Toronto tech executive Candice Faktor has joined forces with serial entrepreneur Chris Sukornyk to launch a teaching platform they hope will put the power of sharing wisdom in the hands of thought leaders the way that Shopify Inc. helps retailers reach consumers.
Ms. Faktor and Mr. Sukornyk revealed Wednesday that their live course-teaching platform, Disco Inc., had raised US$4.75-million in early-stage venture financing from investors including Canadian firms Inovia Capital, Golden Ventures and StandUp Ventures, the U.S. education-technology investors GSV Ventures, plus a consortium of angels from the ranks of Canada’s tech elite.
The co-founders hope to extend their experience working with creators and community-focused platforms to the world of learning, giving both a virtual podium and new revenue stream to people who want to teach their craft. Disco’s early teachers, called creators, will include Sarah Lacy, the founder and chief executive officer of women’s network Chairman Mom; Michele Romanow, the entrepreneur, investor and Dragon’s Den personality; and environmental expert Graham Hill, who will speak about carbon-footprint reduction.
“These are the people who people want to learn from,” Ms. Faktor said in an interview.
Ms. Faktor helped scale Wattpad Corp. into a global storytelling community as its global general manager and head of business. She’s also a widely regarded founder, investor and adviser in the Toronto startup scene.
Mr. Sukornyk has launched and invested in numerous companies and learned about business creation from a young age – his father, George B. Sukornyk, co-founded the Harvey’s restaurant chain. The younger Mr. Sukornyk’s performance marketing company, Chango, sold to a U.S. advertising-tech firm for US$122-million in 2015.
Historically, to offer courses or workshops, creators would often need to play the role of teacher, marketer, entrepreneur and technologist at the same time. Disco hopes to take most of that work away from its creators with a cohesive platform that integrates with well-known services such as Zoom Video Communications Inc. It will charge a fee to use its software-as-a-service platform – a revenue model akin to Shopify’s fee for retailers.
Underpinning Disco’s business model is the belief that being taught alongside fellow students in real time – even if it’s digital – can help people learn better. “It’s the same as working out,” Ms. Faktor said. “It can be really hard to do this without having other people holding you accountable and building a community.”
Though Disco – named after the Latin word for learning, as opposed to discotheques – doesn’t expect to disrupt traditional education any time soon, its co-founders see an opportunity to augment it.
“If you think of all the teachers out there in the world, you can easily see a percentage of those deciding to launch a course directly without their institution,” Mr. Sukornyk said by phone from Costa Rica, where he lives. (For the time being, the co-founders said they expect their team to work fully remotely.)
GSV Ventures has invested deeply in the ed-tech space, including credential-granting Coursera Inc. and Yanka Industries Inc., which is better known as the celebrity talent-sharing platform Masterclass. In an e-mailed statement, managing partner Deborah Quazzo said that she was excited to back Disco because of its work “pioneering the future of creator-led live learning experiences.”
It’s not just creators that Disco hopes will benefit from the platform. Some of its courses will be long-term, and creators can assign homework or discussions, which could help foster a sense of community among participants. That, says Bert Amato of Golden Ventures, “is a necessary part of the learning experience.”
Though the pandemic has given a significant boost to digital courses, many teachers and presenters need to combine myriad tools just to organize and run them. Disco aims to be a one-stop shop, hoping to make life easier for teacher and student alike. “What you want to deliver at the end of the day is an awesome experience to the community,” said Michelle McBane of Toronto’s StandUp Ventures, which focuses its investments on women-led companies.
Disco said its angel investors in the oversubscribed seed-financing round included Ms. Romanow; Shopify executives and alumni including Farhan Thawar, Satish Kanwar, Arati Sharma and Brandon Chu; and Wattpad co-founder Ivan Yuen.
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