Thinkful raises $1M to make online ed less isolating

Online education startup focuses on making classes more social with a cohort and mentor

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
February 26, 2013
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The online education is growing fast. Companies that cater to a growing need on the part of people who want to get an education, but need to keep the cost down, are popping up left and right, and raising money just as quickly. 

A new online education startup called Thinkful, which is focused on making online education a more personal experience, has raised a total of $1 million in seed funding from RRE Ventures, Quotidian Ventures, Peter Thiel’s FF Angel, and others, it was announced Tuesday.

The money will be used to grow the company's team on both the team and technical side, Dan Friedman, Thinkful’s co-founder and President, said in an interview. It will be hiring two developers, one education manager and one designer. 

Founded in 2012 by Friedman and Darrell Silver, Thinkful came about when Friedman and Silver saw that their peers were figuring out what they wanted to do two years after college, without the skills to do those jobs.

There were few options, Friedman said. There were massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Coursera, but they are often isolating, leading students to get stuck and end up not finishing.

Thinkful solves this problem by offering classes online, while also providing students with a cohort and a mentor. The students are in daily contact with their cohorts, messaging them and answering questions, and they get a weekly visit with their mentor. Thinkful also provides daily open office hours.

It is that personal support, Friedman said, that separates Thinkful from other online educators. 

Right now, Thinkful only offers courses in Web development, such as HTML, CSS, javascript, jQuery, git, bash, wireframing, and design fundamentals. All courses are offered in both junior and senior classes.

Classes, which cost $750 and last three months, are personalized for each student based on his or her existing skills, goals, and schedule.

Right now, Thinkful has 30 students. The typical student is a young professional, just a few years out of school. They come from a variety of industries, Friedman said, including finance people who want to get into tech, sales people who think that tech would help them at their job, and backend developers who want to learn front end development.

The school just saw its first group of students graduate. In fact, the school also just saw its first graduate get a job, as a technical salesperson at Smarsh.

Eventually, Friedman said, the company will offer classes in a range of skills, with the ultimate goal of making it possible for any person to gain any skill as they need it..

Others in the online education space

Thinkful is one of many companies attempting to occupy this space. A number of them raised funds last year. 

In April of 2012, StraighterLine raised $10 million, 2tor raised $26 million, while Schoology and Piazza  raised $6 million each. Memrise raised $1.05 million in February, while Schoolfeed received $1.75 million the same month. Desire2Learn raised a $80 million in September, followed new that Educational app creator Duck Duck Moose raised $7 million in Series A funding the same month.

Ed-tech startup Coursera, which partners with universities to provide courses online for free, recently announced that it is launching in 29 new universities from 13 different countries from around the world, including China, the Netherlands and France,

Coursera has raised over $22 million in funding, including $16 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and New Enterprise Associates (NEA) in April 2012.\

For a great series on the changing education landscape, check out Faith Merino's Resetting Education series.

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