UP068: Fiveable // live-streaming test prep for AP classes

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Amanda DoAmaral 0:00
Some former students reached out to me. They were taking A push, BP US history. I had them in 9th and 10th grade, and they were freaking out, like our teacher’s not supporting us, we haven’t written any essays, a lot of just like real, a lot of stress. And so they were like, you know, I know you’re not in Oakland, but can you help us. And so that’s when I started live streaming for just for them.

Jay Clouse 0:24
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them, and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to upside.

Eric Hornung 0:52
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Eric Hornung, and I’m accompanied by my co-host, Mr. New Desk himself, Jay Clouse. Jay, it is a wild and exciting time to be furniture of yours because it is new.

Jay Clouse 1:11
It is new. Wild and exciting time being furniture created by my dad. My dad is a carpenter, a former industrial arts teacher. But now that he’s retired, he likes to make furniture for his friends and especially family. And I decided it was time to do away with this shoddy old desk that I’ve had since I moved into this apartment and asked my dad to build something custom. And I am excited about it. It is both a seated and standing desk.

Eric Hornung 1:41
Wow.

Jay Clouse 1:41
But not the way you may expect. It is not hydraulic. It is completely made out of wood.

Eric Hornung 1:45
Okay, so help me understand that.

Jay Clouse 1:47
So the top of it has a compartment that has pressurized arms that I can lift up, and it expands upward.

Eric Hornung 1:57
Hmm. That’s pretty cool.

Jay Clouse 1:58
And I can push it back down. That’s also a drawer inside of those arms. So I’ve got a big drawer in the middle, I’ve got three drawers on the left hand side, I can sit, I can stand, I can affix my podcast microphone to it. It’s, it’s really something.

Eric Hornung 2:14
So are you going to be doing standing podcasts from now on?

Jay Clouse 2:17
That might actually happened? I haven’t tried it yet. But that’s not a bad idea.

Eric Hornung 2:22
I wonder if you’ll be a different host when you’re standing.

Jay Clouse 2:24
I feel like I might, I don’t know, maybe the energy will be higher. Maybe I’ll have more body movement. I kind of bounced when I talk anyway, I don’t know if you notice, but like, when I ask questions, I bounce a lot. And maybe when I’m standing that will be less. Or maybe I’ll be even more energetic. I don’t want to get further away from the microphone. That’s the, that’s the danger.

Eric Hornung 2:40
Right, and if you’re bouncing and then when you’re standing, that’s jumping. All of a sudden, you’re gonna be like, up and down away from microphone. We’re gonna get some varying Jay tones. One piece of furniture I do have that your dad made that I’ve seen is the, what would you you call it, a liquor cabinet? What would you call that?

Jay Clouse 2:56
Yeah, I’d call it a bar. It’s, it’s definitely I guess a liquor cabinet is probably a good way to put it. But it also has a wine rack, it can hold wine glasses. Yeah, he’s built, he built the bar. He built my bed platform that has giant drawers in it so I could replace my dresser. He is legitimately the best Craftsman that I’ve ever met.

Eric Hornung 3:16
Has he ever taught you how to do any of this stuff or have you just not learned?

Jay Clouse 3:19
Ah, that’s one of my greatest regrets growing up is that what he didn’t do was forced me to learn anything, because he was supportive of what I wanted to do. But I should have, I wish I was more interested as a kid to learn some of this, because I don’t know much of any of it, and now when we make things, I want to be more involved in it but living two hours away, like, I wanted this desk to be a project for both of us to work on together. But without traveling two hours I couldn’t be there to make it, I just kind of designed it and said this is what I’m thinking, and picked out the handles and the finish and all that.

Eric Hornung 3:55
And you don’t have like a workshop in your little tiny apartment there, so you can’t just like FaceTime hand and be like, teach me how to do this.

Jay Clouse 4:02
Yeah, I barely have a living room in my little tiny apartment here.

Eric Hornung 4:06
Well, it would be nice if you could livestream with your dad. But for today, maybe instead we will just talk about live streaming with our guest.

Jay Clouse 4:13
Today we are talking with another former teacher and current teacher, actually, Amanda DoAmaral. Amanda is the founder and CEO of Fiveable, which is a social learning platform that offers live, in depth group teaching and learning sessions after school for students and educators. Specifically, they focus on AP exam teaching right now, connecting students with teachers, teachers with students, and teachers with teachers through live streamed lessons, interactive discussions, and engaging communities.

Eric Hornung 4:42
You know, when studying for the CFA, we kind of go through this as well, where it’s a live stream once a week type thing for studying for the CFA just to make sure you’re on track. So I kind of have a little bit of first person insight into what something like this might look like.

Jay Clouse 4:57
I’m really interested to learn more about the live streaming component. I kind of live in the world of online education and specifically pre-recorded videos with the work that I do at LinkedIn Learning and on my own at Freelancing School. But I’ve never thought about live streaming as, like, the offering for online education. And it’s a different form factor. I think it would probably connect better with today’s young audience, Gen Z audience that Fiveable is probably approaching. So yeah, I’m excited to learn more about it. It was founded in 2018. They’re based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They’ve gone through the gener8tor accelerator, friends of the podcast gener9tor. So another look at Milwaukee, Eric.

Eric Hornung 5:33
What’s the generation after Gen Z called?

Jay Clouse 5:36
I think we start over back at A, or maybe we do double A.

Eric Hornung 5:38
Generation AA?

Jay Clouse 5:40
Mhmm.

Eric Hornung 5:40
All right. That’s what, that’s what we’ll run with until we’re corrected. So listeners, if you know what the generation after Gen Z is called, send us a Tweet @upsidefm Or if you have something a little longer based on this episode, you can send us an email at hello@upside.fm, and we’ll get to that interview right after this.

Jay Clouse 6:02
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Jay Clouse 7:02
Amanda, welcome to the show.

Amanda DoAmaral 7:04
Thanks, guys. Thanks for having me.

Eric Hornung 7:06
On upside, we like to start with a background of the guest. So can you tell us about the history of Amanda.

Amanda DoAmaral 7:11
history and Amanda? So let me go back. I was a teacher in Oakland. I made my way out to Oakland through Teach for America. And I was originally from Boston. And so as I started teaching in Oakland, I was like, super young and none of us really knew what we were doing, because, you know, TFA’s preparation is questionable. But man, it would be like, do everything we could for our students. And so I spent five years at Skyline High School in Oakland. And it was just like, completely life changing in a lot of ways. The decision that I made to leave my classroom was heartbreaking for me. It was mostly based on just like, I just couldn’t cut it anymore, like financially and mentally and physically. And so, I left the classroom went out travelled for a while, bought like a one way ticket and just kept going east until I got back, back home to where my parents, my mom lives in Maine. And then I worked on a political campaign for a little while in upstate New York. And this was all just like in the span of one year. And then it was at that point that I had some former students reaching out to me asking for help with AP classes. And so that brought me to start Fiveable. And so kind of went from Classroom Teacher to Nomad to campaign finance fellow, like making cold calls to screw it, I’m going to start a business, and I’m going to move back home and see what happens.

Eric Hornung 8:38
Did you always want to be a teacher growing up?

