Imagine K12
Paul Graham
17 March 2011

Today my friends Tim Brady, Geoff Ralston, and Alan Louie are launching a new YC-like program for startups building things for schools: Imagine K12.

I only met Alan through this project, but I've known Tim and Geoff for over a decade, and both of them have spoken at YC dinners. Tim was the first employee at Yahoo and VP of Product, meaning he was in charge of everything on the site. Geoff was founder of 411.com (which became Yahoo Mail) and later CEO of Lala. Both are experienced investors too. So they know startups from every angle.

But while the founders are great guys and their goal is an admirable one, this project has more behind it than good intentions. They've figured out a way to actually get education startups airborne.

Public schools tend to be the last to benefit from the sort of innovation startups generate, because they are so hard to sell to. Selling technology to school districts is like selling it to big companies, but more so. Which means startups hoping to build things for schools have trouble even getting off the ground.

Starting a startup nowadays is increasingly a collaboration with the earliest users. You launch something quickly, get a few early adopters, and build what they want. Those first few customers teach you what to make, and they also help convince investors to give you more money. The problem with starting a startup to build things for schools is that no school districts are early adopters.

What makes Imagine K12 unique is that they have a solution to this problem. They're building connections to charter and public schools that are willing to try out things built by startups. And that could change everything. That could finally open up the school market to the transformative effect of startups.

We've been talking to the Imagine K12 guys from the beginning, and we've been enthusiastic supporters of the project. We've told them everything about how YC works, and brought them in to observe what we do. So while Imagine K12 is just launching now, it has the benefit of our 6 years' experience doing this.

If you want to start a startup building things for schools, we encourage you to apply to Imagine K12, because frankly, we couldn't help you the way they can. The hardest question we always have to ask such startups is "how are you going to get the first users?" Imagine K12 doesn't have to ask that.

Startup founders usually want to change the world as well as make money. Imagine K12 is a great new opportunity to do both.


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