The Edtech Startup Powering LA and Long Beach Schools Is Now Worth Over $1B. Teachers, Privacy Advocates Aren't Thrilled.
Edtech powerhouse GoGuardian nabbed a $200 million strategic investment from Tiger Global Management, making the Los Angeles company an instant unicorn on Thursday.
The software, whose customers include Los Angeles Unified School District and Long Beach Unified School District, saw their user base jump 60% last year as the pandemic drove students online and helped grow the global edtech industry, which is projected to reach $285.2 billion by 2027.
The company's software lets teachers monitor students' activity online during school hours, but it's been heavily criticized by privacy rights advocates that say it goes too far.
Still, it's gained a strong customer base. Since being founded in 2014 as a Chrome extension, GoGuardian is used in over 10,000 U.S. school districts. Their products include web filtering and AI that helps to determine a student's risk for suicidal thoughts or violent behavior.
GoGuardian co-founder and CEO Advait Shinde
"The success we've had to date fuels us to pursue our mission with more energy and ambition than ever before, and Tiger Global's investment significantly expands our future impact in creating empowered and inspired learners," said GoGuardian co-founder and CEO Advait Shinde in a statement. "We are grateful for their partnership and excited for the work ahead."
Tim Green, a professor of educational technology at California State University, Fullerton, said that while large investments like these show great potential for the edtech industry, fads come and go all the time and investors need to approach with caution.
"What I would like to see with investments like this is a concerted commitment to invest in educator professional development and support for educators to effectively use these tools to positively improve student learning," Green added. "And, to the point of positively improving student learning — there is a need to determine whether tools like GoGuardian actually improve student learning and the educational experience."
GoGuardian's rise has met resistance among parents and those concerned about the software's ability to track minors. The ACLU published a report in October 2015 highlighting GoGuardian's use of remote webcam monitoring, keylogging, and more, after which the company disabled these features.
In addition, typing "GoGuardian" into Change.org's search feature pulls up dozens of petitions to disable the software in schools, including one that successfully halted the use of the software in a New Jersey school district earlier this year.
GoGuardian spokesperson Jeff Gordon said that GoGuardian operates in "full compliance with FERPA, COPPA, and other regulations," adding that they have signed the Student Privacy Pledge.
"Ultimately, in order for us to deliver the insights that drive learning outcomes and truly have a positive impact on the educational experience, we have to be good stewards of the student data our customers provide (and which they maintain ownership)," Gordon wrote in an email. "We believe that privacy is an essential part of keeping students safe online."
Gordon said the company will use the new raise for "product innovation, talent acquisition, and business development," but declined to disclose more details.
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In a year upended by crisis after crisis — the ongoing pandemic, the climate emergency, an insurrection in the capital — tech startup financing is not just bouncing back but altogether booming, and Los Angeles-based angel investors are a big part of that equation.
Angels usually take a stake in an emerging business using their own funds, before institutional investors are willing to throw more substantial resources behind an idea. Often, they start off as entrepreneurs or engineers themselves.
We surveyed dozens of prominent L.A. investors to find out who they believe to be the top angels in the city, as part of dot.LA's third VC sentiment survey. Then, we tallied the votes. dot.LA had to throw out a couple of top names because one angel no longer lived in Los Angeles and the other didn't appear to be actively investing.
For more from the latest survey, read about who to watch among L.A.'s hottest ecommerce startups.
The investors below are listed based on the number of votes they received. We deferred to alphabetical order when there was a tie. Without further ado, here are Los Angeles' top angels, according to their peers.
List tops this list despite maintaining a low profile compared to the five angels below. He's an early-stage investor whose portfolio includes mobile shopping startup Tapcart, glasses and contacts company Lensabl, as well as Brainbase, Candy Club, Citruslabs and other LA-based firms, per AngelList. His investments range between $25,000 and $100,000, according to his Signal investing page. List is also listed as the chief creative officer at brand studio Gazoozle, per Crunchbase. The agency mentions Uber, TBS and other big names as clients on its website.
When dot.LA reached out for more information about him and his recent investments, List responded via LinkedIn: "im all good man, i dont do any press. thanks though!" Thanks, indeed!
But Paul Bricault, co-founder and managing director of Amplify, who has several co-investments with him, said List really has a discerning eye. "While we have also passed on some things he has sent our way, they are always worth a hard look which is rare."
