Vidku startup raises $17 million in 17 days

Minneapolis-based startup VidkuIt took Minneapolis-based startup Vidku only 17 days to raise $17 million in a Series A funding round led by Fargo-based venture capital firm Arthur Ventures, among other investors. The financing is believed to be the largest seed capital raise this year.

“Vidku was not your average Series A raise,” said James Burgum, Managing partner at Arthur Ventures. (Far from it – the average for a Series A was at $6.9M in 2014.)

“What truly allowed the round to come together so quickly was the combination of the team and the market opportunity,” he said.  “Vidku is already an existing business with great growth and paying customers so they are starting from a strong position.”

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President Eric Kaler (UMN), Jim Leslie (Cofounder/CEO, Vidku), Dean Jean Quam (College of Education and Human Development, UMN), Dr. Charles Miller (Cofounder/Chief Design Officer, Vidku), and Phil Soran (Cofounder/Executive Chairman, Vidku) at the Vidku+UMN celebratory event in Mcnamara Alumni Center on Feb. 23.

Video tech that started in the classroom

So who is this newcomer that investors are drooling over? Perhaps a more familiar name is the tech which Vidku is now marketing, a video sharing mobile app called Flipgrid which was invented by University of Minnesota Design professor Dr. Charles Miller. It started when he wanted to create a platform where teachers, whether online or face-to-face, could post discussion questions and get video responses from the students.

With a rockstar ten-person team of professors and grad students – including a lead developer who is a literal rockstar – they developed a software that would allow teachers and students to film and upload videos in an organized grid-like fashion. They worked from within the University of Minnesota’s Learning Technologies Media Lab.

“We actually are, very authentically, made by teachers and students for teachers and students,” Miller said. “No one had background in development, we’re all from-the-ground-up learners with a passion for education.”

Vidku team

Some of the OG Flipgrid team.

Since its launch in January 2014, over 2 million videos have been exchanged using Flipgrid, with users in six different continents. And that’s without spending a dollar on marketing, Miller said.

Here’s what people are tweeting about it:

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Vidku

Started in the classroom, ended up around the world.

Minneapolis-based startup Vidku

The many ways Flipgrid is being used has far exceeded the team’s expectations. It’s being used by classrooms, yes, but also businesses, photographers, Boy Scouts, and weddings, from all over the globe.

“We’ve seen stories from Southern Australia, to people in Venezuela, to a group of STEM educators in China, to teachers in Dubai,” Miller said.

One teacher used the app to connect college students with 4th graders, to share their perceptions of 9/11 with each other – a story Miller shared at his presentation on Flipgrid at last year’s MinneDemo 18.

The story that was a real tipping point for the team, Miller said, came from a classroom of 2nd graders in Athens, Georgia. A teacher, Andy Plemmons, celebrated Black History Month by having his students use Flipgrid to share 90 second videos on someone they thought could be on a postage stamp. The students made videos on why Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, or Jesse Owens, for example, were inspiring to them.

“When we first saw this, literally we teared up in the office,” Miller said. “We thought this was just going to be for university students discussing boring articles.”

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A screenshot of the Flipgrid video-sharing platform.

 

This was last September, when Miller announced that Flipgrid was only going to keep growing – already he had everyone from the World Health Organization to the Coast Guard to wedding planners expressing an interest in sharing their videos on “the grid.”

“We’re about to triple in size over the next few months,” Miller said.

Boom. Five months later, $17M in 17 days.

Vidku led by rockstar execs

We’ve been talking about Flipgrid, so to clear things up – Vidku, which is a hybrid of video + haiku, is the name of the new holding entity for the Flipgrid technology. And the new Vidku executive team is a strong one.

Last year, the rising popularity of the app caught the attention of two seasoned entrepreneurs: Phil Soran, former Compellent CEO and co-founder of Xiotech, and Jim Leslie, founder of data center IT services firm Midwave (sold to Datalink in 2011).

The two were retired to lives of educational philanthropy, when the potential they saw in this video-sharing platform drew them back into business.

“My wife and I have been really focused on education for quite a while,” Leslie said. “We heard about this platform [Flipgrid], and the more I saw, the more I got excited…seeing how creatively people were taking advantage of what the platform was capable of delivering was really fascinating to me.”

They were initially invited to take a look at Flipgrid in 2014 by Jean Quam, Dean of College of Education and Human Development (who is also a Fargo North grad – Go Spartans). Not too long afterwards, they acquired Flipgrid from the College of Education for $6.75 million and a 4 percent equity stake in the company, according to the Star Tribune – and they formed Vidku as a parent company.

Soran is now the Executive Chairman of Vidku and Leslie is the CEO.

As for Miller, whom Soran called “a Silicon Valley-class technology talent,” he is now Vidku’s Chief Design Officer.

Dr. Charles Miller (Cofounder/Chief Design Officer, Vidku), Ryan Warren (CFO/COO, College of Education and Human Development, UMN), and Dean Jean Quam (College of Education and Human Development, UMN) at the Vidku+UMN celebratory event in Mcnamara Alumni Center on 2/23

Dr. Charles Miller (Cofounder/Chief Design Officer, Vidku), Ryan Warren (CFO/COO, College of Education and Human Development, UMN), and Dean Jean Quam (College of Education and Human Development, UMN) at the Vidku+UMN celebratory event in Mcnamara Alumni Center on 2/23

Vidku is hiring

Vidku is currently a team of twenty. But Miller said they will soon be adding up to 20-30 more, and are actively looking for hires with a focus on web designers and developers. (“We know Fargo is a hot bed for designers and developers,” Miller said.)

If Vidku holds up to the promise that both the entrepreneurs and the investors see in it now…well, we could be looking at the next claim to fame for the upper Midwest – a true “made-in-Minnesota” story, as Soran said.

“Through Vidku our user current base will only broaden,” Miller said. “We want to be a major player.”

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Dr. Charles Miller (Cofounder/Chief Design Officer, Vidku) speaking at the Vidku+UMN celebratory event in Mcnamara Alumni Center on Feb. 23.

The $17M will certainly help with that – they will use it to expand, to develop new features, and to continue getting bigger and better, Miller said. But at the heart of it all is the reason they have been motivated all along, he said – the teachers.

“The teachers over the last years have really been the motivation and inspiration – that’s why we get up every day,” he said.

“To see investors are getting behind our vision, it’s this sense that the dedication has paid off, and the love for design and education is respected by others. It’s just complete excitement.”

Learn more about Vidku + Flipgrid, here.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Charles Miller and Flipgrid.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

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