"Deskless" workers have become a big focus for tech companies looking for new opportunities in the B2B market, and today a startup targeting this segment with e-learning tools is announcing a round of funding to fuel its own growth.
EduMe, a London startup that provides online corporate training and education in the form of "microlearning" modules that companies build themselves -- aimed at fast-scaling tech businesses and others dealing with large numbers of workers or partners that typically do not work in the same physical location as the business itself -- has picked up $20 million in a Series B round. The company plans to use the funding to expand its business in the U.S. after seeing a decent amount of growth to date.
Prosus and Workday Ventures (Workday's strategic investment arm) co-led the round with Valo Ventures, which led EduMe's Series A, also participating. The Workday investment is notable because it shows that the HR platform is eyeing up how it might be doing more in corporate learning and targeting deskless workers in particular (both would be natural complements to its current platform), and this could well lead, more widely, to some M&A down the line for it. Meanwhile, EduMe sees opportunities for growth in making e-learning easier to use in a wider IT context.
"The ecosystem of how you serve the deskless worker is changing," said Jacob Waern, CEO and founder of EduMe, in an interview. "They don’t want to have 10 apps, and so we are looking to integrate with CRM platforms and others to deliver connected content to workforces."
For Prosus, this is one of many bets it's putting into edtech: today it also announced it was leading a big round for online tutoring platform GoStudent, targeting younger, consumer users.
EduMe's focus on deskless workers, a market that was once sidelined but has now become mainstream, mirrors the startup's own DNA.
It was originally hatched at Millicom, a telco that focuses on emerging markets (currently in Latin America; historically both LatAm and Africa), with the service originally intended to provide e-learning to the telco's customer base. Over time, Waern (who was at Millicom and built the service there) saw that it was getting the most traction with businesses, not consumers nor sole-traders, and so the decision was made to spin out the business to double down on that opportunity across a wider set of markets that also included developed countries. (Millicom has no stake in EduMe, Waern said.)
EduMe found early users among target verticals like ridesharing and delivery companies, which were scaling fast and needed ways to communicate with those disparate teams. Over time it also added companies in logistics, mobile network operators, retail, hospitality and healthcare. It now has around 60 global customers currently, including Gopuff, Deliveroo, Deloitte, Uber and Vodafone. EduMe is not disclosing its total number of users, learning modules used, or other metrics; nor is it discussing valuation.
The startup's growth mirrors what has been a bigger trend in the B2B technology market. Deskless workers traditionally were ignored in favor of the so-called knowledge worker segment -- mainly because knowledge workers, sitting at computers all day, represented an obvious and ready target for buying and using online learning tools. Simply put, it's always been easier to build and sell for these users.
All of that has massively changed in the last several years. Most importantly, the evolution has been precipitated by advances in mobile technology and cloud computing, where now everyone (knowledge worker or not) is using a smartphone to get their jobs done, on the back of much faster wireless networks, and with apps that have been designed to be used on the go and on smaller screens.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that shift: Remote working is now the norm for everyone, and that has helped to democratize solutions to work for a wider array of people. Waern said his company estimates that in fact some 80% of the world's workforce these days could be considered deskless.
The rise of remote working has also fueled the growth of something else. Because people can't or simply don't work in common physical spaces anymore, online learning tools have become a central -- sometimes the most important -- way for companies to communicate with their teams, using them not just for training, but onboarding and professional development.
The growth of this trend has translated into very big business. It's estimated that the bigger market for corporate learning was valued at $250 billion in 2020. That is set to balloon to nearly $458 billion by 2026, accelerated growth brought on by the pandemic and longer term changing business and consumer habits.
EduMe believes that its unique selling point in the market right now is its focus on remote and deskless employees, but it's far from being the only player in this space, and so it will face heavy competition. Other startups that have raised big rounds to fuel their own corporate learning ambitions include 360Learning, LearnUpon, Go1 and Attensi. LinkedIn also has a sizeable interest in this space.
“The pandemic has changed the way we work in ways we could have never imagined, and with that there’s an immense need to support the fast-growing industries where employees may not have a traditional desk,” said Mark Peek, managing director and head, Workday Ventures, in a statement. “We support EduMe because of its innovative training and learning platform that helps organizations navigate change and grow while serving an ever-expanding deskless workforce.”