It’s midnight before your final exam and you need help. Do you know where your tutor is? InstaEDU, says a $1.1 million seed round from former Facebooker Chamath Palihapitiya’s fund The Social+Capital Partnership and several angels. Stumped high school and college students pay InstaEDU by the minute to video chat with tutors from top universities at any hour of the day. InstaEDU will use the seed to grow its team and build critical features like advanced scheduling.
Co-founder Alison Johnston was the community manager of on-demand Q&A service Aardvark which was acquired by Google. With plenty of students and their parents happy to pay to get into a great school or job, now she’s bringing the same satisfaction of instant answers to the lucrative tutoring space. In fact, 55% of student-tutor matches are made in under a minute and TechCrunch readers can get a free trial of InstaEDU at the end of this article.
After leaving Google post-Aardvark acquisition, Stanford graduate Alison and her brother Dan Johnston started an in-person tutoring company and later integrated a chat feature for scheduling sessions. But they were constantly getting messaged late at night by clients who needed emergency assistance on homework, SAT prep, projects, or studying for an exam in the morning.
So the two and Joey Shurtleff (VP of engineering) to build InstaEDU, where hired tutors from schools like Stanford, Harvard, and MIT list their expertise and Facebook or Google Chat contact info. Needy students enter what subject they’re having trouble with, InstaEDU pings appropriate tutors who are online, and connects the two over video chat until a student’s problems are solved.
The $1.1 million could make InstaEDU even more personal, funding development of a matching engine that could pair students with tutors who have similar interests. If you’re a struggling high school football player, you might be a lot more receptive to American History assistance from a former Stanford football player. Competitor DoesThatMakeSense.com offers on-demand study assistance, but I see its “upload you question, bid on a nerd to answer, wait for a response” as clunky and prone to misunderstandings since there’s no live connection between tutors and students.
The Social+Capital Partnership focuses on healthcare, financial services, and education, so InstaEDU is a smart choice for investment, and general partner Mamoon Hamid will be joining its board of directors. Angels in the seed round include Box co-founder and CFO Dylan Smith, Saba co-founder Bobby Yazdani, HP executive VP Todd Bradley, and August Capital co-founder and general partner John Johnston who happens to be the uncle of InstaEDU co-founders Alison and Dan. [Update: Here’s InstaEDU’s blog post on the funding.]
With a competitive job and school admission market, some students and their families will do whatever it takes to get the advantage. But popular and expensive in-person tutoring and test prep is useless when you’re baffled by a problem at 3am, or need a clarification 30 minutes before exam time. There’s been an explosion of automated learning resources like Codecademy, Khan Academy, and CourseHero, but there’s a huge hole on the human side.
A great tutor can quickly explain what might take hours of digging through books, websites and video to learn. That concept holds true well beyond high school and college, and its why InstaEDU has so much potential. Imagine what people would pay for a last-minute brush-up on economic theory and Excel before their finance job interview? Quora’s the knowledge base, but InstaEDU could become the knowledge marketplace.
TechCrunch readers can get a 15-minute free trial of InstaEDU here