“It’s been a rollercoaster”: Edtech GO1 secures $61 million as COVID-19 accelerates online learning

GO1 Andrew Barnes

GO1 co-founder and chief Andrew Barnes. Source: supplied.

Brisbane-based edtech startup GO1 has secured US$40 million ($61 million) in Series C funding, even as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

But, while the pandemic has been a “rollercoaster” for the business, the swift move to remote work has accelerated the edtech trend.

The funding round was led by existing investors Seek and Madrona Venture Group. Previous backers Our Innovation Fund and Microsoft’s M12 also contributed, as did new investor Salesforce Ventures.

GO1 is a content provider allowing businesses to provide on-demand remote training and education materials to employees.

It was founded in 2015 by Andrew Barnes, Chris Eigeland, Chris Hood and Vu Tran, after they completed the Y Combinator accelerator.

This latest round follows a $30 million Series B raise in March last year. Since then, revenue has “more than doubled” year-on-year, Barnes tells SmartCompany.

“We’re really excited to see that continued growth rate.”

But we can’t talk about big funding rounds without talking about the elephant in the room; the environment now is very different to that of 12 months ago.

GO1 closed this latest round a matter of days ago. And while many of the early conversations happened pre-pandemic, the founders and investors had been working to close the deal even as COVID-19 wreaks havoc all over the world

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Barnes says.

In early March, as the crisis began to escalate, the company made its internal preparations and moved to remote work, implementing appropriate strategies for its teams in Australia, the US, London and Vietnam.

“We had a couple of people just trying to get back to the various countries where they were living and working,” Barnes explains.

Then, it became clear there would be an impact on the business. Some of GO1’s customers were affected, he explains, which meant revenue and sales were down on projections.

But, at the same time, the product became more applicable, and more in-demand, than ever.

“We saw five times the activity on our platform,” Barnes says.

For GO1, it seemed that March was the month for customers to respond to the immediate issues.

In April, “it very much shifted to helping people in a remote work setting”, says the co-founder.

For example, the startup has partnered with mental health organisations to help make support material available during this turbulent time.

“It’s been really busy, in terms of how we respond to that need,” Barnes explains, “even though we saw a lot of the work we’re doing freeze up, as businesses pause to consider what it all meant for them”.

A new normal

When asked whether the past two months has had a material impact on revenue growth, “it’s probably too early to say”, Barnes says.

“It’s a general economic impact, so we’re certainly not immune from that,” he admits.

“But we’re thinking about where we will be in the next 12 months.”

The startup’s growth plans haven’t changed, he says. The team will be focusing on integrating the tech with new partners, and expanding GO1’s presence in the US and the UK.

The five-year journey is “independent of some of the day-to-day things”, the founder explains.

Edtech is one of the industries likely to be accelerated by this crisis, he suggests.

During the pandemic, there’s been a shift in the way we work, and businesses that facilitate remote work ⁠— the likes of Slack and Zoom for example ⁠— have seen well-publicised success over the past six to eight weeks.

“But even prior to that they’ve seen explosive growth,” Barnes says.

“The experience that everyone has had over the past couple of months will just accelerate underlying changes in the economy,” he explains.

“It’s just contracted some of the changes that were already occurring that would have taken a number of years to occur into a number of months.”

GO1 has been observing a shift from in-person corporate education to online, Barnes explains.

He estimates the corporate online education space has been growing at a rate of about 20% year-on-year.

“I think if we look at the number this year, it will be a much quicker growth rate in the industry at large,” he says.

“The awareness that organisations and individuals have around the importance of continuing to upskill and re-skill is really at the forefront, particularly as people get back into a new state of normal,” he suggests.

“There’s a huge opportunity for us to assist in that regard.”

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