Dec 28 2012

A Silicon Valley Story for the Ages: How Eric Simons Launched a Startup from AOL’s Couch

Social learning platform Claco is one of the hottest ed-tech startups in the world.

This article is the second in a series of three profiles of ed-tech startups.

Eric Simons, 21, was inspired to develop the ed-tech startup Claco after an experience in high school. His chemistry teacher asked how she could get Simons more interested in her class, and her inquiry piqued his interest. “Because of that, I ended up going off and creating a website where she could pull together really cool resources, like videos, websites and games for us to use in class.” That year, Simons’ class became one of the highest performing chemistry classes in his school.

The website he built became Class Connect, which is now Claco. The site allows teachers to build and share resources with students, parents and colleagues.

After graduating high school, Simons and his co-founders applied and were accepted to the Imagine K12 education incubator, located in AOL’s Palo Alto office in California’s Silicon Valley. Not long after Simons and his co-founders arrived in California, he found himself working alone and running out of money. After sleeping on a couch in AOL’s office for two months while finishing his product, Simons became known as the AOL Squatter. “I think that point in time was absolutely the most difficult time because I was broke, alone, and I did not have a product online. It was me versus the world,” Simons recalled. Luckily for teachers across America, he pressed on.

"I was broke, alone, and I did not have a product online. It was me versus the world.”

Eric Simons, Claco

Claco currently has a membership of 16,000 teachers and more than 100,000 students. According to Simons, the growth of Claco was grassroots. “We just had teachers that were very excited about coming and using the site, and they shared it with a lot of their colleagues,” said Simons.

Simons sees technology, and Claco, specifically, as a catalyst for distributing knowledge. “The big question now is how can we disrupt learning so that it can be accessible anytime, anywhere?”

Simons believes the biggest challenge in education is that teachers are spread too thin and don’t have enough time to invest in recreating their curriculums online or finding new resources to use in their classrooms.

Many of the resources featured on Claco are aligned with the Common Core Standards. The decision to incorporate the Common Core into Claco’s platform was made after receiving feedback from teachers. “A big part of what we do is talk to teachers, hear how they are using our product, and how we could make it better for them,” Simons said.

Simons advises young entrepreneurs interested in developing an ed-tech startup to simply get their feet wet and do it. “Learn extremely quickly by just running as fast as you can, falling down, and getting back up really quickly.”

<p>Claco founder Eric Simons</p>