$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.

Holberton raises $20M as it pivots to become an edtech SaaS company

Holberton, the education startup that started out as a coding school in San Francisco and today works with partners to run schools in the U.S., Europe, LatAm and Europe, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series B funding round led by Redpoint eventures. Existing investors DaphniImaginable FuturesPearson VenturesReach Capital and Trinity Ventures also participated in this round, which brings Holberton’s total funding to $33 million.

Today’s announcement comes after a messy 2020 for Holberton, and not only because the pandemic put a stop to in-person learning.

The original promise of Holberton was that it provided students — which it selects through a blind admissions process — with a well-rounded software development education akin to a college education for free. In return, students provide a set amount of their salary for the next few years to the school as part of a deferred tuition agreement, up to a maximum of $85,000.

But early last year, California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) directed the school to immediately cease operation, in part because the agency found that Holberton had started offering a new, unapproved program. This program, a nine-month training program augmented by six months of employment, required students to pay the full $85,000 cost of its approved programs. After a hearing, the BPPE allowed Holberton to continue to operate its other programs. A number of students also accused the school of not giving them the education it had promised.

Throughout this period, Holberton continued expanding, though. It opened campuses in Mexico and Peru, for example. Indeed, it doubled the number of schools in its system from nine to 18 in 2020.

But on December 17, 2020, Holberton voluntarily surrendered its operating license in California. The day before, Holberton announced that it would not re-open its campus in San Francisco, which had been shut down since March because of the pandemic. Holberton co-founder Sylvain Kalache argued that the school would be best positioned to achieve its mission by “working with amazing local partners who operate the campuses and deeply understand their markets’ unique needs” and not by operating its own campuses.

It now thinks of itself more as an “OS of Education” that offers franchised campuses and education tools.

In January, California’s attorney general struck down the fraud allegations against the school. “California was the only market in which Holberton faced any regulatory challenges,” Kalache wrote in the company’s first public acknowledgment of the lawsuits. “With this now behind us, we are excited to move forward with our original mission of providing affordable and accessible education to prospective software engineers around the world.”

Clearly, that’s how Holberton’s funders feel about this, too.

“They’ve proven successful in breaking down barriers of cost and access while delivering a world-class curriculum,” said Manoel Lemos, managing partner at Redpoint eventures. “With the concept of ‘OS of Education’ as a service, they provide customers with all the tools they need for success. Customers can be nonprofit impact investors who want to improve local economies, education institutions who want to fill gaps in how they teach in a post-COVID learning environment, or corporations who want to provide the best training possible as education providers themselves or as employee development programs.”

Holberton founder and CEO Julien Barbier tells me that, today, “for the first time since our creation, we have started working with universities to help them create a better experience and add hands-on education on top of their traditional methodology. Everyone’s happy: the school, the students, and the teachers — because they prefer to focus on teaching and not spend huge amounts of time correcting projects.”

He expects to see 5,000 students join this year, up from 500 in 2019, and see the network expand with new schools in the U.S., Europe, LatAm and Africa. He also noted that the company already has customers for its “OS of Education” tools for auto-grading projects and its online programs. Just this week, Holberton Tulsa announced plans to more than double its physical campus in the city.

“Raising funds is helping us support and accelerate our vision of creating this ‘OS of education.’ Many educational entities need help and tools to better support their students and their staff. It is now that they need our help. Again, COVID has accelerated the digital transformation, and clearly, there are a lot of gaps that need to be filled,” he said. “[…] We are now a SaaS company which charges other businesses, universities or non-profits to use our tools and/or contents so that they can run their education/training programs at scale, with a better experience, while increasing the quality of education.”

Tutoring business-in-a-box service Clark has been acquired by edtech startup Noodle

Clark, the tutor management business-in-a-box service, has been acquired by the New York-based education startup Noodle for an undisclosed amount, TechCrunch has learned.

Founded by John Katzman, the serial entrepreneur behind education technology giants including The Princeton Review and 2U, Noodle offers education search services to help people apply to the right programs that meet their needs.

