A startup pitch which led to $7MM+ in funding – by mapping a digital plan, then executing on the website alpha.

Newsela is website that helps children improve their reading skills and comprehension. It aggregates actual timely news and no-holds-barred subjects, and presents each article written at different lexile levels. Students can self-adjust their reading level, and teachers can assign articles and can see results of self-assessment quizses. It's in hundreds of thousands of classrooms and is quite the success.

Children love to learn. They appreciate the truth.

Newsela is in part successful because it provides a non-fiction option in a world of fiction. Most classrooms can easily incorporate The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc. but to provide timely non-fiction and wrap a curriculum around it was challenging for the average classroom.

My Role as a Strategic Partner

I led the team that that served as the creative and technology partner for Newsela as they applied to the #2 Accelerator in the country (behind Y Combinator). With initial concept designs in-hand, Newsela was accepted into the 3 month Kaplan Edtech Program. Within this compressed timeline, my team designed and built the alpha website plus demo deck for VCs.

The Concept Designs

When I was approached with the idea for Newsela, I focused at first on game-layer ideas like leveling up and achievements. I thought, we should motivate these kids in a way they are familiar with like video games. What the evidence later revealed is that students, even young students, are motivated purely by knowledge itself. Even non-fiction news, which is the content that Newsela provides.

Since content was clearly king, we got out of the way and went with a clean layout and simple UX interface. The first functioning alpha was developed in Drupal and the design was taken in-browser once the core technology stack was activated. The image below is slightly evolved from my original concept, but retains the general UX architecture, branding, and visual language.

A Friendly Brand

The Newsela moniker was already chosen by the client. We loved it, so the only thing left was to make it presentable. The branding is a simple wordmark as most newspapers would have in their mastheads, albeit with a friendlier font-face and color.

A Winning Pitch Narrative

While completing the product alpha in record time, we set about assembling a presentation deck with the simplest, most direct narrative. We collaborated closely with the client to iteratively refine the content, and selectively enhance graphics that emphasized the best features.

A slide from the investor deck as the client is presenting.

Results

The final Techstars demo day presentation to a room of VCs was a smashing success. Over $4 million was raised in series A venture capital, eventually going on to raise over $22 million. This shows what a fantastic product-market fit, strong leadership, and focused MVP effort can achieve.

$4 million
in funding