Vietnam after-school learning startup Marathon raises $1.5M pre-seed

Marathon Education was created after its founders realized that they were not children since schooling in Vietnam. Some of the most popular learning centers in large cities teach hundreds of students at once. “They’re packaged like sardines and it really hasn’t changed in the past decade or two when I went to classes like this in Vietnam,” said co-founder Pham Duc.

Pham started a marathon six weeks ago in Vietnam with her brother-in-law, Tran Viet Tung, to make after-school learning more accessible. Today the startup is announcing that it has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed funding led by Forge Ventures (a new fund launched by Alto Partners), with participation from investors including Ventura Discovery and Iced SEA.

The marathon currently focuses on math and science courses for grades six to 12 of the National Curriculum, developed by Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), and will eventually cover all MoET subjects.

Prior to founding Marathon, Pham was an investor in TPG Global, while Tran is a serial entrepreneur whose previous startups include the travel platform Triip.me and Christina. Both grew up in Hanoi and spent most of their childhood in after-school learning centres.

About 50% to 70% of K-12 students attend after-school classes, says Pham, but the industry is very fragmented. Many learning centers are run by former public school teachers, and are clustered in major cities.

“If you talk to students, I think the biggest issue we’re seeing is access,” Pham said. “If you’re a student from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, there’s no guarantee you’ll get into classes run by top teachers.” Meanwhile, students from other regions often travel to Tier 1 cities before major exams, such as university entrance exams, to stay in hostels for about a month while attending prep courses.

For teachers, running a center means handling administrative tasks such as marketing, admissions and parent communication, which cuts down on the time it takes to design their curriculum. When the current COVID-19 lockdown began a few months back, they had to quickly switch to online learning platforms.

When teachers join the marathon, the company takes over the administrative tasks. Its online model also means they can reach more students, including in other cities. Pham says that teachers who switch from offline centers to marathons can potentially increase their earnings by two to three times.

Before joining the marathon, teachers go through a screening process, including how many of those past students passed exams or improved their grades. Marathon connects them with teaching assistants who work directly with groups of about 20 to 25 students during online lectures, answer questions via instant messengers, and then use breakout rooms to view lessons in detail. do management.

The marathon first started in Ho Chi Minh City and its expansion strategy will take into account the cultural differences between the north and south of Vietnam. For example, it will find tutors with a regional accent, and adjust its marketing strategies.

“We are going to focus on teachers and curriculum separately, as the two areas are quite different. Parents in the South are more experimental and more inclined to try new services. Parents in the North rely heavily on their networks and word-of-mouth, so they are more cautious about trying what we are doing,” Tran said. “So while we serve the North and the South, we serve a specific set of customers.”

Marathon plans to continue its online-only model after the lockdown ends and children go back to regular school in individual classes. “After a year of intermittent lockdown, we have seen a marked change in the behavior of parents. They are much more receptive to online learning. Right now, even though there is a lockdown, the attendance rate is 99%,” Pham said. “In the future, I think online is the way to go and it’s a lot more scalable, so we want to focus on our strategy.”

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