In a world where, as a tech founder, seeking VC funding seems as natural as applying to college after graduating high school, Emmanuel Straschnov of Bubble maintains a rare and refreshing vision for his company. That vision is a revolutionary change in software engineering—a democratization so to speak—that allows anyone to translate their ideas into a website. Coupling this vision with patience, Emmanuel has opted to avoid the funding route in order to maintain his autonomy and create a business that truly disrupts the industry.

Bubble is a visual programming tool that seeks to make coding a website as easy as creating a PowerPoint presentation. In the words of Emmanuel, Bubble represents “coding without the code”.[i] Users can simply drag and drop to create visual components of websites that (with the correct usage) culminate into fully functional, and often beautiful, websites. Becoming proficient still requires practice, but much less than is the case with traditional coding.

Given Bubble’s democratizing effects on the market for code, the company’s current monetization strategy fits a natural gap in the market by assisting small startups and companies that may otherwise have outsourced their code and allow them to bring it back in-house. Using this tried and tested method, Bubble boasts several superb sites built using its software, and continues to grow its revenue with success in this area. Indeed, several third party development agencies have emerged using Bubble to meet market demand, highlighting the effectiveness of this monetization strategy. Yet, with ambitions of revolutionizing the entire concept of coding, the potential avenues for expansion are much greater than purely the case of helping small businesses design websites. Education is one such avenue.

The term computer science (CS) has become a buzzword in educational debates of recent years. As the US economy becomes increasingly specialized the value of CS skills has become ever more apparent. Computer science jobs not only fit the criteria for most job postings, but also stayed open longer than any other post with a “national non-STEM job opening is filled in about 33 days, compared to 56 days for jobs that require programming skills and 65 days for mobile developing”.[ii] Yet despite the need for CS graduates, such skills are rarely promoted in high schools. Indeed, it is striking that 79 percent of students wished they’d been offered a class in coding but never were.[iii]

There are myriad reasons why CS has been neglected in US high schools. School administration issues and outdated educational rationale lie among the more frustrating bureaucratic grievances. However, perhaps one of the greatest hurdles lies in student’s nervousness and stigma surrounding the subject. Despite so many students wishing they had the opportunity to learn how to code in school, like math or physics CS maintains an intimidating aura. This is one space where Bubble’s impact could be monumental. By reducing the more mundane basics required to develop fully functional components and sites, Bubble would allow students to make instant impacts, and in doing so encourage students to continue honing their skills.

The beauty of Bubble is that it can be used as a springboard for more nuanced CS skill development for students. Functionally Bubble doesn’t delete code, it merely masks it to streamline the process of development. As a result, Bubble represents the perfect framework to inspire students and then allow them to continue their code development using HTML or other coding languages within Bubble, and then even outside of the system should they wish to continue developing their skills.

Yet Bubble’s impact could be much greater than simply that of an introduction to CS; its democratizing qualities could represent a cornerstone of youth entrepreneurship within high schools across the country. Dovetailing the process of weaning to more nuanced CS skill development with a goal of equipping young entrepreneurs with the tools needed to create a minimum viable product (MVP), Bubble holds unprecedented power for students to convert their ideas into reality.

The value of entrepreneurship, like the creativity of our students, is not to be underestimated. Eighty-seven percent of young people expressed their desire to pursue entrepreneurship at some point in their career, however, the current K-12 curriculum isn’t designed to teach financial literacy or business skills.[iv] Importantly, from a policy standpoint this is not only beneficial, but necessary for US economic growth. In 2014 25 percent of young entrepreneurs started their companies as a result of being unemployed — up from 21 percent in 2011.[v] Bubble represents a unique and powerful way to spark innovation and bolster an entrepreneurial future, and in return integration into education represents an unparalleled marketing avenue in which to raise Bubble’s profile and revenue.

As the founder of IvyMinded –a small online educational company focused on skill development for high school students— I have recently begun working with Emmanuel to do my part in helping Bubble integrate into education across the world. At IvyMinded we are currently developing online courses and video lectures on how to use Bubble as an introduction to coding, but more importantly as entrepreneurial tool. We are set to launch our entrepreneurial track in February 2016 and through partnerships with schools in China hope to integrate both Bubble and our curricula in a flipped classroom model towards the end of 2016 using our online learning platform. We seek to follow Emmanuel’s lead and hold true to our vision, and in the process help both companies succeed.

