Success in Silicon Valley for British start-up

It's no wonder if Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don are feeling a little dazed. Having formed their company in June last year, they moved to Silicon Valley in July, launched their product in August and in September they were picked out by broadcaster NBC as one of the education technology start-ups to watch. To cap it all teachers in the US voted ClassDojo the best education start-up last year.

ClassDojo is a tool that helps teachers and parents improve kids' behaviour in the classroom using an electronic whiteboard, enabling teachers to award and record points, achievements and rewards for behaviour and performance in class. The information is then shared with parents.

The start-up has experienced staggering growth since launching; the number of teacher users is up by 245% and student users by 890%, quarter on quarter. Already ClassDojo is being used in 30 countries across the world.

At the heart of ClassDojo is the idea that there are two parts to education; one concerned with building academic achievements, the other about building good people, which according to Chaudhary and Don is not getting enough attention. "It is all to do with this other half of education, which builds confidence and character strength," says Chaudhary. "That includes competencies like team work, leadership and integrity and these things are really important but we don't focus on them enough."

What makes their achievements more remarkable is that this time last year they didn't even know each other. Soon after meeting at a start-up weekend in Cambridge they decided to build a business together. Things moved swiftly for them as they applied to join the Silicon Valley start-up incubator ImagineK12 and were granted $20,000 in early stage funding - two weeks after they upped sticks and moved to Palo Alto to begin work on the business.

"It all happened so fast," says Don. "ImagineK12 gave us funding on the condition that we moved to California within two weeks, so we had a short time for me to quit my PHD, Sam to quit his job, sort out our apartments and turn up in California."

Key for the pair was to make a noticeable impact with their business. "It was important for us to find a real problem to solve, so we asked the people who have the problems before we even started - the teachers we spoke to said the biggest issue for them was behaviour management. They said it was so difficult to teach when the entire class was disruptive," says Chaudhary.

Both of them have a background in education sector; Chaudhary studied qualitative economics at Cambridge before he turned down a PHD place to go and teach in a secondary school. Don, on the other hand had worked in the games industry but had decided to pursue a different path - by the time he met Sam he had just commenced a PHD in education technology, but still wasn't convinced it was right for him. "By the time I met Sam I was ready to leave and do something that would allow me to have more impact faster," he says.

They both think that their first-hand experience of the education sector has helped to make their business a success. "The best start-ups come out of people solving problems for themselves," says Chaudhary. "The fact that I had teaching experience and Liam had experience in education technology meant that we understood the problems a lot better."

The pair is still based in their one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, which doubles up as an office. "It has been an amazing experience. We have worked really intensively on the product and at one point we were so busy, we'd wake up and just forget to eat - we were so focused on listening to what teachers wanted," says Don.

But despite the fun, they concede that it has been a rollercoaster ride launching without their usual support network around them. "Start-ups are hard and doing it so far from home has not always been easy. We'd wake up one day full of optimism and the next we'd be terrified that we were making the biggest mistake of our lives," he explains.

They may not have planned to build and launch the businsess across the Atlantic but both believe the Californian investment scene is more open to tech start-ups. "In Silicon Valley, the entire ecosystem is set up to help technology companies launch and there is more seed funding available - people are willing to fund at an earlier stage and maybe support slightly riskier ideas," says Chaudhary.

Having recently secured a large round of seed funding from investors and with a seemingly endless market to exhaust globally, don't be surprised if ClassDojo grows even faster over the next few years. That's certainly the plan for the founders.

"It is a huge market and traditionally it is a difficult one to go after, so many start-ups have been hesitant in going into it, says Chaudhary. "This is changing now as people have realised they can go straight to teachers and solve a problem for them and try to grow the business that way - that is the strategy we are pursuing."

To find out more about ClassDojo click here, www.classdojo.com

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