McInerney got his start as a software engineer at Apple and Sony. His L.A. investments include RentSpree, a tenant screening startup that just announced an $8 million series A; and Bird, the love-it-or-hate-it scooter rental service. Beyond the city, he's a backer of Notion, Segment and Dapper Labs. His exits include Lettuce, which sold to Intuit; and Shopflick, which sold to Popsugar.
Rascoff co-founded Zillow, Hotwire.com, real estate platform Pacaso, startup studio 75 & Sunny and this website, dot.LA. He's a former director of TripAdvisor and Zulily, and is a board member of the controversial data-mining company Palantir. When pressed on whether being a co-founder of dot.LA could have artificially boosted his vote count, Rascoff disagreed:
"I am just a really prolific L.A. based investor," he said. "I think we (75 & Sunny) did like 41 deals last year, of which 25 were in L.A., so that's why. I'm also an investor in many L.A. based venture funds (Crosscut, m13, Upfront, and others) so that helps me have a lot of connectivity to the L.A. tech community, which I'm sure boosts my vote count!"
Lee co-founded LegalZoom, ShoeDazzle and The Honest Company (of Jessica Alba fame), which went public in May and is now valued north of $894 million. "We have been fairly active this past year with 16 investments in total so far, and 8 of them in Los Angeles now," said Lee.
His LA-based investments include The NFT Company, guided breathing app Breathwrk and fantasy sports company Grin Gaming. Lee's exits include the infamous MoviePass (RIP), which sold to Helios and Matheson Analytics; Tapiture, which was bought by Playboy; and Stamped, which was snapped up by Yahoo, per Crunchbase.
O'Neill co-founded boutique candy brand Sugarfina. She also sat on the board of fintech company Happy Money and most recently cofounded early-stage investment fund Pure Imagination Brands in Santa Monica with her partner, Josh Resnick, who also made this list. Previously, O'Neill led marketing for Barbie at Mattel.
Resnick worked as a producer at Activision, the Santa Monica game publisher, before launching his own studio — Pandemic Studios — with backing from his former employer. Pandemic is known for developing Star Wars: Battlefront and later on was acquired by Electronic Arts with another studio in a combined $860 million deal. Resnick also cofounded Sugarfina and Pure Imagination Brands. The investor tells dot.LA that he's "done around a dozen deals so far this year with another 4 in the pipeline currently."
Of the deals he has closed in 2021 to date, he says eight were based in Los Angeles. His investment portfolio includes Culver City-based digital pharmacy Honeybee Health and virtual reality training platform Vantage Point.
Lead art by Candice Navi.
- What Are LA's Hottest Startups? We Asked Top VCs to Rank Them ›
- Here Are Los Angeles' Top Venture Capitalists - dot.LA ›
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- Venture Capitals Investing in Southern California Startups - dot.LA ›
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Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to email@example.com.
Launching a brand new business has its ups and downs, and Noura Sakkijha can tell you all about it.
In the early years of launching the fine jewelry brand Mejuri, Sakkijha hit burnout and learned some very difficult lessons that are now part of the story she brings to the latest episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast.
Today, Sakkijha is the CEO and co-founder of Mejuri, a high-growth brand that has sold more than 1.8 million pieces of jewelry since its inception in 2015.
Looking from the outside in, entering the jewelry market can seem like a daunting endeavor. Not only is it seemingly saturated, but it's also exceptionally expensive, she says.
Sakkijha grew up in Jordan as a third-generation jeweler. There, she noticed that traditional high-end jewelry brands always targeted men, encouraging them to buy luxe jewelry for women. In 2015, Sakkijha started Mejuri to change this narrative: A woman doesn't need a man to buy jewelry for her. She can buy it yourself.
Sakkijha successfully raised more than $40 million for her jewelry brand and shine in a competitive market. Her products have been worn by A-list celebrities like Selena Gomez, Lizzo, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Oprah, and others.
In this episode, Sakkijha also discusses the difficult lessons she learned early in the business, why self-care and therapy have been game-changing for her in both her personal and professional life, and what it takes to build a high-growth brand & sell over 1.8 million pieces of jewelry since inception.
dot.LA Audience Engagement Editor Luis Gomez contributed to this post.
Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.
Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.