Cloudflare TV

💡 Founder Spotlight: Abby Coyle

Presented by Abby Coyle, Ellie Jamison
Originally aired on 

This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!

This session features Abby Coyle, co-founder and CEO of ClassEquity. Her mission is to close the financial literacy gap by giving all students the tools they need to become financially independent, regardless of their zip code. Prior to founding ClassEquity, Abby served as a middle school math teacher with Teach for America, and started a local tutoring program to support low-income students in her community.

Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!

Founder Spotlight

Transcript (Beta)

All right. I think that we are live on Cloudflare TV. Hi, everyone. My name is Ellie Jamison and I am a program manager at Cloudflare.

I run a lot of our diversity programs and recruiting as well as our intern program.

And I'm so excited today to welcome you all to Founder Spotlight Week, where we shine the spotlight on the stories of startup founders all over the world.

Today, we have the founder of ClassEquity, my good friend, Abby Coyle.

Thank you so much, Abby, for coming on the show.

And with that, I will let you introduce yourself. Yeah, absolutely.

Thank you so much for having me. So my name is Abby Coyle. I'm the co-founder and CEO of ClassEquity.

My background is in education. So this started as kind of a passion side project that's turned into a full-fledged business.

I'm really excited to share more with you. Awesome. And so a little bit of background on Abby and I, we have actually known each other for eight years, which is just wild to think about.

And we both went to college together at University of Virginia.

Abby, where are you from and where are you calling in from? Yeah, so I grew up in the D.C.

area, so I'm living here right now. As Ellie mentioned, we graduated from UVA together back in 2018.

I can't believe it's been eight years already.

That seems like a long time. I know. But so after graduating from UVA, I joined Teach for America right after.

And I actually lived out in Oahu for a couple of years teaching middle school math, which was an incredible experience.

Absolutely loved my school, my students, my community, but felt a little far from home.

So I moved back to the D.C. area in 2020 and I'm here currently actually moving out to L.A.

in January though. Yes, I'm so excited. The West Coast is again going to get you and you'll be running ClassEquity from L.A.

for the foreseeable future, right?

Yes. Awesome. And so Abby has actually been to San Francisco for all of you tuning in.

I'm based in San Francisco. I grew up in South Florida, but have been living out here since 2018.

And we just realized that three years ago, Abby actually visited me and has been to the Cloudflare office.

And you have a Cloudflare t-shirt.

Yeah, we were joking. It is the softest t-shirt ever. I still wear it all the time.

So it's funny if we could have told myself three years ago that I'd be tuning in for Cloudflare TV today, I would say, but, you know, no way.

That's so funny.

Exactly. OK, cool. So let's dive in. We don't have a lot of time and I know we could go on forever.

So let's dive in. Tell me a little bit about TFA and Hawaii, because I feel like ClassEquity and just like your passion for education all started there.

And if it didn't, you know, you can you can tell us more about the origin.

But tell us about TFA Hawaii. Yeah, absolutely. So as I mentioned, I taught middle school math seventh and eighth grade at Waianae Intermediate.

Go SeaRiders. It was an incredible experience. I think looking back on Teach for America, I definitely remember the highs.

But everyone that is a Teach for America alum will tell you it was the hardest two years of their career, which I definitely agree with.

You know, it's the highest highs, but also lowest lows.

Really, really challenging. But that being said, it's cool being able to look back and just remember all the positive moments with my students in my school.

I think one story that always comes to mind when I get asked about Teach for America was my first year teaching one of my students.

He was my absolute hardest student in my class the whole entire first quarter, every single day when he would walk in and it was third period.

My heart would just start beating faster. He would come in with his head up.

He would just sit in the back corner and would write on his whiteboard, N-A-T-H, mental abuse to humans.

Oh man, he is a hard egg to crack. So I think building relationships is really the foundation of teaching.

So it took a long time to kind of wear him down.

First quarter, definitely took some time to break the ice.

