Internet penetration and social media usage are on the rise in every corner of the globe, but few can hold a candle to the level of adoption one finds in Brazil. According to the Internet Telecommunication Union, the UN’s specialized agency for information and communications technology, the percentage of people using the Internet in Brazil skyrocketed from 9 percent in 2002 to nearly 50 percent in 2012. What’s more, with over 60 million Facebook users, Brazil is now the third largest market for the social network outside of the U.S. and India.
Thanks to its high level of Internet usage and the growing popularity of social media, Brazil is undergoing a digital transformation, which brings with it a number of promising opportunities. While the growth of eCommerce in Brazil gets most of the attention, Descomplica is one of a growing number of local startups that sees big potential in Brazil’s rapidly changing educational landscape.
Thanks to its decentralized educational framework, Descomplica thinks that Brazil can not only serve as a sort of natural testing ground for educational innovation (and policy), but is primed for a true, online classroom. Launched in March of 2011, Descomplica has been on a mission to become the go-to, full-service online classroom for Brazil.
To do so, the company decided to start with the high school market, developing a content library and set of tools that aim to help students better prepare for university entrance exams and improve their test scores. Since then, Descomplica’s primary focus has been content, or said another way, on building out an extensive library of test prep materials and study guides and offering students as many ways to consume that material as possible.
While this has mainly taken the shape of online video content — as co-founder Marco Fisbhen tells us that more than three million students used Descomplica last year and more than 500K watched its live, broadcasted online lessons — the startup has been keen to diversify. To cater to the growing mobile adoption among Brazilian teens, Descomplica offers SMS-based study tools as well, and is working with “three of the four big mobile phone carriers in Brazil,” the founder says. More than 200K students are now using the startup’s SMS-based mobile education services, he added.
This effort to provide full coverage for all the ways in which Brazilian students consume content led the company to develop a DVD collection for its content library, which ended up selling “hundreds of thousands of copies,” Fisbhen says. And, up to this point, all product decisions have been made in service of reducing the iniquity that they believe has come to define the Brazilian learning market. (Particularly, what Fisbhen describes as the astronomical price of quality tutoring services, which are really the only ones that provide any real value.)
With millions of students now using its online tutoring and learning resources, and having built a solid foundation through its content library which now includes over 6,000 videos (with plans to hit 10K by the end of the year), Descomplica is ready to take on a new round of capital to begin Phase Two. While the focus of Phase One was content and building its infrastructure, the thrust of Phase Two will be technology and distribution, the Descomplica founder says.
To help it invest in technological improvements, like refining the tools it uses to personalize its content, and to help not only build out a new recommendation system, but develop native apps and a real mobile platform, Descomplica has raised $5 million in Series B financing led by The Social+Capital Partnership.
The startup’s existing investors, like Peter Thiel’s international investment vehicle, Valar Ventures, Valor Capital Group and 500 Startups, also contributed to the round, along with a number of angel investors. In fact, these angels invested in Descomplica through an AngelList syndicate that the founder says is the first on AngelList to make an international investment and included investors like the platform’s own Naval Ravikant, as well as Eric Ries and David Sacks, among others.
As part of the new round, which brings the startup’s total funding to just over $7 million, Social+Capital Partner Brigette Lau will be joining Descomplica’s board of directors.
The key to Descomplica’s value proposition both now, and in the future, is that it takes a truly student-centric approach to both its product development strategy, and the philosophy of the business itself. This, reiterates Colingo co-founder and Descomplica investor Lee Jacobs, is what sets Descomplica apart from other players in the Latin American education market. And that’s reflected in the platform’s engagement rates, he says.
The keys to that, at least during “Phase One,” has been the development of a learning platform that goes beyond simply offering pre-recorded video lessons. The platform offers live, streaming classes 7 days a week, as well as live tutoring that includes comments, feedback and grades on prep essays, along with quizzes and “real-time answers.”
As Fisbhen told us when we first spoke, to build a successful online education company in Brazil, “at the end of the day, it’s not the algorithms that matter,” he said, “but finding a compelling, adaptive way to deliver subject matter from Brazil’s top educators.” If Descomplica can find creative ways to follow through with this promise, it very well could become one of the Pied Pipers to help usher in a new era of online education in Brazil.