Dave Vasen – Founder & CEO at Brightwheel
Venture: Having started in 2014 Brightwheel provides a mobile app for preschools, daycares and families, which connects teachers, administrators and parents. Teachers can use it to upload photos of kids, notes, assessments etc. for the parents to view in real time and stay updated on what their child is doing and learning. Since launch Brightwheel has added features for school management, secure check-in, payments etc. The original value proposition was based in the fact that this was a real (certainly perceived) pain point for teachers and parents. As such, Dave originally pitched Brightwheel on Angel List in 2014 as a true innovation within early childhood education context and then appeared on Shark Tank in 2015 after having completed the pilot stage (10 schools) and early use of the app. During the first 3 months the app was picked up by 2500+ schools. Parents do not pay for the app and institutions can choose between the free, small-scale version or paid premium version. When Dave appeared on Shark Tank, Brightwheel was valued at $9 million and 2 years later after another series of investments (including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) it is valued at $31+ million.
Bibliography and experience:
Before starting Brightwheel, Dave worked for a number of companies in roles that allowed him to gain relevant experience, knowledge and connections.
- AltSchool (2013-2014) – VP of product – educational context, working directly with admin, teachers and parents
- Kindle Accessories, Amazon (2011-2012) – Head of Product and Business Development
- Kindle, Amazon (2010-2011) – Head of K-12 Education
- Teach for America (2006-2007) – -Strategy & operations
- Cisco Systems (2003-2004) – International operations, educational projects in developing countries
His work at companies that focus on new products and implementing them in new contexts and new ways had put him in good place for a venture like Brightwheel. He combined his understanding of people on the ground (teachers and parents – e.g. Alt School, Teach for America), product development and delivery (Cisco, Amazon) and his personal life experience (his daughter was in preschool when he started working on Brightwheel) to create an innovative venture.
Skills and approach to business: In the pitch on Shark Tank (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iKitGJeAZ4) and in interviews (links below) Dave presents himself as focused and determined. Confidence in the product and his knowledge of the market – one of the investors from Shark Tank said after the show that Dave as all best entrepreneurs exuded a ‘sense of the inevitability of their success’. He was systematic in his approach as he piloted the app before asking for a larger investment and had a clear picture of potential valuation based on the projected scaling up process.
Team: Dave has collected a team of programmers, engineers, teachers/educators and marketers. Some of the more senior positions are held by people with past positions at large companies or people with entrepreneurship background of their own. The variety and possibly less strong internal leadership (at least from publicly available information) is balanced by strong connections with investors, some of whom have provided both guidance and practical connections (e.g. Chris Sacca and Mark Cuban).
My reaction / thoughts: Dave based his business on meeting a real need rather than on remixing previous business ventures. He was able to identify how people’s everyday lives (whether teachers’ or parents’) intersect in a way where a product can noticeably improve everyone’s perception of the interaction and the others involved, as well as save their time. I think this is a great example and motivation for entrepreneurs and ‘innovators’. While there was definitely a financial potential in the venture, most importantly Dave’s product ultimately made a noticeable difference to the users’ lives.
Dave’s Pitch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iKitGJeAZ4
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