Fiveable makes first acquisition: A virtual study tool built by a 16-year-old

Building for students sometimes means acquiring some of their tech, too

Fiveable, an online learning community for high school students, made its first-ever acquisition earlier this week: Hours, a virtual study platform built by a 16-year-old. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fiveable is a free, online learning community for high school students with the focus of helping them pass Advanced Placement (AP) exams. It livestreams 5-hour “cram shops” focused on a specific subject, creates study guides and manages a Discord with thousands of students.

“Students have Discord servers, they have subreddits, they have group chats and it’s happening informally on some of these different platforms,” founder Amanda DoAmaral said in March. “But we need a central place where social learning happens, where students get support, where they can find each other, where they can build toward their goals.”

She estimates that half a million students use Fiveable on a monthly basis — and it’s just so fitting that her company’s first acquisition came from paying attention to those same users.

She noticed students within the Fiveable community were using Hours a few months ago to host group study sessions. Hours allows students to create study sessions where each person has a task list and shared timer and playlist, which she describes as “a multiplayer experience“ that can increase motivation and accountability. There’s also a single-player experience version where students can pick “focus mode” and remove chat and highlight task lists.

Task display. Image Credits: Hours

Put simply, Fiveable will be able to expand its community feel from an active Discord to a study-specific tool. In its six months as a product, Hours has been used by more than 17,000 students from schools including Stanford University, MIT, NYU and over 120 countries.

“The experience of studying in Discord text or audio chats is similar to the Hours multiplayer mode, but there isn’t a way in Discord to keep track of tasks or see everyone’s progress,” she said. “Hours is a better experience because it allows more flexibility within the group version of a study session and has the ability for students to study solo,” she said.

The startup decided to buy the platform rather than try to build the technology itself for two reasons: Students already love the product and it was built by a “very impressive 16-year-old,” Calix Huang.

Huang, a high school junior in the Bay Area with previous tech acquisitions and startups under his belt, founded Hours in October 2020 in response to the siloed experience of studying during a pandemic. As part of Fiveable’s acquisition, Huang will join its team as a lead product manager to work on Hours part time.

“Calix will be a senior next year, so he will come on part time until he graduates. Then he’ll have big decisions like the rest of his peers about what he will do next, which includes an offer to come on full time,” DoAmaral said. Employing young talent isn’t new for the startup: Over 118 paid students work on Fiveable staff right now across all teams, from social to product to content. Every student works 5-10 hours per week as a part-time job and Fiveable pays them $15-$23 per hour.

Fiveable plans to keep Hours as a free service along with its guides, trivia and Discord. The company makes money in two ways right now: $25 for a cram-pass or $5 for live events, such as a 5-hour review the night before an exam. The startup has raised more than $4.2 million in known venture capital to date, from investors including BBG Ventures, Chelsea Clinton’s Metrodora Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Cream City Venture Capital, Spero Ventures and, most recently, Tennis legend Serena Williams. 

Update 5/13/2021: This story has been updated to include funding information that is up to date.