This NYC Startup Uses HipHop to Increase Student Engagement



Educators, school districts, even parents are flocking to Flocabulary and here’s what puts it in a class of its own:

Flocabulary creates educational hip-hop videos to teach science, math, social studies, and other subjects, including, of course, vocabulary. It certainly makes the lessons more enjoyable to learn and much easier to remember – which explains why 20,000 schools around the world have flocked to this Brooklyn-based education startup, who seem to be teaching the world a thing or two about teaching – and reaching – K-12 students.

Cofounder and CEO Alex Rappaport explains how the magic happened, once he put his team of former educators, musicians, video artists, sound engineers and school administrators in a room, then shook up classrooms globally while fostering a love of learning. It’s pure rap genius!

Tell us about the product.

Flocabulary is a Brooklyn-based edtech company that creates educational hip-hop videos for students in grades K-12. Often called “The 21st-century Schoolhouse Rock,” Flocabulary’s online library has over 500 videos that teach topics ranging from the pythagorean theorem to how to write a thesis. We offer annual subscriptions to teachers, schools and districts. The program has been used in over 20,000 schools around the world.

How is it different?

The platform is simple to use, light on classroom technology and easy to integrate into a curriculum. Scarce time and limited tech resources are two of the biggest pain points in education, and Flocabulary appeals to teachers and administrators by keeping our footprint relatively small. We believe in pushing the boundaries of what technology can do to support education, but we also believe in solving today’s problems and meeting schools where they are.

We also differentiate ourselves with our content. Our mission is to engage students and help teachers bring the curriculum to life. We’ve designed our videos to be the most engaging educational resources on the market.

What market are you attacking and how big is it?

Right now we are focusing on the U.S. K-12 school market. The edtech market is estimated at around $8 billion overall, and the addressable portion of that market, with our current product, is around $100 million. There are a lot of opportunities in edtech, and we’re building out new features that will expand our market and open us up to new funding sources. We’re also starting to explore new markets, like international and consumer, which could potentially take the company in very exciting directions.

Stitched Panorama

Alex Rappaport

What is the business model?

It’s a recurring subscription service that we sell to districts and schools, as well as to individual teachers and parents. Retention is high and we’ve seen excellent YOY growth for the last few years. We also license content to strategic partners from time to time.

What sort of data do you have to indicate that the use of hip hop is a good way to teach vocabulary?

The human brain has an amazing capacity to absorb, retain and recall rap lyrics. You know what I’m talking about if you find yourself rapping along with the Fresh Prince theme or a Tribe song from 1993. Another way to demonstrate this is with 1492, one of the few dates we all remember from elementary school. The reason we know it is the rhyme. If I say “Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” your brain spits out “1492” on auto-pilot. It’s incredible. We thought we’d be on to something big if we could apply this mnemonic power of rhyme to other educational content, and the results are phenomenal across the curriculum.
A few years ago, we did a study where we looked at short- and long-term retention after middle school students used our Word Up vocabulary program for a semester. Students in the study showed an average score increase of 25 percentage points from pre-test to post-test. To take that a step further, we looked at how students in the Word Up sample group performed on their state reading tests later in that school year. Across all demographic segments in the study, students who used Flocabulary scored higher on their state tests than students who did not. This kind of long-term retention supports that idea that the brain can really hold onto content presented through music. You can read more about those studies here.

What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?

We’re planning on launching new features to increase student interactivity on our platform and provide more data to teachers and administrators. This will be a foundation for a lot of product innovation, particularly surrounding student creativity. We believe students should be in the center of the pedagogical experience, and we’re working on building technology to support this. We’re also launching a social impact fund this spring to provide Flocabulary at no cost to schools that demonstrate significant financial need.

If you could be put in touch with one investor in the New York community who would it be and why?

I have a great deal of respect for Fred Wilson, certainly as an investor, but also as a thought leader and tech advocate. I’m amazed by how prolific and wide-ranging his writing is. As someone who’s trying to write more regularly, I’d love to know how he stays so disciplined and keeps the content fresh and thoughtful. And I like that he’s focused on coding education now. So much to be done there, particularly in terms of getting schools and standards caught up with what’s happening in the outside world.

Why did you launch in New York?

This city has an infectious energy that inspired us to hustle. I lived in San Francisco before New York, and SF wasn’t like that. New York also has some of the best underground rappers and producers in the world and provided direct access to all of the publishers and media firms we needed to partner with early on. It felt right to be in the center of the universe when we were starting a business, and we still feed off the energy and the network.

What’s your favorite winter destination in NYC?

The truth is, I have an 18-month-old, so I don’t get out much… BAM is one of my favorite venues in New York and I love everything they do – music, movies, theater, talks. We actually support their education initiatives as well. It’s really nice to duck into a good movie and forget how freezing it is outside. But like I said, that happens pretty rarely these days.

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