AltSchool CEO Max Ventilla Closes First $40 Million in New Funding Round


AltSchool CEO Max Ventilla Closes First $40 Million in New Funding Round

By Tony Wan     May 3, 2017

AltSchool CEO Max Ventilla Closes First $40 Million in New Funding Round

AltSchool, the “microschools” operator and developer of a personalized learning platform, has raised at least another $40 million, according to a SEC filing first noticed by Axios.

In an interview with EdSurge, AltSchool CEO Max Ventilla declined to discuss financial details other than saying the company was “in the process of closing the round later this summer.” The funding total for this Series C round may be as much as $80 million. To date, the company has raised more than $173 million.

Ventilla offered instead a glimpse into what the “next phase” for the San Francisco-based startup will look like. “We will continue to move slow in a research and development mode, where our goal is to build deep partners and gradually expand the technology platform,” he tells EdSurge.

“The [venture] capital we have allows us to stay in this R&D phase for the next few years,” says Ventilla, “as we see where the gaps are when we work in increasingly diverse classroom environments different from our own.”

No longer is the company focused on expanding its network of “micro-schools,” which was the storyline for AltSchool when it launched in 2014. Today the company runs eight schools in the San Francisco and New York City regions, each serving roughly 35 to 120 students grouped by age range, instead of grade level. These schools served as testbeds for the company’s personalized education platform. “Our plan was to always start with running our own schools and then use them to build a platform that could be spread across more schools,” Ventilla states.

Last year, AltSchool hand-picked four schools to test-drive its personalized technology platform, AltSchool Open. All four are small private and independent, serving a demographic similar to affluent families that send their kids to the company’s own micro-schools. These schools are easier to work with, says Ventilla. It was an intentional strategy—to start with the small, elite schools (whose annual tuition run upwards of $23,000 per year) before expanding into the mainstream public schools.

Even so, the implementation has been “painfully slow,” Dan Barber, Head of Educator Experience at AltSchool, told EdSurge last month. That’s among the problems that Ventilla—a software engineer by trade who sold his last company to Google—is counting on his new hires to figure out. Last month AltSchool added four district leaders, including Devin Vodicka, the former superintendent of Vista Unified District, to its team.

Ventilla hopes to add 10 new schools—including charters—for the start of the 2018-2019 school year, and have the first traditional public school by 2019. “We’ll still be learning over the next couple of years. Our goal is to raise venture capital, spend it on R&D, and create a platform that is scalable across the education landscape.”

Another sticking point is cost—and whether cash-strapped schools can afford to pay for AltSchool’s technology and training services. The team is still figuring out a price point that “sticks within the existing budget that schools have for technology and content,” Ventilla admits. That figure varies wildly across the country; one loose estimate puts it at around $400 per student per year.

As the company expands, it aims to continuously “co-develop” the AltSchool Open program with educators from outside its network. That will likely involve tweaking the platform to accommodate schools with different resources and demographics. By 2020, the company hopes it will have refined the tool enough to sell it across the country.

AltSchool’s team currently numbers more than 150 employees, split roughly across educators, engineers and business operations staff. Expect that number to grow.

For Ventilla, who recently welcomed his third child—a son—AltSchool must grow slowly and patiently. That will take time, which is what the company’s $177 million—and counting—of venture capital buys, he acknowledges. “Our investors are not focused on short-term gains,” he claims. “They’re setting us up for a decade-plus-long journey to fulfill our mission.”

Tony Wan (@tonywan) is Managing Editor at EdSurge. He was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in Education in 2014.

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