min. read
October 14, 2020

Fiveable backed by top-tier seed investors to reimagine social learning for high school students

Fiveable backed by top-tier seed investors to reimagine social learning for high school students

Today, we announced our latest round of funding of $2.3 million led by BBG Ventures with participation from new investors including Metrodora Ventures (Chelsea Clinton's fund), Matchstick Ventures, Spero Ventures, and prominent edtech angel Deborah Quazzo. The round also included follow-on investments from Cream City Ventures, 27V, Golden Angels, and SoGal. This is a big moment for Fiveable and we're so excited to work with investors who share our student-first vision for social learning. But more importantly, we are a team of 15 passionate, creative innovators who are ready to build the future students deserve.

Students feel at home #withfiveable because we celebrate who they are while creating space for them to be curious and supportive with their peers.

Live footage of the Fiveable team taking a family photo

🤘🏽 what a year

It's been a truly WILD year for, well, everyone. Back in early 2018, when Fiveable was a one-woman show, I never could have imagined the world I was actually building for. I've spent the last decade in education and like any young teacher, dreamed of innovation within my bureaucratic school district. I fought hard for access to technology, equitable policies, and new apps that would engage my students.But one of the hallmarks of burnout is to be so passionate about something that you are unable to change.I had full reign of my classroom and the luxury to innovate, but I couldn't seem to scale my success across the district or even the school. Now it feels like I was a teacher in a different era.As COVID hit in March, every school had to be innovative. Long-standing policies melted away, teachers adopted tech, and for the first time, remote learning was the norm. Just weeks before schools closed, the Fiveable team had announced our pre-seed funding as well as a student-first approach to growth. We sailed into 2020 with a roadmap to bring more content to more students.But in the last 7 months, everything about the education space has changed and we have found ourselves in the middle of a massive shift in education.

⚡ a lightning strike moment for edtech

In April and May combined, just over 1 million students studied for their AP exams #withFiveable, which was more than 6x the previous year.

Students were completely overwhelmed with school closures, teachers scrambling to adopt new technologies, and the College Board shifting the exam online for the first time.As soon as the AP exams were over, the Fiveable team spent a full month analyzing the data and talking to hundreds of students to better understand their challenges and how Fiveable could innovate for the post-COVID world we were all coming to terms with. Students were screaming out for help and they felt like no one was listening. 😱 They were overwhelmed by the clash of traditional college admission requirements and a rapidly changing landscape.And they felt completely alone. Here's a snapshot of what we heard:

  • Many students had been effectively ghosted by their teachers and had to teach themselves.
  • They felt unmotivated to get through the material on their own.
  • Students were frustrated by a lack of transparency from College Board
  • Most did not see SATs as "optional" because as long as scores were accepted, it could help their chance of admission.
  • Online AP exams had not gone smoothly and students were unsure if their scores would count.

There was an overwhelming feeling of isolation as their extracurriculars were canceled and they were unable to connect with other students.

Since the early days at Fiveable, live streams were always our centerpiece because they combined content and community. We could review the concepts of a course while also building confidence and connections between students. And the students we talked to cited this magic as what led to their passing scores.The content was helpful, but the community was the secret sauce.

🤝 social learning for a new era

As we really leaned into student voices, it became clear how we would build the future of learning. It had to be community-based and social. This is what gen-z students have come to expect, but edtech platforms are often not built for students.🙄 But we do things differently around here.Everything comes from a student-first lens and that starts with bringing students into the process. We first set out to hire ~20 student interns to support content creation and product development, but as 1200+ applications poured in, we started to rethink our strategy. 20 students were still hired as paid interns, but everyone else was invited to participate in our Founding Member program.Over 800 students signed up and throughout the summer we ran focus groups, design forums, team challenges to develop new features or marketing campaigns, and tons of user research. And, best of all, the students were inside a Slack workspace that operated as our alpha.With 800+ students in Slack channels, we observed how they interacted, what groups they formed, how often they chatted, and what norms were established. This was the blueprint for our revamped product, which would be built intentionally by students, for students. The main new features include communities for students to connect and ask questions, group chats for study groups to share tips and resources, and a consistent social thread running through all of our content. Tutoring is unrealistic and unnecessary for many day-to-day questions, but peer support is key. You just need to find that one friend who will point you in the right direction.Today, the waitlist for the new community is now open: https://5able.me/community

With an inclusive and interactive space, student communities can democratize education. It doesn't matter where you live or what resources your school has (or doesn't have). In a space where students can connect directly with each other, they can build communities around any affinity and those relationships translate to academic support.

🔓 democratized access to ap exams

Beyond our new community platform, we're also creating more accessibility for students through online AP courses. There's a fascinating loophole in AP exams that many students have taken advantage of, but many more should. You don't have to take an AP class at school or even have it on your transcript in order to take the exam.With the exception of four portfolio exams, the other 34 exams can be taken just by signing up and self-studying. 🙌 That's huge.Most schools that have AP classes at all only teach 5-10 subjects, but there are 38 in total! It's challenging for a school to hire qualified teachers for every subject, especially in rural areas, and smaller schools rarely have enough enrollment to offer them all. If just one kid wants to take it, the school can't afford to teach the class.With the help of a dedicated group of students, we completely reimagined an online course experience. Spring 2021 enrollment is now open!

Online courses that are asynchronous are not engaging and students leave videos unwatched. Meanwhile, live courses are expensive! We found some organizations charging more than $800 for an online AP course. At that rate, students may as well just buy the college credits from a community college.💸 As former teachers that have spent the last few years working remotely, we created a new version of remote learning that mirrors the collaborative hybrid approach that most companies use.Fiveable's AP Courses provide weekly live interaction with an amazing teacher, but also provide students opportunities to work collaboratively on projects or independently with other resources.

sample week for ap hug

💡 the future is bright

While we are celebrating our journey today, we're also incredibly excited about what lies ahead. Despite working our butts 🍑 off for the last three years, it still feels like our story is just beginning.Throughout this semester, we'll be opening our community space for a closed beta as we work through the product design and functionality. It's important to us that while we bring students together to have fun and learn some things, we're also creating a safe space for them that's inclusive and supportive.We're also gearing up to teach every single AP subject next spring and partnering with a few great organizations to create even more access for students across the country. Courses, along with cram sessions, are an opportunity for all students to experience remote learning the way it should be.Beyond this spring, we'll be expanding outside of APs and creating opportunities for students to prepare for paths that lead them to college as well as options outside of traditional universities. The future is bright for education and we'd love to build it with you.We're hiring now for several full-time positions!

And we have a number of part-time positions for teachers:

You can also email us at hi@fiveable.me to pitch us on any other job opportunity you think would help us on our mission. We want to work with people who are creative and even if we haven't yet outlined a job description, there's plenty to do! Let us know how you can help.