Juni Learning wants to give every kid access to a quality education in computer programming.
The company, part of Y Combinator’s latest batch of startups, is taking the same approach that turned VIPKID into the largest Chinese employer in the U.S. and a runaway hit in the edtech market — by matching students with vetted and pre-qualified online tutors.
While VIPKID focused on teaching English, Juni wants to teach kids how to code.
So far, the company has taught thousands of kids around the world how to code in Scratch and Python and offered instruction in AP Computer Science A, competition programming and overall web development.
Founded by Vivian Shen and Ruby Lee, Juni Learning was born of the two women’s own frustrations in learning how to code. While both eventually made their way to the computer science department at Stanford (where the two friends first met), it was a long road to get there.
Lee (class of 2013) and Shen (class of 2014) both had to fight to get their computer educations off the ground. Although Shen grew up in Palo Alto, Calif. — arguably ground zero for technology development in the Western world — there was only one computer science class on offer at her high school.
For Lee, who grew up in Massachusetts outside of Boston, the high school she attended was a computer science wasteland… with nothing on offer.
“As public awareness of women gaining engineering roles, we started discussing how to make education more accessible,” says Shen. “I was traveling in China and started hearing about these amazing education companies [like VIPKID].”
Indeed, Cindy Mi, VIPKID chief executive, was an inspiration for both women. “I thought, why couldn’t a model like that bring great computer science education to the U.S.,” Shen says.
The company offers different plans starting with an individual tutoring session running about $250 per month. Customers also can sign up for group classes that are capped at $160 per month.
“When you think about computer science education — since it’s such an important subject for kids — why aren’t they getting the best education they can get?” Shen asks.
The prices were set up after feedback with customers and exists at what Shen said was a sweet spot. VIPKID classes cost around $30 per hour.
The company initially had a soft launch in late August and was just accepted into the recent batch of Y Combinator companies.
Juni Learning recruits its tutors from current and former computer science students at top-tier colleges — primarily in California.
The company charges $250 per month for once-a-week classes and pays its teachers an undisclosed amount based on their previous experience teaching computer science to children.
The company’s product couldn’t come at a better time to reach students in both the U.S. and international markets… like China.
As The Wall Street Journal notes, investing in coding could be the next big thing for Chinese investors in education technology.
“Coding is about the only course that has the potential to become as important as English for students and for the industry,” Zhang Lijun, a venture capitalist who backs Chinese edtech companies, told the WSJ. “But nobody knows when that’s going to happen.”
By using a model that’s already proven successful in China — and resonates with consumers in the U.S., Juni Learning may have gotten ahead of the curve.