By Marcella McCarthy
Pep Carrera moved back to Miami from Ann Arbor, Michigan in January for a new job. He was recruited to be the new CEO of Nearpod, which was founded in South Florida in 2012 by three Argentinian entrepreneurs. Nearpod offers a tablet-based, EdTech platform that K-12 teachers use in the classroom to create interactive slides filled with videos, quizzes, questions and other activities. Students can use any device to participate in the lessons in real time; there is also a student-paced learning mode. In response to the pandemic, Nearpod now also offers remote learning,
Since its inception, the founders took the concept from ideation phase to generating revenue (the company declined to say if it has reached profitability), but now Nearpod needed someone who could take the reins and grow the business quickly, and the founders, Felipe Sommers, Emiliano Abramzon, and Guido Kovalskys, saw that skill set in Carrera. The founders remain on the board of Nearpod.
But even for Carrera, an experienced executive with almost a decade of EdTech experience under his belt, becoming CEO of a company in the midst of a pandemic was no easy feat. Even his first day was different from other first days he’s experienced.
“My first day on the job, I’m driving to the office [Dania Beach] and talking to the management team on the phone, and we decided that we needed to close the office due to the pandemic. This was in March,” he said.
Prior to joining Nearpod, Carrera was president of ProQuest Books, where he led a team focused on providing innovative software that made the acquisition, management, and delivery of books to academic learners, researchers, and librarians efficient and impactful. And even prior to ProQuest, as president and COO, Carrera grew VitalSource Technologies, the digital learning division of Ingram Content Group, serving more than 20 million learners per year globally, by 10x over his 6 years there.
Now more than 250 employees
Because of the pandemic, Carrera hasn’t met all members of the senior management team. Nearpod now has more than 250 employees across the U.S. (though most are based in South Florida) and more than 50 developers based in Argentina. This year alone, the company hired 50 more people, none of which Carrera has met in person.
“It was difficult because I literally couldn’t shake people’s hands,” he said.
While the pandemic has posed many questions around remote work, under the leadership of Carrera, Nearpod has seen explosive growth in 2020. While Nearpod was primarily designed to be used in the classroom, the team was able to turn it into a remote learning platform, too, making it a forerunner in K-12 distance education.
“When I joined, the first priority was getting Nearpod into the hands of as many teachers who needed it,” he said. And to do this, it gave the product away for free for a time being. In fact, every teacher in Miami-Dade and Broward counties were given free access to Nearpod.
“There’s a lot of magic working at a company that’s high growth and also has a mission,” he added.
Nearpod is now used in all 50 states, and in more than 1,800 school districts. This year alone, the company grew by about 50% with more than 1 million teachers using the product, and 2-3 million students on per day. Carrera said that all the money being generated right now is being put back into the company to propel its growth, which has been organic. Nearpod spends very little ad dollars on marketing. The real marketing, he said, is by word of mouth.
“It’s really just a teacher telling another teacher how much they love the product,” he added.
Growing in 2020
To support this rapid growth, the team had to make sure that its infrastructure was capable of having so many people on the platform at the same time.
Nicolas Far, a senior engineer at Nearpod and who leads the infrastructure team, said the three main aspects he’s been focused on all year are:
- We had to make sure we could create capacity for all the new users
- The platform architecture had to be able to handle extra usage
- The application itself had to be able to handle all the new users.
To fulfill the needs of remote learning, Nearpod integrated with Zoom earlier this year. When asked why it partners with so many different companies rather than just building their own tools, Carrera said it’s important to them that the teachers use whatever tools they are used to and already like, after all, he said, Nearpod is built for teachers. In addition to the integration with Zoom, Nearpod has also created its own content, which it refers to as “Nearpod Originals.” It offer an entire curriculum content business that revolves around research-based learning experiences.
About Pep Carrera
Carrera was born in Cuba and when he was a toddler, he and his mom moved to Spain, which he describes as a pit stop on their way to Miami. He grew up in the Magic City and earned his B.S. degree in Management from FIU. He later went on to complete an MBA from Texas A&M University. Carrera left Miami after college and worked for a number of technology companies before returning home this year. “Part of the allure of joining Nearpod was that it would allow me to get back to Miami and be closer to my family,” he added.
He has a 13-year-old son whose school uses Nearpod and he never gets tired of seeing his son learning from a tool the Nearpod team has worked so hard to improve and grow. “It’s always a pleasure for me and our employees to see our own kids using Nearpod,” he said.