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The COVID-19 pandemic has led a surge in virtual learning, with some schools going (and staying) remote and others using far greater online components to help communities maintain more social distance. As a result, the use of tools to help home learners complete their work better has increased, and one of them is announcing a growth round today that speaks to the market opportunity.
Brainly, a Polish startup that has established a popular network for students and their parents to connect for advise and help with homework questions, has raised $80 million in a series D round that will be used to expand in major growing markets such as Indonesia and Brazil. The announcements comes on the heel’s of the company’s rapid expansion, with its user base increasing from 150 million in 2019 to 350 million now.
Learn Capital is leading the round, with prior backers Prosus Ventures, Runa Capital, MantaRay, and General Catalyst Partners also participating. The company has now raised $150 million, and while the valuation has not been disclosed, CEO and co-founder Micha Borkowski said that it is “absolutely” an up round. PitchBook estimates thats the company was valued at $180 million in its most recent financing, a $30 million Series C in 2019.
That C round was particularly raised to help Brainly expand in the United States. It presently has around 30 million users in that market, and it is the only one where Brainly is making money. Brainly is presently free to use wherever else. (There are some tough competitors in the United States, such as Chegg, which has great traction in the market of assisting students with homework, with 74 percent of Chegg’s user spend concentrated in that one country.
In a statement, Vinit Sukhija, partner at Learn Capital, said, “Brainly has become one of the world’s largest learning communities, generating tremendous organic growth in over 35 countries.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students — primarily those between the ages of 13 and 19, according to Borkowski — were using Brainly to connect with people who could help them with homework when they were stuck on a math problem or trying to understand the sequence of events that led to the 1848 revolutions. The platform is open-ended, similar to Quora for homework, in that users can search for and answer questions they’re interested in, as well as ask their own.
With the change to virtual learning, however, that platform gained a whole new level of significance, according to Borkowski.
“Online education was not a large investment area [pre-COVID] in the Western world,” he added. “That has changed a lot, with huge uptake by students, parents, and teachers.” “However, the major move from offline to online has left kids floundering since teachers have so much more work to accomplish that they are unable to interact in the same way.”
As a result, “homework” has effectively become “all work,” resulting in a greater requirement for assistance with home studies than ever before. While many parents have attempted to compensate by becoming more active, “having parents as teachers has proven difficult,” he added. They may have been taught in a different way than their children, or they may not recall or know the answers.
With the pandemic, Brainly noticed that more parents began using the app with students, either to work out answers together or to seek help before assisting their kids, with a lot of these coming from parents of kids under the age of 13. Parents currently account for 15-20% of all new registrations, according to him.
Up until now, Brainly’s main focus has been on how to expand its tools for the students — and now parents — who use it, and on organic growth for those groups.
However, there is clearly room to expand this to include more educational stakeholders in order to better organise the types of questions that are answered and how they are answered. Borkowski confirmed that the company has been approached by educators, curriculum developers, and others who want answers that are more aligned with the types of questions they are most likely to ask students, but that the company “wants to keep the focus on students and parents getting stuck” for the time being.
Brainly is considering ways to incorporate additional tutoring, video, and artificial intelligence into future products. The AI part is intriguing, and it will, in fact, tie in to a broader curricular covering based on more regional needs.
If you ask for help with a specific type of quadratic equation technique, for example, you might be served a slew of similar practise questions to help you remember and apply what you’ve just learned, and you might even be directed to related topics that will appear alongside it in a larger mathematics exam. You may also be givens the opportunity to meet with a tutor for additional help.
He claims that Brainly has been quietly testing tutoring and has completed over 150,000 sessions to date. Borkowski explained that having such a big user base allows the firm to run services at scale while yet keeping them in test mode.
“It will be abouts looking at what students are studying and figuring out how to map that to the national curriculum, as well as what we can do to help.” Borkowski remarked. “However, it will require a big lift and machine learning to pinpoint students” for it to work well, he added, which is one reason it hasn’t been rolled out more widely.
Brainly is continuously developing new offerings in a variety of areas, including tutoring and further personalisation.
In addition, the company is making more room for video demonstrations of various procedures (which I suspect is especially good for something like mathematics, but equally helpful for, say, an art technique). This is apparently due in part to a 2018 acquisition by the startup to add more video tools, which highlights how purposeful Brainly’s expansion plan has been in some ways.
“Thousands each week” are already being added, but, like with tutoring, “that, for us, is a testing stage,” Borkowski added. In the first quarter, he expects to hear more about new items.