[Product Roadmap] From bootcamps to building deep tech, Camp K12 has evolved to make coding fun for children
In this week’s product roadmap, we feature the coding platform Camp K12. The startup teaches young children coding with a focus on practicality, instead of the traditional theoretical approach.
Anshul Bhagi was 13 years old when he had first started coding. It came as a no surprise, then, that Anshul, who lived in, decided to pursue engineering as a career. His love for the subject inspired him to travel the world to teach coding at various schools during his winter breaks from MIT, where he was pursuing a degree in Computer Science.
Those teaching gigs made Anshul realise that K12 education was broken and “outdated” in nearly every country in the world. This realisation formed the hypothesis of his entrepreneurial venture:.
“What engages children is the input and output cycle. Children have a short attention span, and the things that grab their attention are things with quick gratification loops. Of all the different types of engineering specialisations around, coding does that. It doesn’t use too many resources – all you need is a text pad and a phone or a computer, and a child can build a game, website, or whatever they want. The input to output gratification loop is tight,” says Anshul.
Camp K12’s uniqueness, Anshul says, is its focus on practical instead of the traditional theoretical models of teaching.
Bootcamps to going online
But Camp K12 wasn’t a conventional startup. It started as India’s first coding bootcamp in 2010, at a time when ‘coding for kids’ was unheard of. Along with his father, Anshul launched the startup while he was still in college at Harvard.
Camp K12 conducted interactive workshops and immersive programmes on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) subjects for school kids. Its courses focused on building logic, computational thinking, and mathematical skills, and enhancing the creativity of kids aged six to 18.
The bootcamps would be held on campuses during after-school hours or on weekends and vacations.
Between 2010 and 2020, Camp K12 reached 50,000 students through partnerships with hundreds of schools in India, and also collaborations with organisations like Google, Adobe, IIM-B, and NITI Aayog.
Sometime in 2018, when Anshul moved back to India, he started working on a differentiated online learning product that could scale faster.
The Gurugram-based startup eventually phased out offline programmes and launched online classes in January 2020, just ahead of the pandemic.
In 2017, Anshul was also working on a metaverse focussed product VR Studio, a 3D/VR coding platform for non-coders, as a weekend project while he was an MBA student at Harvard Business School.
AR/VR was going through its first hype cycle at this point in time, and Anshul was curious to see if he could make 3D /VR creation easy for the kinds of kids he had been teaching coding to via Camp K12 between 2010 and 2017.
When Anshul moved to India in 2017 after graduating from business school, he decided to continue working on the VR Studio. At the time, Camp K12 was working with hundreds of schools across India.
Anshul felt that a 3D/VR coding platform would be far more engaging than the dominant kids coding platforms available at the time (MIT Scratch, MIT AppInventor, etc.). He hired a team of two developers to work with him on this, and together they started working on “V1”.
Anshul renamed the platform to “Hatch” quite simply because it sounded like “Scratch” and his vision was to build a future-proof / modern coding platform for kids that could someday become as large as Scratch, which has about 100 million kid coders.
“From 2017 to 2022, Camp K12 has been fortunate to be able to iterate on the Hatch platform with real user feedback, from kids, teachers, and parents who interacted with the platform in Camp K12’s very own coding courses,” says Anshul.
He explains that Hatch v1 was limited in its design and scripting functionality. A child would need lots of hand-holding and support from Camp K12’s coding teachers to be able to build anything good with it.
“However, one thing was clear – the 3D creation environment of Hatch appealed to kids in a way that no other coding platform at the time could, and kids absolutely loved the QR scanning feature which enabled them to bring the 3D experience from their laptops into their mobile devices as a 360-degree immersive VR app that they could “look around” in simply by rotating their device in space,” explains Anshul.
The “Virtual Reality and 3D Game Development” course that Camp K12 had launched using the Hatch v1 platform quickly became Camp K12’s bestselling course in 2018.
Out of the hype cycle
By this point in time (2018-2019), the AR/VR hype cycle had faded away, but Anshul had seen first-hand the gratification a child experienced while using Hatch.
