Sara LaHayne, Founder/CEO of Move This World, recently closed a $1.1 million Series A round of investment. We spoke to her about the experience, how it will grow the company, and what that means for schools across the country.
What has start-up life been like for Move This World?
Move This World didn’t originate as a “start-up enterprise.” It was started to solve a problem. We’ve been working on a solution to help students and teachers express their emotions in a healthy way for 12 years — almost a decade before social and emotional learning entered mainstream thinking. We have a proven track record with an evidence-based curriculum, partner districts who have been with us for years, and an abundance of lessons learned from teachers and school leaders who have guided our multiple pivots from a direct service model, to a train-the-trainer model, to a video-based platform delivery.
When did it become clear you needed to start scaling up?
Towards the end of 2017 it became clear that the K12 market for social emotional learning had really shifted – there was increasing science and evidence of the impact of stress and trauma on executive functioning and our ability to learn, and now if leaders were NOT looking for something to support the social and emotional wellness of their staff and students, THEY were the minority. It was also clear that we were on to something with our video tools. Teachers were eager for the easy to use, engaging supports. In order to meet the growing market demand, we needed to bring on some outside capital to continue to invest in the product, as well as in sales and in marketing. That was when we decided to open up a Seed round. We didn’t raise more than we needed, in an effort to continue to maintain the values and clear focus we had garnered after all of the years building a business with our bootstraps, making mistakes, and learning from them.
And almost a year later, why did you decide to raise a Series A?
I did not plan to raise a Series A as soon as I did- less than one year after closing the Seed round. But the market changed that. In almost every educator convening, the conversation on social emotional learning was front and center. It was clear teachers and leaders were feeling the impact of a changing society tense from a 24/7 news cycle, social media, strained families and an anxiety and mental health epidemic. Now leaders were looking for training and approaches that were trauma informed rather than punitive, proactive rather than reactive. They were looking for solutions, and given our proven track record, our long standing history, and our understanding of the field, we were poised to offer solutions.
How much did you raise and why did you settle on that amount?
Through our partnership with AT&T, who participated in the Seed round, we conducted an extensive, very detailed financial model that allowed us to see conservative and ambitious cases for how much capital we might need. Even with the conservative model, we didn’t require a large amount of capital to continue to grow, given our strong earned income. We decided to raise a $1 million Series A. I feel very fortunate to have brought on creative, connected, mission-aligned investors who are committed to scaling Move This World as the prominent mental health and social emotional learning solution for children and adults. Ensuring that we are bringing on individuals and organizations who are committed to the same vision has allowed us to build productive working-relationships built off mutual trust and respect, which has and will be critical to our continued success. We ended up being oversubscribed and closing a $1.1 million Series A round. The size of the round allowed me to preserve significant equity and continue to shape and grow the organization in the way that we’ve learned is important over the last 12 years. In May 2019, we were selected as one one of 11 ed tech companies awarded funding through the NewSchools Ignite Expanded Definition of Student Success Challenge out of 198 organizations that applied. Each cohort member is committed to developing products designed to build a strong academic foundation by enhancing social emotional learning and supporting the development of nurturing school and classroom environments. We are excited for the additional coaching, support and feedback that will result from our selection in the NewSchools Venture Fund Cohort. This comes with an addition $150,000 grant on top of our Series A.
What will you do with the capital infusion?
With this capital infusion, we will continue to raise the bar on our content. This summer we will produce more than double the content that currently exists in MTW’s content library, meaning that students and teachers in SY19-20 will have many more exercises available for their use. We’ll be moving away from our current grade-banded model and will further differentiate the curriculum based on unique grade level, which will be a key differentiator for us. We will continue to invest in high-quality production and design. We are offering further differentiation for students and teachers. We are supporting ELL students by making content available in Spanish. We are improving the user experience of the platform so it continues to be intuitive and easy to use for teachers. And we’ll ensure that we have the marketing power to be able to attend the conferences and convenings where leaders are having conversations around climate and culture so that we can help shape the discussion and offer our experience at both the local and national level.
How will this benefit schools across the country?
Raising our Series A is allowing us to continue to execute on what we have seen work and ensure that the highest quality social emotional learning content gets into the hands of as many teachers and students as possible, because we can all benefit from an opportunity to pause and to connect with ourselves and those around us more deeply, especially in today’s frenetic world.
How do you see Move This World evolving beyond 2019?
I want to continue to provide individuals with micro-moments to check in with themselves, beyond the realm of the classroom environment. We plan to expand our content for parents and families to reinforce social emotional learning skills students are learning at school as well as content that families can use in the context of their daily lives.