Did LinkedIn's acquisition of Lynda just kill the ed tech space?
Today’s LinkedIn acquisition of online learning company Lynda.com was not only the largest acquisition by the professional connection network, but also the biggest exit by an ed tech company.
While the news is a huge win for Lynda Weinman and husband Bruce Heavin, who founded the company in Ojai, California in 1995, it may not be that awesome for the rest of the ed tech startup community.
2U and Chegg had IPOs and are now at the mercy of the public market, eliminating (most likely) an eye-popping exit like Lynda: The acquisition price tag was $1.5 billion, which according to numbers released by LinkedIn, shakes out as 52 percent, about $780 million, in cash and the remaining 48 percent in stock.
And the two public ed tech companies have seen mixed results since their IPOs: 2U has kept its $1 billion valuation, but Chegg has not. As of today’s trading numbers, the company has market cap near $600 million.
Last year, Ed tech companies raised $1.87B across 350 deals according to CB Insights.
And these three companies were arguably the highlights of a field scattered with MOOCs, platform plays, and various stabs at recreating vocational learning.
So what does this mean for the rest of the ed tech space?
Utah-based Pluralsight, an online learning platform with a technology-focus that is comparable to Lynda, raised $135 million last August giving it a value close to a billion dollars. Lynda.com does not directly compete with Pluralsight since it offers business and creative courses in addition to technical and software classes. Pluralsight is more laser-focused training and certifying the next generation of engineers, UX developers, and lead developers.
But, with LinkedIn swooping in for Lynda, it doesn’t appear that there would be any other suitors for a company like Pluralsight who will probably turn its focus squarely on an IPO.
Pluralsight has been bullish over the past couple of years, gobbling up six other education and training companies, and going public could be lucrative, especially with the value LinkedIn found in Lynda. But LinkedIn doesn't really have a direct competitor who might want to gobble up an ed tech rival. It's hard to see Twitter or Facebook suddenly needing an online education play because LinkedIn got one. And with LinkedIn pushing it, Lynda could become that much more dominant.
After Pluralsight, the field of ed tech startups with potential is pretty thin. According to CB Insights, companies like Open English and NetDragon Education have values in the low to mid-hundreds of millions, while startups Desire2Learn and Remind have had pretty impressive funding rounds. But, none come even close to showing value in the ballpark of Lynda or Pluralsight.
That could change, and a couple under the radar education companies like the Mark Zuckerberg-backed Panorama Education, as well as education startups with increasing popularity like Udacity and Flatiron School, may make some noise; it’s just hard to imagine who will see value in any other edtech company similar to what LinkedIn saw in Lynda at this moment. For all the hype about the new wave of education a year or so ago, it's a land largely unicorn-free. (And that's saying something these days.) If $1.5 billion is what the darling gets... well, education may start to look like a rougher space than ecommerce. (Ouch.)
Now, the focus will shift to the traditional education companies like Pearson, Cengage, and publishers like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who are under pressure to innovate or acquire new technologies to keep up with each other. But none of the traditional powers fighting in that space have the financial wherewithal of LinkedIn, nor the desire to get into an acquisition arms race like the kind that happens all the time in Silicon Valley.
The deal today was a surprise to many, so maybe there are other potential suitors we're not thinking of. But nothing drives up prices like good public market comps or a raft of would-be suitors. And so far, ed tech has neither.