It was a sultry Saturday afternoon in Lagos, the city which has been a beacon of excellence and innovation when Nathan Nwachuku received Edugist at his home in Lekki. Nwachuku who arrived from Port Harcourt more than a year ago said he is here to make his mark on the world of education. After working on his tech-enabled solution for the education sector, pouring every ounce of his being into the project, he founded Klas, a platform for independent academies hosting live classes, selling ebooks and offering online courses all in one place. Determined to revolutionise the upskilling and gig economy, he speaks to Edugist on how he plans to achieve this feat, one academy at a time.
Early life and the Nathan Stark alter ego
A little more than a decade ago, Nathan Nwachuku was an imaginative and curious boy who enjoyed playing Metal Gear Solid, chess and FIFA. He had a deep love for physics and his passion for technology was ignited after watching the Marvel film series, Iron Man. Tony Stark, the protagonist, became his alter ego who inspired him to pursue a career in tech. “I will never forget the first time I watched it, I felt something different,” Nwachuku told Edugist. He would sometimes call himself “Nathan Stark,” considering the character as a father figure in his life.
Nwachuku obtained a high school diploma from Graceland International School in Port Harcourt, where he lived all his life with his mom and sister before relocating to Lagos. “In terms of my certificate, I don’t have much to show but a lot of what I know today is mostly through self-education,” said Nwachuku. “I read a lot and I have an entire library. I read mostly books in history and psychology. I try to consume as much knowledge as possible.”
Carleton University dropout
In 2020, Nwachuku was awarded a scholarship to study software engineering at Carleton University, Canada but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted his plans. He deferred his admission for a year, during which he immersed himself in tech, learned a lot about software engineering and founded Klas.
Nwachuku took a significant risk and dropped out of Carleton before even writing a line of code for Klas. “I was so confident, I just knew that it would work,” Nwachuku said. He worked tirelessly, going without showers for two or three days, stopped attending church for about a year, and stopped going out. His determination paid off as Nwachuku poured all of his energy into Klas, his startup offering tech-enabled solutions in the education sector, which aimed to revolutionise the sector.
“I jumped in head first, very risky but I knew if I had to get it to work, I needed to give it 110 per cent. And that means getting completely obsessed.”
Klas, the development stage and funding
The first prototype of Klas was launched in December 2021 and had a few hundred users. “It was not so great but it validated the idea,” said Nwachuku. “The focus was on live classes at the time.”
In January 2022, work began on the true version of Klas, which launched in April 2022, the same month Klas closed its funding round. Klas raised $300,000 in angel investment from big venture capitalists, including Techstars Toronto, Voltron Capital, and prominent members of the African entrepreneurship scene like Odunayo Eweniyi (Piggyvest), Nadayar Enegesi (Eden Life) and Leonard Stiegeler (Jumia), among others. Nwachuku was able to increase his team and now, Klas has 11 employees which he called “small but effective.”
“We got into Techstars last August and from there we were able to scale the platform. At that time we had 45,000 users, we launched a lot of new updates in December. That is basically the development stage of Klas,” Nwachuku explained.
“We are going to launch the third iteration of Klas, Klas 2.0 by the end of this month (April 2023), which is going to make Klas multichannel. As we face a global upskilling crisis, this will give people who have knowledge the tools and support needed to launch their own academy and teach online in any format for people with different skills like writing, creating ebooks or videography, to make visual learning contents. Klas multichannel will integrate live classes, ebook sales and online course offering.”
The challenges and solutions
Running a tech company in Nigeria has its downsides. Although Klas is built for a global market and doesn’t serve Nigerian users in any special way, basic internet and power outages have slowed down work for the remote engineers who work from home. “We are a completely remote company, so every engineer works from home. Engineers may have some basic internet and electricity issues at home which slow down work sometimes,” Nwachukwu explained.
As a company, Klas operates in the upskilling economy, which is not regulated, allowing them to scale without challenges. Nwachukwu and his team have found ways around these issues and challenges to ensure their services are delivered to students globally.
