Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Applying Data Analytics to Education, Panorama Wins Mark Zuckerberg’s First Public Angel Investment

There are so many things that could be done to make schools better — improving teaching methods, curbing dropout rates, cutting down on bullying.

“But there’s no way to understand what’s going on, because there’s not enough data analysis, not enough data being collected, and nobody there to analyze it,” according to Panorama Education co-founder Aaron Feuer. “This would never be acceptable at a company, because nobody would know what’s going on.”

That pitch worked on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who, along with his wife Priscilla Chan, is co-leading a $4 million investment in Panorama, which runs and analyzes surveys at 4,000 K-12 schools.

The couple’s investment is being made through their Startup:Education effort, which was established with $100 million in 2010 dedicated to schools in Newark, N.J.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on whether this is Zuckerberg’s first angel investment in a tech startup, but, at the least, it appears to be the first one that has been publicly disclosed. The spokesman noted that the Panorama deal is separate from the $100 million dedicated solely to Newark.

The Panorama round was co-led by SoftTech VC, with Google Ventures, A-Grade Investments and Yale University participating.

Panorama has seven employees and is currently based in Boston, though it was started when Feuer and his co-founders were undergraduate students at Yale in New Haven, Conn., and honed at the Y Combinator program in Mountain View, Calif., which is where Zuckerberg found it when he spoke at a participant dinner last summer. (Why Boston? “It’s an education town,” according to Feuer, who said he had only spent three days there before moving.)

Feuer grew up in Southern California, where, as a high school student government rep, he worked on state legislation that mandated student-feedback surveys. Though the bill passed in Sacramento, it failed to make a difference because of a lack of survey tools, Feuer said.

Part of Panorama’s secret is its willingness to do paper surveys, Feuer said. Paper may not be hip, but it’s a great way to get a representative sample rather than a tech-savvy one. (AllThingsD previously wrote about a non-education-focused startup with a similar take, called Captricity.)

The other thing that’s working is that school districts are actually paying for this product. Panorama’s 4,000 participating schools are spread among fewer than 200 contracts, Feuer said. All of those school districts pay an annual license fee based on size, starting at $200 for a tiny district, and hundreds of thousands of dollars for big ones.

By the time Feuer and his co-founders graduated from college in May, they had half a million dollars in revenue. Now they are rolling out with Teach for America and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“We want to not just be a ‘SurveyMonkey for schools,'” Feuer said. “We’re working with so much data right now, that we’re trying to find the most helpful applications and improve the depth of how we can help.”

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik