Remind’s Race to Conquer the K-12 Communications Market—and Beyond

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The bigger the check, the grander the expectations. That’s the pressure put on any venture-backed startup—and especially so for Remind, which has raised $59.5 million from investors including Kleiner Perkins and Social Capital, two of Silicon Valley’s toniest firms.

Since its launch in 2011, the company’s communication app has amassed more than 20 million users—none of whom had to pay a dime. It’s relied on that explosive growth to sidestep questions about its business model. But that’s no longer the case.

Remind is in its seventh year, which is typically when investors like to see returns. Patience and money burn quickly in this business, but now the company has something serious to sell. Last month, it hired Dan Trepanier, a former sales executive at Raptor, a school security company, as its vice president of sales. He’s tasked with building a team to sell a
premium version of Remind to schools and districts.

Features in this paid option include integration with student information systems to streamline syncing student, parent and teacher accounts, along with a dashboard that keeps track of all communication that happens. Teachers will also be able to do voice calls (while keeping phone numbers private) and send messages longer than 140 characters.

Remind community engagement dashboard

The focus on revenue comes just a year after Brian Gray, a former Yahoo and Bleacher Report executive,
took over as CEO last August. He replaced co-founder Brett Kopf (who remains on the team as a product evangelist.) Gray quickly went to work. Six weeks after he joined, “we committed to this path of building a premium version of Remind that we could take into the market, directly to districts, directly to schools,” Gray tells EdSurge.

His vision is plain and simple: to instill Remind as a district’s communication centerpiece for family and community engagement.

More than 200 schools and districts, says Gray, have signed up for the premium version of Remind, which costs roughly $4 per student per year. (For some context, there are about
50.7 million students in public K-12 schools.) The company began selling in mid-January this year, starting with four districts in the Los Angeles region.

Remind’s efforts to woo more premium subscribers will rely on three sales channels. The first involves a “field team that will focus on districts and building those relationships,” Gray says. (There are already field salespeople in Florida, Mississippi and the Chicago region.) The second is an inside sales force that will try to reach school administrators. Then finally there’s what he calls a “self-serve” model where a principal can purchase a license directly from the site.

Here’s how these strategies complement each other, according to Gray: “As we build relationships with individual schools, that gives our field team the opportunity to talk to a district and say, ‘Hey, did you know that X number of your schools are already using the premium version of Remind? Why don’t you just roll it out for the entire district?’”

What’s no longer a part of Remind’s offering is Activities, a payment processing feature that marked its first attempt at monetization.
Launched last August, the idea was to let educators request and collect money from parents for school-related activities, from field trips to events, lunch and other school-related activities. The company would take a 5 percent cut of all transactions.

That didn’t pan out. What Remind learned, says product marketing manager Emmiliese von Clemm, was that “teachers don’t want money passing through them; it should go directly to the schools.” Payment processing hasn’t been entirely scratched from the product roadmap, but “it needs to be implemented across the entire school, not just by individuals,” she adds.

There’s a longer-term monetization strategy. The “second phase” in the company’s revenue plans, says Gray, is “how our communication network can potentially be a channel through which services find their way to students, teachers and parents.” Already these users send messages with links to content everyday, “whether it’s Google docs, Microsoft docs, Quizlet links to flashcards, the list goes on and on,” he shares. “We can imagine a world where Remind becomes the pointer and the organizing mechanism for all of the kids’ homework and content.”

“The messaging experience really affords itself a lot of natural places for other services to be introduced or to be discovered,” Gray adds. With more than 23 million monthly active users and some level of adoption in 90 percent of all U.S. K-12 public school districts, that’s a sizable audience for whom Remind can distribute and surface digital education content.

It’s a compelling strategy, but not altogether original. One of Remind’s biggest competitors may be a fellow classmate from Imagine K12, an education technology accelerator that is now a part of Y Combinator. Based just over a mile away from Remind’s San Francisco offices is
ClassDojo, which has similar ambitions to become the nexus of communications for teachers, students and parents. It claims usage in 90 percent of U.S. K-8 schools.

The two products have features that look rather similar. Compare a couple of screenshots from Remind here…

Remind mobile app screenshots

…with those from ClassDojo below.

ClassDojo mobile app screenshots

ClassDojo has already created some original content, having partnered with universities to
deliver animated videos about growth mindsets. One of its investors has already suggested it wouldn’t be out of the picture if parents used ClassDojo to pay for content.

Judging by their features and company vision, there may well be a rivalry between Remind and ClassDojo to woo users. Gray skirted the competition question, only offering that “we really span all of K-12, while they’re more focused on the earlier end of that spectrum.”

Of course, Silicon Valley upstarts are not the only ones in the school communication business. Popular student information systems such as
PowerSchool offer parent engagement tools that lets parents and teachers communicate and share notifications and alerts. Another established company, SchoolMessenger, has been selling to districts for more than 17 years and claims users in more than 60,000 schools across North America.

Untangling established relationships is a challenge for all startups. Yet through Remind, Gray also aspires to marry communication with content, a combination that few in the education business have successfully pulled off. He’ll likely rely on skills honed through his days building online sports communities to make it happen in the edtech industry.

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