[i] Straschnov, Emmanuel. “The Online Economy, Benjamin Edelman, Harvard Business School”. Monday, November 2, 2015.

[ii] Kohli, Sonali. “America Is failing Its Children by Not Teaching Code in Every High School.” Quartz. N.p., 14 May 2015. Web

[iii] Gerber, S. (2014, June 2). Here’s the Real Problem With America’s Educational System. Retrieved October 5, 2015

[iv] Gerber, S. (2014, June 2). Here’s the Real Problem With America’s Educational System. Retrieved October 5, 2015

[v] Gerber, S. (2014, June 2). Here’s the Real Problem With America’s Educational System. Retrieved October 5, 2015

By: Andrew Steele

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Uber for X is all the rage. But can (and should) we try to apply Uber’s model to one of the world’s most stagnant institutions?


10 seconds. Maybe a little longer if you mistype your password.

That’s how long it takes to call an Uber. Through the app, you can see your driver’s name and rating; you can see the make and model of the car and track its approach; and you can even call if one of you gets lost. After the ride, payment is handled automatically and you can leave a review that helps decide whether the driver gets to continue working with Uber. All this at a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi.

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already used Uber. Since 2009, Uber has grown into a $50B behemoth that offers its services in 300 cities in 57 countries.

Given its tremendous valuation, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs and investors alike have rushed to support Uber-like models in other industries. Need an on-demand dog walker? Meet Wag. How about a mover? Try Lugg. Left your plane at home? There’s even an Uber for private jets.


For now, many of the above services are only relevant for narrow segments of the population. Sorry, Glamsquad, but the average American doesn’t need on-demand hair styling. But could an “Uber for X” startup work in a different type of business, perhaps one that could affect nearly every individual in the world?

As an education entrepreneur, I’m excited about the potential impact that Uber-like services (often labeled “on-demand mobile services” or ODMS) can have on the way we learn, from early childhood education to professional development.


How education has already changed

First, some context.


Don’t listen to the naysayers – education certainly has changed over the last century. In the 1950s, US classrooms focused almost exclusively on rote memorization. By the 1970s, they had begun flirting with the Open Classroom model. By the 2000s, schools were beginning to emphasize softer skills like the 4C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Policies like No Child Left Behind have encouraged more standardized testing, and things like cursive, arts, and recess are mostly absent in today’s schools. Charter schools have transformed the public school landscape by allowing administrators to adapt organization, culture, and curricula to community needs. From a technology standpoint, educators are increasingly using online video libraries like Khan Academy to “flip the classroom” and software like Google Classroom to promote collaboration. Interactive whiteboards have replaced chalkboards in over 2.8 million K-12 classrooms globally. From a pedagogy perspective, 46 states have adopted national Common Core standards which emphasize a quicker path to literacy and deeper mathematical understanding.

Despite progress, in other ways education has been slower to adopt changes seen in other industries. Students don’t have individual learner profiles which follow them around from school to school and capture their strengths, weaknesses, and learning preferences (like electronic medical records in healthcare). We don’t really have a great sense of how to collect, analyze, and interpret student data (like we do for consumer data in e-commerce). Most learning management systems don’t have robust predictive algorithms to truly personalize learning (like the ones powering Netflix or Amazon’s recommendation engine).

So while education has changed somewhat, the pace of this change is remarkably slow compared to other sectors. Can we change education as swiftly and extensively as Uber is changing the taxi industry?

To figure this out, let’s:

  1. Break down Uber into its component parts
  2. Imagine what these components would look like when applied to education
  3. Identify education-specific challenges and way to overcome them


Component 1 – Two-sided platform which matches latent supply with unmet demand


A two-sided platform in education would connect educators who have excess capacity, with students who have unmet demand. Here, educators aren’t teachers in the traditional sense. Uber educators are anyone with the ability to help others learn a specific skillset. They may themselves be experts in the particular area they are teaching, or they may simply know how to help others become expertsin that area.

