My favorite food is: Thai My favorite quote is: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” - William Butler Yeats
Helping kids succeed and families thrive
CHANGING COURSE. Amar Kumar had little desire to become a founder, but that all changed when he uncovered a problem that excited him, and he felt compelled to solve it. "After I graduated from business school, I thought I was a 'big company' person. I thought I could have more impact steering a big ship one degree rather than being alone in a little dinghy moving around all over the place."
The problem Amar wants to solve takes him back to the start of his career in 2006 when he was a high school teacher in Bangalore, India. While there, he realized the education system's rigidity meant he couldn't effectively teach across the wide knowledge gaps in a classroom. "Traditional schools are designed to educate as many kids as possible, but as a teacher, you want to maximize each kid's education. And those are two very different things."
Amar began exploring ways to help evolve the education system and teaching profession, leading him to the world of online learning. In 2013 he began working at Pearson Online Learning, the world's second-largest network of online schools, becoming their Chief Product Officer. But while he was enabling kids to learn at their own pace, he'd also come to terms with a critical issue in the company that became even more prevalent in 2020 during the pandemic: loneliness.
"Online learning can be very lonely. How do kids make friends? And what do parents do when the kids are at home? All these things started to bubble up in my customer research, and when the pandemic hit, everyone started talking about how online learning is incomplete and not always the best way for kids to learn. That's when I saw the writing on the wall - I had to go out on my own and build the solution to all of this."
BUILDING THE FUTURE OF LEARNING. That same year, Amar launched his first business, KaiPod, an education platform creating social, in-person learning spaces for online school students. Parents choose a curriculum and, like flexible office working for adults, students can visit their local KaiPod Learning Center, where they come together in person to meet friends and collaborate with their peers alongside a KaiPod Coach. The company has enrolled 180 students across seven Learning Centers within a year.
As a first-time founder in his forties and a new father, Amar describes the experience of launching a company as "entering an entirely new universe. I didn't understand the language, I didn't know any players, and I'd never raised a dollar of capital in my life." Propelled entirely by his desire to solve this challenging problem, he enrolled in a free online startup school through Y Combinator. He soon was offered a place in their summer 2021 accelerator, which he describes as a "phenomenal, life-changing experience" that also helped open doors when raising money.
Amar's vision for KaiPod is ambitious. He's hoping to expand by flipping his current business model and enabling teachers to open their own sites. Inspired by educational entrepreneur Sal Khan, he aims with KaiPod to remove the barriers to accessing quality education, which is currently often dependent on where you live. "The big vision is to become a services organization, a national backbone with a set of centers across the country."
"I want to be remembered for doing good work and improving real lives. Like Sal Khan, I couldn't stop thinking about a problem and took a leap later in life to try and solve it. I wanted to make a big difference, and somehow, this is where life has taken me - and I couldn't feel prouder."