Teachers are earning millions of dollars selling their lesson plans on the "iTunes of education"
TeacherspayTeachers has never raised a cent of outside venture capital. That's fine -- the 28-person company, launched from a New York apartment in 2006, has been profitably helping teachers sell their lesson plans to each other for some time now. This week, the company crossed the threshold of $60 million in teacher-to-teacher sales. That's up from just $5 million a year ago. It's just another positive milestone on the company's quest to become the iTunes for digitally delivered educational content, according to founder Paul Edelman.
If, in this metaphor, textbook companies are the record labels and teachers are indie artists, it's the teachers, not the labels, that are earning handsomely with this new platform.
One teacher, Deanna Jump, has sold $2 million worth of lesson plans. The sales have allowed her to buy a mansion in Florida and made her a celebrity in the teaching community -- she's taking a year-long sabbatical to speak at education conferences.
Jump's resources became popular because they're creative and well-designed, Edelman says. The secret sauce of TeacherspayTeachers' platform is that it allows teachers to promote themselves within the community. Jump has more than 33,000 followers on the site, so each time she posts a new lesson plan or materials, her fans are alerted.
"Because she's a real teacher, her resources are far more engaging and effective than what publishers put out there," Edelman says.
I'd argue that TeacherspayTeachers is less like iTunes and more of a marketplace, like eBay, or a sharing economy startup, like Airbnb. Either way, Edelman's bet that teachers are their own best resource was spot on: TeacherspayTeachers has accumulated 2.6 million registered users by word of mouth, half of which joined in the last year.
Of that group, 40,000 are active sellers on the platform and more than 800,000 have bought a lesson plan. Around 15 percent of the site's content is free, but the average item on the site costs $4.44. After Jump, the next four-highest earning teachers have heard more than half a million dollars; 64 teachers have earned six figures and 384 have earned more than $20,000.
During the Fall, TeacherspayTeachers has been processing more than a million in sales every week.
But it's about more than the money, Edelman assures me. Even teachers that only sell a few lesson plans get some gratification from sharing their work. "It feels great to know that other teachers and students around the country and world are benefiting from their teaching ideas," he says.
The company takes a 30 percent cut of sales for free users. Once a teacher's lesson plan becomes popular, Edelman says they often upgrade to a premium account, which costs $59.95 a year and gives teachers 85 percent of their sales. That nets TeacherspayTeachers' cut out to an average of 198 to 19 percent.
TeacherspayTeachers' sales are almost entirely in the US. That's it's next growth opportunity. Edelman is based in France and his tech teams are based in India and the Ukraine. His next mission will be to expand TeacherspayTeachers' user base, too.