He ended up getting an F first quarter. Second quarter, started to kind of build relationships, learn a little bit more about him, found out that he really liked wrestling, helped get him involved in the afterschool all-stars.

He ended up getting a D that second quarter.

And then going into third quarter to graduate seventh grade, he needed to get a C or above for the next two quarters.

So I sat with the student every single day during recess and lunch.

I'm not kidding, every single day for the last two quarters.

And slowly just got to learn more and more about him.

And he ended up getting a C that third quarter and then a B that last quarter, each quarter kind of raising up and he ended up passing, which was so exciting.

And then at the end of the school year, he actually wrote in my yearbook, M-A-T-H, oh shoot, what was it?

Math, actually tolerable, homie, gonna miss this class.

It was like, you know, little moments like that just brought tears to my eyes.

I was like, oh my gosh, all of the hard days just are completely worth it.

So absolutely loved my experience with Teach for America. Oh my gosh, that's so worthwhile and so rewarding.

And that's really sweet. I'm sure that you probably changed his trajectory forever now.

It was cute too, the next year I taught eighth grade.

So I had the same lunch period as him and he would stop by my room and say, hey, Ms.

Coyle and check in, which was just so funny to see the full 180 from when I started my first year teaching.

Oh, that's amazing.

I mean, I still think about my favorite teachers growing up and just what an impact that they had on me.

So just knowing that you had that, you were that person for someone else is so special.

Yeah, absolutely. So, okay, so after TFA, what did you do?

So you were in Hawaii and TFA ended 2020 or? Yeah, perfect. So yeah, I know we're gonna jump into class equity in a minute.

So I'll kind of preview of my background before starting class equity.

So it ended kind of right in the middle of COVID or sorry, start of COVID in the summer of 2020.

So as I mentioned, I grew up in the DC area.

I loved my school in Hawaii, but definitely felt far from home. So I moved back to the DC area and was looking into other jobs in education, outside of the classroom, either in ed tech.

But at the same time, I also started getting a lot of interest for tutoring in my local community.

The DC area was completely virtual up until April of the last school year.

So a lot of students needed support.

And coming from my experience with Teach for America, I also realized that, you know, while so many families can hire outside support, so many families cannot.

So that actually spun my idea to start a tutoring business last year in the DC area called Advanced Tutors, where my goal was to provide 20% of our services for low income students free of cost.

So that was kind of my entryway into the startup scene.

We ended up doing over $250,000 in revenue in just that one school year providing over 200 hours of free tutoring services.

I think I ended up hiring over 20 different tutors over the course of the year to help plug in and support different students.

So that was really exciting. Also was a great entryway into class equity, because, you know, I had control over my schedule.

So when I started kind of working on class equity with Katie, my co founder, started as a side project, but then it was kind of an easy transition into making that more of my full time role.

Yeah, oh my gosh, definitely. And I know I mean, so many parents struggle during the pandemic, because they not only had their full time jobs, they had to be parents, and then they had to become teachers.

And I know that I'm sure like your tutoring business was just so helpful to them.

Yeah, especially with those early age students.

A lot of families group together to form, form learning pods, right, teacher to direct come in and support while their parents were working, because if you're a kindergartner through third, fourth, fifth grade, even just logging into a computer and then staring at a screen for eight hours, it was definitely a challenge for so many families.

Yeah, absolutely. How many families did you end up tutoring?

Do you remember? Oh, gosh, I don't even know a specific number there.

Like over probably between 50 and 100 students throughout the course of the year on a weekly basis.

Yeah, which was really incredible.

It was a great experience. And again, yeah, definitely kind of a good first step before starting class equity.

Oh, absolutely. And you had did you have any idea that that's what you would do after TFA?

Or did it kind of just all together at all?

Yeah, but absolutely that path shows me 100%. As I mentioned, I've always been interested in ed tech.

So that's kind of what I expected to do moving back to the DC area.

But you know, I really saw this problem, this need, so I just took it and ran with it to kind of figure out how I could plug in and help support.

