A16z is betting $20 million on Maven, an ed tech and creator economy mashup

Since launching in January 2021, instructors have sold over $1 million worth of courses on Maven.

A woman working at a laptop.

Maven's courses are being taken up by business and product leads, investors and other practitioners, in the hopes of leveling up their skills.

Image: J. Kelly Brito

A little over a decade ago, Gagan Biyani founded Udemy, one of the main platforms that popularized massive open online courses. Now, he's back with a new idea that jams together ed tech and the creator economy, and he thinks it can help more students stick out their online learning.

His new company, Maven, is focused on cohort-based learning. An expert tutor with a large online following leads an online course for a group of learners. The students join and move through content at the same pace, but much of the learning happens peer-to-peer as the students share their experiences over the web.

Alongside Biyani, the company was founded by Wes Kao, who co-founded AltMBA, and Shreyans Bhansali, who co-founded Socratic (which was acquired by Google in 2018). And on Thursday, Maven announced $20 million in series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz to further develop its product, recruit instructors and expand its team.

"The team at Maven is on to something huge with cohort-based courses: They represent a new monetization model for creators that is powerful for both the learners and the instructors," said Andrew Chen, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who is joining the company's board of directors. "We're thrilled to work with the Maven team to help them realize this vision."

According to Maven, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have a 7% to 10% completion rate; a 2019 study by MIT researchers pegged that number even lower, at a little over 3%. Cohort-based courses, meanwhile, have a more than 75% completion rate according to Maven. Many learners enroll for MOOC courses without actually having to be tied down to completing them; Maven's CBC model creates a greater sense of urgency for getting through the material because there are set start and end dates forcing learners to take the material more seriously, unlike MOOCs.

Its courses are focused on hot topics — including DeFi, the creator economy and influencer marketing — and while they're designed for broad appeal, the company is seeing business and product leads, investors and other practitioners signing up in the hopes of leveling up their skills.

Maven works with the course creators, including Anthony Pompliano, Li Jin, Lenny Rachitsky and Sahil Lavingia, by providing the platform of tools needed to create and run a cohort-based course. According to the company, Maven course instructors could make over $100,000 from just their first cohort.

"There are thousands of experts, creators, and practitioners around the world who have valuable knowledge to share but aren't traditional professors, and we think this is the best way for creators to monetize over the next decade," said Biyani. "We're creating the university of the future, built around these 21st-century professors."

The company ultimately looks out for those who have expertise and a social following, whether it be through email newsletters, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok.

Maven selects anywhere from 30 to 150 student applicants for courses that cost between $500 to $5,000 per student over a one- to six-week time period. And since January, its instructors have sold over $1 million worth of courses.

"The traction that we are seeing on the creator and instructor side is really exciting. In Q1, we had four courses; in this quarter (Q2), we have 10 and in Q3, we plan on having 50 courses," said Kao. "We're looking for natural creators with a combination of expertise in their field and a social following."

CBCs allow creators to charge a premium price point and monetize their knowledge. As a result, Maven's curriculum is also based on their creators and their passions, with a lot of flexibility to grow.

"Our growth is substantial because we are very 'creator' focused. We are able to scale up because we partner with the instructors and let the instructor take the lead by empowering them to create the curriculum that suits their students, with resources on how to create a great CBC," Kao explained.

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