Amanda DoAmaral 8:40
Kind of. I mean, I feel like when I was in college, I switched to study education because I was originally studying like history and more of like liberal arts, and I figured maybe there’s some more practical thing I can get out of this, these four years. And I really liked, I had had a job as a camp counselor in high school that I just really liked going to. And so when I really thought about, like, what I what I want to do when I grew up, like, I just was like, I just want to enjoy going to work. Like that’s the biggest thing. And so switching into study education made a lot of sense. Even though I was studying it, I wasn’t sure that I was actually going to be a teacher. But the opportunity was there and, and I knew that I would like it, you know, and so I figured, let me just take the risk, and it was super scary at first. The biggest thing that was scary was just like, you know, you’re basically on stage every day for students. And that kind of like, just being on all the time was, took a lot. I had to build a lot of like confidence in myself to just like, own it and like really be a big part of it.

Jay Clouse 9:47
Can you talk about what preparation you wish you would have had going into TFA or what felt like it was lacking?

Amanda DoAmaral 9:56
Yeah, I it’s funny. I like, I studied education, and so I was in the like, you know, social studies education program at Boston University and we spent, I don’t know, all four years just like trash talking TFA. That’s just like what happens in education programs, because how could you learn in seven weeks what we’re learning in four years? And so there’s just this like, inherent, like, rivalry. And of course, the recruiter showed up senior year and I was like, I don’t want any part of this. And then I decided to take the meeting just to like kind of, just to give this woman a piece of my mind honestly. And then somehow I led myself down to like, Alright, maybe I’ll just apply, I’ll just see what happens. And then that kind of just kept going. And so when I finally got in, I just was like, let me go be like, uh, like behind enemy lines for a minute, like I did the traditional route. Let me see what this actually looks like before I decide that this is, this isn’t it. And what I think we learned the most–and I say ‘we’ because a lot of us, what I, what I didn’t anticipate is that everybody going was sort of questioning it, too, except for like a handful of people that had just been like, you know, chugging kool aid for years. Most of us realized that there’s too many factors at play. Teachers are generally not very good in their first year, because it’s a, it’s just really hard. It’s a lot of like, on the job, you know, practice that you need. And so, no matter, even for me, my four years at BU wasn’t super, like preparing me for what it actually felt like to be in the classroom of, you know, thirty 9th graders. It just like didn’t, there was disconnect, right? And so, for me, the things I learned the most were actually in my classroom, like it took me like, three, four years to actually feel like, Okay, I know what is expected of me. I know how to handle these situations. And so for TFA, it’s a two year program. They can’t really admit that teachers just aren’t super good in their first year. You know, you might show signs of being good, but this is not easy. Two years is just not enough to like, create good teachers. That’s my…You can create the like, I mean, there’s people that are just good at this because this is what they, I don’t know, out of two years, you can find out who’s going to be good in their third year. But two years, we all were just kind of young and just kind of hoping every day that we wouldn’t get laughed out.

Jay Clouse 12:27
You said the decision to leave the classroom was heartbreaking for you. Talk to us about what was, what your life was like then, why, why you were even considering leaving in the first place, and, and what that decision was like.

Amanda DoAmaral 12:39
So there was like a lot of factors in it. The way that I kind of was while we were teaching, it always felt like week to week, month to month, year to year just deciding, do I still want to do this. And the reason for that is because it, it put a lot of…it put a lot of stress on, on me. And I was like, in a lot of ways. Like I was dealing with my student loans, which I couldn’t reconsolidate because I didn’t make enough money to do that. I had like, credit card debt, you know, just like the usual, plus I was teaching in Oakland, where the cost of living is just like, outrageous. And so that was a big piece of it, is I just had to kind of ask myself, like, this is not like a financially good decision for me to stay. If I want to come back or if I want to get a teaching job, that’s fine, but like right now, I’m just like, getting a paycheck and pushing it all towards these other costs. And then there was the other layer of this, too, of, like, at my school in particular, things were kind of frustrating because there was always a lot of turnover with administration. And so teachers, like, were constantly working to figure out, you know, in like lead meetings or planning meetings, like how do we make this better? And it felt like every school year, we had to start over, you know? Like we would be in a room we would be like, putting initiatives together, but ultimately, like, every good thing that happened at the school was tied to the person that did it. And as soon as that person would leave, we would have to start over. And that made me feel like I was crazy. And so, that was another huge layer of it of, like, I can’t, I can’t commit to this anymore. Like, I feel like I’m just spinning in a wheel. And so, let me just like, let me just walk away and see what happens. And, and that was that was basically the biggest decision. And telling my students that that, like, the day that I like, told them was just like, it was the worst. It was just so like sad. They just, because they felt so much, you know, they felt it from so many other teachers, too. And so it just really sucked to have to do that to them.

Eric Hornung 14:44
How much time are you putting in outside of classes, like, building relationships with students?

Amanda DoAmaral 14:49
A lot. I mean, for me, it was funny because like one of the one of the first things that some of the kids said was like, Where am I going to eat lunch now, because in my classroom, like the door was always open, like the whole campus had lunch at the same time. And so I just use lunch as a time when, like, there’s no reason for me to like shut the door and have my own space, unless it was just like a day where I was like, leave me alone. But for the most part, before school, during lunch, in between classes, during class, like all of it was about relationship building. After school, I did some different things with the theater program, with softball. So like I tried to get involved in different ways. But I really built a lot of good relationships with students, because it just was a lot, like that was sort of my teaching style, is like, if I build a good relationship, then there’s a lot more trust, there’s a lot more just like, they’re more okay being vulnerable, like if they need help, you’re only okay asking for help if you trust the person that you’re asking. And so that was a really important piece of it for me in my classroom.

Eric Hornung 15:57
So, most people, when they have little nomad period or a nomad year, it’s because they’ve saved up some money and they’re like, Alright, I’m just gonna go do this travel thing. You said you had student loans, you had credit card debt, you’re in a bad financial position, that’s a big driver. And then you just decide to get on an airplane. Can you talk about that decision, where you went, and just like what you learned on that experience?

Amanda DoAmaral 16:18
Yeah. So what I, what I did is like, when I made the decision to leave the classroom, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And so I, I saved for like six months, but it was like a, it was tiny savings. And so I also knew that traveling was not a good financial decision, but I was like, eh, you know, why not? I have traveled a lot before and, um, I just had that kind of good at the like, budget travel. And so, you know, cheap flights, just staying in hostels. I don’t know, I just like, I felt this like bug to go, and I just figured, like, well, I have, I guess I kind of like just kind of leaned on some of my like privilege. You know, like, I just figured, like, I might as well go and I’ll see if I can make an income while I’m gone, which didn’t really pan out in any of the ways I tried, but I just knew that I could go, I could always go back home. And so that, that was what made me just keep going. And I knew that I could come back and get a job, you know, and so I just was like, screw it. I’m gonna go and I went. I just bought a ticket by myself to the cheapest ticket I found was from Providence to Edinburg, and it was $94. And so it was like wildly cheap. And so I was like, let’s go. And I actually spent less money while I was traveling than I did in like, the same three months the year before as a teacher.

Jay Clouse 17:40
What’s it like working on a political campaign?

