Vietnam after-school learning startup Marathon raises $1.5M pre-seed round – TechCrunch

Marathon Education was founded by its founders after realizing that after-school education in Vietnam had not changed much since their childhood. Many students are taught at the same time in some of the most popular schools in large cities. They are packed like sardines, and that hasn't changed in the past 20 years when I attended these types of classes in Vietnam," said Pham Duc, co-founder.
Six weeks ago, Pham and his brother-in law Tran Viet Tuung launched Marathon to make after-school learning in Vietnam more accessible. Today, the startup announced that it raised $1.5million in pre-seed financing led by Forge Ventures (a fund created by Alto Partners) with participation by investors Venturra Discovery as well as iSeed SEA.

Marathon focuses on science and math courses in grades 6-12 of Vietnam's National Curriculum. It will eventually include all MOET subjects.

Pham was an investor in TPG Global before founding Marathon. Tran, a serial entrepreneur, has previously founded travel platforms, and Christinas. Both were raised in Hanoi, and spent a lot of their childhoods at after-school learning centers.

Pham says that half to 70% of K-12 students go to after-school classes. However, the industry is fragmented. Many learning centers are managed by ex-teachers from public schools and are located in major cities.

Accessibility is the main issue students are seeing, stated Pham. Students in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are not guaranteed to get into top-tutored classes. They also often spend a month in hostels while taking prep courses.

Teachers must manage administrative tasks such as admissions, marketing and communications with parents. This cuts into their time to design their courses. They had to quickly switch to online teaching platforms after the COVID-19 lockdowns began a few months back.

Marathon takes care of all administrative tasks when teachers join the company. The company's online model allows them to reach more students, even in other cities. Pham claims that teachers who move from an offline center to Marathon could see a two- to threefold increase in their earnings.

Marathon teachers must pass a screening process before they can join the team. This includes how many students have passed exams and improved their grades. Marathon matches them with teaching assistants, who work with students in small groups of 20-25 during online lectures. They answer questions via instant messenger and then run breakout rooms to discuss the lessons in detail.

Marathon was launched in Ho Chi Minh City, and the expansion strategy will be adjusted to take into consideration cultural differences between north and south Vietnam. It will, for example, find tutors who speak regional accents and adapt its marketing strategies.

Because the curriculum and teachers are very different, we will be focusing on them separately. The south is more open to trying new services and parents are more adventurous. Tran stated that parents in the north rely heavily on their networks and word-of mouth, which makes them more cautious about trying new services. We serve distinct sets of customers when we serve both the south and north.

Marathon intends to keep its online-only model going after lockdowns are over and children can return to regular school in-person classes. We noticed a significant shift in parents' behavior after one year of intermittent lockdowns. They are more open to learning online. Pham stated that even though there is a lockdown, the attendance rates right now are 99%. Online is my future and it's much more scalable. So we plan to focus our strategy on that.