This looser definition of a teacher is relevant because the US is facing a nationwide teacher shortage, so latent supply for an educational Uber would need to come from other professions (e.g., engineers, writers, musicians). For starters, we could focus on the areas of education with the greatest supply/demand mismatch. Given the increased emphasis on STEM in schools and the increasing number of workers moving to the tech industry, matching experienced  tech professionals with students interested in technology could be one option.


Non-traditional teachers may not know how to teach – You could be the world’s foremost biologist, but that doesn’t necessarily make you more qualified to teach middle school biology. Teaching requires more than just subject knowledge – it requires an ability to connect with students, an understanding of pedagogy, and unbelievable patience, among other skills. Any two-sided platform in education needs to either properly train the supply side in effective teaching methods, or pair non-teachers with teachers to give students a solution that combines content expertise with teaching expertise.

Unions would fight back – Teacher unions are notoriously resistant to outside influences in the education system, which they fear could erode their power. And given teachers’ immense political clout, an Uber-like business in education would be prudent to figure out how to deal with unions before they are overburdened with regulations that stymie its growth. It could potentially position itself as a supplement, not competitor, to teachers, or perhaps employ the Uber approach of lobbying for regulations that fight against incumbents.


Component 2 – On-demand, mobile service

This actually has a few sub-components, so let’s examine each individually.


  1. Exactly what you need – Just like Uber gets you from point A to point B and does little else, an Uber for education should deliver exactly the educational content you need in bite-sized chunks. The best way to do this is to tie content to action-oriented outcomes. In other words, you want to learn how to do X? Let’s match you with someone who can teach you how to X. No more, no less.
  2. When you need it – In order for Uber to match every rider with a driver within minutes of opening the app, and to keep drivers close to full utilization, it needs to carefully connect supply to demand and ensure neither side outgrows the other. Students find that instruction is most effective when it is delivered when they need it most. Perhaps you can expand the capacity of individual educators by making it easier for them to serve multiple students at the same time, without sacrificing quality. And if we assume the teacher-student interactions can take place online, a supply of teachers located across multiple time zones can support 24/7 coverage.
  3. Where and how you need it – True on-demand learning means that students are taught wherever they are most comfortable, whether that’s at the library, in the classroom, or from home. They also need to be able to choose from multiple teaching styles (e.g., video lectures, problem sets, group projects) in order to learn in a way that best suits them. A service could either match specific teaching styles (e.g., expert video lectures) with specific learning preferences (e.g., student wants watch videos on the subway), or make it easy for an educator to convert a lesson into multiple formats.


Students may not be able to outline specific learning needs – What if a student is falling behind in algebra and wants general math help, instead of help with a specific algebra problem? Well just like you wouldn’t order an Uber without having a single, imminent destination in mind, Uber for education may not be right for students who can’t modularize their needs. Any viable service would most likely need to focus on specific, manageable chunks of education, either in the form of specific homework questions, learning objectives, or even tasks at hand (i.e., professional development). If students can’t break their needs up into chunks themselves, the service should be able to help.


Component 3 – High-quality, community-rated suppliers

Just like with Uber drivers, any teacher on the platform should be continuously rated and dismissed if their rating falls below a predetermined threshold.



It’s difficult for a student to gauge a teacher’s quality –It is arguably easier to assess the quality of an Uber experience than an educational experience, partly because preferred learning styles and speeds vary vastly among individuals. Instead of giving a rating on a single dimension, an educational Uber could ask for teacher ratings on multiple dimensions like content knowledge, patience, enthusiasm, etc., like AirBnB does by asking guests to rate accuracy, cleanliness, location, etc. The service could also periodically match teachers with “master teachers” and have them be rated more formally, much like they would be rated by an observer in a school.

Digital lessons aren’t as effective as in-person sessions– As anyone who has taken an online course can confirm, learning over your computer or phone isn’t always as engaging, and thus less effective, than learning in an actual classroom. An Uber-like service can mitigate this decrease in quality by focusing on subjects which can be augmented with technology, not ones where technology is just a medium for the interaction. For example, a physics teacher can easily send over simulations to students to help them understand tough concepts, or a programming teacher can do a quick code review with any number of digital tools – activities which wouldn’t be as seamless in-person.


