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EdTech Thoughts 11/28 - 12/4
The end of the year approaches. I will do at least one more regular update next weekend (12/11), with the 18th likely taken up by 2022 reflections/2023 predictions. If you have any reflections/predictions to share, please do reach out.
On to the news!
Funding / M&A
Sapia.ai raises $17M: Melbourne-based Sapia.ai interviews frontline workers via chatbot, with a focus on quickly shortlisting candidates for positions in an unbiased way. This round of funding will be used to offer additional interview languages and expand the company’s go-to-market efforts to new countries
Prismforce raises $14M: Mumbai-based Prismforce offers a planning and recruitment platform for IT and Tech Services. The company positions itself at an interesting intersection within their clients; their software sits closer to the Finance department than many talent platforms/marketplaces but they also appear to fulfill end-to-end staffing needs like a more traditional IT consultancy
Simbel raises $4M: Paris-based Simbel helps small-and-medium-sized businesses design and operate learning and development paths for their employees. While a very different business than Prismforce, Simbel also differentiates itself by sitting at the intersection of two often-siloed parts of an organization - performance reviews and professional development courses
SAASGuru raises $4M: Sydney-based SAASGuru provides exam preparation support - in the form of training, mentorship, and community - for widely-used cloud technology certifications (AWS, Microsoft, Salesforce, etc.). The company has also branded itself as a “For-impact” organization, which is sure to make prospective business school applicants swoon1
Vektor AI raises $2.5M: London-based Vektor AI is the 8th mentoring-focused startup to raise venture capital in the past ~12 months, though it is the first one I’ve seen raise in Europe
Mattel acquires Caribu: El Segundo-based Mattel is one of the world’s largest toymakers. The company looks to be following Lego’s lead in developing movies and, through Miami-based Caribu, interactive digital offerings driven by their IP
Simplilearn acquires Fullstack Academy: In mid-September I wrote about Zovio’s lack of leverage in publicly declaring a desired price of $55M for Fullstack Academy. Given Simplilearn announced a $45M round just last week, it seems unlikely Zovio got their price. The acquisition is a somewhat surprising move from Simplilearn, though it does give the company a stronger foothold in the US and a broader content portfolio
Universal Technical Institute acquires Concord Career Colleges: Phoenix-based and publicly-traded Universal Technical Institute (UTI) is predominantly known for their high-end automotive repair training programs. The company is expanding its purview with the acquisition of Los Angeles-based Concord Career Colleges (CCC), which historically focused on training workers for the healthcare industry. Former CCC CEO Jami Frazer will join the combined company as President of UTI Healthcare, which is, as you might expect, a division of an automotive company focused on training cardiovascular sonologists
Making the most of a Messi situation
I expect that many of you, like me, have spent the past few weeks watching the football (soccer) World Cup. In addition to watching the action on the field, you may have noticed many corporate logos encircling it - McDonald’s, Coca-cola, Budweiser (well, actually, fewer of them), Crypto.com (lol), and, of course, Byju’s.
These sponsorships are not cheap! The World Cup organizing body, FIFA, does not publish how much each sponsor pays, but it is relatively safe to say that headliners all pay well north of $10M.2
The internet is not happy with Byju’s for their World Cup sponsorship, or their subsequent announcement of Lionel Messi as a brand ambassador, shining on the world stage just weeks after Byju’s substantial layoffs. However, this internet distress misses two key points:
Most of these deals are agreed to years in advance. Byju’s *probably* spent the money on these sponsorships between 2019 and 2021, when the company was flying high and they had capital on hand + the ability to raise more quickly
Byju’s staunchest backer is the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, who financed a significant portion of the World Cup and also happen to own Messi’s professional soccer club. If anything, Byju’s *probably* got a good deal on both sponsorships!3
Do these two factors justify the continued sponsorship?
From a strictly business perspective, probably? It’s hard to tell without more information, but the opportunity cost of pulling out seems high and generous terms would give Byju’s as good a shot as any at a positive ROI.
From a holistic perspective, the situation is much tougher. Byju’s has been a company struggling to find its narrative for most of this year. The company continues to struggle with frightening-but-unsubstantiated leaks like mass layoffs and borrowing cash from a subsidiary to pay for core business activities.4
Unfortunately, the timing of these sponsorships relative to layoffs only adds fuel to the fire, even if they might be justifiable from a business perspective.
One Interesting Job
ASU is one the fastest-growing universities in the US, built in the image of President Michael Crow’s New American University. In addition to research and academic growth, the university has invested in a significant technology and content portfolio.
One of the university’s newest growth drivers is it’s Learning Enterprise team, which brings the university’s portfolio to employers for upskilling and reskilling employees. This role is an exciting one for someone eager to own a P&L with the resources of a larger organization behind them.
Today’s feature is not paid and not an endorsement of this newsletter by ASU
“Classplus is overvalued”: Some people get their drama fix from The Bachelor, and some people comb edtech headlines for founders taking pot shots at their competitors. I do not recommend taking pot shots as business strategy, but they are fun to read
What does an SAT score mean in a test-optional world: In last week’s Question of the Week section I wrote about how something felt weird in The Discourse about whether SAT scores still matter. ~30 minutes after posting, I found out Jeff Selingo was way ahead of me on this topic! The answer is…complex
Higher Ed’s prestige paralysis: The best take I’ve read, followed closely by Kevin Carey’s, on the Law School rankings kerfuffle. This remains a debate about the definition of elite - an interesting, but, as the author points out, unsolvable problem. It is not an overthrow of the system of elite education
The shifting sands of university finances: More of a story kernel than a link, but post-docs and teaching assistants are striking in California. College athletic stadiums, a precarious revenue stream at base level, are filling up with casino and sportsbook branding. And Dual Enrollment programs, which were supposed to stem the bleeding of community college enrollment declines, are being run at a loss
Tweet of the Week
Question of the Week
Results of last week’s question:
Ed Tech Thoughts is a short ( ~ 5 mins), weekly overview of the top stories in EdTech, with a few (hopefully interesting) gut reactions attached. If you enjoyed this edition, I hope you will subscribe and/or forward to your friends!
If I missed something, or there is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I encourage you to submit a story! Submissions can be named or anonymous
I don’t have the energy to break down the NYT Anticapitalism article with anything more than a joke. We are long past the days of “Republicans buy sneakers too” and, in general, I find articles that attempt to “demystify” or otherwise “educate” about younger generations needlessly sensationalist
There are articles out there with specific estimates for each sponsor, but none are from major media outlets, so I do not feel comfortable linking to them here