Yes, awesome. I mean, this is just so it's so interesting. Like you, people say like you can never really see your path looking forward.

But looking back, it makes so much sense.

And so now I think it's like perfect time to start talking about class equity, because it's just the perfect next step for you.

Yeah. Okay, so now we can jump in.

Tell me about class equity. What was the problem you were trying to solve in founding it?

Yeah, absolutely. So it actually kind of started back when I was in the classroom.

And I think I experienced what every single teacher experiences is that classroom management is foundation to a successful school year.

For any non educators listening, classroom management is just the term teachers use to describe how they engage their students.

So building relationships.

If you think back to, you know, elementary school or middle school, teachers would give stars or sticker charts or candy for correct answers.

And all the different strategies that I was kind of researching and tried.

One, they were either way too hard to keep up with or two, they just kind of lacked any sort of content enrichment behind it.

It almost felt like you were just riding students with candy.

So when I was in the classroom, a really good teacher friend of mine actually found out about this system called classroom economy, which is a widespread classroom management strategy.

You know, teachers have been using it for 10, 20 plus years.

But basically, the gist of the system is students submit job applications for their classroom job.

And then you hire them and you pay them a salary for their hard work.

And students also pay rent for their desk to kind of learn those real world budgeting skills.

And then they can also earn bonuses and fines to reinforce those classroom values, and then save up their money to purchase rewards from the classroom store.

So not only is it classroom management, but it's also teaching that financial literacy, those are real world students.

And teaching it in title one school, I realized, you know, so many of my students weren't getting those skills at home.

So I was really excited to kind of try to figure out how I could incorporate that into my classroom.

I remember it was right before spring break.

So I spent the first couple of days trying to research, you know, how to print out all of this paper money and have 120 students keep track of bank ledgers, and it just was not feasible whatsoever.

And then COVID hit, went back to DC, started advanced tutors, everything I just described.

So the origin of class equity was kind of back in March of this year.

I remember I was watching TV and saw a commercial for an app for parents to help their students learn how to budget and save.

So you know, they give them the allowance, they set up a little savings account, whatever.

And the idea kind of popped, wow, this would be so helpful for the classroom economy system.

You know, taking a system that is tried and true, used by tens of thousands of teachers that is just so inherently frictionful and just making it so easy for teachers to use.

So at about the same time, a good family friend, Katie Gracie, she had just taken a web development course, and she had also done Teach for America in the past.

So I reached out and said, you know, how do you even go about digitizing a system like this?

And she was like, oh, yeah, like, if we if we design it, I can totally do that.

I was like, awesome. So we started in March, really just chatting with teachers, learning as much as we could about what teachers like what teachers didn't like, using their feedback and input to kind of design class equity.

And then we've just been working on it ever since then. So yeah, it's been a really fun journey.

And as you mentioned, I feel like every single piece is just kind of led perfectly into the next step.

Oh, my gosh, that's so exciting.

And also shout out to Katie. I know she's watching The Co-Farmer and just wish that she was here to talk about this.

But OK, so tell me about your users. How many users do you have?

What is the rate of classrooms like? Tell me about the actual users.

Yeah, absolutely. So we launched our MVP in August, starting with a pretty buggy MVP.

So I'd say we've kind of really got going end of September, October.

Our goal for this semester was just to have a handful of teacher friends tested out.

We were expecting to maybe have five or 10. So we shared it with our teacher friends, posted in a couple of Facebook groups.

And it's really just grown through word of mouth.

We have over 2000 teachers and students using it now on a weekly basis.

That's over 50 classrooms in 50 different schools. We're in three different countries.

We have some users in Canada. We have some users in Australia. So it's been so cool to just see it growing through, you know, one teacher loving it and then sharing it with their team and then sharing it with their school has been so exciting.

I actually got to visit one of our middle schools the other week and host a professional development session with them and visit with some of our students.

