
He’s not completely eschewing schools and districts as customers. “There’s a macro-trend happening where schools want to collect more data about behavior,” he says, and he believes schools could be a potential secondary customer.
Timelapse of ClassDojo's teacher growth in North America.
ClassDojo is not without its skeptics among teachers, either. Some are not convinced that “gamifying” student behavior is the correct way to address the issue.
“The debates over gamification and intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation start at the wrong place by assuming that people are bad and have bad intentions,” says Chaudhary. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with positive encouragement for good behavior.”
If anything, he says, teachers want him to gamify even more. Aside from points, ClassDojo does not have badges, awards or leaderboards. “The number one request we get from teachers is rewards,” shares Chaudhary. “But we know that it’s not in the best interest of kids. The research shows that extrinsic motivations don’t work.”
With popularity comes ever more requests for new features, says Chaudhary. But that’s a problem that most startups welcome--the challenge of satisfying users without straying from the company mission.
“You can’t slap virality on top of something that no one wants,” says Chaudhary. Now, all eyes are on whether his team can turn that virality to validate a financially sustainable business.