This 18-year-old turned down a university scholarship to revolutionise education

This 18-year-old turned down a university scholarship to revolutionise education

Nathan Nwachuku got a taste of remote learning long before millions of other students were sent home at the height of the pandemic in 2020. The year before, he suffered a serious eye injury on his 15th birthday and had to stay home from school for five months to heal. That wound up becoming the catalyst for a business he hopes will revolutionise virtual education around the world. 

Stuck at home in Port Harcourt and bored, Nwachuku, who at that point aspired to become a physics professor, decided to try teaching online classes on the subject to keep busy and earn some money. He wasn’t able to edit pre-recorded videos, so he pivoted to live classes—but even then, he struggled to find a platform on which to deliver them. That was when Nwachuku realised he would have to create the platform himself. Three years later, the 18-year-old is the co-founder and CEO of Klas, a live-class platform for content creators that raised an angel round of $130,000 in March. It will be open to the public later this month. 

“We take care of everything you need to offer live learning at scale, such as payments, scheduling, community, analytics, and video conferencing,” Nwachuku told TechCabal. “We are to live learning what Hopin is to virtual events.” 

Klas disruption

By the time Nwachuku graduated from secondary school in August 2020, he needed more time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and asked his mum to let him take a gap year. It wasn’t an easy sell—his mum is an educator herself as a professor of chemical pathology, and Nwachuku had already received a scholarship to study computer science at a university in Canada—but he eventually convinced her. Once that was decided, it didn’t take long for him to figure out his path.

16-year-old Nwachuku giving a talk to secondary school students on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) in Africa.

“I dropped out to focus on Klas,” Nwachuku said of his transition. “I didn’t want to go to university because I didn’t want to end up doing normal things. I want to do something that will impact lives and allow me the freedom to be creative.” His mum always supported his creative endeavours, he added, which is what he suspects tipped the scales in his favour. He knew she understood his vision.

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In the first 3 months of his gap year, he learnt to code by watching YouTube videos and from his developer friends. From there, he discovered the Nigerian tech ecosystem, and started searching for a co-founder who would buy into his vision of a live classes solution. 

Lekan Adejumo was the very first person Nwachuku met when he participated in the Y Combinator Co-Founder Matching Platform last September. Nwachuku recalled forming an instant bond with him, and a shared vision to build the future of online education—despite being 10 years apart in age. He asked him to be his co-founder; Adejumo also serves as Klas’ Chief Technology Officer.

Despite their progress last year, Klas still didn’t have a working product. The budding company had only one engineer, and no creators—let alone a waitlist, which it now does—but Nwachuku stayed focused. He knew his idea had the potential to revolutionise education. 

When Klas opens to the public, users will be able to register and gain access to a payments system; an internal messaging platform; a tool for sending emails; a dashboard for data analytics; and a video conferencing feature called Klas Live. Their ability to use all of these features will depend on whether they opt for a free account, or pay for a pro plan.

Klas interface

When creators sign up on Klas, they create a profile and update it with their bio, profile picture, and bank details. Then they can create their first class, fill in the details, and automatically get a booking page that they can share with potential attendees. For paid classes, creators can track transactions using Klas Pay, which also allows them to request a payout after hosting a class. Right now, payouts are available in naira and US dollars; soon, Nwachuku said, Klas Pay will also offer crypto.

Unlike Zoom and Google Meet, video conferencing platforms with multipurpose functions, Klas Life is specifically designed for live and virtual teaching. In addition to standard features like HD video and audio, screen share, and a recording option, Klas offers student ID verification, attendance tracking, and a unique interface optimised for live learning. Klas creators can also program their recorded classes to automatically upload to YouTube. The community tool, Klas Rooms, will be used to engage with students and organise discussions. 

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“We’re building this infrastructure to ensure that all the technicalities of online teaching are taken care of by our software, so, all content creators need to do is focus on teaching the content,” Nwachuku said. Nwachuku explained that Klas will only allow creators to organise live classes, which he believes are more engaging and effective in this era of shortened attention spans. Nwachuku added the company focuses specifically on live group classes instead of Massive Open Online Courses—self-paced online courses open to geographically dispersed students—because their completion rates are staggeringly low, between 3% to 6%. By stark contrast, in cohort-based courses where students participate in real-time, completion rate is as high as 85%.

Selling the dream

In November last year, when Nwachuku started hiring engineers, he couldn’t even pay them, because Klas hadn’t made any money yet, and didn’t start paying them until December last year when he got $5,000 from a close angel investor. 

The $130,000 angel round Klas raised last month came from Nigerian tech ecosystem veterans: Tola Adesanmi of Spleet, Nadayar Enegesi of Eden Life, Odun Eweniyi of Piggyvest, and Leonard Stiegeler of Jumia. Klas closed the entire round in 3 weeks. 

Nwachuku was prepared to hustle in order to raise funds. He hounded investors on LinkedIn and was rewarded with offers to introduce him to other investors, expanding his network. “I first reached out to Tola [Adesanmi] from Spleet, and he instantly fell in love with Klas,” he said. “He then introduced me to a few people like Nadayar. We only got one rejection, because everyone that heard about Klas wanted to come in.”

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While Klas intends to raise a pre-seed round later this year, the angel round will help it double down on platform innovation, which will help them eventually open to creators outside of Nigeria and Africa, Nwachuku said. This, he knows, will be a challenge, since many of Klas’ competitors already have a robust, global network of creators. He hopes his company’s seamless experience for course creation will make Klas stand apart from the rest.

Klas currently has more than 2,500 creators on its waitlist to teach courses on subjects ranging from design, to coding, to business and languages.

Nwachuku also secured partnerships with brands such as UK edtech startup artickl, and online schools across the world including Omdena in Pakistan, TDev in Togo, and No Code Academy in Nigeria.

Managing a business as a teenager

Nwachuku admitted that it has been tough being a CEO because he is learning on the go. It is also exciting as he gets to learn a lot—about business, finance, and networking—every day. 

Nwachuku said that his inexperience also comes in handy, as it allows him to be creative with his solutions, unhindered by previous knowledge. “In finance, I follow the industry standard, but in terms of tech and design, I use my freedom to be more creative, and it has helped the company so far,” he said. 

Although Nwachuku’s team members are scattered across the country and working remotely, Nwachuku says managing them remotely has been productive and fun.

Nwachuku is not bothered about not having a formal education. Instead, he wants to attend a fully online university powered by Klas.

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