So it's so cool just seeing everyone use it in action. Oh, my gosh. OK, tell me more about that.

What was that like? What was it like actually being in person seeing something you created being used and people being excited about?


So one of the exciting things of building class equity is that since we are still pretty new, we've been able to work really closely with our teachers using it to just develop different features and fix all the different bugs and whatever, what have you.

So I had already been in contact with so many of these teachers on a weekly basis.

So it was so cool finally just putting the faces to the names and then getting to shadow one of our teachers classrooms, seeing actual students logging into the platform and making their deposits and their withdrawals from their bank account and hearing their responses about what they like about the system.

I couldn't have scripted better responses from them. I remember one student was like, I love that I'm learning real world skills like how to apply to jobs and keep track of my money.

And I'm like, yes. And then another student was like, I feel so proud when I get a bonus, but I don't really like getting fines.

It definitely makes me think before doing something. And I was like, yes, that's also what we're trying to do.

So it was really cool just, I don't know, seeing all of seeing our vision really just play out in the classroom.

No, this is so important.

I mean, looking back at school and middle school and high school, I didn't learn anything about financial literacy, about taxes, about fines, about rent, and just going back thinking about, wow, I really wish that I had a background and just more kind of building on that education growing up because it would just make the transition after college that much easier.


Yeah. There was some big study done that four out of five young adults cannot answer basic financial literacy questions on budgeting, on saving, on investing.

And it's something that plays out in every single day life. When you want to even just tip at a restaurant, or you're trying to figure out what type of retirement plan to sign up for.

So many different things that we just don't learn in school.

And one of the big problems that teachers have is, number one, they just don't have the time to incorporate it into the classroom.

Number two, they don't have the resources.

So that's the problem with financial literacy that cost equity is really solving.

Our system is a system that teachers can just set up in the beginning of the year, and then they kind of set it and forget it.

And students are really just learning from experience.

They're learning how to budget because they're practicing with these classroom dollars and making mistakes in a safe environment where it's okay to make mistakes and not be able to pay rent on time before getting to the real world where they have real world consequences.

So another thing we're working to build out on the platform is just more resources for teachers as well, lesson plans, etc, to help incorporate those real world skills into the classroom.

No, absolutely. I mean, I think my parents did a pretty good job trying their best, like teaching me, you know, preparing me for the real world as far as financial literacy.

But I remember the first year out of college facing my tax return, I was lost in trying to do my tax return by myself, just even just reading it, not knowing what 99% of it meant.

It's just so important. So absolutely, this is so exciting and so awesome.

And I even wonder like if any parents are tuning in, like if their kids are using your platform right now, I think that'd be so cool.

Exciting. Yeah, ask us questions if you have any in the audience. Ask us live questions.

I can see them here. So ask away. Question, what is your business model?

Are you looking to monetize this? And or have you already made money?

Tell me about that. Great question. So right now, it's completely free for teachers in schools for this whole entire school year.

And just as we continue to build out the platform, we're hoping to keep it free for teachers in schools forever, especially being a teacher in a classroom that knows, you know, teacher budgets are pretty tight.

It's something that we want, we don't want cost to be a hindrance.

So when we do start charging next school year, we're planning on going the business sponsorship route, where local organizations can help sponsor this for a school.

Since it is teaching financial literacy, so many local credit unions or local banks, you know, really want to help support their students in their community, and are already doing some initiatives, you know, to incorporate financial literacy in classrooms.

And then, you know, we can have community representatives come in and teach lessons, you know, this is how you open a bank account.

This is how you apply for a job, and to really build, you know, that community support around class equity.

That makes so much sense. Like if Wells Fargo can get in the minds of, you know, fifth graders and be like, Oh, come set up an account once you hit turn 18, or 16, or whatever, that makes so much sense.


And especially, you know, I think the target audience we're hoping to reach is students in Title One schools, where, you know, a lot of parents also didn't have this financial literacy education in their past.