Amanda DoAmaral 17:43
Yeah, it was really fun. I so while I was traveling, I was in deep in. I was in Nepal, and I just had this like moment of like, I was going to, I was going through all the things and I wasn’t really like appreciating it anymore. You know, just kind of like going through the motions, and part of the reason, actually was right after the Vegas shooting, that I just felt like things are falling apart here. My story can’t be that I was just like, I was about to go to Thailand. So I was like, I’m not, I can’t just be like drunk on a beach in Thailand, like, I need to get in the fight. And so I found a fellowship on a congressional campaign in New York 19th district. I had no idea like, really what I was getting myself into. And essentially what we did is we were campaign finance fellows. And so we were, we were raising money, we were doing a lot of cold calls. But the campaign itself taught me a lot about what the structures of campaigns look like, what it was like to work around people who were just tied to a movement, you know, above anything else. And it also, I had never really come into contact with what, like, raising money just by like cold calling was like. But I lived in a house with people, like with all the other fellows and that kind of all, there was a lot of ifluence from that experience that came into my Fiveable experience,

Jay Clouse 19:04
What is raising money on cold calls like? What do you, what do people need to hear to say, yeah, I’ll donate to a campaign?

Amanda DoAmaral 19:10
I don’t know what the secret sauce is. The whole thing was wild to me. Like, we would go through all these lists of people that had donated to other, others before. That whole fact that you could just, like, see where everyone’s donated, that was mind blowing to me, like I just didn’t know about, like, open secrets, or like, this is all just public information. And so then it made sense, okay, well, then if you find people that donate to this person and this person, then maybe they’re willing to donate to your candidate. And you’d have all these lists and we would just start calling. And most people were like, would wouldn’t answer or I wanted nothing to do with us. But it would just like totally shake me, the people who you would get on the phone, would talk to the candidate for the first time, and in that call would hand over like eight grand. And I was like, How much money do these people have that they can just like, Oh, yeah, he sounds good. Like, let me just send that over. I don’t know. I mean, I think that they really needed to, no matter what level that they were going to contribute, they really just needed to hear some thing connected to them, right? Like, this candidate sounds like me, or I believe that he’s going to support people like me. Like, I think that was the real like, that was the important piece of it.

Eric Hornung 19:31
So you leave a political campaign world and you get these calls, and you… Talk to us about the start of Fiveable.

Amanda DoAmaral 20:30
Yeah. So as I was doing all this cold calling, I just kind of knew that like, I didn’t really want to do this. And so I started thinking about like, kind of what do I know, what do I know how to do? What do I want to do? Just started being kind of more reflective. And around the same time, some former students reached out to me they were taking APUSH, BP US history. I had them in 9th and 10th grade, and they were freaking out, like our teacher is not supporting us. We haven’t written any essays. A lot of just like real, a lot of stress. And so they were like, you know, I know you’re not in Oakland, but can you help us. And so that’s when I started live streaming for just for them. And then I got to a point around January where I was like, you know, I think there’s something here. I like working with students. I like supporting AP classes. I’m not sure what any of this is gonna look like yet, but I kind of want to take a shot on it. And so I decided to leave the campaign. It was kind of a power move on, on the campaign, because they were ready to offer me like a full time job. And I was like, No, I’m good, I’m going to take no pay and move back in with my mom and like, see if I have, see if I can build something. So it was just another like massive risk in that year. And so I moved back home and just kind of got to work. Started building a website, started creating content, started learning about marketing and business, just like all of it, and kept teaching my own students. And so what we eventually started doing is like, Alright, well, if, if my students wanted these live streams, then I bet other students would want them as well. And that’s what really like, that’s how it really all got started.

Eric Hornung 22:14
Were you like live streaming on Twitch? Or like how are you actually like, mechanically doing this?

Amanda DoAmaral 22:21
Yeah, I just did it on like a webinar platform. So then I was using a webinar platform called Demio. And it wasn’t until, it really wasn’t until April that we really started taking off. It took a while to sort of lay a lot of the groundwork for things, and I had like kind of moved towards, Well, if I can, if you have these questions, let me start pre-recording things. And so I kind of moved a little bit away from live streams to pre-record it, like made a lot of YouTube videos, tried to get like some–I also recorded like a bunch of other videos in sort of like an online course format, and then just couldn’t get that to like really push in. And so I went back to the live streams. I had users telling me what they want. And then I was like kind of changing things up a little bit. And then I just kind of went back to what they wanted. And so by April, I started live streaming still on Demio . And just really sharing the link, like pushing the link out on like Reddit and Discord and in Facebook groups. And that’s when we started getting a lot of students from like, all over the place.

Eric Hornung 23:25
Since then, you’ve raised some money, is that right?

Amanda DoAmaral 23:27
Yeah, I have. So what happened is, that April and May, that AP season, we had more than 2,000 kids watching the streams. We had signed up, oh, man, I don’t remember how many had like paid for streams then, a couple hundred. And I had gotten this Google ad for an accelerator. And I didn’t know what an accelerator was, I had never heard of it. And, and I just was like, Well, let me just apply. Let me see what happens. I have no idea if I’m in the right stage for this. And that was the betaboom accelerator and they gave me a shot. And they they saw something in me and what I was building. And so that was the first, that was the first money that like Fiveablee raised, right? And so that was the summer of 2018. So I spent like six or seven weeks in Utah. I had a friend come with me, help me build, and that was really like laying a lot of the, you know, the basics, like learning about pitching and raising money and just learning to become a startup rather than just like a small business, kind of.

Jay Clouse 24:31
How were you describing Fiveable then, did it even have a name? And how would you describe it today?

Amanda DoAmaral 24:36
It did have a name then. We did, I call the five bubble then. That was a name that actually my mom had come up with, and so it was like, she’s funny, she was sort of our like, my first like advisor in all of this, just supportive. But the way that I was describing it then was really about…it was just, I’m trying to remember. It was really about like supporting AP students. It was less about the product side. I mean, I still would talk about the fact that we were live, but it was much more just about, AP is an issue because college competition and cost is an issue. And so, AP is gonna keep going up, but their support is not always there. Let’s create something to support APs. Over the summer, I really needed to find a way…Actually, I think by the end of the summer, I was still pitching really that. And it wasn’t until this last spring, so spring of 2019, that we sort of transitioned into thinking about like a wider lens, like what does live streaming do for education beyond APs, thinking about ourselves as, I mean, really, like we’re thinking about ourselves as like the Twitch of education. And so how do we leverage not just like live streaming, but also like social aspects of like what kids are used to on social media, and tie in learning to that? And so that’s kind of that’s where we are now.

Jay Clouse 26:00
Why do you think that the live aspect is what is resonating and making Fiveable work for your learners versus pre-recorded video?

Amanda DoAmaral 26:09
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, it’s tough because like kids are busy and so that, that’s sort of the thing to come up against. But every time a student makes time to go to a live stream, we see so much like positive growth just in that one hour or less, where, like, students are really like, they find ways, they’re asking questions, they’re interacting with each other, they’re pushing the way that the lesson is taught even, like, we might show up and say, let’s cover this topic and the kids are like, okay, we get this half but can you really focus on the second half? And that is not, that’s not possible in the like, pre-recorded space. You know, all those videos that I recorded for, like an online course are also totally outdated already, like all the AP exams changed this year. And so that’s led to a lot of stress for a lot of teachers. And because we’re live, we can like, really adapt in the moment and continue to explain things in different ways.

Eric Hornung 27:10
So you’re not the only producer of content anymore, right?

