Armed with a bachelors degree in mathematical economics and practical teaching experience in his arsenal, Welsh-born Sam Chaudhary came to Palo Alto on a tourist visa in the summer of 2011 to launch an ed tech startup.
But the pesky issue of exactly what that startup would resemble remained elusive.
So he and co-founder Liam Don started from scratch.
“Our first week in California we started reaching out to teachers,” Chaudhary told Business Insider. “We were in this little room in Palo Alto, and we were sleeping and working in opposite corners of the same room.”
After 90 days and an expired visa, the duo went back to the United Kingdom, but they kept asking their most important question to educators: “What’s the worst part of teaching?”
Now, five years later, the teaching community has embraced their startup, ClassDojo, and rewarded it with extraordinary growth.
The app, available via the Apple Store and Google Play, functions like a social media community where parents can see student school work through the photos and videos teachers upload.
Millions of users worldwide have downloaded the platform, according to Lindsay McKinley, head of communications at ClassDojo, although she declined to give specific numbers, citing competitive advantages.
ClassDojo’s premise may sound simple: The app allows teacher, parents, and students to connect within the classroom — but for many, it’s transformed the teaching experience.
The platform is used in two-thirds of all schools — public, private, and charter — across the nation and in 90% of school districts. It’s also used in 180 countries globally, according to McKinley.
Last summer, McKinley says more than 500,000 people download the app everyday. That’s more than mobile app behemoths Yelp and Tinder, she claims.
In late 2015, the company raised $21 million in a Series B round of venture funding, according to TechCrunch. It had previously raised $8.5 million during its first institutional funding in 2013, and $1.6 million in seed funding in 2012, according to VentureBeat.
At its core, the app creates a shared classroom experience between parents, teachers, and students. Teachers upload photos, videos, and classwork to their private classroom groups which parents can view and “like.” They can also privately message teachers and monitor how their children are doing in their classrooms through the behaviour tracking aspect of the app. In the behaviour tracking portion of the app, teachers give or take away points based on performance or conduct.
ClassDojo fosters an atmosphere of collaboration and support, essentially removing the invisible barrier that often exists between the home and classroom. Now, parents need not wait for their once-a-quarter parent-teacher conferences but can have daily dialogues about their children.
The aspect of the platform that seems to receive the most criticism, however, is the behavioural tracking element.
Students, each identified by a cutesy “monster” avatar, receive points for points for positive behaviour. Similarly, they lose points for bad behaviour. And parents can see all of this activity.
“This app is nothing more than a public shaming tool for teachers and an added stress for parents,” a review in the Apple store reads.
It’s similar to other criticism ClassDojo has received over the past few years.
“This is just a flashy digital update of programs that have long been used to treat children like pets, bribing or threatening them into compliance,” Alfie Kohn, the author of “The Myth of the Spoiled Child,” told The New York Times in 2014.
At least in the Apple store, however, the positive reviews far outweigh the negatives.
“I have always wanted more communication & to be more involved when it comes to knowing how my kids are doing on a daily basis…and now with Dojo, I am!,” a review in the Apple store reads.
Similarly, parents and teachers have taken to Twitter to share their appreciation for the app.
Just learned about class dojo! Can’t wait to start using this in my classroom this year! Nice workPBIS
“We had a very non-Silicon Valley thesis,” Chaudhary explained about creating ClassDojo. “It wasn’t, ‘here’s the technology that’s going to replace you,’ it was, ‘how can we use technology to enable you to do all the good things you already want to do?” he said.
That mentality, it seems, has paid off. ClassDojo hasn’t spent a dime on marketing. Any growth that’s happened has happened by word-of-mouth, with principals and teachers sharing it from one colleague to the next.
Still, when starting the company five years ago Chaudhary said that he never imagined it would be the successful technology it is today.
“I’m always very wary of the Silicon Valley hubris: ‘We saw the future and built it,'” he said, explaining that he didn’t hatch some master plan. “We’re going to be the company who really listens to teacher and parents and kids.”
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