Camp K12 was 100 percent bootstrapped, investing its cashflow from coding bootcamps on the hiring of engineers and development of products but Hatch seemed like a bet worth taking.
Anshul expanded the engineering team to five, including one iOS and one Android developer with whom he could work with to build an AR-consumption mode for the 3D projects that kids were building in the Hatch v1 workspace.
“The team of five iterated on Hatch v2 throughout the year of 2018, while testing with real kids in real classrooms. Hatch v2 launched in Jan 2019 with a new brandname that reflected the larger vision of the platform – “HatchXR” in place of the earlier name “HatchVR”, because the platform now supported Extended Reality (XR) creation, encompassing both AR and VR,” explains Anshul.
In 2019, HatchXR remained an internal platform. The company used Hatch to teach 3D/VR and now AR courses to kids across school classrooms in India, and continued to expand platform functionality and performance with kids’ feedback.
Building the newer versions
One of the requests from Camp K12 partner schools was over using the platform on the school’s existing device infrastructure (iPads and Chromebooks).
With these two pieces of feedback, the seeds for Hatch v3.0 were planted.
“In 2020, much against the advice of several advisors who suggested he focus on just doing one thing after the company’s seed fundraise, I set up an R&D Lab within Camp K12 called “Growth Labs” to work on two to three moonshot projects that could become growth engines for the company overall in the future. The creation of Hatch version 3 was the most ambitious of these projects,” says Anshul.
He had realised Hatch v3 needed to be a creation platform that could stand on its own feet without Camp K12 or its army of live online teachers.
The team added blocks-based coding to the workspace, revamped UI/UX to make the environment more kid friendly, added features that kids love such as Minecraft/Roblox-inspired terrains and characters, animated 3D models and avatars, and ability for 3D characters to engage in dialogue in foreign languages.
“Camp K12’s transition from an India-focused company to a global online school in 2021 with US and Middle East as its primary markets came at a perfect time for the Hatch team. The team could now test the platform with global educators through summer camps, winter camps, and Camp K12’s Live online 1:1 coding courses,” says Anshul.
It’s not until November 2021, when the platform had become stable, that the team started sharing it with partners.
Schools in India signed up for teacher trainings on the Hatch platform, the Government of Delhi partnered with Camp K12 to bring Metaverse and 3D Coding to students across government schools, and Code.org featured one of the self-paced “Hour of Code” activities on Hatch Kids on its website.
This marked the closed, partners-only launch of the platform, this month.
“The team is excited to share four years of hard work and iteration with educators, parents, and kids worldwide. The platform is free to use, and will remain free to use, the same way that Scratch and Code.org are free to use. The team is also offering free, structured curriculum modules for schools and ed-tech firms to help them offer Hatch’s 3D creation environment to their students as the next step after Scratch or other blocks-based coding tools,” says Anshul.
He explains children love to create, give them a creation platform and they will hack around it.
Children are motivated by the prospect of social rewards and social capital in this community. Hatch is taking a page out of the Scratch playbook here.
“Many children are introduced to Scratch by their teachers/schools, but they continue to use the platform at home. Scratch has scaled both B2B2C as well as directly B2C. The secret sauce seems to be the community features which allow children to remix each other’s projects, comment / upvote on each other’s projects, and help each other across a forum,” says Anshul.
The current version (v3) includes remixing, commenting, upvoting and a notifications engine which alerts kids when somebody has liked, commented on, or remixed their project.
The next version will take community to a whole new level, layering on game mechanics inspired by ProductHunt and popular video games
The team is now looking at Multiplayer gameplay in 3D projects created by other children. Only the top projects every week will be available for multiplayer gameplay initially, creating an incentive for children.
The startup is also looking at game mechanics inspired by video games, children earn XP linked to project creation and contributions to the Hatch community (answering others’ questions, commenting on and upvoting others’ projects, and publishing great projects that are remixed by others) among other features.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti