Massive open online courses (MOOCs) that instruct tens of thousands of students at once may get the lion’s share of attention in online learning these days. But San Francisco-based InstaEDU is gaining traction with a far more intimate approach: teaching students one at a time.
The online tutoring startup launched in public beta last May and, on Wednesday, said it was coming out beta with an additional $4 million in the bank. The Series A round, which follows $1.1 million previously raised, was led by Battery Ventures and includes current investor The Social+Capital Partnership. As part of the deal, Battery Ventures’ Brian O’Malley will join InstaEDU’s board.
With more than 3,000 screened tutors (mostly college students), the startup provides high school, college and adult students 24/7 on-demand or scheduled tutoring sessions that can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as 4 hours. Students can choose from three subscription plans that start at $9 a week for 15 minutes of weekly tutoring. Then, they can go online anytime to find a tutor who matches their immediate needs or schedule regular meetings with an ongoing tutor.
In beta, the startup was still testing several features and providing basic services; now, it offers a complete version of the core product and is “putting on the polish,” said co-founder and CEO Allison Johnston Rue. With the additional cash, she added, the company plans to focus on expanding its team, building for new platforms (particularly mobile) and reaching new customers.
Historically, private tutoring has required a big investment in cost and time. But video chats, web-based messaging, online whiteboard and other services are making it cheaper and more convenient. And that’s enabling InstaEDU, as well as other tutoring startups like StudyEdge, Tutorspree and Course Hero to attract students and investors.
“There’s a big shift. As more people get comfortable with online learning [in general], the perception is changing of what tutoring actually is,” said Johnston Rue.
The startup declined to share how many students regularly use the service but said its user base is growing 50 percent month-over-month. The company also said that 80 percent of the lessons on the site are for science and math (which Johnston Rue said is standard for the tutoring industry) and that its users are pretty evenly divided between high school and college students. About 45 percent of its students are in high school, with another 45 percent in college, and 10 percent are adult learners taking classes on Coursera, Codecademy or other online and offline programs.