Silicon Valley education start-up AltSchool has added five new executives to help take its software platform — built in eight private "lab schools" — to more schools.
"We're staffed to really support not just independent private schools like ourselves, but in the future, public schools where the majority of kids are educated," said AltSchool CEO Max Ventilla.
AltSchool has an ambitious plan to revolutionize education with its software platform, and to offer a more personalized learning experience. The company has raised $133 million in venture capital funding for research and development, and counts Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg among its backers.
The company has also drafted former Airbnb executive Laura Hughes Modi to run its services and operations. While a background at a consumer tech company might seem like an odd fit for an education startup, it actually makes a lot of sense, said Modi.
"My role here is to take a lot of those learnings that I had at Airbnb where it was about transforming an archaic system that really needed a revamp — for there it was travel and here it's education," said Modi, now AltSchool's vice president of operations and services.
AltSchool will have to offer a lot of hands-on training and spend a lot of time onsite working directly with educators to help them get onto the platform, she said.
AltSchool's platform comprises of two key products. Educators log into "Portrait" for a dynamic picture of each child's progress and history, both academic and non-academic. Students log into their "Playlist" to complete a customized set of assignments, submit work and communicate with teachers.
The start-up will begin working with four private partner schools in the fall, then partner with up to 10 schools, including at least one charter school, the following year. In the fall of 2019, Ventilla hopes to add a number of public schools as partners, he said. AltSchool looks for schools that could benefit from its model, but also help develop its platform, he said.
Ventilla would not share specifics on pricing, which differs from school to school depending on their needs. As the company gets ready to really scale the platform over the next two years figuring out pricing will be "one of the most important things we can do," he said.
The average spending per student in the U.S. on technology and content is around $250, he said.
"We would expect to fit around that envelope and as you scale to not just provide a huge amount of value but be priced so schools can afford buying the platform relative to the savings that they can get elsewhere," said Ventilla.
"You can't just provide something really really amazing that no schools can afford outside of a tiny fraction — that's not going to serve anybody," he added.
AltSchool's technologists work with schools to customize the software for different curricula and the price decreases with the size of the deployment. Its software runs on a variety of classroom devices including Google's Chromebooks, Apple's iPads and Android tablets, said Ventilla.
"That rise and spread of high performance, lower and lower cost devices and connectivity, that makes it possible to do the things we do," said Ventilla. "Five years ago it would have been very hard to imagine how you could scale to a number a schools the kind of offering we hope to provide."