Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Schola did $125,000 revenue in 2020. The amount has been updated.
Schola founder and CEO Jaime Martinez says it took a couple years’ worth of conversations to raise $2.5 million for the company’s second round of seed money. And yet Martinez says it was much easier to raise $2.5 million than it was to raise the company’s first $1 million.
The money came from venture capitalists around the country, as well as a few angel investors here in Arizona.
Martinez has big plans for the new money to help ramp up the company’s growth. Schola saw $1.3 million in revenue in 2020 and Martinez says his company is on track to continue to grow in 2021. They’re looking to hire at least 30 more full-time employees this year, including sales and engineering positions, locally and beyond. This new batch of hires would be in addition to the 30 full-time employees already working for the company all around the country.
What is Schola?
Schola is based in Phoenix, with offices in the Grand Canyon University Innovation Center. In return for free rent, Schola has agreed to hire GCU students as interns. But like many companies during the pandemic, Schola is 100% remote and may stay that way. This allows employees to work from anywhere in the U.S., a plus for a company looking to grow.
Martinez says the mission of his company is to “help families find the ideal educational setting for their children based on each child’s needs and interests.” Schola is also meant to help schools with recruiting and connecting them with parents and children who are the right match.
The platform relies on 5 years of data mining, with info ranging from the school’s size to the standardized test scores to whether or not it has a playground. Parents can filter by school features to help narrow down the school selection. Schola is free for both parents and schools, with premium options available for schools.
“We would never make the parents pay,” says Martinez.
The company has 269,000 schools on its platform, including preschools. Schools range from charter schools to private schools to montessori schools. Martinez says they sometimes include public schools, but most of the matches are geared more towards the other categories.
The goal of Schola is to match students with the school that best fits their needs, but there’s a risk that public schools will lose students. Improving public education has been a fight for years, and if students leave for charter or private schools, there’s even less incentive to improve the general public education system.
Still, Martinez stands by his business model. In fact, he’s hoping for Schola to become the gold standard for student placement and recruiting across the country.
Martinez has 10 years of education experience behind him. He was working in finance and marketing before he decided to apply for Teach for America, a program that recruits teachers to work in underserved and low-income communities. He was accepted and worked as a teacher for the program in Phoenix for two years. During that time, Martinez says he saw a broken school system. Many of his students’ education needs weren’t being met in the school where he taught. As he got to know his students better, he helped direct some of them to other schools in the valley that would meet their needs.
School administrators didn’t like that because their funding relied on student headcount. So, as Martinez sent kids elsewhere, his school lost money. These financial incentives bothered Martinez, and that concern stayed with him.
After Teach for America, Martinez became an administrator himself. He eventually started his own charter school and quickly recruited students, filling it to capacity. He became known for his marketing skills and he worked for two different organizations in Arizona to help improve school recruiting before joining a national consultancy doing the same thing. As he continued to see a need, Martinez decided to start a company that could help solve this problem. And, he says, Schola had revenue since day one.
The company has had to overcome several challenges, including navigating the different transfer policies and school systems that vary from state to state. Another looming problem is how to gather the data that will provide parents with information about the COVID policies that vary from school to school.
Regardless of the challenges, Martinez is excited for 2021. He says the company is currently helping about 500 students a week, and he’s got plans to raise Series A money late this year or early next year.