Component 4 – Low cost

Uber keeps its prices to consumers low by paying drivers as contractors, not employees, circumventing a taxi monopoly which requires taxicabs to own highly-priced medallions, and using scalable technology in place of overhead like a central dispatcher.

An Uber in education may to keep costs low by having younger, more inexperienced employees (e.g., college students) work as teachers, or by hiring lower-cost teachers from overseas like some online tutoring services do.


Maybe we can Uber-ize education, but should we?


In summary, there is definitely opportunity in creating low-cost, on-demand learning experiences, especially in disciplines where there is a growing demand for teachers and flexible supply (e.g., technology professionals can  supplement the  learn-to-code movement).

However, it is important to consider the effect such a disruption would have on the broader education system. Many students would not benefit from an educational Uber, from reasons ranging from being unable to pay for a premium educational service, to not being engaged by a digital teacher (and perhaps no in-person teachers are nearby).  As a result, the service may miss the students who need it the most, entrenching inequity issues we have been fighting for decades. And just like the success of Uber may leave the lowest-quality drivers left in the traditional taxi industry, we should worry if on-demand education gives wealthier students a monopoly on the best teachers.

Furthermore, the analysis above assumes that the goal of education is to learn a specific, well-defined skill. That premise is itself controversial. When Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried replacing the words “search for truth” with “meet the state’s workforce needs” in the state code for universities, it was met with backlash from academics and educators alike. They argue that an education should provide a sense of social responsibility, encourage discovery, and instill wonderment about the world. Any service that claims to educate should serve this dual purpose of preparing students for work and life.


What next?

Several well-positioned players are already moving into on-demand education. Online course provider Udacity has recently pivoted from offering full-scale university courses to bite-sized “nanodegrees” which are proctored by their global network of 300 code reviewers. They claim their best code reviewer can earn more than 8x the monthly salary of a part-time teacher in the US. Startups like MathCrunch provide Uber-like math tutoring services at a fraction of the cost of incumbent Maybe even Uber, who partnered with Levo League in early 2015 to offer brief “mentoring rides” with influential businesswomen, can themselves make a play in the market.

As for myself, I’m excited about exploring whether an “Uber for Education” has any merit given the immense social value it could create. If you have thoughts on the topic, please share them below!



Image sources:

By: Vibin Kundukulam

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9:25AM: Wake up to my phone’s notification that class starts in 5 minutes. Mildly panic.

9:26AM: Wash face and make myself look somewhat presentable (at least from the torso up).

9:30AM: Open laptop. Class starts. Still wear pajamas on the bottom.

It’s a university. 4-year accredited. 121 students in this year’s first-year class. Everyone lives in the same dorm. All classes have less than 20 people. No lecture, only classroom discussions. But here’s the real kick: all the classes are done online.

Welcome to Minerva Schools at KGI, with a bold mission to take down Harvard. Minerva was born in San Francisco, when a successful entrepreneur and former CEO of Snapfish Ben Nelson wanted to build a new kind of university that directly challenges what he views as a broken higher education system. Everything about the university is meticulously thought out. In the two years between Minerva’s founding and its admission of the first wave of students (that they lovingly call the “Founding Class”), Minerva questioned and restructured every aspect of an undergraduate education, from content (curriculum) to structure (lecture format) and admissions (SAT scores)*. But what may be most interesting is that all of their innovation is based on an online platform.

One might hear the word online platform and think, “MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).” Not quite. MOOCs are open to the public, largely imitating the form of a lecture and for the most part, one-way education where students are on the receiving end with the exception of “participating” through comments. Minerva is not open to the public (it has a stringent admissions process), and the classes are not one-sided (students are expected to fully participate in their classes).

Or an “online university” like the University of Phoenix. No again. Minerva simply has an online “platform” where students learn, but it has a dorm where every student lives in, co-curricular programs done outside the classroom (and outside of students’ laptop monitor) that incorporates the learnings from the classroom with offline visits and activities.

Then the real question is, why? They already seem to have a great curriculum and a great teaching model – why do they need an online platform? Wouldn’t discussions be more effective in an offline setting? Is this simply to lower the cost of education?

