Our investment in Knowunity

Project A leads the first institutional round of Knowunity, a learning platform for kids in 5th-12th grade built on user-generated content — from students for students

By Mila Cramer, Investment manager at European early-stage VC Project A

With more than 112 million followers, Charli d’Amelio, a 16 year-old girl from Norwalk, Connecticut, is the most popular person on TikTok. She became famous when she began posting dance videos to trending songs on the platform in late 2019. TikTok is known for making creators go viral and gain millions of views overnight. Within months, they can build an audience that gets them million-dollar endorsement deals.

Whenever large, culture-shifting platforms emerge, great entrepreneurs jump at the opportunity to build products on top of this newly born ecosystem. Benedict, Julian, and Lucas — the brains behind Knowunity—experienced their teenage years in a world where “social media” wasn’t something you first heard of at university. They are not the type of founders who after years in a great career and an MBA build a company targeted at a market they realized might be worth tackling.

Knowunity was built natively in Gen Z.

Gen Z household name Billie Eilish (Source)

If the below is news to you — congrats, you’re officially old.

There is a huge gap in online behavior between millennials (23–39 years old) and Gen Z (14–22 years old). That’s also the case between Gen X and millennials, but that’s a lot easier to explain. Gen X was the last generation to grow up non-digitally native.

Millennials and Gen Z both grew up with digital platforms all around them. So why is there such a big gap between the two?

Imagine MTV – on steroids, and everybody has their own show

Media and pop culture shape Gen Z. According to research conducted by VICE Media and Ontario Create, one in two ‘zoomers’ believes that pop culture and media have a bigger impact on their sense of gender than the culture they grew up with. Gen Z are the most diverse generation yet and they want to see this reflected in the content they consume — both in terms of who is creating it, and who is being depicted. They take away power from big media outlets and reclaim control of whose voices are being listened to.

While top stars on Instagram are mostly mainstream celebrities, the only ones who made it into the top 25 creators list on TikTok are Will Smith, Jason Derulo and The Rock. 69% of TikTok users are between 13–24 years old. TikTok’s biggest stars for the most part didn’t have a significant following on any other platform. And that’s not limited to TikTok: Gen Z household name Billie Eilish famously became an overnight sensation after uploading a song to Soundcloud which she produced in her parents’ home together with her brother in 2015. When rapper and queer figurehead Lil Nas X posted “Old Town Road”, a song produced in a $20-an-hour studio on a laptop with a beat from YouTube to his 20k followers on Twitter, his life changed dramatically.

Rapper Lil Nas X (Source)

“Social media makes us dumb” Look closer, boomer.

TikTok is not only dance videos though. Last year, they started testing the Learn Feed, a place described for discovering how-to and informative videos that teach users how to peel a banana, DIY a mirror, save money, or improve their acne. People like to go to places they trust to be taught new skills. While the frustration amongst users on platforms like Facebook and Instagram is growing, the TikTok brand is truly loved and trusted by its users. When Trump announced he was considering banning TikTok in the US last year, he faced a huge backlash for it. Young users said the platform was a crucial outlet for education about political topics including climate change, systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Why is this important? There is huge potential for a brand in education to become as loved and trusted as TikTok. The way content is being taught to kids today still is fundamentally broken (and has been forever). The same textbooks that were being used 20 years ago are still being used in school today. Students take a very passive role, most of them try to study the bare minimum required to achieve an acceptable grade. Then they graduate from school and need to decide what to do with their lives based on the grades they graduate with. It’s a broken, top-down system that stifles innovation and original thinking. Next-gen teachers are not taught new teaching methods either. How can a generation of students break out of that system and enjoy learning? Being able to learn new things by choice instead of obligation is amazing after all (which is why Billie Eilish says she enjoyed to be homeschooled her entire life).

Empower students to learn their own way

Students want to make their own decision on whom to learn from and how. Within our school system, they might never be able to decide what to actually learn. So deciding how and from whom to learn already goes a long way in empowering them. One of the creators on Knowunity told us her biggest motivator to create good content on the platform is helping students understand topics they hadn’t understood before. And indeed, if you look at the comments on her summaries, you’ll find comments like Finally I’ve understood it after years of not getting it (in Gen Z appropriate slang of course).

Source: Knowunity App

For students, from students

One of the unique advantages the team behind Knowunity has is the fact they are part of their own target demographic. Founder and CEO Benedict is 19 years old. He came up with the idea when he was still in school himself. The team has incredible determination to build the perfect product for their peers. This means strictly excluding any top-down content sources like teachers or publishers. It’s not what their users want after all. The content consumption motion on Knowunity resembles what has been happening in schools for a long time: you ask the best performing students in your class to explain things or get their notes and summaries. That allows students on Knowunity to actually become more efficient through something they choose themselves, not something their parents ask them to do (like put extra work into tutoring sessions). The product puts the creator in the centre which makes it very personal: If learners still have questions, they can engage with the person behind the content.

Source: @timderchecker TikTok

Break out of the system

Apart from the outstanding team behind Knowunity and the spectacular growth they have shown since their launch last September, there is one particular thing that excites us about the idea: the potential to break out of the system and solve one of its most painful symptoms — down to its root cause. Knowunity will be in the best position to support students in finding their path when they graduate from school. No matter if they leave school after 9th or 10th grade to become a carpenter or finish their A-levels and study neuroscience.

Knowunity can help students identify which educational route suits them best so they can lay the ground stone for a career that will make them truly happy. Great education, tailored to the needs of its recipients is the backbone of our economy. We believe that the team around Benedict will be able to build a better future for education and we’re happy to support them on this amazing mission.

Welcome to the Project A family, guys. See y’all on TikTok!