Coursekit is Now Lore: Rebrand Reflects Expansion Beyond College Courses, With New Investment from Peter Thiel

By Erin Griffith , written on April 23, 2012

From The News Desk

Coursekit is dead; long live Lore.

Launched in the middle of the Fall semester last year, academic social network Coursekit is already in use at more than 600 colleges. And even in its early days, Coursekit co-founder Joseph Cohen noticed adoption wasn't limited to just college classes.

Belly dancing instructors use Coursekit. Bible study groups use Coursekit. General Assembly uses Coursekit. NYU professor Aswath Damodaran used Coursekit to teach his class to 3,000 people around the world. College students use Coursekit to continue engaging with classmates over the course material after the semester ends. People have thrown together hacks to use the site for things it wasn't designed for.

Any smart founder knows what to do when that happens. You embrace it.

The company was originally built to facilitate sharing between college course-mates and their professors. But users clearly wanted long-term learning communities. "It's evolved beyond courses, where it's not just about the course. It's about the whole learning experience," Cohen said.

So, armed with a fresh investment (undisclosed, less than $1 million) from Peter Thiel, a guy who has plenty of thoughts on higher education, the company has rebranded itself to reflect that reality.

"What Facebook did for personal lives, we want to do for learning lives," Cohen said.

Thus, Lore.

The word refers to knowledge shared between people, Cohen told me.The company's founding principle is that sharing enhances learning. It aims to be the free, open alternative to the expensive, clunky education software offerings of Blackboard. It's a space that's ripe for disruption Blackboard has become the industry standard and has no need to really innovate. "The software is lousy because of the business model. No CTO will be fired for choosing Blackboard," Cohen said.

Cohen and fellow University of Pennsylvania students Dan Getelman and Jim Grandpre dropped out to start the company last year. Coursekit launched with a closed pilot to 80 schools in the Fall and opened its platform in January. The incredible 600-school adoption that happened in that short time will likely explode when school starts in the Fall.

And now Lore is positioned to host learning communities beyond college courses. "We think we've outgrown (the name Coursekit) and need something that houses our ambition," Cohen said. "Learning is something we all do every day and it's a fundamental human need. We want to do that and not be confined by our brand."

For now the product remains the same, but Coursekit's rebrand sets it up for a future, where learning communities of all kinds will use the platform to share information and host discussions focused on learning.

Thiel has payed students to drop out of college. But he also happens to teach a Stanford class aimed at hopeful entrepreneurs, and that class uses Lore. "The Internet is reshaping how people learn," he said, "and Lore is one of the companies making that happen." Lore has already sparked a change in class dynamics in his classroom, he said. Thiel is not the only professor touting his positive experience with the site. (Still, adoption is often student-led; Lore employes 100 on-the-ground college students to spread the word.)

Thiel's investment is a small addition to Lore's previous $5 million Series A round from IA Ventures, Joel Spolsky, Michael Kearns and The Social+Capital Partnership. Prior to that, Coursekit's $1 million seed round included participation from IA as well as Founder Collective, Shasta Ventures, Techstars NYC, Ralph Mach, Zach Weinberg, Nat Turner, and David Tisch.

The business model, eventually, will be a marketplace or affiliate model. Lore will always be a free and open platform, Cohen said. Currently, the team is focused on audience and adoption, but eventually it will add a marketplace for things like books and tools related to education.