Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet in Conversation with Amanda DoAmaral
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet speaks to former public high school teacher, Amanda DoAmaral about the reasons she left teaching to build her EdTech business, Fiveable – a virtual library ‘powered by the idea of social accountability’ to support highschool and college students with study guides and study spaces tailored by students for students. Amanada shares her experience as a woman 'teacherpreneur' working in the EdTech space, the challenges in obtaining VC backing, and her vision for what will shape the future of education.
Watch their conversation below and stay tuned for future EdTechX Stories to be released very soon!
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Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet in Conversation with Amanda DoAmaral
Amanda DoAmaral Hi. My name is Amanda DoAmaral. I am co-founder and CEO of Fiveable, which is an EdTech company in supporting high school and college students after school. And I'm based here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Amanda. Welcome to EdTechX Stories. You're the co-founder and CEO of Fiveable, but before we talk about your business, let me start with a personal question. How did you end up in that position? Is there a defining moment or defining someone in your life or education that brought you to Fiveable and to create Fiveable in the EdTech industry?
Amanda DoAmaral Yeah, for sure. For me, it was... I was a teacher before Fiveable. I taught 9th and 10th grade history at a public high school in Oakland and left teaching. This was all pre-COVID, so it feels like a different era ago, but left teaching for much of the same reasons why many teachers still do leave today. Just kind of frustrated with the pace of change and felt like my impact was really only, like, my classroom, which was important, but I needed something else, and I wasn't sure what I was going to get or even if I would stay in education. But I left. And then while I was out, I was traveling, I was kind of wandering around, and I started getting some emails from former students that were now in 11th grade taking AP US history, and they were just completely freaking out, like, Miss D, you got to help us. We're all going to fail this exam. And so I just started creating content for them. And then, I don't know, it's like it all kind of came over me, and I could kind of see this vision sort of play out of, like, what if we could just, like, make this accessible for students so that it didn't matter whether or not you had the teacher that was unlocking this, that it could just be unlocked for you? And so that was sort of the beginning. Then I also just had a very supportive mum who was like, yeah, go build that.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet So you're a teacherpreneur. There are not that many, actually, which is sometimes strange, right? I mean, very few of them are crossing the line. Do you think there should be more?
Amanda DoAmaral 100%. I feel like whenever my second act comes, I thought a lot about how do I get more teachers to be an EdTech? Because as a teacher, it feels like a world that you don't belong in. You have nothing to do with it. It just feels like, very foreign. But I think what I've learned is just how many transferable skills there actually are, and that it actually is a very open space that you can learn. People want to bring you in, and I would love to see what kind of solutions teachers would build if they just came through.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Yeah, there is a quote, and I forgot to whom it's attributable, but we said basically, the teachers are still the killer app. And I think that's true. No one has replaced them fundamentally, and they are still what drives success in outcomes and efficacy. So I'm looking forward to seeing more teachers like you getting into EdTech. I think it would be good for the industry. Tell us about the Fiveable model and what makes it unique. I read on your website that you said you're 'powered by the idea of social accountability', so I was intrigued by this. What does that mean?
Amanda DoAmaral Yeah, so we sort of have two parts to what we do, and over the years have kind of focused on one or the other. And we're now kind of entering a phase where we're trying to bridge it together, but we essentially kind of think of it as almost like a virtual library for high school and college students after school. We have content that is in the form of study guides written by students that really just... It's like exactly what you have to know for the context you need it. So I'm taking this test, just tell me what I got to know. Give me the rundown. And that really helps kids out because a lot of times the textbooks... Or they're on Wikipedia, there's just too much information. And so really, like, helping them to kind of focus, narrowing what they need to know. And then we've created these study spaces to really give them that focus area almost like the tables at the library. And so in those spaces, it's like you can be around other students. Sometimes they're studying the same thing as you and they're talking about it, but a lot of times they just kind of want the same vibe as you.
They're sitting there, they're studying, they're focused on their thing. Maybe you're using a Pomodoro method together to help you really make the most of your time, but ultimately, you're holding each other accountable because you're just both there for the same reason. Right? We want to get work done. We want to finish our to-do list, the things we need to do.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet So is that a reinvention and I guess an extension of the of the study group? Is that what it is?
Amanda DoAmaral Yeah, essentially, yes. I mean, I think I thought a lot about when those early students were reaching out to me. Yes, as a teacher, I want to be able to help you. But connecting students to teachers wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was get them to connect with each other. It didn't matter what was happening during the school day. They knew they had people that were going to support them after school, and who better than peers?
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet And so you're still an early stage business, but what's your future vision for the business? I mean, what is Fiveable 2030 or, I guess, 2025 if you have to use a five. What is it?
Amanda DoAmaral Yeah, I think what we're really trying to navigate right now is how do we continue to create more content that makes things... Just kind of demystifies different things for students, whether that's exams or classes or goals that they have, and then continue to make the study spaces and the content more engaging. And that's the piece right there that is the most exciting when I think about that future of Fiveable... I want every kid to log in. This is like where you go after school. I don't need to go other places. I hang out here, I get what I need here, I can study what I need. It keeps me engaged. It's fun. And the last piece of it is we're really trying to increase students' confidence in this too. And that's a big part of how I want students to feel when they're here. And so when I think of it down the line, 5-10 years from now, it's like a student really feels like they can do anything. They know they can do anything because we've got their back and they actually can.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet And you are VC funded, right?
