20 in Their 20s: Michael Vilardo


Michael Vilardo, 28
Company: Emile Learning Inc.
Title: Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer
Location: Sawtelle
Employees: 25
Funding to Date: $5.3 million raised from angel and seed investors since incorporating in October.

What led you to start this business?
The pandemic put a spotlight on issues in education. Zoom universities became the norm, and for a generation that has grown up with Instagram, YouTube and now TikTok, edtech cannot simply be Zoom and WordPress. We aim to build the most premium videography, short-form content for Emile Learning, a subscription-based digital learning platform for high school students, 14 to 19 years old. Emile can be found on MasterClass, an online education subscription platform.

How do you fund the company?
I worked at Uber where I helped launch their freight and mobility infrastructure initiative. These were two incubator divisions at Uber that ended up being instrumental in our fundraising. Over the first five months, we raised $1.3 million in angel funding from professional athletes. In April, Kleiner Perkins led our $4 million seed round, bringing our total funding to $5.3 million.

What are the disadvantages of starting a business in your 20s?
Mainly the lack of experience, the lack of a network of wealthy individuals to fundraise from and the “first-time founder” label. Starting an entrepreneurship as early as possible in your career is important. The fundraising, recruiting and building is not replicable in a corporate setting.

How has the pandemic affected your business and how have you adjusted?  
The pandemic truly generated our business. I have always emphasized, “make every negative a positive.” With the dissatisfaction of parents and students with their education at an all-time high, the time for disruption in edtech has never been better. The pandemic has been horrible for the entire world, and it is saddening to see all the pain folks have suffered.

Where are you and your team working?
Our entire team has been vaccinated since May 1, so we have all defaulted to in-person working. We love our office and the energy we have working together.

Where do you go for advice regarding your business?
I lean heavily on our angel investors. It is incredible to be able to be a text away from Ryan Rzepecki, CEO and founder of Jump Bikes; Uber’s (Chief Business Officer Emil Michael); and many others who have helped lead us through the fundraising process as well as building the business. Our principal at Kleiner Perkins, Annie Case, has been instrumental in our growth as well.

Where do you go for professional services, such as legal help, accounting, etc.?
Santa Monica-based Kruze Consulting for financing and accounting, and Silicon Valley-based law firm Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian.

Does social responsibility play a role in your business?
Absolutely. Social entrepreneurship is everything to this business. Our mission is to provide the best high school learning experience possible and empower students to find the best career path for them as early in their life as possible. The most empowering way to financial freedom and generational wealth is through education.

Do you feel that your business is particularly tailored to the Los Angeles market?
Since this is the media and entertainment capital of the world, we are well positioned to produce the premium content and videography for our students. We are going to give our students the most entertaining content possible.

What do you do for fun?
I am a huge sushi fan and geography aficionado. During Covid, my fiancé and I scootered and walked 20-plus miles a day, sometimes exploring the city, looking for fun food spots. We lived in Sawtelle and made trips to Atwater Village, Silver Lake and Echo Park on our scooters.

Keep reading the 2021 20 in Their 20s Special Report.

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