What is about the TED Talk format that has made them so successful?
It’s the brevity and the focus, says Section 4 CEO Gregory Shove. It’s taking an expert’s hour-long presentation, and forcing them to deliver the most important bits in 18 minutes.
Section 4, a growing online platform for business education founded by Scott Galloway, relies on a similar idea. Working with top business professors and practitioners, the company distills MBA-quality courses into two- to three-week sprints in topics such as Product Positioning, Brand Strategy, Data & Analytics, Customer-Centered Innovation and more. Sprints are designed to be short, intense, and instantly applicable.
They deliver the content at a fraction of the cost of an MBA.
THE RULE OF 80-10-1
Think of Section 4 like the MasterClass of business education. It was built upon the principle of making elite business education accessible to all, Shove tells Poets&Quants. He summarizes it through the 80-10-1 rule: 80% of the educational value of a business school class at 10% of the price, and at 1% of the friction.
“We remove all of the friction of traditional business education, primarily because there’s no application process. We don’t vet on the way in, we vet on the way out,” Shove says. “Anybody is welcome. You don’t have to live in a major city or relocate to go to a school. Even online, business school education is very expensive, it’s not accessible, and it has lots of friction.”
Sprints are taught by professors from leading business schools such as NYU Stern, UC Berkeley Haas, and Cornell Johnson. Media mogul, NYU rockstar professor, and one of P&Q’s top 50 B-school professors in the world, Scott Galloway leads sprints in both business and brand strategy. Practitioners from industry leaders such as Allbirds, Netflix, Cameo, Etsy, and others are also among Section 4’s faculty. If you can’t afford a sprint, Section 4 will give you a scholarship.
GOAL: ‘LARGEST ONLINE PREMIUM BUSINESS ED OFFERING IN THE WORLD’
Galloway founded Section 4 in 2019, and it received Series A funding in March 2021. With more than 15,000 alumni in just over two years of operation, it is the fastest growing online business school in the world, Shove says.
It’s now ready to kick that growth into overdrive. It recently announced a new pricing strategy that dramatically cuts its price for anyone who wants to take two or more Sprints in a year. For a subscription price of $995 per year ($83 per month), students have access to as many Section 4 sprints as they can manage, along with access to the platform’s coaching, the student and alumni network, and more services now in development. (For comparison, sprints previously cost between $750 and $875 each.)
Section 4 is also awarding 1,000 scholarships for free access to its sprints as part of the launch of the new pricing strategy.
“We think our offering is more valuable with more students. The value of our alumni network, the value of the connections and services we can provide within those networks, is higher with more students and more alumni,” Shove says. “So, we’re anxious to get to 100,000 students annually as quickly as we can. That will make us the largest online premium business offering in the world.”
Poets&Quants recently spoke with Shove to talk about Section 4 and a future of online business education that is accessible, affordable and engaging. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q&A WITH SECTION 4 CEO GREG SHOVE
Tell us about the background of Section 4. The purpose behind it, how it formed, etc.
Section 4 was started three or four years ago by Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU and a successful entrepreneur. I think, in some ways, Scott is a unicorn in terms of a business pundit personality of some renown, a very successful professor at Stern for 15 years, and of course, he’s a successful entrepreneur. So he is a good place to start in terms of our curriculum and who we want teaching on our platform: Someone who can teach applicable frameworks, make them relevant to the current growth economy, and teach them in an entertaining, engaging and meaningful way.
My background is in media software and technology, and as an entrepreneur. I’ve sold three companies, one of which was sold to AOL, one of which was sold to private equity last year. Only in Silicon Valley can you sell your last company for $150 million, and people think you’re a failure. I have known Scott for 25 years, and he asked me to join in on this mission. We both share a deep conviction that education should be more accessible and affordable, so I signed on two and a half years ago to be CEO.
We looked at ed-tech online education today, and asked: “What’s wrong in terms of the student experience?” We didn’t think about it as a software business or as an in-person education experience, but wanted to take the best of both worlds and solve for what has been the Achilles heel of online education. That is completion, essentially engagement, and learning outcomes. What would that experience be like? It would be short, it would be intensive, and it would be highly applicable. It would be done with a bunch of other people at the same time, it would be both synchronous and asynchronous. It would have very high production values. We don’t spend as much as Masterclass per minute but we spend a lot per minute in terms of asynchronous video–the pre recorded lessons and case studies.
What do you mean by 80% of the value of a business course?
First of all, we’re not accredited, so we’re not offering the certificate value. We’re not offering the signaling that a Kellogg or an MIT would offer if you took one of their online classes or certificates.
But in terms of what we’re teaching you, we believe we can extract 80% of the value of a typical business school class and deliver it in two to three weeks. Students remember the professors and the lessons that delivered most of the value, and that’s what we extract from a practitioner or a professor. There are probably four or five ideas, frameworks, models, rubrics, things you can use that are highly applicable, highly valuable. That’s what we’re going to teach. Everything else is fluff.
You said that Section 4 does not vet students on the way in, but on the way out. What do you mean by that?
I think the market is really being divided into two segments. One is “vet me on the way in, and I leave with my certificate. I’m showing my credential.” That’s not our customer. If someone wants to be “chosen” by a school, or they have the time and the money, they should go do Kellogg’s or MIT’s online or use the short courses which are powered by business schools, because they want that vetting.
Another way of saying this is “showing your certificate” versus “showing your work.” Showing your work is the second segment, and that is our customer. At Section 4, you are vetted on the way out because you actually did the sprint. Sprints are hard, especially while working, especially during a pandemic, and especially for some people who have kids at home. They’re not meant to be easy. They end with a challenging assignment that we ask them to complete based on their own companies. It’s this idea that you’re finishing with a presentation, basically, that you can present to your boss, co-workers, or team. That’s “show your work.”
There’s always going to be a part of the market that says, “I’ll pay more because it is branded, and it has a certificate and a name behind it. That’s what I want to put on my LinkedIn profile.” I think that’s a legitimate market. The schools are filling that need, presumably, but that’s not our business. We sell something else. The mindset of our student is, “I don’t want to pay that much. I want to get value, but I’m less worried about the branded certificate and more about being able to apply what I’m learning at work. Will this skill help me get the promotion? Will I get a salary increase? Will I get a job in a growth economy company?”
Next Page: What kind of students are right for Section 4 + MBA competition