I am incredibly excited and fortunate to announce our Series A funding of $11M supported by some of the most thoughtful investors and leaders in education. This round of funding will help us accelerate our mission of bringing the voice of students to the forefront of higher ed.
Five years ago, my cofounders and I moved to a trailer park in Mountain View, CA to turn our little student project into a valuable, mission-driven startup. All of us were first-gen students at Carnegie Mellon with no clear understanding on how to successfully navigate our 4 years in college. I had tons of transfer credit from Pakistan, Jiyda changed her major with a gap year in the middle, Musab wanted to graduate in 3 years with financial constraints, and Rukhsar was looking to convert her CS major into Electrical Engr. Naturally, the PDF of a “recommended graduation plan” wasn’t too helpful, so we decided to build a simple planner that could capture our context and CMU’s complex graduation requirements and lay out a personalized completion pathway.
We later discovered that this student planning problem was a symptom of a greater issue affecting higher ed. With an increase in student diversity, complex graduation requirements, and a decrease in campus resources, it was even harder for college advisors to take care of their hundreds of advisees. Registrar offices were spending an entire semester trying to “audit” each graduating senior's progress to ensure diplomas were correctly awarded, without which, their accreditation was at risk. And the Provost/Dean’s office had no visibility into what students really needed. In the age of fluid careers, they were relying on “historical analysis” to determine how to allocate their precious resources - instructors and classrooms. All this meant that if we could build a platform to personalize completion pathways and share it with higher ed administrators, everyone wins. Especially students who are betting a lot on their college experience. The purpose was inspiring enough that we turned down “stable” job opportunities and moved to Silicon Valley with less than $10K in our account.
Fast forward to 2022, even we (the delusional fresh grads) couldn’t have predicted the impact our student-project-turned-startup would be making. The platform has helped students confidently make more than 2 million decisions across 40 university partners from 5 countries. In fact, COVID showed the expanse of our reach - students from more than 150 countries accessed Stellic in the last 2 years directly from their homes. It’s not just numbers; the stories we hear are heartwarming: According to students, Stellic has been the “most valuable technology” their college has provided them. They say it has helped them “confidently make decisions and graduate on time”. They call it “something special” and without which they would be a lot more stressed. Advisors have termed the platform “their best assistant” and it has allowed them to “supercharge” their impact. And registrars are thankful that we’ve given many, many hours back. On one campus, the tedious grad clearance process that used to take up a semester has reduced to 2 weeks!
One of our 6 cultural values is: Do good and good things will follow. We’ve seen exactly that. In 5 years, we’ve never lost a university partner primarily because of the impact we’ve made on campuses. Our NPS is 80+, better than that of Apple and Amazon. Our revenues have grown exponentially. Just in the last 12 months, we’ve seen 4x growth and are projected to see even faster growth this year.
In my view, part of this accelerated growth is due to the critical changes higher ed is going through right now. With declining high school enrollment numbers, student retention has become the top priority for nearly every university and college. Student satisfaction is low, particularly with campus technology and advising support. Like many things, COVID surfaced these issues even further. Simple things like grading policies evolved drastically in the last couple of years and legacy systems couldn’t handle this evolution. Combine this with thousands of staff retirements and it’s no surprise that the majority of higher ed institutions have listed ‘digital transformation’ and ‘student success’ as key pillars in their Strategy Plans.
All of this made it (relatively) easy for us to make a case to education’s top investors that Stellic is ripe for Series A funding to fuel our big plans. The round is led by Reach Capital, an impact fund focused on education. They’ve invested in some of the biggest successes in edtech and I am so pleased to have Reach’s founding partner, Jennifer Carolan, join our board of directors. Reach Capital is joined by ECMC, Impact Engine and Operator Collective as new institutional investors. Rethink Education and QSTP from last round also doubled down on their investment in this round. We made a strategic decision to invite selected thought leaders as angel investors. The final list contains 17 leaders including David Blake (Founder, Degreed), John Katzman (CEO, Noodle/2U), Dan Caroll (Cofounder, Clever), Philip Cutler (Founder, Paper), Matt Pittinsky (Founder, Blackboard/Parchment), Taggart Matthiesen (VP, Lyft) and Maria Barrera (Growth, Nearpod). Each of these 17 individuals will add their unique perspective, experience and network to Stellic’s next steps.
With this funding, I am super excited for what happens next: intentional growth of Stellic’s partner community and the technology platform. We plan to invest in building a community of partners for each stakeholder - academic leadership, registrars, advising groups, and most importantly, students. We hope that this community will yield greater collaboration and fostering of new ideas to advance higher ed (beyond just technology). We also plan to grow our base of university partners to include strategic partners, particularly the institutions where we can make the deepest impact. Our most recent partnership with Johnson County Community College is an apt example of this commitment. As these partnerships grow, the platform will have to (intentionally) grow as well to further support our mission. Out of several new projects we have in development, I am most excited about Prospective Students - opening up the platform to high school and transfer students to help them make better decisions even before they matriculate.
Ideas aside, Stellic’s #1 priority will remain the same: to build a mission-centric company that remains laser-focused on one goal: solving higher ed’s biggest challenges by elevating the voice of students through modern tech. For higher ed to sustain its role as a liberator, we have to make sure that institutions adapt to the needs of today’s students. And today’s students have evolved - they have complex backgrounds (e.g adult learners), diverse goals (e.g freelancers) and limited resources (e.g full-time jobs). Higher ed must evolve to accommodate this diversity and complexity. Our role is to support this journey with advanced, beautiful, student-centric technology. It has been a long time coming!
As I wrap up this letter and get back to work, I must thank a zillion selfless people who helped us get here. Stellic wouldn’t be Stellic without the advice of dozens of advisors spending countless hours sharing their insights and helping us avoid the million pitfalls we never recognized as first time founders. Stellic wouldn’t be Stellic without the early institutional partners who trusted that we’d be able to deliver value to their campus without any past proof that we could. Stellic wouldn’t be Stellic without initial financial support of early investors. Fortunately (for us), they faced similar challenges as we did in college and were willing to invest in a solution they themselves would’ve loved. Most importantly, Stellic wouldn’t be Stellic without the crazy-dedicated team working at Stellic who is giving their 110% every day to ensure Stellic’s promises, dreams, and ideas turn into impact.
If anyone reading this wants to join this mission at Stellic, please reach out. We got here through the tremendous hard work of our existing talented team of 35. We’ll need a lot more driven individuals to take us further.
Sabih Bin Wasi
Founder & CEO, Stellic Inc.