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a16z bets millions on Maven, a platform for cohort-based courses

·3-min read

Maven, a startup that helps professionals teach cohort-based classes, has raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz. The round places a16z general partner Andrew Chen on Maven’s board -- and is his latest lead check in a creator-focused company, similarly pouring millions into recent rounds for Clubhouse and Substack.

The investment comes seven months after Maven, then nameless, left stealth alongside a $4.3 million round led by First Round Capital, and three months after it raised a $750,000 equity crowdfunding round. While the company declined to disclose valuation, we do know that it’s a lot of fast cash earmarked toward fueling the same bet: that the future of cohort-based learning is the future of education.

And if you’re wondering why, I’d tell you it's two-fold. First, the startup has an impressive founding team: Udemy co-founder Gagan Biyani, altMBA co-founder Wes Kao and early Venmo employee and Socratic co-founder Shreyans Bhansali.

Second, Maven has some impressive growth to tout, showing its potential. Maven’s core product right now is a suite of services that makes it easier to run a cohort-based course, while taking a 10% fee -- similar to Substack -- from a professional’s revenue. In three months after its January launch, four Maven courses earned more than $100,000. To date, over $1 million worth of courses has been sold on Maven.

With the new capital, Kao tells me her team is focused on getting instructors to see the value of CBCs (cohort-based courses). The startup has had over 2,000 people apply to become instructors, and expects to grow from 7 to 100 instructors by end of the year. Some of Maven’s investors, including Sahil Lavingia and Li Jin, are instructors on its platform. Long-term, the startup sees its competitive differentiation as helping experts who aren’t “conventional instructors” start sharing their knowledge.

The co-founder teaches a course to all incoming Maven instructors -- meta, I know -- from deciding to put in a curriculum to understanding course-market fit and building buzz for the course.

While Kao explained that instructors like the idea of turning free advice in modular, revenue-generating classes, she said “monetizing that expertise is often really hard.”

“Traditional platforms — Instagram, TikTok, Twitter — create a division between activities intended to monetize and those meant for community building,” she said. “Meaning, creators give away valuable content, and then monetize via brand partnerships or low-margin merchandise — activities that often detract from community-building.”

The biggest challenge ahead, she thinks, is expanding the mindshare about CBCs for creators. It needs to show the importance of signal in the cacophony of air horns that want creator’s attention.

It’s a problem with which Maven is all too familiar.

“One of the biggest things we had to untangle early on was the difference between 'content' and the Maven offering,” Kao explained. “There’s no shortage of content in our world.” The startup had to spend a good chunk of time figuring out how to create a cohort-based class experience that pairs community and accountability with that content. And it still has ways to go.”

“At the end of the day, it ended up being quite simple. In our view, we’ve reached the Post Content Age,” she said. “In other words: Content is no longer scarce in education. It’s either free or low-cost, and it’s abundant.”

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