Amanda DoAmaral 27:14
No. So it used to be that I was just teaching two subjects. Last year, we brought on a small team, there was five of us that were streaming seven different topics. And then this year, now, we really expanded, so now we’ve got 15 subjects and 95 streamers that stream throughout the month. And so really just a huge group of students and teachers that nobody’s streaming as much as like we used to, as a streamer used to last year, so everyone streams a little bit less, but there’s a lot more people involved. And so we get a lot of different, like different lenses on the content. So sometimes, like the teachers will, will support things but other times students that will bring in their two cents.

Jay Clouse 27:58
How did you expand from 5 people teaching to 95 people teaching in a year?

Amanda DoAmaral 28:04
So when I first started, like the 5 people that I hired last year, the intention was for them to be lead teachers and to essentially, like operate as almost like department chairs, right? Like you are the lead for psychology, and then you will have a team that you’ll manage. But last year, I just never got to the next step. And so I just wasn’t able to, you know, I’ve hired all these lead teachers, and I was never able to like, give them a team. And so at the end of the school year, as like AP started picking up we just started testing, like, what if we let more people stream, and that really helped, because the more streams we had, the more content we were creating, and the more students were engaging. And so going into this school year, we just, we just decided to go with that same model, but actually, like, build it out, and so figure out a way for it all to work. So we hired 14 lead teachers, one of them has two subjects. And that’s like the calculus one. And then started hiring teams for them of students and teachers that they could then manage. And so the biggest way that we were able to do it is really just about sharing sort of the management of it. So I’m not managing 95 people. You know, I can manage 14, and then they handle a lot of the scheduling and operations for everybody else.

Eric Hornung 29:21
What’s the incentive for these, do you call them teachers? Do you call them streamers?

Amanda DoAmaral 29:27
Yeah, we call them streamers, because they’re both teachers and students.

Eric Hornung 29:30
Okay, what’s the incentive for these streamers?

Amanda DoAmaral 29:33
Yeah, what’s interesting is like, there, there is an obvious like side gig incentive, right? Like they’re looking for just like making a little bit of extra money. So we do pay them for the streams. But what I’ve learned from all of them is that they are not truly incentivized by the extra pay. They are incentivized by wanting to help more students. For teachers, it’s like, they think about just like expanding their own classroom, because a lot of the teachers that we have as streamers they are, a\some of them are like on YouTube, some of them are on Teachers Pay Teachers, it’s like, they’re, they’ve been sort of sharing things for a while. And this just gives them another platform to expand that access. For students, they really just want to help each other. They know how hard it is and want to show other kids like how they’ve done it. I know like, it’s one of those things that like, even at the beginning of the school year, I was like, okay, but they’re gonna just like want to make extra money, like that has to be their biggest thing. But every step of the way, every time I’ve talked to them of like, why are you doing this, nobody mentions like making extra money as their first reason. This is like, they really just want to like support other students. How do we reach more students, is like what their driving factor is.

Eric Hornung 30:47
Is the financial model though on that side to like Twitch where it’s, I have 2,000 views this stream so I get a certain dollar per stream or is it, I did a class so I get X number of dollars?

Amanda DoAmaral 31:03
What we’re trying to do is build the network so that we can create a model like twitch where there can be more more like revenue share tied to sponsorships or subscriptions. But right now just to like create great content, it’s just paid per stream. That’s just as we, like, start.

Jay Clouse 31:23
And how does, what’s the model behind Fiveable? How does Fiveable maake money? Is it a subscription service for the student?

Amanda DoAmaral 31:28
Yeah, so, so far, we’ve only really turned on one of our revenue streams, which is subscription. And so what we, what we did is we made the live streams free while they’re live. And then what we sell are all the replays and study guides and slides and all of those things are part of our library. And so we launched the first tier of that for $5 a month. And then we’re right now gearing up to create an additional tier that is more about practice questions. So we kind of think of it as like, community side of things is free, so, you know, coming to the streams while they’re live, you know, interacting in our online community. And then the content piece is sort of the second step. And the third step is practice. And so kids want a way to practice questions, whether they’re long form or like con trivia based. And that’s what we’re creating right now.

Eric Hornung 32:19
Are you going to get into SAT and ACT test prep?

Amanda DoAmaral 32:23
Yeah. So we’ve done it a little bit, just like kind of testing it out. The students that we have right now, what we, what we’re trying to figure out is like, what other spaces do they need support in? And the big areas are SATs, ACTs, and college admissions. And so throughout the next year, especially like next year, over the summer and in the fall, I think we’re going to do a lot more support on those spaces, for example, like bringing in college admissions counselors so that they can kind of interact and ask questions, doing like live streams about SATs so that they can see like, this is how I, this is, these are the things that I should study, just like we do with AP. We found that that, that’s something that kids really need because a lot of LSAT prep right now is super expensive. And so how do we democratize that?

Jay Clouse 33:13
I see on your website that 92% of your students pass their AP exams. How else do you measure success or know that things are going well with Fiveable?

Amanda DoAmaral 33:22
Yeah, so the biggest thing that we look at and what we’re trying to, like, learn more about how to actually like measure this is just, like, the confidence that students have. We see this just like from like a, just a qualitative area, like at the beginning of a live stream, you know, I might ask, like, give me, just on a scale of one to five, how comfortable do you feel with this? And usually, they’re kind of on, they just kind of go on the lower side. They get really like nervous, you know, like, they don’t, they feel unsure about what they know. And then once you take them through a live stream, even just like getting them to ask questions, like asking questions is not easy, because you have to now admit that I don’t know this thing. And so getting students to ask questions, getting them to interact with the streamer, with each other. By the end of the stream, we just see a much higher level of confidence. Last AP season, I felt like most of our streams in April and May we’re like 50% teaching and like 50% just like pep talks. It’s like, you know, this, you just need to, like, know, and understand and believe that you know this. And just kind of building that up is really important to us. It’s sort of the like social-emotional learning space.

Eric Hornung 34:36
Are students anonymized on the platform when, when they’re in?

Amanda DoAmaral 34:40
Essentially. So I mean, they can put their real names, but they could put other names as well. And so that level of anonymity, we’ve seen a lot of questions that you can tell that, like, a kid was hanging on to that for a while, because, you know, I can ask it now because it’s, we’re online. No one knows who I am. And so that’s been really helpful.

Jay Clouse 34:59
How big is this market? Like if Fiveable goes really well, what does that look like?

Eric Hornung 35:04
We just started with AP because it was measurable and standard and it’s what I knew. But like, we’ve kind of talked about, like expanding out to other parts of high school, college, really what I think this is, like, in my mind, this market is just like all students, like, at least in the high school space and college space. But there’s a lot of kids in there that are struggling with a lot of the different facets of like, being a good student right now, you know, whether it’s the skills that you need, like the reading and writing and math skills that you need to have by the time you get into college, whether it’s like time management, and just like study skills, like how do you take notes, how do you, how you study. There’s a lot of like these layers that are kind of swirling around. And so for us, like, we really want to, we want to find a way to reach all students, you know, and like, how do we get to a point where students say, okay, it’s after school, I’m after my class, I need to study, I’m going to go to Fiveable, right? There’s live streams happening, there’s other content that I can look at, like I need to build, I know I’m not good at this, I know I need help. And that’s sort of our like vision of it.

Jay Clouse 35:12
How many students are opting for the–and maybe this is a percentage or a proportion–but for the subscription versus showing up live?

