Thinkful, an online learning platform where participants learn to code, announced today that it has raised $1 million in seed funding from RRE Ventures, Qutoidian Ventures, and Peter Thiel’s FF Angel. With the proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs), and the rise of startups like Khan Academy, Udacity, Code Academy, and Coursera, there is certainly no shortage of content when it comes to learning how to code. Thinkful is out to provide a different take on learning to code online, offering personalized curriculum with one-on-one tutoring and mentoring.
Founded by Darrell Silver and Dan Friedman, a Thiel Fellowship recipient in 2012, the startup was a result of their desire to help people improve their current work situation or start over with new skills. “I’ve been in the Thiel fellowship for close to two years now and I saw in a lot of my peers and people I was working with that as they were discovering what work they were interested in, they realized they actually needed to learn all these skills to be productive in that work,” said Friedman in an interview with BetaKit. “Obviously there’s a lot of online learning options but there were none that gave people the support they needed and let them learn these skills quickly and efficiently.”
After signing up for the program, a Thinkful representative gets in touch to assess a participant’s goals, experience, and background to then provide a tailored program for learning front-end web development. They’re placed into a cohort and paired with an expert mentor, whom they meet once a week to discuss their progress and get feedback on their projects. Though the startup compiles the curriculum, Friedman said they don’t necessarily reinvent the wheel by creating their own content, and rather work with partners to provide links that are assigned, comprising 20 percent of a participant’s time, while the remaining 80 percent is spent on projects that they build.
Its core curriculum on average takes students three months to complete, with the startup charging $250 per month for its services, however students can take as little or as long as they want to get through it. With a target market of working professionals, Friedman also added that students can expect anywhere from 10-15 hours of work each week, but also added that most of its students find it manageable as they’re not there simply to pick up a new hobby, but to learn skills to advance their career.
“It’s pretty extensive and we really do push our students to work hard. But for people who are serious about it, it’s a commitment they’re willing to make. Particularly, our students are not generally learning this as a hobby,” Friedman added. “They see immediate relevancy in their current job or the job they want, so that relevancy helps keep them motivated.”
The company also has a network of more than 70 employers who have agreed to consider its pool of course graduates as potential hires. Though they may not come on as senior hires, Friedman said the skills lay the foundation for them to be able to readily contribute and learn as they go. The company only recently saw one of its graduates land a job through Thinkful, with the company looking to close the loop between learning skills that are in demand and employers that need them immediately (Coursera is also working with companies like Google to connect them with top students).
When asked why someone would choose Thinkful over the many other free or less costly alternatives available, Friedman pointed to its mentor program as a differentiator. The company plans to use the seed funding to grow its team and its current content offering, however, with startups like Coursera also tackling the challenges MOOCs present head on, it will be interesting to see which route emerges as the most likely to help close the skills gap.