Feb 4 2014, 7:12pm CST | by Forbes
The cliche “there’s an app for that” has finally reached teachers whose classrooms are slowly getting overhauled but still need to deal with basic issues like a forgotten permission slip or homework excuse. Already, 600,000 of them are using an app called Remind101, which helps them text families to remind them of students’ needs and progress. And while that may seem like a basic problem to solve, the startup’s solution is novel enough to have backing from one of the best-known tech venture shops in Silicon Valley.
Remind101, founded by two brothers two years ago, just raised $15 million in Series B funding led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The two-year-old startup also took money from existing investors The Social + Capital Partnership and First Round Capital.
Cofounder and CEO Brett Kopf says he battled ADD and dyslexia as a student and had a hard time juggling schedules and directions to bring home. Along with brother and CTO David Kopf, “we realized to solve a student’s problem, we needed to solve a teacher’s problem,” Kopf says. Working with an advisory board of 70 teachers, the Kopf brothers decided that the answer was a free platform to allow teachers to communicate directly with the families of their students while shielding each student’s phone number from the individual educator.
Now 10 million people use Remind101 when you add its teacher base to the students and parents they work with, spreading fastest in the southern United States, sending 65 million messages per month. And that’s before enabling parents to start responding themselves, a feature Remind101 will work on with the new money alongside other requests like the ability to upload a PDF or Word document for mobile reading and the potential to sign and return forms.
The service is currently free to use and thus not making any real revenue, Kopf says, but someday will charge schools or look to add premium offerings that parents could pay for. Because much of the company’s growth has come from word-of-mouth from one teacher to another, Kopf says his Y Combinator graduate startup will always remain free for teachers’ use.
And that has jazzed up new board member John Doerr, the venture luminary who’s working to rebuild Kleiner’s legacy after a down decade. One of Doerr’s current areas of focus is education, where Kleiner has also bet on Coursera, which raised its own much larger Series B round in recent months. But his investment in Remind101 is also a sign of Doerr committing personally to building out Remind101.
Doerr’s stamp of approval still matters a lot to companies, especially those eyeing Kleiner. Just ask famed entrepreneur Elon Musk, who tells the story that that he would have taken a lower valuation from Kleiner Perkins several years ago for his then-newest venture, Tesla Motors, conditional on Doerr joining his board. Doerr demurred, as Musk tells it, given too many board commitments.
Does Doerr have a different philosophy now? His peers have told FORBES that Doerr’s noticeably out clocking more hours on the road and spending time with portfolio companies than in years past, but told that, Doerr demurs without going so far as to disagree.
“I don’ try to hide my involvement but I don’t emphasize it either. Our job is just to serve entrepreneurs, and if we join a board, these aren’t tenured positions.” As for taking more flights? Doerr just says of he and his partners, ”We are out there every day.”
As for Remind101, however, Doerr sounds genuinely excited about a service that could race toward majority market share in just months while also helping students in the U.S. better achieve. ”Remind101 is first and highly focused on being a viral communication service,” Doerr tells FORBES. “You see elements of Instagram in their adoption, and they are centered on serving teachers.”
So Kopf will get direct help from Doerr, the investor says, in developing more ”crisp and rigorous” ways to scale. One feature Remind101 could stand to add, according to its latest board member, is a polling functionality for families to provide feedback to teachers. “This is just getting started,” Doerr says. “I’ll say one more thing. If there was ever a service every teacher should use, it would be Remind101.”
Kopf also points to recent Kleiner partner Megan Quinn as a partner who gets Remind101′s vision, but on scoring Doerr for his board the founder’s response is simple: “John’s a real mensch.”
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