Amanda DoAmaral 36:29
Yeah. So typically, we’re, or we end up converting about 6% of live attendance each month to the membership. And so that, that’s just right now, like in the fall. Part of like, our learnings have just been AP is the most valuable in the spring. And so what we do in the fall ad the summer is about like building students’ grades, and in the future, we want to build in more, more of the other supports as well that they really are going to gravitate to. And so, just in this last few months, that’s about the percentage that we’ve seen. In the spring, it jumps up a whole lot more.

Jay Clouse 37:10
Yeah. How do you think about the cyclical nature of this? Like, what does that mean for your business and cash flow, or like the people you have on staff? How does that all work with the seasonality of this?

Amanda DoAmaral 37:21
So I mean, like, we this is our second fall. And I think what we’re learning is like, we have to make sure that in the spring, we make enough money to support the second half of the year. That’s sort of at least what has to be true as long as we’re only focused on AP. And then the other thing that we have to really think about is what other things can we provide in the summer and in the fall that can lead to revenue as well, whether we’re selling to schools then or, you know, bringing in sponsorships or offering different products. Like, as we go forward, this is a big part of like what we need to think about, and just like how we support kids all year round. But I just know that like the,the school year cycle is something that, you know, every edtech company has to kind of deal with, like, the summer is going to look different, weekends, you know, even our traffic, like, kind of goes like, up and down, just, you know, nobody’s looking at homework on Saturdays. And so, just like trying to be what students need when they need it and thinking really critically about in the school year, what is that? You know, or at any point.

Jay Clouse 38:33
Is it difficult to capture a new audience every spring? You know, I kind of feel like these kids take their AP courses, they move on to college, eventually you want to serve them as college students, too. But now that you’re serving high school students studying for AP, are they referring their younger friends to Fiveable? Are you going through schools directly? Like what does it look to capture a new audience every year?

Amanda DoAmaral 38:56
Yeah, so the thing is that now, a lot of freshmen and sophomores take APs. And so so far our biggest class has been AP World History because of my experience in that, and that is mostly sophomores. And so what we found–that was last year–so this year, our biggest classes now AP US History. And so what’s happened is that we’re not necessarily capturing new audiences, we’re actually keeping them. So we’ve built strong, you know, AP programs for like Human Geography and for World History, which are usually taken in 9thand 10th grade. And then those students stay with us. And so, you know, as we hit the spring, we’re going to get a lot of kids that come back, and then they tell their students or their, their friends, teachers tell their students. And so the biggest, like, growth mechanism for us has always been search and just like SEO. And so even for, you know…students are going to come back but then also we can reach other students too, because we know what they’re going to search. And whether that’s on YouTube, or Google, if we can be in top of mind, then they’ll come check out our resources.

Eric Hornung 40:05
And are you paying for that search or are you doing this organically?

Amanda DoAmaral 40:10
Totally organic. So out of all of our traffic, I think like something like 90% of it is organic. And the rest of it is like direct. And so we’re not we haven’t really put anything into paid ads. Everything has been just like totally word of mouth or organic search.

Jay Clouse 40:27
That’s amazing. When people do become subscription members, is that totally month to month and they pay for the few months leading up to AP, or do some people buy an annual subscription?

Amanda DoAmaral 40:39
So in the fall, most people buy annual subscriptions because it’s worth it. It’s like 40 bucks for the whole year. And now I have access to all these subjects. In the spring, more people will buy monthly. And so, you know, some of the kids will get it for a few months, and then they might pause it, you know, over the summer or into next year. And so that’s the trick, right, is like If we can get a kid to turn it on, how do we get them to keep it? And so even if this AP is done, we know over the summer, there are certain things that they would want. So that’s sort of what we’re thinking about.

Eric Hornung 41:12
How do you think about quality of streamers you have now and increasing that quality over time?

Amanda DoAmaral 41:17
So when we look for streamers, we really look for teachers and students who kind of have this like “it” factor, right, like, that people talk about. And when you think about teachers, like there was, there’s always that one teacher in every school or two teachers that everybody wants to take a class with, right? Like, they’ve figured it out, they know how to teach, they’re really personable with kids. That’s the person that we look for. And same with students. There’s always that student that everybody wants help from, right, like, they’re just really good at what they do, and they’re good at showing others. And so as we got a lot of people applying, like that’s what we really looked for. And in the teachers, in the streamers that we have, they’ve just done some like really incredible things. So like we have the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, we have YouTube influencers, we have just other like people who have worked on the exam before, graders. And so building up their, their streaming capacity has been a big part of this fall as well. And so we did a lot of training we did like mock streams, they’re, they’re learning different ways to teach live, and sharing those things with each other so that they can each improve as well. And so as we grow, I think it’s just about really codifying that, right. Like, if we have the map, if we have, if we can pinpoint ‘this is what makes it as a streamer,’ then we can kind of like lay out really good training for anybody that wants to come into stream and really scale that up.

Eric Hornung 42:45
So if I’m a student, and I’m gonna sign up for an annual subscription in the fall, and I’m taking APUSH, I have a few options are people who I can follow along and stream with is that correct? I’m understanding?

Amanda DoAmaral 42:58
Yeah.

Eric Hornung 42:59
How do I choose between those? Is there like a rating like a rate my professors style rating or is there, like how do I know? I want to go with Jeff and not Martha or whatever?

Amanda DoAmaral 43:10
Mhmm. Yeah, right now it’s more based on just like what that person is dreaming about, rather than the person themselves. Building and ratingsis something that we’re going to do for this spring. But it’s, right now, it’s just been kind of like, well, this teacher is going to stream about practicing the DQ while as this teacher is just going to go over the American Revolution. And so do I need support in writing or do I need support in, like understanding this content? And so that’s how we ‘vesort of approached it so far, is like this. These are the things that we want to cover. We have the streamers that pick up different topics, but then over time, people were having their favorites, right. So it’s kind of like it’s kind of like peloton, right? Like people are gonna go to who they want to talk to.

Eric Hornung 43:50
Right now there’s this kind of you have a gatekeeper onboarding style where you’re trying to find that person who has that “it” factor. Is this model sustainable or is there any talk about having it be more of a user generated content model where anyone can sign up to be a streamer? And then you find out who’s right over time?

Amanda DoAmaral 44:08
Yeah, we’ve talked about this a lot. I think, you know, at least for for now, quality of content is super important. And like, we would have to have just the right level of tech and support, in order to make things open for everyone. I think there’ll be a lot of value in having anyone be able to stream or create content, ecause I think, like I generally just, like trust in the, you know, good of people, like I think most people would create awesome things. But the issue right now for us while we’re small is that it’s just hard to sort of manage a huge influx of content. And so, and also like, it’s, it’s education. And so the quality of content is even more important than on some other social media sites. And so, we’ve just been trying to figure out a balance between it because I do want there’d be a level of, of user generated content. And we have brought in just like more and more, like, content creators, like, kind of writing things. But we haven’t brought that to streaming quite yet. And so that’s something that we’re kind of trying to figure out.

Eric Hornung 45:14
Who owns the courses? Can streamers take their information elsewhere? Or is this owned by Fiveable?

Amanda DoAmaral 45:20
We own the content. So if they stream then we own the video and slides and things. But were kind of aligned to like the College Board course, so we’re using the same like, curriculum that is sort of like standard.