Megan O’Connor, the co-founder and chief executive of Clark, actually met Katzman two weeks after she launched the company, which is backed by investors including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Winklevoss Capital, Rethink Education, Flat World Partners and Human Ventures (where O’Connor worked as the chief growth officer).

It’s not a stretch to call Katzman the godfather of tutoring, and, from the beginning, the seasoned executive took an interest in what Clark was doing, according to O’Connor.

With the acquisition, Clark’s shareholders will receive an equity stake in Noodle and O’Connor and her co-founder, Sam Gimbel, will take roles within Noodle to build out a tutoring service within the company, O’Connor says.

Going forward, Gimbel and O’Connor will build up the tutoring component of Noodle’s business as a complement to the company’s higher education and elementary and secondary school divisions.

One of the core components of the new tutoring platform within Noodle will be a focus on the individualization and personalization of tutoring sessions, buoyed by a community of tutors who share information on the most effective teaching strategies for different kinds of students.

What the tutoring practice won’t do, O’Connor says, is teach to a standardized curriculum. “If we can give them the software of shared services, then they can be more hands-on with the student,” O’Connor says.

Sequoia reveals first cohort for its ‘Surge’ accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia

Back in January, Sequoia India announced plans for its first early-stage startup accelerator program in India and Southeast Asia, and today the firm announced its first cohort of 17 startups.

To recap, the program — which is called Surge — gives each startup a $1.5 million check and participation in a four-month program that’s split across India and Singapore, as well as the wider Sequoia global presence in China and San Francisco.

The program kicked off last month, but the startups were only unveiled for the first time today — here they are:

  • Azani Sports: a ‘full stack’ sports clothing startup based in India that sells online and through selected high street retails
  • Bobobox: a capsule hotel company based in Indonesia
  • Bulbul: a live-streaming service with a focus on e-commerce across India
  • DancingMind: a Singapore startup that uses VR to enable remote for stroke victims and patients of debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s
  • Doubtnut: an India-based education startup that uses photos, videos and AI
  • Flynote: a travel booking service with a focus on personalized trips
  • Hippo Video: a platform developing, editing and analyzing marketing and sales videos
  • InterviewBit Academy: a computer science training and development platform in India — that’s not unlike recent Y Combinator graduate Skill-Lync
  • Khatabook: an accounting service for SMEs in India that already claims 120,000 weekly users
  • Qoala: a micro-insurance startup based in Indonesia, which competes with rivals like PasarPolis — which is backed by three of Indonesia’s unicorns
  • ShopUp: a social commerce startup that helps sellers in Bangladesh do business through Facebook — that’s a similar concept to established Indian startups Meesho (another YC alum) and LimeRoad which enable sellers on WhatsApp
  • Skillmatics: a startup headquartered in India that develops learning games for pre-school and primary school kids aged under 10
  • Telio: a b2b commerce platform that aims to digitize the process of brands and wholesalers selling to retailers
  • Uiza: a Singapore-Vietnam startup that lets publishers and companies develop their own video infrastructure independent of platforms like YouTube
  • Vybes: an e-commerce platform for social media influencers that’s based out of Singapore
  • Zenyum: a startup that provides invisible braces for consumers in Southeast Asia at a lower cost than traditional alternatives

There’s one additional startup which is being kept ‘under the radar’ for now, Sequoia said.

Sequoia India managing director Shailendra Singh previously told TechCrunch that Surge would support a ‘curated’ selections of fellow VCs who could invest alongside in the cohort alongside the firm, and Sequoia said that the 17 startups have attracted a total of $36 million in investment. A spokesperson also pointed out that five of the selection have at least one female co-founders, which is almost certainly above average for the region although it is tricky to get reliable data covering India and (in particular) Southeast Asia.

Surge is an interesting effort for Sequoia, which has traditionally played in post-seed and growth stages of the investment cycle. Sequoia closed its most recent fund for India and Southeast Asia at $695 million last year, and it also has access to a globally active ‘growth’ fund that is targeted at $8 billion. Reports have suggested that Surge will get its own sparkling new $200 million fund, which would make a lot of sense given the potential conflict and confusion of investing via its main fund. But the firm is declining to comment on that possibility for now.