Let’s first take a deeper look at the platform. Minerva’s patented online program named the “Active Learning Forum” works like this. Students log in when class starts; professors also log in (from their respective homes that don’t have to be in San Francisco). All students’ faces are placed on the top of the screen, and whoever is speaking at the moment has the full stage (aka the middle of the screen; see image below). Professors guide the discussion, often cold-calling on people who haven’t spoken as many times in the class and asking students to back their opinions based on the poll they just took on the platform (see image below).

1) poll

To the “non-believers,” it may seem that while Minerva’s methodology looks very engaging (even resembling the HBS classrooms and the case-method), the online platform is more of a nuisance than a merit. To this concern, Minerva is adamant that their platform is not only practical but also necessary. For one, the tools help professors achieve high quality discussions. Professors can see who has spoken and who hasn’t on the screen, which marks those who haven’t spoken much as red and others as green (see image below). The system warns the professor when he speaks for more than 5 minutes – gently reminding him or her that the class is for discussion, not lecture. The polls show students’ responses in real time, facilitating discussions. Small group sessions can be broken out within the system, and 2-3 people are matched with a googledoc they can collaborate on the platform (no need for switching seats and shuffling about in the classroom). Another point is that the tool records everything, which allows the professor to give detailed feedback on students’ participation, fostering students’ development. Last but not least, the online platform allows students to have an international experience throughout college. Because all classes are done online, students go abroad every semester after their first year. For example, their sophomore fall, they go to Berlin where everyone lives together but still takes classes online. They get to still enjoy the high level of education that they have signed up for (which, some may argue that study abroad programs don’t provide) while experiencing a different culture.

2) green red

The students seem to think that the system works. They talk about how extraordinary the education has been, something that they have never experienced before. They actually say that, because the professor can see everyone’s faces facing the screen at all times, the online platform makes them be even more focused in class.

Reflecting this sentiment, Minerva accepted 220 students out of almost 11,000 applicants in their mere second year. It received almost $100 million in funding. Minerva certainly seems to be on a good trajectory in many measures. But there is something still foreign and discomforting about the concept of an online platform as an effective tool for heightening student engagement in class. Is it really the online platform that is effective and core to the success of Minerva? Perhaps the structure of the class with a tight discussions format keeps them on the feet enough to counter the effects of getting bored of staring at a monitor. Is a lower tuition partly due to having no lecture halls, gyms, or sports teams necessarily good? Who loses in this more “efficient” system? Who wins? Is their platform really a necessity or a practicality?

The source of this discomfort and pushback may be the fact that we ourselves are a product of those traditional education institutions. What is Minerva’s model implying about the level of education at existing institutions like Harvard or HBS? This hints at a real challenge for Minerva as a disruptor – convincing the population who have believed and lived in the legitimacy and prestige of the existing institution system.

If anything, Minerva found a niche that the first wave of “online platforms” lacked – human interaction that flows in both directions. It presents to us an option that only utilizes a technological platform in order to connect people rather than using it to replace people. In a world that is increasingly valuing algorithms as an answer to everything (e.g., dating), it can be a refreshing example that implies what needs to be there for the success of a tech-based platform – human aspect.

* Minerva abolished the lecture format and does not require/consider SAT scores for admissions

By: Seong Min Lee


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Industries that are ripe for disruption through the employment of technology are those that are currently costly and inefficient, and whose key function can plausibly be carried out digitally by connecting market participants online. The administration of most medical services, as an example, would not fit into this category given the need to be physically present for value to be delivered from practitioner to patient. However, industries like hospitality, dining, livery, and real estate have all been disrupted in this way with the emergence of digital platforms such as Airbnb,, Uber, and Zillow, respectively. One industry that I believe is ripe for similar disruption is education, and it is curious to me that, especially in the United States, online education has not taken hold in a prominent way. However, I do not believe that a shift towards an entirely-digital learning model would be beneficial. Instead, I suggest that certain digital tools are being created that can enhance the way traditional education is delivered, making it more effective and improving student performance.

