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046 – Irina Fine & Ian Freed – Bamboo Learning: Building an EdTech Business on Voice Assistant Platforms

The next episode of the Future Ear Radio podcast features two of the co-founders of Bamboo Learning, Irina Fine and Ian Freed. Bamboo Learning is comprised of a set of custom voice skills and actions (apps) built for Alexa and Google Assistant that are designed to educate children on a variety of subjects. I’ve had Ian on the podcast before where we did a full breakdown of Bamboo, but in light of the expansion of their product offering, I wanted to bring Irina and Ian on to the podcast to shed a light on what it’s like to be one of the first companies to build a viable business on top of Amazon and Googles’ voice assistant platforms.

Bamboo’s suite of voice skills covers Math, Literature, History, Music, and as of last week, English. Each subject contains tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of problems that are tiered in difficulty, and can be accessed through smart speakers, smart displays, tablets and smart TVs. For example, “Alexa, open Bamboo Math,” will immerse children into a series of engaging math problems, and allow the child to advance into higher levels as they go.

Based on this conversation and past discussions, here are a few reasons why I think Bamboo is such an interesting company to watch:

  1. There’s an analytics component to all of Bamboo’s skills, called Bamboo Grove. So, parents can see a comprehensive breakdown of their child’s results from the time spent within the various apps. Not only is this beneficial for parents to know where their child is excelling and where he or she might need more work, but it also could be valuable for parents to share with teachers as well.

2. Bamboo has implemented one of the first implementations of a subscription model tied to Alexa & Google Assistant. With the rollout of the new English skill, users will have access to one “unit” (comprising of 2-4 weeks of learning) while an additional five courses can be purchased for $5.99/month per family. This is one of the first “freemium” type subscription models I’ve heard of being implemented within Alexa or Google’s ecosystem.

3. Self-paced, independent learning. As we discuss in the conversation, one area that has a lot of upside with learning through a platform like this is that it enables self-paced learning. Students are able to learn at their own pace, and parents, with the help of Bamboo Grove, can monitor their child’s progress, without having to sit with them as they work through the learning units.

4. Accessibility. Aside from the premium-level content contained in the English curriculum, all of the other material contained in Bamboo is totally free. With smart speakers being sold as cheap as $20, it allows for this breadth of educational content to be accessed with the purchase of a cheap device. One can even imagine schools outfitting children with customized Echo Dots with skills like Bamboo pre-enabled to provide for home use.

5. Ultimately, the voice ecosystem is very young and rather primitive in its capabilities relative to mobile computing. Bamboo represents one of the most cutting-edge businesses being built within this ecosystem, and is truly blazing a trail as to how a business can be viable. In the span of just a few months, the company has added a sizeable amount of new content (including content specifically designed for TVs/displays using APL), and introduced a SaaS subscription within the suite of services.

Although there’s not much a hearables-theme to Bamboo Learning, I think it’s crucial to have a firm understanding of how the voice ecosystem is evolving at a macro-level. I’m of the mind that conversational-AI will play a huge role in the future use cases of hearing aids and hearables, and conversations with voice-tech pioneers like Ian and Irina serve to further strengthen my conviction as I learn more about what’s being made possible with this technology.

-Thanks for Reading-

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