Investing in Maven

I’m excited to announce that a16z is leading the Series A round for Maven, a platform for cohort-based courses. Maven works with the world’s leading creators to help them create online courses, organized into multi-week programs that bring a group of students together to increase participation and accountability. Since launch January 2021, instructors have already sold over $1 million worth of courses on Maven. The startup is already working with a diverse set of creators who have built courses on a widely ranging set of topics: How to become an influencer, how to find a new job, trading Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and much more. With this new investment, I’ll be joining the company’s board and working with its team of startup veterans, led by Gagan Biyani, a repeat entrepreneur who previously co-founded Udemy.

Maven is working on an important problem that resonates in a deeply personal way: I think of some of the most critical decisions and projects I’ve worked on over the years — from buying a house, picking a career, trying to make it in a new industry — and think about all the generous advisors and mentors who taught me their hard-won knowledge. I wish that this knowledge was even more universally available, with teachers and fellow students to join me on the journey. Many of these topics are important but either niche, too fast-changing, or not academic enough, and so they are never taught in university. Instead we all have to piece them together by searching online, reading hundreds of articles, and watching an endless number of videos. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience!

It’s the perfect time to take on this market. Maven taps into the huge number of online creators — these are people who are experts, creators, and practitioners that have valuable knowledge, and are motivated to share it with their audience. Yet for deep topics that require teaching, a disjointed set of videos aren’t enough. Nor are basic forums or chat groups. If you’re like me and have had to teach yourself a wide range of new things online, you know that the existing options are fragmented and weak. No wonder traditional approaches, like Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), have a 3-7% completion rate.

Maven aims to build the platform that enables all of these topics to be taught, and in the right way. There needs to be interaction, community, and accountability, not just a library of stale video content. Maven brings together an entire experience by gathering groups of motivated people together to engage in the content together, increasing their participation and ability to learn. This is a vast improvement on the status quo — cohort-based courses have a more than 75% completion rate, a 10X improvement from MOOCs. This is a better experience for both creators and students.

At the same time, there is a revolution happening right now for creators. Maven also represents a huge leap for the business model of online creators. For creators who are often successful on social media but struggle to monetize their audiences, Maven unlocks a new revenue stream where audiences can directly pay to participate in unique online courses. I think this will be as profound as when Shopify first enabled millions of sellers to list products online, or Substack bringing new recurring revenue streams to authors, writers, and journalists. Along these lines Maven embraces a new trend that leans away from small slices of advertising revenue. Instead, Maven’s creators can charge substantial fees — often hundreds or thousands of dollars per student — which in turn allows them to increase the quality and comprehensiveness of their content over time. Investment begets quality which leads to more adoption, which creates the revenue stream for even better Maven courses. In just the first three months after launch, four Maven courses each earned over $100,000, and that’s just the start.

As a content creator myself — I’ve written a blog for a decade and am publishing a book later this year — new business models like Maven’s are profound. I’ve written hundreds of essays on my blog, and early on, had never found a good way to monetize it. Even while I built an audience of hundreds of thousands of readers, the existing monetization models were unappealing — I never wanted to sign up to make weekly videos for YouTube, or engage my audience frequently enough to charge subscription revenue. Instead, I found success in the type of online courses that Maven can facilitate through their platform. As a creator, I enjoy the interactivity, the intensity, and the business part too, particularly the high ticket price per person. I eventually stitched together offline events, forums, video libraries, and online video sessions, blending them all into multi-week online courses. But the tools and backend were a mess. I’m excited to see Maven bring together a suite of tools that can smoothly handle the creation and operation of these programs. The early data is already showing that this model works, and Maven is creating the suite of products to make it all seamless.

There could not be a stronger team to kick off this journey. The founding team of Maven consists of Gagan Biyani, Wes Kao, and Shreyans Bhansali, who are all repeat entrepreneurs, previously starting Udemy, altMBA, and Socratic. I first met Gagan nearly a decade ago as he spun out of Udemy and embarked on a series of new startups — Lyft and Sprig among them. I was always impressed with Gagan’s deep insights on helping the users of his companies earn money for their work — as Maven is providing to its creators — and by the streamlined product experiences that lay at the heart of his startups.

I’m so thrilled to watch this team take on their next big challenge. Maven’s mission is to democratize the knowledge of the world’s leading experts through cohort-based courses. And I’m proud to back this incredible team on their journey.

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