Fiveable has captured a shift in the educational technology space, allowing the Milwaukee-based startup to carve out an even larger presence in the industry during 2020.
The company has found continued success with the platform it has built to connect teachers and students for virtual after-school help sessions via livestreaming.
Fiveable founder Amanda DoAmaral chose to remove the startup’s paywall earlier this year, a decision made before it was publicly known that COVID-19 was in the United States or that K-12 schools would close across the country.
“We felt like it was best for the business and ultimately we were right,” DoAmaral said. “If we could get more students using Fiveable and connecting with us, then we were just going to continue our growth.”
By April and May, Fiveable attracted one million users for the two months combined. During the summer, Fiveable gathered feedback from its students, which DoAmaral said ultimately fueled a $2.3 million funding round, which was completed in October.
For its growth and timely services in the midst of the pandemic, Fiveable is BizTimes Milwaukee’s Best in Business 2020 Small Business of the Year.
With the help of students, Fiveable decided that by focusing on building communities and connections across education, it would generate the most value at a time when both students and teachers were feeling especially unengaged, DoAmaral said.
“Students pointed to feeling unmotivated, isolated, frustrated and generally disconnected from school,” DoAmaral said. “That’s definitely something that COVID made worse, but I know that it existed before that.”
Fiveable has now shifted its focus to revamping its content to include social threads where students can engage with other students and teachers can collaborate with other teachers.
“Instead of thinking class to class or school to school, think of students as a massive web that can be interconnected in a way that lifts them all up outside of the structures and bureaucracies that schools create,” DoAmaral said.
While Fiveable and Ed Tech companies in general have been challenged to gain investor backing in the past, the company’s latest funding round drew the support of multiple investors, including Metrodora Ventures, a venture fund led by Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
So, what changed? DoAmaral thinks there are multiple factors, but a primary one is that parents are becoming more involved in their children’s education and spending money on educational apps or different schooling experiences entirely.
“That was one of the biggest shifts that COVID ignited,” DoAmaral said. “It really did change the landscape of Ed Tech in the U.S. because our behavior is changing.”
DoAmaral came up with the Fiveable model after five years of teaching ninth- and 10th-grade history in Oakland, California. She had left teaching and moved near family in Maine.
A few of her former students were frustrated by a lack of resources for their Advanced Placement U.S. History class, so she offered to help them prepare for the AP test via livestream. The experience showed her there was a greater need among students, and that being online meant she could connect with people anywhere.
Fiveable started bringing in more teachers who were experts in other subject areas such as psychology, English and biology. Later, the company added professional development for AP teachers, interviewing textbook writers and creating livestreams covering each part of an exam and how to structure class time around the subject.
“When it all started, I didn’t sit down and think about what kind of company to build,” DoAmaral said. “I just started helping the kids that were asking me for help and one thing led to another.”
The once four-person Fiveable team has grown to 16 full-time, part-time and contracted employees, some of which have been paid to uproot their lives and move to Milwaukee, DoAmaral said.
“Now that we have traction, resources, a team, and so many more creative minds thinking about this, we’ve really been able to see the bigger picture,” DoAmaral said. “AP feels like the first way that we can support students and open up access, but we start to get giddy when we think about other ways to do that too.”