Clever launched out of Y Combinator in 2012 on a mission to help K-12 schools bring the latest education software into their classrooms. By giving districts a central way to manage student and teacher accounts in each learning application, and closely integrating those apps with their existing data systems, Clever saves developers from having to write one-off integrations for every school district that wants to use their product.
Through its simple APIs, Clever allows third-party developers to access the critical data that lives in Student Information Systems (SIS), the proprietary (and often legacy) data silos used by schools to house all of its student information. Because these databases typically vary from school to school and each institution has developed its own methods for transferring, analyzing and distributing the data within, developers have to manually integrate their applications with each unique SIS, which tends to be a slow and time-intensive process.
Clever’s APIs attempt to standardize the process by which student data is transferred, making it easier for developers to build better apps, while allowing schools to maintain control so that only the products that are approved by the school itself can access student data. Clever’s unique approach to the nagging data transfer and security problems that have plagued K-12 education for years quickly gained favor among schools. By the fall of 2012, over 2,000 institutions had adopted its platform to integrate their software.
Allowing schools to access its platform for free, while charging developers a small fee for access to its APIs, Clever has been generating revenue from the get-go, putting it in relatively lonely company among fellow EdTech startups. With growing adoption and a steady stream of revenue, Clever landed $3 million in seed funding shortly thereafter, raising its funds from an impressive roster of investors that included SV Angel, Mike Maples of Floodgate, SoftTech VC’s Jeff Clavier, Kevin Rose, Bessemer Venture Partners, Mitch Kapor and Ashton Kutcher.
Today, Clever’s upward momentum has continued apace and is now one of the few startups that can claim to reach over 18,000 K-12 schools and serve more than 7 million students and 750,000 teachers. Clever co-founder and CEO Tyler Bosmeny tells us that its roster of institutional customers now includes nine of the nation’s 12 largest school districts and that, on the flip side, the startup’s APIs are now being used by over 100 education developers. Furthermore, the startup’s list of supporting vendors now counts many of the largest players in the field, including Amplify, Imagine Learning, Khan Academy and Google.
While admitting that it may sound like the typical founder spin, Bosmeny said that the company has been “amazed at the speed that schools and vendors” have been adopting its technology. The demand among schools for a secure way to unlock student data from Student Information Systems and provide access to a curated list of developers continues to grow, spurred on by the increasing number of quality technology products and applications flowing into education.
Google’s quietly expanding presence in the education technology market is just one of a growing number of recent examples. The market is growing like gangbusters as demand increases among schools and has become a major driver of Clever’s adoption, which the founder says quickly surpassed even the company’s “wildest growth projections.”
In recent months, Clever has been looking to capitalize on its upward trajectory and accelerate into the next stage, turning back to the capital watering hole for support. In December, we were first to report on the rumors that Clever had taken on a second investment to do so, as part of a sizable $10 million Series A round raised from a firm that doesn’t often make bets in education.
Today, the startup officially confirmed its winter financing, which Bosmeny tells us came to $10.4 million in total, with Sequoia Capital leading the round, along with participation from individual investors like Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, new Y Combinator President Sam Altman and GSV Advisors’ Deborah Quazzo. As a result of the new financing, Sequoia Partner Bryan Schreier is joining the startup’s board of directors.
On his firm’s motivation for investing in Clever, Schreier said that it is “the fastest growing EdTech company” the firm has seen to date, and that the startup is on the path to becoming the next big education platform.
While education has long had a reputation for being slower to adopt technology than other, similarly sized industries, Bosmeny sees a tidal wave of new software and services beginning to enter the classroom. As more and more districts add wireless and broadband access for their schools, the education technology market looks ready to move beyond its initial focus on infrastructure. Schools are beginning to figure out how to blend this new generation of software tools with classroom instruction in a way that could eventually transform the ways in which students learn.
Clever, for its part, is hoping to make this transition more seamless. Using its technology, a vendor offering a SaaS-style gradebook would be able to use the startup’s APIs to automatically populate its product with student rosters at a chosen school, removing the need for teachers to manually enter that data into their gradebook. Administrators and school officials don’t have to push individual updates to their systems when students change classes, for example, potentially enabling institutions to run tests on new EdTech products to get a better sense of whether or not they’ll actually be able to help improve outcomes.
So, while digital learning’s ability to re-think the educational paradigm has often been more promise than reality, the technical challenges roiling behind scenes that inhibited adoption are beginning to disappear. Clever has been able to help, Bosmeny says, by trying to reimagine the entire process schools go through to implement and manage their learning software. Next, the company wants to make its solution ubiquitous, and in a market where network effects carry weight, that might not be such a pipe dream after all.