Students in the United States are lagging behind in terms of academic performance when compared to the rest of the developed world, despite rising education costs that have outpaced inflation for decades. 15 year olds in the US are less proficient in than their counterparts in 17 other OECD countries with regards to mathematics. With regards to science, the same age group in the US comes in 13th, according to recent assessment tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  These performance statistics, which have been relatively constant over the last decade, have not improved despite a 20% increase in the annual cost to educate one student in public elementary and secondary schools (from 1999 to 2009 the annual cost increased from $9,292 to $11,184). With the help of cost-efficient digital innovations in the education space, US students could close the performance gap with their international counterparts.

The following educationally-oriented digital start ups and/or tools are particularly interesting, and go beyond simply digitizing educational content, enhancing the effectiveness of in-class instruction. In my opinion, this is the distinction between the firms listed below and large MOOC providers like Coursera, Khan Academy, and Udacity, are as follows:

  1. Learnist – allows users to create “learn boards” that share assignments and lessons on a wide variety of topics. The platform itself resembles Pintrest, in that it allows individuals to curate their own boards, but also allows the creation of original content, and targets both school-aged students as well as “life-long learners.” Additionally, teachers have made use of the platform by sharing lesson-plan ideas and teaching techniques. Learnist is backed by venture capital firms and media content providers. (
  2. Google Play for Education – Google’s educational adaptation of its “Play” app enables easier delivery of digital content among mobile devices in the classroom. In addition to the deployment of educational content, the platform’s browsing tool organizes content based on curriculum, enabling teachers to easily discover new tools and content for their students.
  3. OneClass – a digital repository of class notes, tutorials, and study packs created by top students across secondary and post-secondary topics. Users can browse by school and by department for notes, and video tutorials also exist for general topics in finance, mathematics, and several science subjects. The collaborative platform is currently available for US and Canadian students, and recently announced a $1.6MM investment by led by SAIF Partners and Real Ventures. Since launching in 2011, the platform has signed up over 200,000 members. (

These tools are unique in that they do not seek to replace our education system as it currently functions, but rather to enhance it. They recognize the need to retain human contact in the educational process, and the important social connections like those between students and teachers.  In the same way that’s customer service function allows shoppers to continue the behavior of buying and returning, these ventures seek to improve the educational process by preserving the consumer behavior, adding cost-efficient improvements.


1)     National Center for Educational Statistics (







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While we have seen technology disrupt many industries in a relatively short period of time, I wonder if technology can truly disrupt every industry.  Education is one area I believe cannot be disrupted even by the best of technologies, though innovations in technology can certainly enhance the educational experience.  If we can imagine a world in which teachers unions, and not to mention the educational bureaucrats, would even allow technology to take over the classroom I cannot imagine a technology that could fully replace a human being.  There is, however, huge potential for improving the education experience at the K-12 level through technology.

Have you ever tried teaching a group of 30 average American teenagers? Well I haven’t either, but it seems really tough even for the most passionate educator.  Each student has his or her own unique learning style and each is at a different level academically.  Some are math geniuses, but struggle with writing. Others may thrive in History, but just don’t seem to follow your science lesson.  This is the perfect situation in which a school system could introduce technology education programs whereby teachers could assign work to students based on their specific needs.  This would allow teachers to pull out groups of students at similar levels and provide them with more individualized lessons while their peers are working on computer-based assignments.   With more level-appropriate lessons, students would likely feel more engaged in the learning experience.

This may raise the question of whether students can simply complete grade school through online programs and drastically reduce our spending on education.  The answer is no, in my opinion.  While technology can enhance the academic experience as described above, computers cannot replicate the benefits of being in a classroom where one learns from peers, can be assessed by a human being, and develop important cognitive skills.  I think students at all levels would be less likely to complete learning modules if no one was around to monitor them, engage them further in the material, or help answer questions.  Teachers play a critical role in the lives and learning of our students, but they cannot be all things to all students.  Our educators have come under fire many times as inadequate, and I agree that we have allowed some bad teachers to continue educating our kids, but many of them are passionate and capable individuals who are forced to teach one lesson in one way to 30 different minds.  So until we have the ability to clone ourselves or we restructure our education system altogether, technology is a teacher’s best partner in the classroom.



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