FrontRow co-founder reflects on journey after hobby learning startup shuts down
FrontRow ceased operations two months ago due to difficulties in finding a viable market for its product. In his post, co-founder Ishaan Preet Singh noted that the startup is returning the remaining capital to its investors.
Elevation-backed FrontRow ceased operations two months ago due to difficulties in finding a viable market for its product. In his post, Singh noted that the startup is returning the remaining capital to its investors.
“The market for hobby learning was way smaller than we believed, and unlikely to support a venture scale business. But that makes it sound way more straightforward than it was. Especially, since 2 million people downloaded the FrontRow app and over a quarter of a million people paid for a course,” Singh wrote.
FrontRow, founded in 2020 by Singh, Mikhil Raj, and Shubhadit Sharma, secured a total funding of $18 million across three funding rounds from investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Eight Roads Ventures, and Elevation Capital.
Singh’s post read, “Lightspeed and Elevation shared our excitement, and led a $3mn seed round in early 2020.” He added, “...we ran a bunch of pilots for 6 months before launching FrontRow in Nov 2020, with comedy, singing and cricket, along with a few community features.”
According to the co-founder, right after launch, the startup “really blew up, and saw everything you'd expect from a hot startup.”
It experienced an enthusiastic user base, servers struggling to keep up with demand, a staggering acquisition offer, and an angel round “with a bunch of legends.” However, after six months, the initial growth “plateaued.”
“We had scaled to $1mn annualised revenue. We plateaued there while our marketing cost ballooned to over 100% of revenue and our course completion stayed below average,” he noted.
Recalling how the startup got out of the plateau by pivoting to live learning, Singh said, “We felt this was *it*, and went into all-out growth mode.”
FrontRow secured $14 million in a Series A funding round in September 2021. Within six months, the startup scaled 4X to an annualised revenue of $4 million. During this phase, FrontRow amassed over a million downloads and 200,000 paid users with a team of 400 members.
“But the underlying business wasn't working and we'd overestimated our ability to fix it,” Singh said, adding, “We let go 30% of our team, and spent 4 months fixing our unit economics and got to CM breakeven.”
He further explained, “We didn't feel the demand anymore, and were quite sure we wouldn't be able to grow too much from there. We believed in the market so we went into survival mode but it hit hard.”
The startup had reduced its workforce by nearly 90%, and since November, a team of about 35 members had been working on multiple experiments in the non-academic learning space with the goal of finding product-market fit.
“We spent another 9 months trying multiple ideas across hobby learning but eventually got to the point where we just did not believe in the market anymore,” Singh said, adding that about four years after he left his job, FrontRow shut down.
The company's shutdown happened at a time when several startups, including the unicorns, are struggling to cope with mounting losses, slowing their expansion plans, and seeking to reduce their expenses amid a funding winter. In April 2023, edtech startup DUX Education stopped operations after struggling to raise funds.
Sharing his learnings, Singh noted, “I learnt a lot of things about building a business and a team, but the hardest lessons were definitely psychological.”
He added, “It sucks to fail, and I would of course do many things differently but I don't have regrets. I’m also grateful for everything that we did accomplish, and do want to celebrate that!”
“FrontRow has been the best thing I have ever done, and I really hope the future lives up to that bar,” he said.
(This copy was updated to correct a factual error.)
Edited by Suman Singh