Learning startup GO1 raises $30 million, backed by Microsoft’s M12 venture fund

GO1 co-founder Andrew Barnes. Source: Supplied.

GO1 co-founder Andrew Barnes. Source: Supplied.

Corporate education startup GO1 has raised $30 million in Series B funding, just seven months after its $10 million Series A raise.

The Series B round was led by Microsoft’s venture fund M12, Aussie recruitment giant Seek and Y Combinator, and also included Larsen Ventures, the venture capital fund of Peter Larsen, co-founder of education provider Navitas.

Both Larsen Ventures and M12 join the startup as new investors, and GO1 marks M12’s first-ever investment in the Asia Pacific region.

GO1 was founded in 2015 by Andrew Barnes, Chris Eigeland, Chris Hood and Vu Tran, after the co-founders completed the Y Combinator accelerator.

The startup almost immediately secured $1.36 million in investment, led by Australian entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Steve Baxter and Sydney venture capital firm Tank Stream Ventures.

The team later secured $4 million in funding in January 2017, and a further $10 million in Series A funding in August last year.

Since closing the Series A round, GO1 has expanded into the US, opening offices in San Francisco and Utah, as well as into London, and has already “seen some really exciting early traction in those markets”, Barnes tells StartupSmart.

“It’s been busy as usual, but the definition of busy seems to get more complex over time,” he adds.

Barnes doesn’t reveal exact figures, but says across GO1’s users, content catalogue and recurring revenue streams, the startup has “basically doubled in size since this time last year”.

It now has 500,000 different courses available, and 50,000 available for its subscription customers.

This growth has come from a combination of new customers in the US and the UK, and continuing growth in the Australian market, he says.

“We still see a lot of room for growth domestically,” he adds.

A bigger challenge

Following its early success overseas, GO1 saw “potential partners who could help us accelerate in those markets in the same way that Seek has helped us in the Australian market”, Barnes says.

The founder was looking for investors that were familiar with these markets, and had a strong presence there.

But they were also looking for partners to be more than just capital investors — partners “who could assist with some of the plans we have in those markets”.

In Microsoft especially, Barnes saw the potential for a “true partnership” similar to its existing relationship with Seek.

Microsoft and GO1 have a “commonality of customers”, he says, and can ensure better customer experience through working together.

However, Barnes also sees the opportunity to “leverage some of the lessons that a company of that size has learnt along the way, as we go on our own growth journey”.

Now, the plan is the same: to continue the growth trajectory.

“But the challenge becomes a bigger challenge,” he says.

The team will be working on building a bigger presence in the UK and the US, continuing to build on the product and maintain the quality of the content, all on a larger scale.

“The strategy is the same, but it’s the tactics that are involved just need to step up another level,” Barnes says.

And the founder says he’s not opposed to the idea of another capital raise, if an opportunity presents itself that could accelerate growth again.

The interest from Microsoft was a clear opportunity.

“If there are other opportunities that present themselves in the future, then we’ll evaluate them,” he adds.

Equally, Barnes doesn’t entirely rule out going public in the future.

“At some point in time, it might make sense to be a public company … so we want to run the business in a really orderly manner.”

However, an IPO is not on the cards in the short term “by any stretch of the imagination”, he says.

Have your cake and eat it too

Following an intense 12 months or so, Barnes has one main message for other founders and internal startup teams.

“Recognise that each person only has 24 hours in a single day, there’s nothing you can do to have any more time than that,” he says.

“Everyone will feel like they have 101 things to fit in.”

People should try to understand what should be prioritised and tackled first, he suggests.

Then if you only get a few things done, “as long as it’s the important items, then hopefully you go home feeling good about what you’ve achieved”.

Barnes has recently had a baby daughter, and for him “one of the most important things is having time with her”.

At the same time, he’s focused on continuing to grow the business.

“I don’t see those as priorities that are difficult to achieve together, it’s just how to be creative in trying to have your cake and eat it too,” he says.

Equally, he stresses that everyone has different priorities and different circumstances.

“It’s just understanding that you have finite time, and if you just do the things that are most important, then that’s the best you can do,” he says.

“It’s also the same playing field that everyone else is working on, so if you do the most critical things, then you’re achieving some really good progress.”

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