Amanda DoAmaral Yes.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet By very prestigious VCs in EdTech. And I guess there are very few teachers that are backed by VCs. There are a few women that are backed by VCs. So you're probably 1% of 1% of 1%. Has it been hard? Harder than you thought?
Amanda DoAmaral So much. It is very difficult. I mean, it's hard for reasons that maybe I didn't even anticipate, but I think, you know, the level that I'm like playing at right now is not... It's not something that I was prepared for. I didn't go into this hoping I'm going to be a VC backed startup. I know many people do, and that's fine. But for me, it was like, I wanted to survive. I wanted to continue to hire students to create content. And in order to do that, I needed to raise money. And so we sort of were like solving one thing at a time. And at a certain point, I was like, I have these dream investors. I figured out I've unlocked some of these things. And it's incredibly difficult knowing what the pressures are like and playing in a space that was not made for me. Right. Like, there are not a lot of people that look like me, that sound like me, that have the background experiences that I do. And so I have to constantly learn how to navigate new conversations, new dynamics, power structures. And I'm really, really lucky to have investors that are just like... They're like real people.
Amanda DoAmaral You know, yes, they are VCs, but I feel like I have a really good group of people that help me navigate that. So that even though I have those obstacles with those things that make it harder for me, it's not going to get in my way.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet You could certainly be a bridge in the future between teachers and early stage investors. I see there is probably a lot of benefit of sharing that experience with your fellow teachers.
Amanda DoAmaral Yeah, exactly. That thought has come up for me so many times so I'm just like, how cool would it be to get... I could actually be that bridge. I could support. I have a lot of friends that are still in the classroom that do ask me like, how'd you do this? And sometimes I'm just like I don't know, I just sort of kept going like one day at a time. But I really do feel like I can share a lot of wisdom with them that could hopefully help bring them into the space.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Just another question, I'm guessing you're a lifelong learner, are you?
Amanda DoAmaral Oh yes.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet So what do you learn these days? What have you been learning recently?
Amanda DoAmaral What am I not learning? Honestly, one of the reasons why I got into startups was because I figured out that there was this like endless runway of things to learn in this job and that for me was like everything. So I am constantly reading about whether it's for the business, like marketing products, you name it. I'm like reading different newsletters, different articles. I also am just kind of a history nerd, always have been. So, give me a good history documentary and I'm like good for a couple of hours. And then more recently I've been trying to keep up with the trends. Everything that's happening with AI for me is very new and has nothing to do with Fiveable right now. But I've just been like what is this? You know, how is this going to have an impact on education? Just trying to understand it and play with it and so that's been pretty fun.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet We are now getting into the rapid fire section of the interview. So I'm going to ask you A or B and you have to answer, okay?
Amanda DoAmaral Okay.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet So skills or degree?
Amanda DoAmaral Oh, skills for sure. W to don't even require a degree at Fiveable.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Okay. State school or private school?
Amanda DoAmaral I went to a private school but I would say state school to save money.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Okay. Tech or creativity?
Amanda DoAmaral That's a tough one. I'm going to go creativity.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Okay. Remote work or everyday in the office?
Amanda DoAmaral Remote work. I've loved it.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Profit or impact?
Amanda DoAmaral Impact every time.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Learners or shareholders or investors?
Amanda DoAmaral Learners.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Teacher or technology?
Amanda DoAmaral Teacher.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Okay good. Now would you have one prediction for the industry, one vision, one thing you want to share with the community? The EdTechX community.
Amanda DoAmaral It's really difficult to make predictions in education. I think there's so much changing really fast. But I do think that what I hope happens and what I think will happen is that a lot of the power will shift to the student. And what I mean by that is students will have more options. We'll have more of a collective voice together when our current education system... For the student to understand this is not going to support me for my future. I don't want to go to that college. It's going to cost me this much money. Or I'm frustrated that I'm not being taught the skills I know I'm going to need. I think some of the social media tools, things even like Tik Tok have opened up students eyes, too, to like, what is possible, what should you be learning, what should school look like? And I think what we're seeing, when you see students who do these walkouts, right? They protest, they are rising up, they are frustrated. And so I think that that will help shape the future of education because if they demand it, then we need to do it. That's something that's very like... They have more power than anybody else. If they don't show up, what are we doing? So I think that is happening more and more and will help craft what the future of education looks like, what kinds of skills they want to be learning and are just demanding that they be learning. And I'm excited for that.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Since your company is actually helping with this. Because by giving them more accountability, you're also giving them more responsibilities in a way.
Amanda DoAmaral Yeah, I hope so.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet And Amanda, finally, who would you like to nominate to be part of our next EdTechX Stories and let us know why.
Amanda DoAmaral I really enjoyed working with this really early stage founder who is trying to solve his name is DM Christel and he's trying to solve relationships between students and teachers, knowing that a lot of times that gap makes a student checkout. And that's been really cool. He's kind of a newcomer to this space. I'll stick with him and I think you would have a really good conversation with him.
Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet Okay, well, we will then. Amanda, thank you very much. I really enjoyed this. This was Amanda DoAmaral for EdTechX Stories. Thank you very much.
Amanda DoAmaral Thank you. Appreciate it.