Jay Clouse 45:36
You said earlier that you’ve turned on this one stream of revenue, which is a subscription, but it kind of sounds like you’re alluding to that there are other streams that you guys are looking towards. So what, what does that look like three years from now?

Amanda DoAmaral 45:48
Yeah, so one that we’re really looking towards is sponsored content. I know how valuable that’s been for a lot of companies, and I can see a lot of potential for us with, you know, especially just like building a network of high school students then thinking about, like, who wants their attention, which is a lot of people. And so I think there’s going to be a way for us to have colleges or universities creating sponsored sponsored content, other types of brands that are interested in that market. And so that’s one that we’re looking into for sure. And the other piece of it is just around like, one, increasing the number of tiers that we have in our membership, but also providing some of these other tools too, like there’s other ways that we can support students that may not fit into a membership, and maybe something that we sell as like kind of a one-off. And that’s kind of what we’re, what we’re thinking about now in terms of like, how do you create the best learning experience for students? Every kid is different. And so creating the perfect membership is not always easy. And so there may be other tools that may be useful.

Eric Hornung 46:53
How many people are on your team right now? And what do they do?

Amanda DoAmaral 46:56
Yeah, so right now we’ve got four people that work full time, including myself. So I’m really focused on just, like, the learning experience, and then all the admin stuff. We’ve been raising money in the last few months. And because I’m like the teacher yesterday, I spent like five hours writing a study guide for, like, Revolutionary Wars. So like, I kind of go between like, like pitching, like on like, last week, I was pitching and then yesterday ,this weekend, I’m ready study guides. So that’s sort of my world.

Eric Hornung 47:26
Just like every other founder that comes on upside.

Amanda DoAmaral 47:28
Exactly, right, I’m kind of everywhere. And then we have Tom that is focused on SEO and growth, really just like thinking about how do we use content to grow, especially like, with search. And then our two engineers, Austin and Aaron, they’re focused on building the product. And so they’re building out a lot of cool things right now. Right now, they’re working on like our community space so that we can launch in the next few weeks an online community so that kids can be interacting with each other not just in the streams, but outside of the streams as well.

Eric Hornung 48:02
And I think I read somewhere that the four of you all live together, is that right?

Amanda DoAmaral 48:06
Yeah, three of us live together. So that’s why Aaron was just, was just coming out from the back before. Yeah, three of us live here. We’re like in the Fiveable house right now. We’ve lived together for almost a year now, which is crazy. But most of us, we all met, like kind of online. And when I first was like, way back when I was still living at my mom’s house, I was like, I gotta get out of here. And also I need a team. But how am I going to do this? And I was inspired by what happened on the campaign. And so we had a bunch of people living in a house and it was really fun. And so I was like, let’s try, let me try that. And I found people who were really inspired by that and willing to do it, and so it’s been fun.

Eric Hornung 48:48
And why did you end up in Milwaukee? Why is the Fiveable house in Milwaukee?

Amanda DoAmaral 48:52
Yeah, the age old question. We had done that gener8tor program in Madison. We had moved to Madison last April. We were actually in Philly at that point and got into gener8tor and were like, sell it all, get it all in the car and let’s go to Wisconsin we learned that you can return anything from IKEA within a full year, like fully built, doesn’t matter so hot tip. And so we moved out to Madison, we were doing the gener8tor program for a couple of months. And then in June, we had to decide like where do you want to go, we can go anywhere. And we just decided let’s just stay let’s, let’s get a spot in Milwaukee, we’ve now met so many people. I know you guys have talked to the folks at gener8tor before, and they’ve just been really helpful. And so I think the network that we built in doing gener8tor, it just didn’t make sense to leave and have to go to a city and start over. It made sense to stay because now every time there’s there’s events that happened here, you know, there’s, we get invited you know, we get, we know people we can have like press opportunity. It’s just smaller. And so if we were in, you know, Boston or New York like, that never would have happened.

Jay Clouse 50:06
This has been awesome, Amanda. What a crazy story going from in the classroom feeling like you can’t make it financially work to now having a house and a team and raising money for yourself and not a political candidate. Crazy change in just a few years time.

Amanda DoAmaral 50:21
Yeah, sometimes I have to, like, remind myself that, like, I have done all these things. And no matter what happens in the next few months, few years, whatever, like, all of this was worth it because I, like, have come so far, you know.

Jay Clouse 50:36
If people want to learn more about you or Fiveable after the show, where should they go?

Amanda DoAmaral 50:40
Yeah, so you can check us out on our website at Fiveable.me. We’re streaming all the time throughout the week. So come through, share it with other students and teachers. And then we’re also on every social media platform at @thinkfiveable.

Jay Clouse 50:57
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Jay Clouse 51:37
Alright, Eric, we just spoke with Amanda of Fiveable. Where do you want to start today? Do you want to start talking about Amanda, the founder, the opportunity? Do you want to discuss the fact that you used a email instead of an email in the intro?

Eric Hornung 51:47
I think we can start with talking about Amanda, the founder. You know, I’m just going to completely ignore your little slight there. So there’s this idea that floats out there called founder-product fit or founder-market fit or whatever you want to call it. And it feels like Amanda has that in spades. The question though, Jay, is does that matter?

Jay Clouse 52:10
I think it’s kind of like wearing a suit to an interview. The suit’s not going to get you the job, but not wearing it. Hmm. This this is a flawed analogy. Absolutely. I think it doesn’t matter. I think it’s I think it’s positive. It’s the opposite of that problem. Actually.

Eric Hornung 52:25
Hold up, hold up. What is your answer right now? Are you answering one way or the other? Are we keeping all of this or is it scratched? Also, and suit? I think you said an suit.

Jay Clouse 52:37
I think it’s a positive. I think it’s very much a net positive. What I was trying to say is, it’s definitely a pro. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to disqualify somebody from starting a successful company if they do not have this founder market fit. But I agree. Coming from a background in education where she was teaching students AP courses to the point where her customers we’re coming to her asking her for a product, in essence, which is what Fiveable was birthed out of, I think is really, really positive. And where you might think it doesn’t matter is well, okay, this founder has founder-product fit, but they’ve never done a business before. They never started a business before, they don’t know business. Very clearly, she’s learned very quickly how to start a company, hire a team, went through betaboom and gener8tor, so she’s now surrounded by a community of people to support her. So I think it’s very much a positive fact that she has this fit with her, with her product and market.

Eric Hornung 53:38
Yeah, I feel like it fits very cleanly into, well, I feel like Amanda’s approach so far fits very cleanly into the baker scenario. Have you read the e-myth?

Jay Clouse 53:49
I haven’t. It’s on my to do list. My to read list, my reading list.

Eric Hornung 53:55
Your to do list. Well, there’s this idea that’s pretty standard. It’s a baker wants to start a business because a baker loves to bake. And then they realize that there’s a lot of other stuff that goes on the business, and they realize that 80% of the time is spent on things that aren’t baking. So you can love to bake, and then expand out and do those things really well. Or you can hire people to do those things really well and let you be a baker. Or you could run the business and hire more bakers to do the baking. So it feels like with this incredible growth in number of content producers that are on the platform now, from 5 to 95, Amanda has stepped back and said I’m not just going to be the content person. This is a bigger vision, and I have a content background, but it’s not all me.

