Today we are announcing our most recent Shasta Ventures investment, leading a $6M series A round for Socratic, a question and answer community focused on high school and foundational college academics.
Online written content tends to be produced through one of two very different approaches. The first approach is professionally-driven publishing. The New York Times, ESPN, The Wall Street Journal. These companies employ professional writers to create their content. The alternative approach is community-driven publishing. Yelp, Wikipedia, TripAdvisor. Community-driven content publishers build communities anchored around a common passion, and their most active members contribute and share lots of content, not for a paycheck, but because of an authentic passion for the subject matter.
In the evolution of the Internet, professionally-driven publishing understandably emerged first since it was the most direct translation of the print publishing world. But community-driven content publishing has many inherent advantages. It costs less. Thanks to passionate experts it is as good, if not better, than professionally-created content. It improves over time and never goes stale. Finally, highly engaged communities exhibit a gravitational pull that create massive barriers to entry.
In category after category we’ve witnessed professionally-driven publishers getting surpassed by community-driven publishers. The Yellow Pages was surpassed by Yelp. Lonely Planet and Fodors were surpassed by TripAdvisor. Encyclopedia Britannica was surpassed by Wikipedia. And yet for all the advantages of the community-driven publishing model, it hasn’t overtaken every category yet. In the world of academic knowledge, the traditional textbook publishers have been very slow to move content online for fear it would diminish the value of their core print business. Therefore, when students search online for content they typically encounter a highly fragmented hodge-podge of sources like lecture handouts or websites built in 1995. Those sources are often unhelpful, unreliable or overwhelming.
In 2013 two mission-driven and product-obsessed founders, Chris Pedregal and Shreyans Bhansali, saw this gap in the market and created Socratic. It is a community where confused students can ask questions, and where passionate community members like Ernest Z., a retired Professor of Chemistry, collaboratively answer those questions. The result is the best answers that exist anywhere online. Answers that students love.
Socratic started a year ago with only Chemistry and now they have thriving communities across 12 subjects, ranging from Physics to Biology to Macroeconomics. They’ve been successful by focusing on the product experience and their community members. The product is thoughtfully designed to make it easy to write the best answer possible. Tools like their math formula writing software and in-line graphing functionality make this possible. And they focus on features that deepen engagement among their contributors. Contributors can see their impact, build their reputation and engage with like-minded community members. The result is contributors like Ernest answering 1,772 questions seen by over 1 million students across 215 countries, and an audience that has grown over 10x since the start of the most recent academic year.
At Shasta we have bet on this theme before to great success. In 2007 we invested in Spiceworks. Eight years later Spiceworks has raised $111 million and is now the definitive destination online for IT professionals. Six million IT pros turn to the Spiceworks community to ask questions and share advice. We see a similar potential in Socratic. Academic knowledge is an important category and yet there is no definitive online destination for it. With their community-driven approach and their phenomenal product intuition, we see Socratic becoming this place. Their impressive team has accomplished a lot in a short period of time on limited capital, and the company is on a rapid growth trajectory. We’re honored to join Chris, Shreyans, and their team to help make their bold vision a reality.
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” In the world of academic knowledge, the traditional textbook publishers have been very slow to move content online for fear it would diminish the value of their core print business. ” Indeed, it is horrible to have papers locked up, books with partial publications, and so on. Hopefully, soon we are going to have better ways to share information.