Posted August 10, 2018

While important debates about the long-term impact of new technologies on jobs play out, I’ve had a front row seat to a set of companies where new technologies have immediately created new streams of income for millions of people. These companies typically enable (what Airbnb founder Brian Chesky refers to as) “micro-entrepreneurs”:

  • eBay enables sellers to earn income by selling goods to buyers. eBay’s global gross merchandise volume (GMV) is currently just over $88B; of that, almost $80 billion is retained by their sellers.
  • Airbnb enables hosts to earn income by sharing their homes (and more recently, their experiences) with guests; their total GMV is in the tens of billions of dollars, with over 85% paid out to hosts.
  • Instacart enables shoppers and drivers to earn income by picking and delivering groceries. Its GMV is already in the billions of dollars, and a good chunk of this is retained by its shoppers and drivers.

So these companies are enabling micro-entrepreneurs at scale — for millions of individuals and even small businesses.

Our newest investment, Wonderschool, is in the model of these impressive companies: Its mission is also to help more people achieve economic empowerment by creating micro-entrepreneurs out of educators. But it goes a step further, also making these micro-entrepreneurs small business owners.

Wonderschool offers a platform where educators and childcare providers can start and manage pre-school programs out of their homes — and a marketplace for parents to search for and pay for those in-home preschool programs. Everything about this platform is designed to literally put these educator-entrepreneurs in business, from facilitating business licensing and finding students, to scheduling visits and enrolling them. In doing so, the company affords educators the opportunity to pursue business ownership. For instance, many immigrants who try to set up such centers don’t know how to navigate the permitting system; Wonderschool makes it much easier for them to do so by helping these educators through the process and getting a program up and running in just a month or two. And because Wonderschool helps them set up these programs in-home—whether rental or other—it opens up opportunities for the increasing number of people who can’t afford a second lease or a down payment to get their own business up and running.

Furthermore, compared to the starting salary range of under $40K/year for pre-school teachers in California, Wonderschool directors on average earn $78K and some are already earning over $150K/year after expenses. Given the important role early childhood educators play in giving children a successful start in life, these careers are now more viable. And, these educator-entrepreneurs have the advantages of being their own boss—yet with more job security and the support of network effects if they or their students choose to move (or if they themselves need backup).

Besides supporting preschool directors, Wonderschool solves huge pain points for working parents seeking childcare. Even as public expenditures in preschool education are hotly debated, early childhood programs/centers have been shown to improve student outcomes over time, especially as compared to alternatives (and especially for lower-income students). But there is a shortage of convenient and affordable pre-schools in many geographies; finding a high-quality program with availability is extremely challenging for many parents. By developing a selection of quality preschools with a variety of educational approaches, Wonderschool lets parents pick the right program for their child — right now, only wealthier parents have such access and choice.

Wonderschool’s founders Chris Bennett and Arrel Gray traveled through the idea maze in a roundabout way. They originally started a social commerce business, Soldsie, that helps small business owners sell products through their social media profiles (it is still running). They decided to go into education when Arrel experienced the difficulty of finding preschool for his own children, and Chris suggested he look into in-home preschool options given his own sister had gone through one. They discovered that few home preschools leveraged the internet effectively and were hard to find/contact, let alone have the technological resources to operate and grow. And so the idea behind Wonderschool was born — the founders sought to increase the availability of community preschools by helping take care of the business side for aspiring micro-entrepreneurs.

While the two businesses Chris and Arrel have now started are different, they share in common the power of helping people start businesses out of their homes. And small business formation is important to Chris: When his family moved from Honduras to Miami, his mother started a tax preparation business (which she still runs today) and his father ran a local grocery store.

Chris and Arrel aspire to enable large numbers of budding micro-entrepreneurs to start their own small businesses. That’s why I’m extremely excited for Andreessen Horowitz to be a part of an education platform and network like Wonderschool, which is not only a business that helps create other businesses, but also helps prepare more young students for better futures.