Conventional wisdom says your company should be up and running and have some traction before you raise. But MasterClass co-founder David Rogier says entrepreneurs should try to raise funds before launching.
Before going live, David raised $ 6.4 million — $ 1.9 million in a seed round and $ 4.5 million in a Series A — for what would become MasterClass. To date, the company has raised six funding rounds and secured almost $ 240 million.
MasterClass’s first investment actually came from Michael Dearing, the founder of VC firm Harrison Metal and one of David’s business school professors. After graduating from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, David started working for Michael at the firm. About a year in, he quit to start his own company.
When David gave his notice, Michael told him he would invest just under $ 500,000, even though David didn’t have an idea yet.
“I was honored, I was thrilled and I was terrified, all within the span of 10 seconds,” David says. “It was an amazing gift, but I also felt an immense amount of pressure. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn’t want to mess it up.”
He drew a blank for a year, but finally got inspiration from a story his grandmother told him when he was in second grade. In it, she stressed the importance of education, the one thing no one can ever take away from you. Upon remembering that lesson, David knew he wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn from the best, and MasterClass was born.
In an episode of How I Raised It, David shares some of his secrets to raising capital.
First money, then metrics
Securing funding before you even launch your company definitely isn’t a common practice. But David is adamant that you should attempt it.
“Your metrics out of the gate are never going to be great,” David says. “You need enough funds to have the time to actually improve them.” At the beginning, instead of relying on data, you should sell investors on your vision.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Many investors don’t want to give you a dime until you’ve proven your concept works. To overcome this barrier, David figured out what he could do to help minimize risk for investors.
A new Los Angeles startup is betting that enough consumers are interested in paying between $ 69 and $ 149 per year to receive lessons in life and sports from celebrity athletes like Maria Sharapova and Shaun White to make a billion-dollar business.
Founded by E. Omer Atesmen, a former renewable energy entrepreneur whose last company, Clean Energy Experts, was acquired by SunRun for an undisclosed amount. The Skills aims to bring coaching lessons from life and sports to subscribers in a MasterClass-style format.
With a roster that includes Sharapova, White, volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, All-Pro football player Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Phelps, the former competitive swimmer who won 28 medals in his Olympic Games competitions, The Skills has managed to ink athletes that were among or at the top of the competitive field in their respective sports.
The idea that consumers are willing to pay for aphorisms, homilies and expert advice from the best practitioners of a particular craft propelled MasterClass to an $ 800 million valuation earlier this year, so The Skills’ pitch is not without precedent.
“There is so much research into the value of sports participation at an individual level. Sports is linked to improved mental health, enhanced social skills, better physical health and success in other aspects of life,” said Atesmen, founder and chief executive officer of The Skills, in a statement. “We launched The Skills because millions of people around the world want to learn from superstar athletes, but access is often limited to rare, offline opportunities. We want to share our athletes and their knowledge and skills they’ve learned from life experiences both on and off the field.”
The company’s course catalog contains over 20 sessions ranging in length from roughly two to five minutes and combines observations on life skills with lessons on technique. The more universal (or generic) advice covered by the sessions will include building confidence, leadership, mental preparation and self care, according to a statement from the company.
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MasterClass is a digital platform based around the concept: learn from the best. But first, CEO and Co-Founder David Rogier had to convince top talent to sign on. He talks with WSJ about his decision to “run towards the impossible” to break into the crowded online education space.
Read more here.
MasterClass, a startup that sells celebrity-taught classes to people, has raised $ 100 million in a Series E round. The round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company with participation from new investors including Owl Ventures, 01 Advisors and existing investors NEA, IVP, Atomico and NextEquity Partners.
The new financing brings MasterClass’ valuation to $ 800 million, according to Bloomberg, which broke the news of the edtech company’s then-impending funding round earlier this month. MasterClass declined to disclose its new valuation, but said that its valuation is higher than $ 800 million.
MasterClass charges a $ 180 annual subscription fee for users to access its library of content. The subscription model was responsible for 80% of the company’s revenue in 2018, and is now responsible for 100% of its revenue.
MasterClass views itself as neatly on the intersection of entertainment and education. The startup has produced 85 classes taught by celebrities, or “masters,” on their specialties. The platform has garnered blockbuster names like Anna Wintour to talk about how to grow a business, Gordon Ramsey on how to cook and David Sedaris on how to be funny. The previews of classes are called “trailers.”
It also touches on the public’s innate curiosity about how famous people think and work. MasterClass tugs on that idea a bit by also offering classes that fundamentally do not make sense to be “digitized.” Think high-contact sports, like a tennis lesson from Serena Williams or a basketball lesson from Steph Curry. Or just general pontifications from RuPaul on self expression and Neil deGrasse Tyson on scientific thinking and communication.
Despite its flashy lineup of stars, MasterClass doesn’t sell access but instead sells a window into someone’s work diary. Celebrities are not interacting with students on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes, not at all.
It is relatively a light lift for celebrities once they get their content on the platform, which of course only happens if they are personally invited by the company. Any MasterClass on the site includes a number of lessons, broken down in separate videos that range from 20 to 30 minutes, and a downloadable workbook. Students for each class can flock to community hubs to chat with their fellow virtual classmates. There are opportunities for celebrities to interact with students, but nothing is put in the contract to make the instructors give back.
MasterClass proudly touts the few exceptions where celebrities have chosen favorites in class: Electronic music producer DeadMau5 reportedly invited one of their MasterClass students to record a track alongside him. Serena Williams reportedly invited one of her students to play a game with her.
MasterClass declined to share how it pays the celebrities.
Last year, MasterClass more than doubled in terms of sales. The company also says its content is so engaging that people might sign on for a Steph Curry workshop, but then eavesdrop in on a Ramsey cooking session.
MasterClass raised the round as millions are at home with nothing to do. CEO and co-founder David Rogier said that the most watched chapter of a class is Chris Voss, former FBI negotiator, and his thoughts on the art of tactical empathy.
Beyond this anecdote, Rogier repeatedly denied to share any data on how MasterClass’ usage has changed since coronavirus began. The silence is notable only because its competitors and neighbors in the edtech space have been noisy as of late. The massive shift to remote education has already helped edtech companies raise millions across the board, from new unicorns to seed-stage deals.
The silence might be because MasterClass has positioned its content as more entertainment-focused than simply education-focused. Because the company produces high-quality, documentary-style content, it means that it might struggle to produce, similarly to the delays we’re seeing in the entertainment industry right now due to COVID-19 shutdowns.
Similar to other edtech companies, however, MasterClass claims that the new financing was closed less out of necessity and more out of opportunity.
Rogier said that the capital will be used to create new classes for students and up production to one class a week. The company is also experimenting with an audio-only mode, short form and augmented reality.
“Imagine if we had Steph Curry, but you had augmented reality on your phone so you could actually see where to put your feet,” he said.
MasterClass’s marketing strategy has recently been a topic of conversation because of how aggressive and ever-present it is. It seems like every YouTube video you watch, there is a MasterClass ad waiting to be your commercial break. It seemingly has only increased as everyone started to work from home.
While Rogier would not disclose MasterClass’ marketing budget (or how in the world it managed to crowd already crowded challenges) the strategy is a bit telling. MasterClass doesn’t compete with YouTube, it advertises on the platform. It is betting that the world wants a highly produced, celebrity-led class, and is willing to pay for it.
“If you’ve seen more ads, it is because they are working,” he said.