Online Education Startup Thinkful Raises $1 Million from Peter Thiel, RRE Ventures

Compiled by Ryan Garner
March 7, 2013

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Thinkful, an online education startup, has raised $1 million in seed financing from Peter Thiel‘s FF Angel, RRE Ventures and Quotidian Ventures. Founded in 2012, Thinkful is aimed at job seekers and professionals who want to advance in the workforce, delivering one-on-one tutoring online.

“The demand for professional education is surging as jobs become more specialized,” said Stuart Ellman, co-founder and managing partner of RRE Ventures. “No longer must education be seen as a distinct period in a young person's life. We must constantly be retraining ourselves. Thinkful addresses this critical need.”

Thinkful employees interview all prospective students by phone, conducting a skills assessment that includes their goals and experience. Students then receive a customized curriculum on Thinkful.com that is designed to meet their needs, and are placed with a cohort in a similar track. The curriculum features online video instruction and projects that the students complete.

Unlike other education tech startups, Thinkful employs full-time instructors, who meet with students online once per week to address any issues and help solve problems. The company was partially inspired by ThinkGeek’s approach to delivering customer service to consumers with IT problems.

 “These people are not only experts in this area and can communicate clearly about it, but they’re keeping students excited about it,” said Dan Friedman, Thinkful co-founder and president.

Thinkful charges $250 per month for a course, which takes an average of three months to complete. The company currently offers only web development education, but plans to offer other computer skills and software development subjects later in 2013.

In 2011, Friedman was one of the first recipients of a 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Created by entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, the fellowship program is open to individuals between the ages of 14 and 20. According to thielfellowship.org, it gives young people “a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education.” The Thinkful investment marks Thiel’s first investment in a startup from one of his 20 Under 20 fellows.

“The simple fact of education is that we learn best from experts,” said Darrell Silver, Thinkful co-founder and CEO. “Nine out of 10 students enrolling in massively open online courses (MOOCs) aren’t completing them. We believe personal interaction and collaboration with students is required, and we’re building Thinkful to make this possible for everyone.”


Sources:

“Peter Thiel Backs Thinkful For Personalized Online Education,” forbes.com, February 26, 2013, Tomio Geron

“Peter Thiel Makes First Investment in a Thiel Fellows Company,” blogs.wsj.com, February 26, 2013, Lora Kolodny

“Thinkful Raises $1M from Peter Thiel, RRE Ventures,” fortmilltimes.com, February 26, 2013