So even setting up parent workshops that, you know, this is how you can set up a savings account for your student and how you can help them start saving for college, even if it's just 50 bucks a month, you know, if you start that now, that builds up and goes such a long way.

And so again, really just making it a community led effort. Oh my gosh, that's so exciting.

That's amazing. Okay, so my next question has to do with since this all was born during COVID, and kind of out of COVID.

How do you think COVID has shaped it?

And just like anything to do with, like the technology that you've been using?

How has COVID really impacted this business? Absolutely. I think prior to COVID, education was kind of stuck in the Stone Age in terms of technology.

I was in the classroom right when COVID hit. So right when we made the switch to 100% virtual teaching that last quarter of school, and so many teachers at my school didn't even know how to use Google Classroom, which, you know, for teachers, that's a pretty basic system to know how to use.

So I think COVID just completely accelerated that in the classroom, in terms of just teachers being comfortable using it, but then also in terms of access.

So many students now have one-to-one computers, which wasn't really a thing in the past.

And right now, that's something that's definitely necessary for our platform, for our program.

And then just in terms of support for EdTech, you know, I think it's finally getting the attention it deserves, which is really exciting.

We actually chatted with someone yesterday as well, just in terms of classroom management in the paper version of the classroom economy system, who he was saying that, you know, during, he is the financial literacy coordinator in Palm Beach County.

And he was saying that they tried to implement the paper system in a bunch of their schools, but during COVID, it took a really big hit because it's so interactive, intensive, you know, students need to hand each other the paper money and, you know, collect all the paychecks and et cetera, and really be just passing everything back and forth.

So we said, they're really looking for a digital version of this, just to eliminate those, you know, personal interaction concerns because of COVID, which is, you know, also playing really nicely into our digital version of the system.

Right. And it also makes so much more sense because I feel like transactions are digital and, you know, as you're an adult, you don't really carry cash anymore.

You credit and you make transactions online.

And so it makes so much more sense to have this be digital from a young age.

Exactly. I think it's funny, you know, I'm sure you've heard this from friends, but when people spend cash and they're like, I don't even feel like I'm spending money because it makes no difference on my bank account.

It's kind of like that feeling of actually having that bank account and seeing the number go down.

That's what we want our students to experience. We've seen in a lot of classrooms, teachers using kind of a mix of both the paper and the digital version.

So to hand out a bonus on the fly, you can give them their paper money, which they can deposit into their bank account to kind of work in both lessons of hold on to your wallet.

Don't lose your cash. You know, try to transfer that over to your bank account, which has been really cool to see.

So, again, we're really just trying to make classrooms feel more like the real world and have students really feel that that impact of what I'm learning today actually is applicable to my life.

So I care about it and I want to learn more. Yeah, absolutely. It's so funny.

If my dad's watching, I don't know if he is, but shout out if he's watching. He's always like shocked that I never travel with cash.

And he's just like, I don't know how you like what happens if you lose your wallet.

And I was like, oh, I just use my Apple wallet on my phone.

And he's like, mine is blown that I never travel with cash.

And so it's important. OK, so my next question is between you and Katie, who is the more technical one?

And then because I have to ask, do you use Cloudflare on your website and your developers?

Yep. Great question. So Katie is our CTO.

I could not have done any of this without her. She is just in charge of everything product development related.

She we ended up hiring a couple of developers to speed along the coding process.

So she is in weekly communication with them, if not daily communication.

We do use Cloudflare. So if anyone has any questions about it, we've had nothing but an amazing experience.

So feel free to reach out.

But so Katie is really taking charge in the tech side of our platform. Anytime a teacher sends us a note about a bug, she'll be able to hop right into the database and do some typing and then be like, oh, yeah, just because XYZ wasn't connected here.

I'm like, how did you know that? So it's been really fun to kind of just watch her take a lead on all of that.

I'd love to learn more. She's been teaching me little things here and there.

So hopefully I can kind of help grow my skill set there as well.