Jay Clouse 54:41
Still baking though, which I struggle with this, because part of me loves that. Part of me loves that the founder is still in the trenches, creating the content, interfacing directly with the customers, with the users, with her own content. And part of me, probably the more investor minded part of me says that’s probably not the highest leveraged use of your time, CEO. But there’s got to be so much value in interacting directly with those users, understanding how this new medium of live streaming education is helping them, how they’re responding to it, what their needs are, because the whole thing started in the first place from students going to Amanda saying, we need to help with our AP preparation.

Eric Hornung 55:24
I’d push back on that a little bit if I was a early stage investor. I think, I don’t actually know who says the quote or who’s famous for it. But our friend Andy sparks at Holloway says when you’re young, you need to do things that don’t scale. And that’s probably a more generic quote, and I’m just giving him credit for it.

Jay Clouse 55:39
It’s Paul Graham.

Eric Hornung 55:40
There you go. Probably should have given it to Paul Graham. Sorry, PG. And I think Amanda said it best when she said, when you’re in front of students, you’re on stage, and it’s 30 minutes. And when you’re on stage–you know this because you’ve done some improv, like you’re getting constant feedback from an audience. And I think that that’s definitely invaluable, and it’s something that doesn’t scale right now, but it’s going to be invaluable for the growth of the company for Amanda to have those experiences.

Jay Clouse 56:06
What I don’t want to understate is this growth from 5 to 95 over the course of 2 years, in really two cycles, that is a level of ambition and vision that is very quick in my mind. To go and say, okay, we just did year one, we had five teachers and we probably taught hundreds or thousands of students, and to say before next year, I want a team of 95, is a big, big undertaking and just boom of people that you’re managing and supporting. And for a lot of first time founders, I don’t see that type of jumping with two feet in out of the gate. And for her to not be burned out by the first season and having five people that she’s managing, but instead continue to grow the team I think is a very, very positive indication of Amanda as a founder.

Eric Hornung 56:56
I think the structuring of it was very important. It wasn’t just, here’s 95 people underneath me; it was we’re going to do what she called department heads. So she has people that are kind of reporting up to her. And I think that is a much more scalable way to grow, as opposed to trying to deal with 94 other humans.

Jay Clouse 57:16
So let’s turn our attention to the business now in Fiveable, which I’m going to continue to try and enunciate. Do you know where the name Fiveable comes from? Eric? We didn’t ask, but I have a pretty good guess.

Eric Hornung 57:27
I want to hear your guess.

Jay Clouse 57:28
My guess is when you are taking an AP exam, it’s graded from one to five. And so I’m guessing they’re saying, using our support, those AP courses are ‘fiveable’ for you, dear user.

Eric Hornung 57:40
Yeah, that was my guest, too. I was hoping you had something completely off the wall.

Jay Clouse 57:44
So what do you think about Fiveable, the business? What stuck out to you?

Eric Hornung 57:47
Well, the first thing I thought was, the business model itself makes a lot of sense. I thought the price point seemed light, but then I thought, Oh, well, it’s high school students. So of course it’s gonna feel like compared to what I’m expecting. Then I thought back to my days when I did a LSAT prep course through, I forget which, maybe it was Princeton Review. And I don’t remember the exact price on that. But it was definitely in the hundreds of dollars. And I was a high school student. So there is something to be said for a higher price point. It feels cheap right now. That was my first kind of take on the business model. They’re still early so it could change. What about you? What stuck out to you?

Jay Clouse 58:27
I agree, I thought the price was very accessible, probably too accessible. And not that you don’t want people to be able to access it. But since it is a freemium model, and you do make the content available for free as a stream, I thought that $5 a month was leaving a lot on the table because, yeah, high school students, but I would guess that there are a lot of parents who are actually paying for this subscription. And again, you don’t want to make this inaccessible for people in lower socioeconomic status and continue to kind of perpetuate the problems with education. But if you’re preparing for AP courses, your audience probably has a higher price threshold than that. Was my first thought.

Eric Hornung 59:09
Did you take any AP courses in high school?

Jay Clouse 59:11
Yeah, I took a few. And the thing is about AP courses, anyone can take an AP exam. You don’t actually have to take the course at your high school to be able to take an AP exam. So part of me likes how this really makes it accessible to take AP courses and do well on them if your school doesn’t have them. Now, that takes some level of awareness for the student or the family to know you can do that. But our high school only had a handful and I didn’t realize that I could have taken more if I prepared for them myself.

Eric Hornung 59:37
I didn’t know that rule, either. I probably would have taken more AP exams.

Jay Clouse 59:42
I was skeptical on the live streaming side of this because it’s just hard to do live well without already having a pretty big audience, because think of all the things that just have to go right to get the right customer aware of you, available at the time that you’re live streaming on the live stream. But as Amanda described the model of, it’s free, if you show up for the live streams, you can pay for the replays, you can pay for the study guides, I liked it more and more, because the incentives are really good. You’re incentivizing people to show up for the live streams, you’re giving them this urgency to show up and commit to their own education and do it live where she says people have really great outcomes communicating directly with a professor and other students. And that’s a way to start to grow your live audience. So I’m sold on that. Also, when she said that a lot of times the pre-recorded or the pre-made materials become outdated year to year, that made even more sense to do it live. It’s just sort of a treadmill, and it seems like a treadmill that they’re committed to doing and doing well. And it sounds like also, there’s enough supply on the teacher/educator side to make that happen.

Eric Hornung 1:00:46
I’m super bullish on Livestream space in general. I think like, it’s one of the larger kind of macro-themes I’m really interested in right now. I think the rise of kind of live streaming in eSports and you’re seeing live streaming in all kinds of other areas is going to make it more and more comfortable for people over time. One place I’m really interested in, and I don’t know actually enough to have the phrasing right here is co-streaming. But essentially, you’re watching a basketball game. And instead of listening to the announcers that they put on on CBS, anybody can jump on and like announce a basketball game. Kind of far off in the future and irrelevant to this. But I think that the idea of live streaming and of having different options of people to choose from as opposed to one really well curated, pre-packaged plan gives people a lot more choice and also is going to become more comfortable over time. So I had almost zero hesitancies about the live streaming perspective, especially when you have all those back end features when you’re a paid subscriber.

Jay Clouse 1:01:45
The one shadow I had was, I was a little fuzzy on the cash flow dynamics, not the model itself, but how the cash flow actually works. So I did a quick look at a job posting they had for streamers. It says they pay $25-75 per stream. Sounds like the streamers are doing two to 10 streams per month because they’re 60 minutes on average, which is a lot of money going out to 95 streamers when your subscription is $5 per month and converting at about 6% of live attendance. It sounds like it’s probably covering, and that will get better as they grow. To give the flip side of what concerned me there, the thing that was super, super positive to me was that 90% of their traffic is organic growth. That is an awesome, awesome engine that should only strengthen over time, especially if they have kind of a first mover advantage here. That is really, really good for bringing people into the top of the funnel and capturing new audiences every even if it’s three to four years. So ostensibly, since this is very scalable. I think that all works out, and maybe they’ll even be able to raise the rates they’re giving to streamers, but I just didn’t get a full sense of the unit economics on the call.

