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LearnBoost’s experience raising a seed round

Rafael // July 28th 2010 // ,

Getting LearnBoost started

What if a strong technical and product team went into enterprise software for education? Perhaps more importantly: what if disruptive ideas enabled by the internet, like a freemium business model, were applied to this space? These ideas made us think that LearnBoost could exist. But we wanted to stress test each thesis we had and so we turned to Steve Blank’s book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” as a guide to prove out our thoughts.

We’re a team that is influenced by customer development. True to form, each of us interviewed a wide variety of teachers, schools, administrators, and people tangentially related to education. We heard very consistent answers to our questions, and our customer development techniques validated the ideas we had about how to develop a free and significantly better administrative software for teachers to use, and then eventually for all schools to use.

These discussions also influenced our thinking. We were able to iterate incredibly quickly because at that point all we had were ideas. This was important, because we hadn’t started building and so we weren’t locked into anything.

We found an “anchor tenant”

We know that getting funding is just like getting the chance to take a big at-bat in baseball. That’s awesome but it doesn’t mean anything unless we make solid contact (ideally a home run!)

Fast forwarding a bit in the story, we decided to test the fundraising waters. One meeting led to another and soon we had a lot of meetings with VC firms and micro cap VC’s. We batched all of our meetings closely together and out of that came our first funding commitment, which was Bessemer. Getting them on board was huge, because they have an amazing track record of success and their vote of confidence transferred early credibility to LearnBoost. They became our anchor tenant and we started looking for more commits.

Boom! We got “Venture Hacked”

One way to drive significant interest in your startup is applying to VentureHacks’ Angel List and getting through to all of those investors. We made it through the filter and had the option of going out to all the angels on the list, or just to a select few. We went with the “all the angels” option and then followed up with custom intros for the people we were really interested in. Aside from forcing you to really break your pitch down into a micro-format, getting all of these intros at once really gets the ball moving on your financing.

Our pitch went out on a Friday afternoon, and we still had a bunch of responses from going out to the whole list. The custom intros got an even higher response rate. And ultimately, by getting through the filter that is Nivi and Naval, we were able to meet with several more angels that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Our first commit through Angel List was George Zachary at CRV — after he joined our round, he really lit it up with several introductions to other angels. Some of these angels included Othman Laraki, Bill Lee, and James Hong (who are all on Angel List) and after pitching each of them they also joined our round. We had also requested an introduction through Angel List to Jeff Fagnan from Atlas, given his firm’s recent investment in Grockit, and he ended up investing in LearnBoost as well. Ultimately, Angel List led to a big chunk of our financing and catalyzed our round with minimal effort.

Nivi and Naval were both available to give me valuable advice as we went through our fundraise and they provided first-looks at much of the content you now see on VentureHacks. Looking back on it, going to Angel List was one of the best things we did when raising LearnBoost’s seed round.

It’s a party round! (More angels invest in LearnBoost)

With the pedigree of our investors at that point, the rest of the round came together quickly. We hit our minimum number so then we raised how much we were going to take. Once we hit our internal figure, we set a date for our close. We were then surprised to have another commit sneak in before our close, and then an existing angel decided to double his commitment. Eventually, our close date came and we had hit the $975k figure you see.

But we made sure to do all of this while also developing our technology and our product (if you’ve ever tried to do all of these things at once, you know this is just loco). We knew we had to keep moving quickly, and one thing that actually helped our raise were the open source releases we made during our fundraise process. We released Socket.io and Mongoose on LearnBoost’s GitHub account during our fundraise, and each release was very well received; in fact, those releases went so well that new investors continually reached out to us all the way up until our close.

We close the round, but keep quiet

We moved quickly with our product development after our close. We’ve spent the past few weeks developing LearnBoost’s initial product. We kept quiet until now because we wanted to make a splash right before releasing our product. And we also wanted to make sure we could work without distractions, so that we could release a free and amazing gradebook before the upcoming school year.

In early August, LearnBoost will release our free software to completely replace other gradebook providers, both free and paid. Our free accounts give teachers a gradebook to manage their classroom, as well as integrated software to create and manage lesson plans, track attendance in a list or innovative visual format, maintain schedules, import and integrate Google calendars, “tag” standards to assignments and lesson plans, and more.

If you are a teacher, or know a teacher, our beautiful and easy-to-use accounts are completely free — and since any teacher can use LearnBoost, please tell the teachers you know to get on our free account list.

Onwards and upwards

We’re now focused on adding to our initial teacher gradebook product while continuing to develop the best possible administrative software for schools. For the gradebook product, we’re aiming at several free and paid gradebook solutions. For our upcoming student information system, we’re aiming right at Blackboard, Pearson, and other slow legacy software providers. We ultimately believe that LearnBoost can provide schools with significantly better software while also saving schools a lot of money and time.

To everyone that helped get us this far, once again we want to say thank you — so many people generously helped us along the way. We hope to make you proud. Now we’re going to go try and make all of this a reality.

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Check out LearnBoost’s grade book, and sign up for a free account!