Based in Redwood City, Calif.
Number of registered users: 2 million
What It Is
Think of Course Hero as a cozy college study group of 2 million students, minus the bad pizza. The site offers some 7 million crowdsourced study materials from users at more than 4,300 universities, along with video lectures, 24/7 tutors, free flashcards and online courses in entrepreneurship, business and web programming.
How It Started
While enrolled at Cornell University, Andrew Grauer felt the frustration of many undergraduates: Too much knowledge is bottled up in private hard drives and individual brains. "Course Hero is about democratizing access to quality learning materials and services," he says. So he took a semester off from school and founded the company with his brothers David and Jared. Funding for the first three and a half years came from family and friends. When the site reached 1 million visitors a month, it received a $1.5 million round of funding from YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and StubHub's co-founder and former CEO Jeff Fluhr, among others.
Why It Took Off
"Course Hero became popular, campus by campus, because it meets the real needs of students," says Grauer, who serves as CEO. "At first, that manifested itself in the form of a community where students could share and access the study resources they needed 24/7. However, we recognized that technology had the ability to improve so many aspects of the study process." Tutors, flashcards and courses were added later.
The Business Case
Flashcards and online courses are offered for free on the site, but the money is in study materials--syllabi, lecture notes, practice problems--that can be purchased on a subscription basis for $39.95 per month. For uploading study materials to the site, students get credit toward purchases.
Grauer estimates that the roughly 20.3 million college students in the U.S. spend $500 a year each on study aids and tutoring, which translates into a $10 billion market. While he won't divulge how big his slice of the market is, he claims his 4-year-old company is profitable, after seeing revenue double in 2011. He expects that to happen again this year.
Course Hero recently launched its Flashcards mobile API to help students make their own course-specific materials. But the company-created courses have been the fastest-growing feature on the site, and Grauer sees them extending beyond conventional curricula to high-school and vocational programs. He is also looking to expand the network of 250 to 350 tutors to deliver faster responses and better information.
As with any new venture, tinkering with the business model is an ongoing process. "In the beginning, we were forced to focus on developing fast and iterating often to find product-market fit, maximize profit generation and minimize our cash burn," Grauer says. "That approach hasn't stopped."