Go1 becomes Australia’s latest unicorn with $270 million raise: Five minutes with co-founder Andrew Barnes

GO1 co-founder Andrew Barnes

Source: supplied.

Aussie edtech startup Go1 has closed a whopping US$200 million ($272 million) Series D raise, elevating it straight to unicorn status.

SmartCompany caught up with co-founder and chief Andrew Barnes to talk big-name investors, macro trends and what being a ‘unicorn’ even means.

What is Go1?

Founded back in 2015, Go1 is an edtech startup providing on-demand content to businesses looking to support their employees in upskilling.

This whopping raise follows a $30 million Series B closed in 2019, and a $61 million cash injection in May last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the online learning trend.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Barnes says Go1 has been consistently doubling its revenue, year-on-year.

Since the last raise, it has also seen a 300% uptick in customers and learners on the platform, growing its business in North America and the UK, as well as on home turf.

Who are the investors?

The raise includes repeat backing from local venture capital fund AirTree Ventures, as well as Salesforce Ventures. Go1 has also attracted the interest of global behemoth SoftBank, which invested through its SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

The three players led the round, which gives the startup a valuation of US$1 billion and crowns it as a certified Aussie unicorn.

Additional investors include Blue Cloud Ventures, Larsen Ventures, Scott Shleifer and John Curtius of Tiger Global, TEN13, Microsoft’s venture fund M12, Madrona Venture Group, SEEK, and Y Combinator.

To attract such a consortium of high-profile investors, as well as a huge global player, is both exciting and humbling, Barnes says.

“Most importantly it’s validation to what the whole team has built,” he says, “to have such a large and well-known fund to really understand and see the same opportunities that we see”.

When asked whether he ever would have imagined securing a round this large, Barnes says, actually, he did.

When this raise closed, Barnes says early investor Steve Baxter sent him a copy of the deck the team used to pitch him in 2015. It seems he had audacious dreams even then.

“We thought we would be here three years ago,” Barnes laughs.

“We were incredibly optimistic … but it was more of just a hope and a whim,” he admits.

“It’s exciting to see that come to fruition, and we still feel it’s very early days.”

Why now?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Barnes says online learning was a high-growth sector that was seeing about 20% compound growth per year.

He and his co-founders have always seen a global opportunity here. Over the past 12 months, that’s “really started to be proven out”.

The pandemic exacerbated that growth, but the macro trends will continue beyond it, he predicts.

Employers are realising there’s a need to invest in things like mental health awareness and leadership skills, he explains.

“There’s a growing appreciation of the importance of how to help staff within an organisation be as productive as they can be.”

What’s next?

This funding will fuel the next phase of growth for the business, including a considerable uptick in headcount, Barnes says.

He groups Go1’s immediate plans into three ‘buckets’.

The first is continuing to expand the startup’s presence in the markets it already operates in: Australia, the UK and the US.

Then, the focus will be on funding new regions to expand into. The team is already working on launches in Singapore and other regions in Asia.

Finally, the team is focused is on unlocking further opportunities in this sector.

An Aussie unicorn

While Barnes may have always had big-name investors and multimillion-dollar rounds in his sights, he says being a unicorn was never something he necessarily aspired towards.

“We always thought we could build a great business and a large business,” he says,

The co-founders’ focus was on creating social impact through online learning, and to do that at scale. 

Now he’s here, with the ‘unicorn’ status splashed across the media tech pages, Barnes says it’s both “scary and exciting”.

When the numbers are this high, there’s a certain responsibility that comes with them, he notes. He also acknowledges that stories like this are about more than one business.

“It’s great for the local Australian and Queensland ecosystem, to demonstrate that we can create great success stories that grow to be global players,” he explains.

“We’ve got tremendous convictions in what’s possible.”

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