After Squatting At AOL For 2 Months, Eric Simons Launches Claco, A Collaboration Network For Teachers

If you happened to pass through AOL’s offices in Palo Alto last November or December, you might have had your first run-in with the elusive creature “founder squatter.” Say what? Following in the grand boot-strapping, couch-surfing tradition, last winter, Eric Simons spent two months squatting at AOL’s office, sleeping on couches and pilfering Ramen noodles and other snacks left out for employees. He was hard at work building Class Connect, a platform on which teachers can post and share lesson plans.

Last year, Simons dropped out of school to work on Class Connect after being accepted into Imagine K12’s first cohort of startups. The education-focused startup accelerator also happens to share office space with AOL. So, after running out of the $20K provided by the accelerator, unable to pay his rent, Simons moved into AOL full-time, keeping clothes in the office and showering at the gym — until he was eventually discovered by a manager in December.

After moving out of AOL’s offices, Simons was able to raise some VC funding and is now happily renting a house in Palo Alto with his team. In March, the founder opened up ClassConnect in public beta and, opting for a clean slate, shortened his startup’s name to Claco. Over the subsequent 10 weeks, more than 16,000 teachers signed up to use Claco, along with 100K teachers and students.

The feedback received from those early adopters has since led Claco to change its focus, as the team discovered that teachers were less interested in focusing on how others were navigating their own curricula or to find new teaching tools, and instead, were eager to follow the activities of other teachers.

Today, Claco is officially launching to the world, opening its doors to all teachers. Simons said that the team will be vetting teacher applications, curating its user base early on with the focus on those who are ambitious and actual, certified teachers.

But what exactly is Claco? As an engineer, Simons likens Claco to a “GitHub for teachers,” a place where teachers can set up their own profiles and share what they’re up to professionally. On Claco, teachers can build, organize and share lesson plans (Claco supports a range of lesson content, like website links, embed codes, videos, etc.), along with searching through those posted by the community.

The idea is to make collaboration a key focus of the platform, enabling teachers to streamline the lesson-planning process and work together to share and enhance their own work, as well as the work of others. Like BetterLesson, Claco wants to simplify what has previously been a time-sucking process that consumed hundreds of hours each year.

It does this by allowing teachers to find lessons they’re interested in, snap them into their own lessons (without having to download them), and then organize them in one place on their Claco profiles. Pretty straightforward.

As to how the startup is differentiating from the rest, Simons says that the key is being able to use other teachers’ resources without downloading anything — and creating a collaborative, professional social network that allows users to quickly find other educators to collaborate with. On top of that, lessons aren’t just files, they’re also interactive websites and games, and include video content.

Claco has yet to settle on a business model, but Simons says he sees a lot of opportunity down the road for Claco to become a distribution network. If Claco can become a “teacher graph” and build a substantial user base, monetization opportunities will come, and we might see Claco make a move to integrate its network into Learning Management Systems (LMSes), like Blackboard and Instructure. Sharing, organizing and discovering lesson plans makes up the core of the Claco experience, but Simons says that he wants to see Claco profiles become activity streams — a place for teachers to share viral educational content and what could then produce some virality of its own.

For more on Claco, find it at home here.