Notes on Duolingo's IPO and the Rise of EdTech Unicorns by@sarathcp92

Notes on Duolingo's IPO and the Rise of EdTech Unicorns

Education now is a booming industry that has already seen immense growth and is still rapidly expanding. Many substantial educational companies are not just growing but going public as well. In the USA alone, there are about 29 companies with $71 billion capital as of January 2020. There was about $18.7 billion investment made on a worldwide scale in learning technology supplies in 2019, as per Metaari. The education sector is being categorized as the "impact" sector, which is attracting many investors who want to have an impact in the world.
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Sarath C P

Digital Strategist and Consultant, Growth Hacking Specialist worked for both startups & big brands.

Education has always had a significant impact on people around the world. We all remember the memories from kindergarten through high school. And it is not easy to forget our memories from college to the start of your working life. Even though we consider education to be a one-room and a red-brick schoolhouse, it has evolved. Education now is a booming industry that has already seen immense growth and is still rapidly expanding. 

Companies and investors in this industry know and recognize all the various trends that continue to help in the growth. And that is also why many substantial educational companies are not just growing but going public as well. In this article, we will talk about the rise of EdTech unicorns and the Duolingo IPO. 

EdTech Unicorns

Many EdTech startups are launched every day. And a lot of them end up failing as they did not learn from the mistakes and the success of other education companies in the industry. But when it comes to EdTech unicorns, not all startups can be called unicorns (you can see Eqvista's complete list of 2021 unicorns here).

Let's begin by talking about the industry, and then we will define what an EdTech unicorn is. 

EdTech Industry Overview 

The EdTech industry is a vast and rapidly growing one. You can find every kind of company here, from startups and middle-market companies to even public companies. The companies in this industry are not only getting the attention of veterans but also from general investors too. We all know that there are three key education categories including:

  • Prek-12
  • Post-secondary
  • Corporate training

With technology infused in all these parts, a learner is always in contact with technology. And each of these sectors has its own sub-segment in the industry. Moreover, each category is different and has unique buyers, end-users, and funding mechanisms. The growth of each has been shared below:

  • US EdTech VC investments - As per EdSurge, about $1.7 billion in venture capital was invested in the EdTech market in 2019 itself for over 105 deals. And most of these investments were of the Series C round.
  • Global learning technology investment - There was about $18.7 billion investment made on a worldwide scale in learning technology supplies in 2019, as per Metaari.
  • Global venture investment - A report by HolonIQ showed that $7 billion venture capital funding was invested in educational institutions all over the world in 2019. Seeing its comparison to $0.5 billion VC funds invested in 2010, there is a prediction that this amount will triple in the next decade.
  • Private equity funds for EdTech investments - Other than VC funds, a lot of private equity funds are being raised too for being invested in the education sector. In addition to this, the education sector is being categorized as the "impact" sector, which is attracting many investors who want to have an impact in the world. 
  • Publicly traded EdTech companies - A considerable part of the EdTech market is from publicly traded companies. In the USA alone, there are about 29 companies with $71 billion capital as of January 2020. 

In short, the EdTech industry is actually very vast and growing every day. 

What is an EdTech Unicorn? 

EdTech is basically the practice of introducing IT tools in education to make learning more engaging, inclusive, better, and for an individualized learning experience too. With this said, what is a "unicorn?" "Unicorn" in the business world and VC world describes a privately held startup that has a value of $1 billion or more. This term was coined by Aileen Lee, the founder of Cowboy Ventures. So, how do we differentiate an EdTech unicorn from the rest? 

Well, the first step is to check all the startups to see which ones are EdTech unicorns and which are not. To explain better, some startups have a value of more than $1 billion, like Roblox. But this company has its feet in different industries and not just in the EdTech one. So you need to identify the handful of companies both in the Education and Technology industry with a value of over $1 billion.

Top Edu-Tech Unicorn Startups in the World 

There are many recognizable EdTech unicorn startups in the world. Here are the top 10 that you should know:

  • Age of Learning - Valued at $1 billion in 2016
  • BYJU'S - Valued at $1 billion in 2018
  • Course Hero - Valued at $1 billion in 2020
  • Coursera - Valued at $1 billion in 2019
  • Duolingo - Valued at $1.5 billion in 2019
  • Guild Education - Valued at $1 billion in 2019
  • Knowbox - Valued at $1 billion in 2019
  • Quizlet - Valued at $1 billion in 2020
  • Udacity - Valued at $1 billion in 2015
  • Udemy - Valued at $2 billion in 2020

Out of these, we will be talking about Duolingo and its decision to go public through an IPO.

Duolingo IPO 

Duolingo is a Pittsburgh-based company that offers language learning resources and tools via its mobile app, website, and assessment platform. Anyone can easily learn up to 40 languages through Duolingo. The company was started in 2011 by a computer science professor named Luis Von Ahn with his postgraduate student, Severin Hacker. This professor also started the bot-detection company - CAPTCHA, which was sold to Google. He then decided to start this company to solve the problem of expensive language courses for everyone. 

The company grew over the years till it finally became a unicorn in 2019. It has about 10 million users and is rapidly increasing. And now, in July 2021, the company went public, changing the face of the EdTech industry. Now, Duolingo has some 300 million global users of its technology. This has also led the company to have about 1k global employees and about $161 million in revenue!

Why is Duolingo's IPO Great News for the EdTech Industry?

Duolingo has been growing rapidly since it entered the scene in the EdTech industry. It has raised a lot of funding till now and has hundreds of millions of users, thanks to its free language resources. And with all the rapid growth, the company decided that it was time to go public. And on 28th July 2021, under the ticker DUOL, the company went public on Nasdaq. The company has raised about $521 million through the sale of 5.1 million shares during the IPO. The price of the shares at this time was $141.40 a share. This also brought the value of the company to $5 billion after the sale.

Thanks to this step taken by the company, it has changed the face of the EdTech industry. Although EdTech companies are growing and people value education, Duolingo has just shown that not only do tech companies have the way to reach the top, but also the EdTech companies. It has given hope to many others that their growth doesn't have to stop, and they too can conquer it all. 

Edu-Tech Industry Trends and Predictions 

With all these changes in the EdTech industry, we can expect more extraordinary things to come ahead for the industry. But two topics have the most impact - online learning and emerging technologies. Both these trends have been talked about briefly below:

  • Online learning will grow more in 2021: The last decade has had a lot of hype around online learning. And by 2019, a lot of things had changed. As a matter of fact, investors are much more inclined to invest in online education. Private equity-backed providers are looking for opportunities to expand the online K-12 market. And the prominent non-profit players are focusing more on higher education. Moreover, India and China are attracting a lot of capital for their Edutech startups. 
  • Emerging technologies will be used in education: Again, in the last decade, we have seen all the new technologies being used in education from books to the radio, from computers to the internet and so on. Even though there have been failures, IT experts keep working towards finding a way to use technology and improve the learner's experience. Due to this, many investors have an interest in investing in such projects. Talk about anything like VR, AR, and Robotics too; everyone part of the education industry is attracting investors and the industry growth.

Wrap Up

EdTech is a diverse and enormous industry that keeps growing. In fact, this industry will keep growing as people will never stop learning. And this opens a new gate of opportunities for everyone, as we have seen with the Duolingo IPO. If you are planning to start an education company, then this is a good time. And if you already have one, then you are in luck as you can pitch to investors and gain more expansion.

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by Sarath C P @sarathcp92. Digital Strategist and Consultant, Growth Hacking Specialist worked for both startups & big brands. Read my stories

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