Today, Klas powers over 2200 academies and 147,000 students globally. Klas doesn’t match students to academies, instead, provides the necessary infrastructure for anyone to set up their own academy online, in the sense of “Shopify for education” as coined by Nwachukwu.
Klas gives all the tools and support needed to set up, manage and monetise academies. The academies own their students, allowing them to scale their classes from one to a million students. Nwachuku believes that owning the students is vital since many edtech marketplaces only provide services to rent students, and “if the platform cuts you off, your academy comes to an end.” As a result, Klas offers a platform for independent academies.
Getting Klas into Techstars
Known for its credibility, Techstars has helped Klas to secure partnerships and investors, likewise to get new employees. “It [Techstars] helped a lot for our brand awareness,” said Nwachuku. How Klas got into Techstars is nothing short of a miracle, because Nwachuku did not apply for it, he got in through a referral.
“My friend, Folake Owodunni, the CEO of ERA (Emergency Response Africa), told me that Alicia, the head of investment at Techstars, was coming down to Lagos for about a week, for a Techstars event. So she connected me to Alicia on WhatsApp. After a couple of chats, that was how we skipped the application stage and went straight to the interview stage. We had about 2 to 3 interviews and that’s how we got into Techstars.”
Klas, the prospects and lessons
When asked about the prospects of Klas regarding its market scope and monetisation model, Nwachuku responded with the word “Huge.” He said the rate at which new, modern academies are launching on Klas guarantees growth to a huge million-dollar business in the next few years.
“The highest earning academy today on Klas, a data science academy, gets $75000 a year. It is run by one guy in Lagos here. Now that is really great. One guy, one academy that started on Klas is already going head-to-head with the industry giants. You can imagine what the difference would be like in one to two years. We are going to have academies that will be making millions of dollars in a year,” Nwachuku said excitedly.
“I see the upskilling economy getting a lot larger. People are starting to see the value of education, not just as a means to share knowledge but as a means of making money. And in a few years, starting an online academy is going to be a hot business like dropshipping and every other online business. The beautiful thing is they will all be powered by Klas.
“I see the biggest opportunity in the upskilling economy in the emerging markets: Africa, India, Eastern Europe. It is a simple chain reaction, the countries with the highest unemployment rate are the countries which will also have the highest upskilling rate to kickstart a career path which translates to the more people needing to launch an academy to train these people to upskill themselves. And this is right in tune with what we see in the data. Right now, our two countries with the highest users are Nigeria and India, which makes sense considering the lots of unemployment everywhere.”
Consequently, ten years from now, Nwachuku sees Klas as a unicorn. “On a serious note, ten years from now, I see us having at least 100,000 academies and reaching tens of millions of students. We are going to start an upskilling revolution where launching an academy will be a big business and people are going to make generational wealth from their academies, making millions of dollars in revenue. And we are going to have a significant global impact.”
Nwachukwu established that one of the lessons he has learnt building Klas is that “your assumptions can sometimes be wrong.” For example, he concurred to had made significant mistakes during the first three months of building Klas, “like thinking live classes were the easiest way to teach, down to pricing model.” These mistakes, he said, have taught him to take a more customer-focused approach. “During that period, we built what we wanted and just projected it onto the customers.”
He has also learnt to realise when to build fast or slow down. “We were trying to build fast in the first three months and we almost got ourselves out of the game. Right now, after the multichannel, we are entering an optimisation period, where we are not building a single new feature till the end of the year. That’s because we have built so many features and written so many lines of code that if we keep on building at this rate, the platform will become clumsy and it won’t give the seamless experience that we want to offer academies,” he said.
Nwachukwu thinks the edtech industry in Nigeria is “uninspiring” but believes there are a lot of opportunities for true innovation. “There is a saying that everyone is doing the same thing in fintech, it is a lot worse in edtech, especially in Africa,” he lamented. “I think people are too scared to try new things and they are all just doing what works. We still have a few brands that are pushing the frontiers of innovation but the majority of edtechs are uninspiring. And if you are building a pure edtech solution for Nigerians you have to take into consideration the offline sector because we have really bad internet here. You can’t build a proper online edtech solution just for Nigeria.”