March 9, 2020

A bit about Primer

By Ryan Delk
Where some people measure progress in answers-right per test or tests-passed per year, we are more interested in "Sistine-Chapel-Ceilings per Lifetime.”

— Alan Kay, "A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages"

Today, we're announcing Primer.

Our goal is simple: free the next generation of kids to be more ambitious, more creative, and to think for themselves — starting with homeschoolers.

Thriving in a complex world requires creativity and original thinking, but our education system is designed for mass production — not unlocking imagination and individuality. We won’t be able to solve 2050’s challenges with an educational supply chain built for the 1950s.

Kids are remarkable — and our current system is underestimating them. We need a new system, one where we value what kids learn both outside and inside the classroom. Where they learn how to solve real problems, not pass tests. Where they learn how to think instead of what to think.
If we’re going to push humanity forward, we need to recognize and serve the 'weirdos' by society's standards — kids that blaze their own trails, follow their passions, and think differently. We need more kids pursuing new, non-standard paths.

Maksim and I were both fortunate to have non-traditional educations. I was homeschooled from Kindergarten through 8th grade, and my parents had a single goal: for their kids to love learning. We studied the American Revolution by driving to all the historic locations in the 13 colonies, and crawled through tubes of cardboard to learn how the digestive system works. My parents always opted for real-world experiences over textbooks. My mom was a former public school teacher, and even for her it required thousands of hours of research, pedagogical skills, free time, and community building over many years to create this homeschooling experience.

Maksim's high school principal saw his passion for physics, and encouraged him to participate in academic Olympiads and skip his other classes to study physics full-time. Over the next three years, Maksim won multiple medals for Kyrgyzstan at the International Physics Olympiads. Because his principal saw a unique ability, was willing to think outside the box, and empowered Maksim to pursue world-class mastery of a subject while still in high school, his education was transformed into an experience he loved.

Every kid deserves access to learning environments like the ones we experienced, tailored to their unique gifts and interests –– but right now these opportunities aren’t evenly distributed. Homeschooling can be a powerful vehicle for unlocking these environments, but today it requires enormous effort from parents to take advantage of it.

There are 2.4 million homeschoolers in the U.S. today, and in-home education has grown consistently each year for three decades — despite the challenges of getting started, navigating curriculums, and finding the right peer communities. This market is tragically underserved by technology, making homeschooling less accessible and forcing each homeschooling family to reinvent the wheel. Collectively, we are not accumulating any of the insights families learn through their experience. This is the challenge we’re solving at Primer.

Our first product is a series of interest-based communities designed for students, with built-in, magic homeschooling compliance for parents. Kids will be able to join communities tied to their interests (think: Chess, Baking, Rockets, Physics), choose projects that align with those interests, collaborate and learn alongside other kids, and get access to experts — like learning about building rockets from a SpaceX Engineer. Parents will have confidence and peace of mind knowing they are compliant with local homeschooling regulations as Primer seamlessly navigates filing notices, portfolio documentation and surfaces tax rebates and other benefits.

While not meant as a replacement for a traditional curriculum (yet!), we believe doing things is the best way to learn things. An investigation into the Mallard reaction is best launched in the pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie, not a chapter in a chemistry textbook. Discovering that air pressure can beat gravity is best learned in trying to win a rocket building competition, not in a physics classroom. This is the learning experience we want for our own children, and we’re building for the world.

We’ll begin rolling out invites in August 2020, and you can join the waitlist here. It’s designed for students of all ages (though students who can’t yet read will need to team up with a parent).

Meaningful progress toward our vision will take time. The system we have today is broken, and homeschooling is still a niche education choice. For the next few years, we’ll be laser focused on giving parents everything they need to start homeschooling and deliver an exceptional learning experience to their kids. We’re starting by reducing the activation energy required to start and thrive as homeschoolers, and over time we’ll solve some of the broader structural challenges –– including the reality that homeschooling requires a stay-at-home parent ––to democratize access even further. The conversation around homeschooling is shifting, but we know there are no shortcuts. At the earliest, the first student with a full K-12 Primer education will graduate in 2033, so we’re buckled in for the long journey ahead.

We’re on a mission to build the education experience our kids deserve, and deliver it to every kid. Offering an accessible, world-class education to millions of kids is one of the highest leverage things technology can do — and by doing so, we can empower future generations to bend the arc of history.

We’re a small team of five working in a sunny office in the Mission District in San Francisco. We previously helped build companies like SpaceX, Square, Gumroad, Lyft, and Coinbase. We're working on Primer because we believe helping kids achieve their full potential will be the most important work of our lives. If this mission resonates with you, we’re looking for a few more great folks to join our founding team.

Lastly, we’re thankful to have the support of a fantastic group of investors. We’ve raised $3.7m, led by Keith Rabois at Founders Fund alongside: Lachy Groom, Naval Ravikant, Jed York, Cyan Bannister, John Danner, Jonathan Swanson, Linda Xie, Kevin Kwok, Jake Zeller, Eugene Wei, Julia DeWahl, Erik Torenberg, JD Ross, Jack Altman, Dan Romero, Scott Belsky, Balaji Srinivasan, Emilie Choi, Fred Ehrsam, Harry Stebbings, David Perell, Tyler Willis, Patrick McKenzie, and more.

Thanks for taking a few minutes to read a bit about our journey so far and where we’re headed. We'll share occasional updates and roll out invites based on priority on the email list, so if our vision resonates with you, that’s the best place to hear more.

Back to building!