Recently, my 12-year-old son said to me, "I wouldn't be the man I am today if it weren't for YouTube." While that wisecrack remark may be an indictment on my parenting, it says more about the availability of tools to learn just about anything.
In the old days, Cliff Notes were a helpful resource to quickly cram in information for a test (even though I never used them, honestly!). Today, you can get a five-minute history lesson on Teddy Roosevelt watching a video on Curious, one of the emerging platforms to help anyone learn, well... anything.
Back in May, we introduced you to Curious, founded by Justin Kitch, who also founded Homestead and sold it to Intuit for $170 million in 2008. Since the May launch, Curious, which raised $7.5 million in seed financing, has been steadily growing. It's also just rolled out on the iPad.
The iPad app is a great release, especially for companies that want to attract GenY's or Milllenials, and particularly Generation Z's (like my son), who seem far more proficient on iPads than people like myself. And clearly cannot be the kids they are today without their online learning sites.
Just as a reminder, for those who're not familiar, Curious is a venue to learn about anything - from past Presidents in under five minutes, to how to handle a chef's knife, to how to play guitar. Unlike YouTube, a popular place to learn about stuff, Curious is more interactive. For instance, when I was learning about old Teddy, the video stopped and I was asked to answer questions before I could move forward.
That's pretty cool and it forces the viewer not to zone out. The potential downside? Curious also encourages people to sign up before they can continue to watch the video.
It's probably worth asking, however, since Curious doesn't want just anyone watching. It wants serious learners, willing to pay some amount some day. This is what differentiates Curious from YouTube, said Kitch.
"The kind of lessons [on YouTube] are rarely instructional [and typically] related to an hot topic," said Kitch. "If you’re teaching the guitar, you have to teach Gangnam Style [which sounds terrible on a guitar]" because that's a video that'll get views. YouTube is designed to bubble up to the top high-volume videos. So teachers are forced to figure out how to get their videos viewed a ton, which could sacrifice the quality of a lesson, Kitch explained. "You [teachers] can't monetize with high-volume, low CPM," Kitch said.
Good point. And actually, if you go through the videos, the quality at Curious is often higher than what you see on YouTube. That's mainly because Kitch & Co. vet which lessons go on the site - a good way to keep the quality high. Additionally, the video player is more conducive to teaching. Not only can teachers put in questions and stop the video from playing until the student gets the right answer, a student can upload a video (using the iPad camera feature) and show the teacher how he/she is doing with the lesson. The teacher can then comment back.
All of these features will hopefully entice more "real" learners to go to Curious. And all of these features will hopefully get more teachers to try it because they'll get students who will actually whip out a credit card.
"It's made for monetization," said Kitch. "Instead of trying to create a tiny cable channel, you can monetize directly."
For teachers, the hope is that they do find students willing to pay anywhere from $1 to $5 for a single lesson or $20 to $50 for a bundled lesson. Monetization hasn't been turned on yet, but Curious is currently experimenting with coins to see what people are willing to pay for.
So far, so good. There's now 2000 lessons across different 100 different subjects, spanning 2 minutes to 20 minutes. The number of lesson views has surpassed 400,000, he said. Kitch wouldn't, however, disclose the number of teachers or students on Curious.
Getting the word out
The most important and hardest thing startups can achieve is distribution. For now, Curious relies heavily on its teachers to promote themselves and bring in students. Curious is also focused heavily on SEO (search engine optimization). For instance, "How to draw a 3D house" is ranked pretty high when someone searches for those words.
But the market is crowded, not surprisingly. All big markets are. Apparently, Americans spend $50 billion a year on lessons that are not learned from a classroom, such as guitar lessons to how-to books, according to Kitch, citing statistics from the Department of Education. With a market like that, you'd expect company.
At some point, Curious might find itself head-to-head with other companies in this space that are currently targeting different lessons, but lessons nonetheless. Udemy, which won Vator Splash 2010 and went on to raise $16 million in follow-on funding, is focusing on longer-videos, and more training that can replace community colleges. Coursera, which has raised some $65 million, partners with universities and organizations to create online courses.
There's also larger companies that have been at this for a while, and continue to appear fairly high on search engine rankings, such as Demand Media's eHow.
But Kitch is no stranger to building up businesses in the face of competition. "The market for hosting small businesses in the US is $20 billion," said Kitch, referring to the market his former company Homestead operated in.
It's a much smaller market opportunity that Homestead was going after [than what Curious is going after], yet Kitch managed to compete effectively. He's also not one to bail out. Homestead started in 1998. It was only 10 years later that he sold it.
For a great series on education and EdTech companies, check out "Faith Merino's Resetting Education" series.