$10B crypto developer platform Alchemy buys coding bootcamp in first-ever acquisition

Web3 developer infrastructure startup Alchemy, which last raised a $200 million Series C1 last February, has just made its first acquisition ever — and it’s in the education space. The company purchased education startup ChainShot, which runs coding bootcamps for aspiring web3 developers, Alchemy cofounder and CEO Nikil Viswanathan told TechCrunch exclusively. Alchemy did not disclose the terms of the deal.

For Alchemy, the acquisition seems like a fit considering the company’s goal is to be the starting point for developers looking to build apps on the blockchain. It’s often referred to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of web3 and says it has seen a 10x increase in the number of teams building on its platform over the past 12 months. Its valuation has grown at a staggering rate, too, even for a crypto startup — it gained that $10.2 billion valuation just 16 months after it launched.

Its rapid growth has certainly garnered attention from investors, a group that includes high-profile names such as Lightspeed, Silver Lake, a16z, Coatue and Pantera. The company says it powers over $150 billion in transactions annually for clients including NFT platform OpenSea and DeFi app Quantstamp.

Its target, ChainShot, began as a hackathon project at the ETHDenver conference in 2018, ChainShot cofounder Cody McCabe told TechCrunch in an interview. McCabe, who was inspired to found ChainShot after going through a coding bootcamp himself, said the company was bootstrapped before Alchemy bought it. In addition to the founders’ personal capital (which McCabe said included funds formerly in his 401k), ChainShot covered its costs largely through grants available through its connection to the Ethereum ecosystem as well as through web3 crowdfunding platform Gitcoin, he added.

While ChainShot declined to share the actual number of students it works with, the company touted its 180% growth in student enrollment since January 2022.

Over half of the students that have gone through its program have landed jobs within six months after graduating, McCabe said. That certainly seems high compared to other coding bootcamps like Lambda School, which reportedly has around a ~30% placement rate — and it’s worth noting that many of the best-known coding bootcamps are believed to have exaggerated their placement numbers.

ChainShot founders Dan Nolan and Cody McCabe

ChainShot founders Dan Nolan and Cody McCabe Image Credits: ChainShot

Another web3 focused coding bootcamp, Encode Club, told TechCrunch in May that it had a 50%+ placement rate, similar to ChainShot, but it primarily accepted experienced coders into its program. ChainShot, in contrast, no longer has a vetting process for its students, and when it did in the past, it looked for “people that were trying to actively change and get into the ecosystem” rather than seasoned software engineers, McCabe said.

“We looked at all the education platforms in the space, and the results spoke for themselves in terms of ChainShot being the best,” Viswanathan said.

ChainShot’s program is currently built around its 10-week holistic bootcamp tailored toward developers looking to build on Ethereum, McCabe explained. The company plans to add more asynchronous content, such as videos, as it integrates with Alchemy and it also hopes to expand its offerings to other blockchains over time, he added, noting that ChainShot had just four employees this past year.

Once rolled up into Alchemy, ChainShot will join the crypto infrastructure company’s two other education-related properties, self-paced coding programs Web3 U and Road to Web3. It will also drop the fees it previously charged students and offer its product at no cost instead, a longstanding goal of ChainShot’s that is now possible under the Alchemy umbrella, McCabe said.

As for Alchemy, Viswanathan hinted that it would continue to keep an eye out for potential acquisition targets, particularly in the developer tooling space, as it looks to significantly expand its offerings with a team of 90 employees.

“We’re a small team … if we had 500 people, everyone would be working 24/7 and we’d pump out a bunch more products, but we have a lot of things that we just can’t build because of our bandwidth constraints in terms of engineering capacity. So we will always look to augment our services,” Viswanathan said.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about how to provide a great experience to people building in web3, and if we see a team that has a product that enables a better experience for our customers, we’ll definitely be excited about working with them,” he added.

Formation raises $4M led by Andreessen Horowitz to train truly ‘exceptional’ software engineers

Sophie Zhou Novati worked as a senior engineer at Facebook and then Nextdoor, where she struggled to hire great engineers for her team.