Eric Hornung 1:02:53
I’d agree with that. I think that the unit economics need some work and that’s why the price point was the first thing that stuck out to me. That being said, it’s not like they’re spending thousands of dollars to get $40 in revenue. So they’re not super under bad unit economics, grows-at-all cost type of methodology. It’s just tweaking at this point, not complete overhaul, which makes me feel more comfortable in the stickiness of the business going forward, because if you take an AP class as a freshman in high school, and you pass and it’s because you use Fiveable, first, you’re going to increase that organic search side of things by telling all of your classmates about it, and second, you’re absolutely going to do Fiveable for your next class, and your junior year, and your senior year. And I know we talked about the runway kind of running out in high school, but that gets to the bigger opportunity point. So I’ll let you kind of take any stabs at that take before I jump into the opportunity.

Jay Clouse 1:03:46
Just to add on to it, I know they’re going direct to consumer here, but if I’m a high school teacher or high school administrator or high school guidance counselor, I know that I want my kids to pass and anything that I can give them to make them even more equipped to pass, like, there’s no reason that a school wouldn’t be supportive of this program themselves, because they’re still ultimately going to show that our students passed AP or got these scores at AP, even if those students were using Fiveable quite a bit. So I thought that was a really good alignment of incentives, too.

Eric Hornung 1:04:19
So when we look at the opportunity, right now, we’re focused on high school students. I don’t think that’s the entire market for this space. I don’t think this is where Fiveable will end. I think ACT, SAT prep is the next kind of big jump for them, because it’s the same kind of body of students and there’s higher conversion rates. But when I look down the road, and I look at evaluating this opportunity, and I say, Okay, if it works in high school, and it works for test prep, then what’s to say it can’t work for certain college courses that maybe are more standardized, or what I find to be the most interesting, which is professional certifications, the price point on all of those things are so high. I mean, there are people who pay thousands of dollars to get professional certifications, or study for the bar, or whatever it is. There’s all of this kind of certification world that’s becoming more and more important as a college degree gets more and more diluted. So people are willing to pay more and more for those letters after their name, that I could see people paying for something like this if it had a larger chance of kind of returning a positive score and passing. Some areas that I’m a little hesitant on in that model, looking forward, are just the cost of content, because you’re in the core curriculum for high school. That’s a commodity. Everyone has access to that core curriculum. But as you move up, the reason Kaplan is able to charge for the CFA, and Princeton Review is able to charge for SAT/ACT prep is because they’ve developed a methodology and content library that took a lot of time in honing over years. So building those curriculums I think is going to be important. But when we look at the opportunity size in general, if they can kind of move through high school, which is a big opportunity in itself, into these other areas of higher ed and professional certifications and test prep using this kind of methodology, I mean, Kaplan is doing 1.5 billion a year in revenues. So it’s a large space. And I did see a stat that they have 171,000 people who take online courses.

Jay Clouse 1:06:23
The other thing that concerns me about going into these growth spaces, which I agree have huge market opportunity, market potential, I think the market for this business is very big, so we don’t need to spend a lot of time there. What concerns me a little bit is the name that we spent a little bit of time in this dealdemo talking, about the brand suggests that it is very AP aligned. Is “Fiveable” flexible enough to move into professional certifications, will people read too much into that name or not? I think there’s a little bit of a risk there but not an overcomer bowl, and maybe you don’t need to rebrand to make it more flexible.

Eric Hornung 1:06:58
Less of a concern for me, but I ee where you’re coming from. So, Jay, what do you want to see in the next 6 to 18 months from Fiveablee?

Jay Clouse 1:07:05
One more thing I want to speak to before I get into that question. Amanda mentioned, yeah, they have 95 streamers, but they have four full time employees, which is a very small in strong and I think appropriately designed team. You have Amanda running things and kind of wearing all the hats that a CEO and founder does. She said Tom is running SEO and growth. And they have two engineers, very lean team. This doesn’t strike me as as much of an engineering or like proprietary tech play as some companies are. So they can probably stay fairly lean for a while and to have a dedicated member, 25% of your team, focused on this SEO in growth role that we said is a really strong point for them, I thought that was just a very positive mark on the team at this point. You asked about 6 to 18 months. I would like to get more unit economics and what that growth has looked like, over the years. She mentioned, you know, we need to make enough in the spring to pay for the second half of the year. But that also puts this little bit of a pressure on you every year to make sure that you are doing the spring as well as possible. So what does growth look like in year three? What is the plan for growth in year four? That’s the type of thing I’m looking for 6 to 8 months from now,

Eric Hornung 1:08:19
When you say plan for growth, are you talking about revenue growth? Are you talking about growth of like, what are you looking at there?

Jay Clouse 1:08:24
Yeah, I’m talking revenue growth. I’m talking about user growth. When we did Tixers, for example, every year I realized that I missed the boat on the holiday season, because I just didn’t prepare for it enough. And so in this space, being as cyclical and seasonal as it is, you could really make strides or leave a lot on the table based on your planning for that season and what it looks like. So I’m just looking to see what does that plan look like year over year? What does success look like? Because I’m not sure I didn’t get a sense for like what our metric is of this is a successful spring as it continued to grow out the courses? They have 15 now, how many are possible? How many streamers do they want? How are they going to get them? How many students do they need to have on the platform to support those streamers? That’s the type of thing I was a little unsure on.

Eric Hornung 1:09:11
Yeah, I think what I look at 6 to 18 months, I want to focus mostly on the streamer side. I want to see how the streamers are being rated. Are people flocking towards certain streamers? What does that mean for the platform in terms of growth? She mentioned that the streamers have kind of other channels as well. So they might be YouTube influencers, or they might be on a site called Teachers Pay Teachers, which I haven’t heard about before. And to me, I want to know, what does that streamer makeup look like because that’s essentially your talent here. And two very large streamers, Ninja, and I’m forgetting the other guy’s name, just moved from Twitch to Mixer. And with them, they brought thousands of subs. So this becomes a kind of a talent game in the long run. And I want to know how that talent is evolving since the underlying information is a commodity.

Jay Clouse 1:10:01
Alright guys, we’d love to hear what you think about this. You can tweet at us as always @upsidefm or email us hello@upside.fm, and let us know what we missed. If you know a great founder or investor that we should talk to on the show, you can email us there as well. We’d love to hear from you, and we’ll talk to you next week.

Interview begins: 7:02
Debrief begins: 51:37

Amanda DoAmaral is the founder and CEO of Fiveable.

Fiveable is an online streaming and content platform helping high school students study and master their AP exams. Started just two years ago, Fiveable offers live and pre-recorded videos, study guides, as well as community building resources.

After teaching in Oakland for several years with Teach for America, Amanda DoAmaral began Fiveable as a way to help her old students who needed guidance in studying for their AP exams. In only a couple years, Fiveable has grown to include teachers from various types of backgrounds and boasts a 92% pass rate from their students.

We discuss:

  • Ad: Business calling and texting anytime, anywhere with Tresta (6:02)
  • TFA training and lack of teaching preparation (9:47)
  • Teaching in Oakland and decision to leave (12:27)
  • Start of Fiveable (20:30)
  • Business growth (23:27)
  • Live streaming vs. pre-recorded videos (26:00)
  • Teachers/streamers on Fiveable (27:10, 41:17)
  • SAT/ACT prep (32:19)
  • Measuring success (33:13)
  • Dealing with seasonality of APs (37:10)
  • Fiveable’s tiny team (46:53)

Fiveable is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Learn more about Fiveable: https://fiveable.me/
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