But Katie is definitely taking charge of the tech side. Oh, that's so awesome.

Yeah. And Cloudflare, we have the Cloudflare startup service.

So hopefully I think they were like giving away to different startups. So hopefully you'll win that.

And I'm like plugging them. Please tell me a little bit about what your day to day looks like.

Yeah, great question. I mean, it really depends on the day and on the week.

If you think about anything that goes into a business, marketing, outreach, business development, product development, customer support, Katie and I are doing all of that.

So it's a lot of work. But it's also really fun because we're always on our toes.

The beginning couple of months of Class Equity, it was really focused on building out the product and talking with all of our teachers and kind of designing it from there.

Now we've kind of shifted more into continuing to talk with teachers every single week, but trying to figure out how do we grow this now from our active user base and help them spread it to their schools and their teachers.

So it's a lot of chatting with teachers, chatting with school administrators, chatting with other people in the ed tech space, a lot of responding to emails about bugs and getting that all fixed out, which is really not fun in the moment.

But then afterwards, it's like, oh, yes, we figured it out.

I feel like so proud of what we just did. It's very high energy, high intensity all the time.

I'm ready for a winter break. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you're creating something, you are literally one of everything, your customer service, your sales, your engineering, like you're literally one size fits all.


So that's awesome. Okay, so we only have a couple more minutes. So I have two more questions.

What does the next 12 months look like for you as far as whether you're raising money or growing the business?

Tell me about the next. Yeah, great question.

So I would say kind of this first semester, we've really been focusing on all of our active users and making sure the system works for them.

It doesn't only work, it's something that they love and they want to share.

So now we kind of feel like we're in the rhythm and the groove of all of that.

And the next six months, we're just looking to continue to expand, reach more schools.

Right now, we have one whole entire middle school using the platform, as well as a handful of grade level teams.

And we have a couple other interested schools who want to set it up for their teachers.

So just continuing to grow our active user base. We'll also be looking to fund raise in the next couple of months to support that growth.

So I'm excited to share more about that once we really fully dive in. That's so exciting.

Well, good luck with that. I know that I mean, this is such a promising venture.

And I just can't imagine that, you know, people wouldn't want to invest in this.

So definitely good luck. My last question is, what advice do you have for other early stage founders?

Or if you could give yourself advice from like day one when you were even thinking, can I do this?

Great question. I think the best advice that I got kind of in the beginning of all this was your two best friends are a crock pot and Google.

And to this day, I will live by that. One, because I love to cook.

So I love my crock pot. But two, I mean, there is just such a wealth of knowledge out there.

Nothing is a secret anymore. You know, Y Combinator publishes all of their startup school videos.

So we've watched just every single video. And we feel like, you know, we've kind of gone through the accelerator just from YouTube.

And, you know, I think I've gotten questions from some of my friends, like, how did you know how to build out a website or design the homepage, you know, X, Y, Z.

I honestly didn't when we started. But I spent so much time just reading and learning and watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts.

And, you know, if there's ever an answer that you can't find, find somebody that knows the answer and then reach out to them.

I think that's one of the most surprising things that Katie and I have found throughout this process is people are so willing to chat and share more.

We've had awesome conversations with a co-founder of Edpuzzle, a co-founder of Clever, of Lambda School, of NextGen Personal Finance, these really big organizations in the education space who have been so helpful in just sharing their stories, their advice, and then helping us connect with other people.

So, you know, if I had told myself a year ago that I would have a conversation with the co-founder of Clever, I'd be like, absolutely not.

So Google, talk to as many people as you can and learn as much as you can.

Oh, I think that's such great advice because you don't need a formal education to go do something and to really make a difference.

And I'm just so, I'm so excited to see where class equity goes.

I know you and Katie have so much promise and I'm just excited to shine a light on this today.

And I hope that more people use it in the next year. It just, you know, it blows your mind what you can accomplish.

So anyways, thank you so much, Abby.

So happy you came on today.

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