Emile Creates 'TikTok' Style Videos to Help You Prep For Your AP Test

Francesca Billington

Francesca Billington is a freelance reporter. Prior to that, she was a general assignment reporter for dot.LA and has also reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.

Courtesy of Emile

TikTok changed the way we watch, shop and discover music. Can it change how we learn?

That's the bet Emile's three co-founders are making. Their TikTok-style app uses short form video to tutor high school students in advanced placement subjects from psychology to literature.

During the pandemic, teachers had a similar idea. They took to TikTok, posting mini multiplication lessons, virtual field trips and humor videos such as "things my students have said to me over Zoom" during a year that left most students isolated at home.

"We're really taking the best trends from social media, consumer tech and consumer media and bringing them to education," said co-founder and COO Michael Vilardo.

But instead of channeling the sway of celebrities and comedians, Emile is flying Ivy League professors to a studio in Woodland Hills to film five to 10-minute lessons.

With $5.3 million in capital, the company and its subscription-based tutoring service thinks it can change how high school students absorb AP course material. And his backers include venture capitalists who backed Coursera and Cameo's CEO Steven Galanis.

Class Is In Session — For Three Minutes

Michael Vilardo, Felix Ruano, and Jon QuirosLeft to right: Emile co-founders Michael Vilardo, Felix Ruano and Jon Quiros

This year alone, investors sunk $6.39 billion into edtech. It's a market that knows how to keep up with the trends. As Gen Z spends more time online, venture backed tech startups have started packaging tutoring and test prep content like they would a 30-second cooking tutorial.

"It's not like taking a video from the back of the room of your local high school," said Annie Case, an investor Kleiner Perkins who led the company's seed round. "But a high quality Netflix or Masterclass experience."

For an annual membership of $119.88 (or a month-to-month subscription for $27.99), members can scroll through hundreds of "mini lessons" taught by teachers and professors across the country.

The idea is to make AP courses — and studying for them — more available to students regardless of their school's resources. Like other ACT or SAT test prep companies, the startup also guarantees users will pass the AP test so long as they finish every video and quiz listed for that subject.

"There's been a whole backlash on who gets AP courses, who can access them," said Alan Arkatov, a professor of educational entrepreneurship, technology and innovation at USC's Rossier School of Education. "I love that this company is going after it in a thoughtful way."

By the fall, the startup plans to begin issuing accredited transcripts for home-schooled students and expects to have locked in place partnerships with school districts and state governments.

"We're in a prime position to take advantage of that," the company's CEO and co-founder Felix Ruano said.

Lesson plans are condensed into three to eight-minute videos designed to teach a single concept that fits into a teenager's attention span. Like the Masterclass of edtech, the company boasts.

"Let's say it's calculus," Vilardo said. "It'll be a five minute intro to limits video with a short study guide and short quiz attached to it."

He said 90% of users that signed up for one-month paid membership renewed their subscriptions.

But whether the company can demonstrate the educational results it promises is another question.

"There's going to be a lot of shiny, bright lights," Arkatov said of the innovation coming out of edtech startups. "Whether they can quantify that they can get the kind of outcomes they want to get, we'll soon find out."

Investors, meanwhile, seem sure that on-demand tutoring and study aids won't lose traction even as schools resume in-person learning.

"Quite the opposite," said Case, whose investment portfolio includes edtech startups Coursera and Duolingo. "What I see as the opportunity for Emile is to work really nicely with the existing education system rather than replace it."

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


Venture Firm Backstage Capital Laid Off Nine Employees, Reducing Its Staff to Just Three

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Venture Firm Backstage Capital Laid Off Nine Employees, Reducing Its Staff to Just Three
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Venture firm Backstage Capital laid off nine employees, reducing its staff to just three.

Managing partner and founder Arlan Hamilton announced the layoffs Sunday on her “Your First Million” podcast. General partners Christie Pitts and Brittany Davis, along with Hamilton, are the only remaining employees, TechCrunch reported. The move comes only three months after the Los Angeles-based firm said it would only fund existing portfolio companies.

Read moreShow less

A New Tide of LA Startups Is Tackling the National Childcare Crisis

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

A New Tide of LA Startups Is Tackling the National Childcare Crisis
Image by Carolyn Figel

The pandemic exacerbated a problem that has been long bubbling in the U.S.: the childcare crisis.

According to a survey of people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers conducted by the city’s WiSTEM Los Angeles program and shared exclusively with dot.LA, the pandemic exposed a slew of challenges across STEM fields. The survey—which consisted of 181 respondents from L.A.County and was conducted between March 2021 and 2022— involved respondents across medical fields, technical professions and science industries who shared the pandemic’s effects on their professional or education careers.

Read moreShow less

“Talent Is Ubiquitous; Access to Capital Is Not': MaC Venture Capital Raises $203M for Early-Stage Startups

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is dot.LA's Editorial Fellow. Prior to that, she was an editorial intern at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

“Talent Is Ubiquitous; Access to Capital Is Not': MaC Venture Capital Raises $203M for Early-Stage Startups
Courtesy of MaC Venture Capital

While venture capital funding has taken a hit this year, that hasn’t stopped MaC Venture Capital from raising $203 million for its second fund.

The Los Angeles-based, Black-led VC firm said Monday that it had surpassed its initial $200 million goal for the fund, which dot.LA reported in January, over the span of seven months. MaC said it expects to invest the capital in up to 50 mostly seed-stage startups while remaining “sector-agnostic.”

Read moreShow less