One major addition to the program that has been confirmed, however, is Rajan Anandan, the executive who previously ran Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia and is a well-known angel investor. His arrival was announced earlier this month and he will lead the Surge initiative.

His recruitment is a major win for Sequoia, which is betting that Surge’s early stage push will reap it richer dividends in India and Southeast Asia. That part remains to be seen, but certainly, there is a dearth of early-stage programs in both regions compared to other parts of the world.

Byju’s buys Osmo for $120M to add blended learning to its $4B digital education business

Weeks after it raised a massive $540 million funding round, Indian education unicorn Byju’s is on the M&A path. The company announced today it has snapped up U.S-based Osmo, a startup that develops apps for kids that use offline input, in a deal worth $120 million.

Osmo has raised over $30 million from investors that include Mattel, Sesame Workshop, Upfront Ventures, K9 Ventures and Accel. They were offered a cash option but elected for an all-stock payout, Osmo CEO Pramod Sharma told TechCrunch in an interview. That, he added, is a “validation of the level of confidence” that they have in Osmo combining its resources with Byju’s, which is valued at nearly $4 billion from that recent funding round that featured Naspers, Tencent and others.

Founded by former Googlers Sharma and Jerome Scholler, the Osmo service was launched at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2013, when it was initially called Tangible Play. The company combines the benefits of digital and offline learning using a dozen or so apps that tie into customized hardware, that’s a base designed for iPads or Amazon Kindle Fire tables alongside a red reflector and game pieces — as pictured above.

The result is ‘blended learning’ apps that integrate offline activities, varying from drawing to math, spelling and even making pizza, to help children aged between 5 and 12 learn. Currently, Sharma said, it is used in around 20,000 schools and it has reached around a million families, 90 percent of which are in the U.S.

That puts it squarely into the bracket of companies that Byju’s founder Byju Raveendran told TechCrunch that his company was seeking to snap up using its newly-acquired war chest.

In an interview announcing the fund last month, Raveendran said he wanted “product-based acquisitions that will be value-adds on top of our core product.”

Byju Raveendran founded Byju’s as an offline learning center business in 2008, today it is worth nearly $4 billion thanks to a thriving digital education business with over a million paying customers. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

In that respect, Osmo is an ideal complement to Byju’s existing business, which covers educational courses for grades 4-12 using a combination of videos, games and other materials and counts. It currently counts 30 million registered students to date and 1.3 million paying users with a specific focus on India. But, with its new funding in the bank, it is preparing a new service that will offer a number of courses in English for children aged 3-8 based across the world.

Raveendran and Sharma said that the immediate plan post-acquisition will see a huge increase in content for the Osmo platform, while the price of the hardware — which currently ranges from $99-$189 — may also be reduced to help grow the audience beyond its current base.

“For us to grow, we need to invest in content,” Sharma said. “We have a lot of ideas [and] have proven a set of interactions, [but] a lot can be expanded with more content and levels. We’ve proven this is a compelling platform for learning, and we are nowhere close to scaling it… our goal is to get it to every child.”

Osmo offers three different packages to customers wishing to buy its equipment for children

Echoing those comments, Raveendran said Osmo can “reach its maximum potential” with more content while he stressed that there is plenty of cross-pollination potential between the two companies.

“We’re asking: ‘How can we bring some of the offline learning kids do, is there a way to capture that back onto the app and personalize the learning experiences further?'” he said. “There’s overlap between Osmo users and the products we are building [so] how we can use that for multiple education use scenarios, even possibility for higher grades?”

Ten-year-old Byju’s started out in offline learning before moving into digital courses in 2015. Its push online has seen it do a number of deals and Osmo represents its fourth acquisition. But beyond being its most expensive, Raveendran hailed the acquisition as his company’s “most important” deal to date.

“We have video as a format, games as a format, and we think of Cosmo like a format… we could have thousands of supported apps,” he told TechCrunch by phone. “Education is not purely an online experience, especially for younger kids [so] the potential is huge if there’s a clear online-to-offline application.”