New York-based Teachable has announced a $4 million Seed A financing led by Accomplice Ventures and AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant. Teachable is where 7 million students gather to learn from 22,000 instructors subjects as disparate as creating VR games, minutephysics to baking, or blacksmithing. Founded in 2014, the startup is comparable to that rare university designed to accommodate, just about everybody.
Online courses are not new. They have been around since the 1980s but only became a rage as advanced technology turned accessible. MOOCs – massive open online courses – have been ‘democratizing education’ or ‘disrupting colleges’ for a while.
Their biggest attraction for students is obvious: The courses don’t take up as much time or money, can be accessed from anywhere, and lessons can be learnt at a personal pace. While this relatively new style of education is not without its opposers, many credit online courses for their focus on industrial application. And unlike the lack of motivation to complete free courses, students, experts say, are as committed towards a course they pay for as they would be while doing a semester in college.
No one can deny that if students can further their education and employment chances through online courses, the world as we know it is changing. But within the industry, instructors and students have found flaws that makes them shift from one platform to another.
For Teachable’s founder Ankur Nagpal, the solution lay in launching his own company.
Remember when you couldn’t get enough of the online personality quizzes? Nagpal made a lot of money building some of them before deciding that he should share his knowledge with others. He was teaching marketing at coding bootcamp General Assembly, when the idea of launching an online course struck him.
He joined Udemy which didn’t charge for the software but took a 50% cut of the revenue. Apart from the high cost, Nagpal soon spotted a number of flaws in the way Udemy worked: the course carried Udemy’s brand, the company controlled all the information about his students which meant that he couldn’t email them to build relationships, and that the platform offered few opportunities to scale his income past $2,000 per month.
He thought that teachers should be able to make revenue, brand themselves and market their courses independently. While marketplaces like Udemy was where the audience was, he believed that instructors should focus on developing their personal brands and building their own audience.
So instead of taking his online course to other sites, Nagpal chose to construct a brand new platform that did just that.
Initially called Fedora, his idea quickly clicked with those slighted by the lack of alternatives and interested in more independence. In 2015, Fedora became Teachable. It now offers multi-pronged and robust solutions to anyone wanting to put up their course online. It can be better understood as an enabler for independent instructors which also helps them incorporate their third-party integrations and affiliate marketing in its monthly plans.
Teachable has changed the market. The fact that coaches can use their own branding and make revenue from the online course – only using Teachable’s infrastructure – proves to be a big draw for both instructors and students. The startup has also came up with a newer business model as opposed to a heavy revenue cut like other platforms. It charges a monthly fee starting from $39 for their services, along with a cut on sales and payment processing fees. It has clocked in $90 million in course fees last year and banked $7.5 million in revenue. But if an instructor chooses to offer a course for free, the startup doesn’t charge any fees on enrolments.
Its instructors are large businesses like the New York Times, the University of Pennsylvania as well as numerous small entrepreneurs like Christina Nicholson.
Nicholson is a former TV host who helps small brands with PR and publicity. Recently, she wanted to teach a media class at a local university and began inquiring. “As a former TV reporter and anchor,” she wrote for Inc, “I thought I’d be a great fit.” However, she was told that she could not teach at that level without a Master’s degree.
As Nicholson questioned whether the person she would be learning from “had any experience in what they were teaching, or just studied it”, she realized that the best way to “grow her business and make more money” was to do it strategically through online courses.
Nicholson is now an online course creator at Teachable among the 22,000 others who have collectively made more than $100 million. While Nicholson, like many others, could have chosen any of the numerous sites to teach, she chose Teachable for a very specific reason. Instructors, here, often get dedicated support and if they already have ready-to-go content, they can get their domain up and running in just a few hours.
Teachable has also grown into a platform where not only the popular, technical courses, even niche skill sets like gaming or cryptocurrency find an audience. Nagpal says that their most popular course at the moment is Malaysian entrepreneur Joey Yap’s course on feng shui.
While Teachable’s potpourri of courses is interesting, it will have to continue to distinguish itself to find both dedicated audience and instructors. Students can find multiple platforms to learn online – and free youtube videos often top that list. The startup also has tough competition in terms of both audience and instructors from platforms such as Udemy, Coursera, Thinkific, among numerous others. While the difference between Teachable and other businesses, Nagpal says, is that of “listing a physical good on Amazon and having your own storefront,” many instructors might find it beneficial to have a mix of both.