Digital marketplaces for specific, everyday services are all the rage these days. If I had dime for every time I was pitched on a company that claimed it was the “Uber of …” I would be a far richer man.
We have Uber, obviously, and its many ride sharing competitors. We have it for food with Seamless and Grubhub. Couriers have Postmates. StyleBee for makeovers and blow outs. There’s Craigslist for classifieds (and other bizarre needs). Add TaskRabbit for chores…. and you get my point.
Pretty much the current adage is: If it’s something we regularly need in the physical world, and there isn’t a centralized online platform already, why the hell not? At least that was Katie Kapler and Nihal Parthasarathi’s inclination when they founded Coursehorse back in 2011 after graduating from NYU. Small local classes was the market they were trying to tap. This could be anything from art workshops to cooking course to even a brief foray in digital marketing. It’s just all those posters strewn on corks in coffeeshops that you always forgot to tear apart the phone number at the bottom.
Coursehorse initially launched in New York. Last year it expanded to Los Angeles. Over that time it raised a $500,000 seed round and began marketing over 20,000 courses. Today the company is announcing a $1.3 million Series A and big expansion plans for the future.
The way Coursehorse works is to encourage both educators and potential attendees to use it. It’s free to sign up and even free to post a class. The business model revolves around a small fee for each booked spot in a class. That makes sense so as not to gouge a young, wide-eyed yoga teacher trying to start a clientele, but still reaping some profit if the class does prove to be a success.
And it also seems to be working for the company too: Kapler informed me that late last year Coursehorse reached profitability.
This is what helped propel this Series A. “Because we have the traction, we have the profitability, we saw the areas we needed to grow,” she told me. The goal for the following year is to expand and add some new features to entice more users. One feature on the horizon is a Facebook Graphs-like function that tracks what classes people are interested in and how they learn about various courses.
The three new cities slated to launch in the next 365 days are Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco. Already, the platform offers more than 40,000 courses in both LA and New York, so that number should be greatly increased once 2015 rolls around.
Kapler said she was able to find eager investors quite easily. “All we wanted to do was raise a million,” she said. That said, there was no lead investor– what the industry calls a “party round.” That’s a dicey strategy: It gets many investors in the mix, but means no investor has real skin in the game or a duty to make sure the company secures future rounds. Partiers included Learn Capital (Coursera and Udemy) and individual investors like Paige Craig (Lyft, Klout, Angellist), Scott Bannister (Uber, PayPal, Zappos), and Charlie Cheever (founder of Quora).
Earlier in February a few outlets, including Dan Primack, noticed Coursehorse’s SEC filing and reported that it had raised $3 million. Kapler told me that this wasn’t true — her company had only raised $1.3 million. She believes the misreporting was probably due to the fact that the filing included past funds raised including its seed and a very early investment from when she and Parthasarathi first founded the company.
But with this new investment the company is hoping to maintain profitability. It seems to have proven that its service is of use. Now we see how well it can scale.
Of course, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in living in a few cities: There’s no shortage of small yoga classes.