Frustrated, she decided to try training engineers to meet her team’s hiring standards by mentoring at a local coding bootcamp. After two and a half years of mentoring on nights and weekends, Novati decided to turn her passion into a career.

She and her husband, Michael, founded Formation with a couple of goals in mind. For one, they wanted to offer personalized training to help people not just learn to code, but to become “exceptional” software engineers. Sophie was also struck by the diversity of the people she witnessed going through coding bootcamps, but she realized that those graduates weren’t getting access to the same opportunities that students from traditional universities do.

Formation co-founder and CEO Sophia Zhou Navati

Formation co-founder and CEO Sophia Zhou Navati

With Formation, her goal is to personalize the training experience via a remote fellowship program that combines automated instruction with access to a “network of top tier mentors” from companies such as Facebook and Google. After one year in beta, Formation is unveiling its Engineering Fellowship, where every fellow gets a “personalized training plan tailored to their unique career ambitions.” So far, it’s placed just over 30 people in engineering roles at companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Lyft with an average starting salary of $120,000.

Formation aims to offer an experience beyond bootcamps, which Sophie argues “have gotten too big, too fast, churning hundreds or thousands of students through fixed curriculums without individualized attention.”

The startup attracted the attention of Andreessen Horowitz, which just led its $4 million seed round. Designer Fund, Combine, Lachy Groom, Slow Ventures and engineers from Airbnb, Notion, Rippling and others also participated in the financing.

“The first thing that really struck me about this community is just how diverse it is. Forty-four percent of graduates are reporting that they identify as nonmale, and the percentage of Black and Latinx graduates is nearly double the national average at traditional universities,” Sophie told TechCrunch. “But the problem is that only about 55% of bootcamp grads are getting a job as a software engineer, and of the ones that do, their median salary is only about $65,000. At the same time, companies everywhere are just desperately looking for ways to diversify their talent pool.”

Instead of having students follow a fixed curriculum, Formation leverages adaptive learning technology to build a personalized training plan tailored to each student’s specific skillset and career goals. The platform continuously assesses their skills and adapts their roadmap, according to Sophie.

About half of the people participating in Formation’s program are current engineers already working in the industry in some capacity. 

Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said she’s been examining the edtech space for a while, including companies building new tools for teaching and upleveling coding skills. 

Formation stood out to her as the “only true tech-based and scalable solution that optimizes each student’s mastery of important skills.” Its ability to dynamically change based on a student’s performance in particular was compelling.

“The founder-product fit is also super clear — Sophie brings her own best-in-class engineering experience to Formation, as well as her long-time passion for mentoring,” Chan wrote via email.

Assessing the potential for a gig economy in education

Over the past few years, personalized learning has established itself as a focal point of innovation in education. Despite the focus, the rate of progress in establishing personalized learning practices in both K-12 school systems and online learning has been slower than expected.  

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative have together invested millions of dollars in support of it, and educators such as Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, have spoken extensively about its importance in education.

Personalized learning comprises many aspects of learning: letting students master topics before they move on to higher level ones, giving them agency over their learning based on their interests and goals and using teacher-aided instruction and interactivity, to name a few.

Much of the focus on implementing personalized learning practices has revolved around K-12 school systems, where new initiatives have been met with mixed results, and these efforts will continue. 

Beyond the K-12 school systems however, online education platforms present a large opportunity for delivering personalized learning experiences to students worldwide, and the level of innovation here has lagged expectations.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as Udacity, Coursera and edX emerged in the early 2010s and helped bring quality content online and make it accessible around the globe. However, they haven’t innovated much when it comes to personalized learning, and studies have shown that they have in fact seen declines in completion rate of courses.

In recent years, startups have built platforms that are powering a gig economy for teachers, enabling them to give live lectures in small-group, highly interactive settings. Apps focused on providing personalized learning experiences for users learning domain-specific skills such as math or languages have shown promise, but there’s room for a lot more innovation on this front.

These newer approaches have the potential to democratize personalized learning by innovating on the software teaching platform, enabling better teacher-aided instruction online, and helping students better understand their mastery of topics.