In 2018, we raised funds and we still failed 3 years later
In 2018, we raised funding for Verilearn. 3 years later, we closed our doors even though we put in the work, marketed like our lives depended on it, tapped personal and professional help, hired smart people, ran ads…we did it all yet we failed.
Here is the story
Let’s go back 2 years to 2016. During my National Youth Service I was deployed to teach in a secondary school. I love teaching naturally so I took my job pretty seriously. Everyday, I had to teach over 300 students across SS1A to SS1E, a government secondary school at Ado Ekiti. Teaching is mostly fun until you need to mark test and scores. I was spared the punishment of creating lesson notes.
During the first test, my students performed poorly which led me to develop a small tool using Python, this tool summarises lecture notes into bullet points and creates online references for students to study further online. I deployed this tool during revision for my students during their second test and exams, the results amazed me; over 80% of the class scored 70 or more out of a possible 100! I used it again the next term after refining it and the results got even better — so after my Youth Service, I decided to deploy this tool to the market.
We raised funds from an angel investor and we did more: took the entire Nigerian secondary school curriculum, fed it into our AI (we now called it an AI powered compressor) tool and hit the magic button. We converted most of the lessons into bit sized audio/video on demand lectures, I did a lot of physical marketing — attended education conferences, visited schools, talked to teachers and school owners. We launched Verilearn. From top rich kids schools in the heart of Lekki to the small schools in Igando, we had one problem: teachers were not willing to adopt new tech. They didn’t want to use another fancy tool to monitor their students or give online assignments.
Teachers loved the way things were and didn’t want to add to their stress. It was hard enough convincing school principals to adopt the software (even at the grand total of #0 Naira for the first year).
We can’t create a teacher culture shift overnight and we certainly didn’t have the funds to survive the next one year without getting paid.
So we pivoted.
We reworded our website, loaded them into a CMS, added coding courses for teens and relaunched to target parents instead who cared about their children’s education. But unlike classprep, we weren’t preparing students for exams like WAEC or JAMB, also unlike Tuteria, we were not a home lesson platform. For our solution to work, parents needed to equip their kids with a smartphone/laptop and get them an internet data plan. Parents also need to monitor their children to be sure the data isn’t burnt on Instagram but on the Verilearn platform. Parents also didn’t want to shell out $$$ monthly for extra online-only lessons after they’ve paid school fees.
I was beginning to think we were too early to the market or that we were bad with our marketing, or maybe Lagos was too enlightened for us — so we opened up 2 offices in Ibadan. We hired smart people from Stutern, Ibadan was more responsive, we signed up some schools and got some projects to train students on coding. We put in the work, hired more people, fired a lot of them also. We ran more Facebook ads, we set up a referral program with superb incentives.
But we ran out of money. Our business was such that we need to build the trust gradually, we don’t go from ad impression to bank alert immediately, we needed to go the slow route of onboarding users then slowly improving their knowledge, parents will reward us for the progress by purchasing a subscription plan when they see the progress of their kids. Sadly, we couldn’t stay long enough to see our handful of users turn superstars.
It’s always sad letting staffs go especially when you know you were so close, things were beginning to pick up, people were beginning to sign up, schools were beginning to call. We just started having a sense of purpose…but the funds dried up.
Today,, startups like Ulesson have raised money in Millions of Dollars to solve the same problem we attempted in 2018, they have the run way, they can experiment, they can fail over and start again.
Most solutions need funds. Startups that have staying power usually have funds or they have a founding team bond together by something other than profit. If we started a window cleaning business, we probably would still be in business but we won’t be impactful. As entrepreneurs, what keeps us going is the slight chance that we might just build something life changing.
Verilearn died a slow death, we pivoted to Strata. We took all the knowledge, experience and network we had, switched from educating secondary school students to educating working class people, career people. This too has it’s own pitfalls, Strata is something else today.
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