So how would someone extract value from a Section 4 sprint on, say, a resume? Or if they were looking to advance in their own job or to get the next job? They’d have to signal the skillset in some way, correct?
I expect that in five years, when you see a Section 4 badge on a LinkedIn profile or on a resume, it will mean something to an employer. That’s not today. The way we’re going to get there is not through brand marketing, however, it’s going to be through employers, because employers will begin to notice that hundreds of Google employees have attended our sprints. Then the employer will know people who take our classes and realize they’re more capable in their jobs. Our customer thinks about it as what will I have learned that I can apply? It’s not about what am I going to put on my resume? It’s that the quality of their work is higher.
I think about this as growth. I think there’s a whole group of people that can drive companies forward, help them grow, and grow themselves. Whether it be at a small business or a large Fortune 500, these people are going to need continual access to tools and skills in their domains, because these domains are changing so quickly. This idea that you will upskill once in your career, I just think it’s a fantasy.
Our courses are perfect interview prep, or for these conversations with your boss or with leadership. You want to be able to participate with a degree of sharpness and understanding in the context of the growth economy. Things are changing so quickly. Managing teams today is nothing like what it was two years ago, and it’s not going back. The most ambitious don’t wait for their companies to roll out training. They get that training for themselves. We intend to be the solution to that.
Business education is all about showing your work. What kinds of outcomes are your students reporting?
Our sprints–these intensive, short learning experiences–are getting completion rates of over 70%, NPS of 65 to 80%, and learning outcomes of 80% or higher in 90-day application windows. These are unheard of ed tech stats.
Your new price strategy could turn out to be quite a hefty savings for people who are looking to take more than one sprint in a year. Can you tell us why this makes sense for Section 4?
Two reasons: One, we want this to be affordable to as many people as possible. We think the point of education is to remove friction, not create it, for upward mobility.
Two, we want to grow faster as a business. We think that the best way to do that is to make it easy for consumers, companies, and enterprises to buy this.
What are you hearing from business schools about your model? What do they think?
Let’s talk about professors and then let’s talk about administration, because they are different. I’d say universally, the professors that are the best, love the model. And I think they love the model for two or three reasons: One is they’re building a great product with us. We deploy a lot of resources and effort to build this product, and they can see that from day one. It’s also digital, and the most forward looking professors want to be good in a digital world because they know this is the future. Frankly, I think executive ed is going to go digital first, I think MBA will stay mostly in-person at the top-tier schools for the next decade, but executive ed clearly is going to move to hybrid and then online only in some programs.
Second, professors get to teach 1000s of students through Section 4. The ability for teaching more people, influencing those people and getting your ideas into their heads, I think, is so much greater on our platform than a traditional business school online offering. Third, they make good money. They make great money if they’re good because we pay per student registration. We also have performance incentives for success. So for high NPS courses, we pay bonuses to the talent.
I’d say professors who are scared of the future and living off tenure, I don’t think they’re interested in us. And we’re not interested in them, quite frankly.
Back to the school administrations, I think the answer is mixed. I don’t think we’re competition to the top schools because we have a completely different format that introduces people to online business school learning and upskilling. But some schools see us as more disruptive or competitive, and some do not.
So, you may not be competing against the top-tier schools like, say, Stanford or Harvard, but what about the more mid-level MBA programs? I’ve spoken to deans that have said that space is getting a lot more competitive.
I think there are more people in the “show your work” segment I talked about earlier who are doing their MBA ROI calculations with a sharper pencil. They’re taking the time to really think about what accelerates careers, and at what cost. I think people under the age of 35 today, if they can work at Google for two or three years, or at DoorDash or Airbnb, that would be a career accelerator because they are winners in the growth economy. An MBA from a second-tier school probably does not help them get into a company like that.
Having spent the last 25 years in Silicon Valley, having gone to Stanford Business School, what I’d say today is an applicant applying to Section 4 with an MBA, we’re interested in that qualification. We’re not going to discount the person because they have an MBA. But they don’t get a leg up. We’re much more about your experience, your mindset and your skillset, and you can get that in a lot of ways.
I do think that if I was a dean at one of those schools–or if I was running mediocre executive ed or business training programs–yeah, I’d be worried. One of the reasons our sprints are so popular with companies is their short, intense nature. They want their employees to get the skills, but they want them to be very applicable. It can’t be too time consuming.
What kind of student are you targeting?
Today, mid-career. As you see our curriculum getting built out across these different domains, we will focus on topics and classes that will be applicable to someone who’s probably 10 years out of undergrad. People in their 30s and older, who are seeing risk in their business or in their career, or they’re seeing opportunity, or they want to accelerate themselves, or who want to pivot. That’s our initial focus. Early career will be the next market we address, but not anytime soon.
I’d say what is interesting about our student body, besides our average age of 37, is that it’s very diverse. Much more diverse than from a typical business school, and also from smaller companies. So students are diverse in terms of countries and ethnicity and so on, but also in terms of size of enterprise. This makes sense to us. If you think about senior people mid-career, working at smaller organizations that have 500 to 5,000 employees, no L&D department, no formal executive education, we see this as a huge untapped market. The big Fortune 500 companies, we’ll do well there and we already are doing great with them. They reimbursement programs for employees to take education. But I think this mid-market is really interesting because they’ve been locked out of high-quality business education.
Tell us about some of your growth targets?
I’d like to double at least every year, so this year our plan is 25,000 students and 50,000 next year. I think we’re at about 10 unique sprint topics, and I think we end the year at 15 to 20. We offer them two to four times a year because they are synchronous. So, they have a start and end date. Most sprints are run at least twice a year, and more popular ones will run more frequently. So,typically, we have two to three sprint sessions a month, and I think that next year, that becomes probably five to six a month.
What else do you think readers should know?
I think our business model is relevant in that we are vertically integrated. We control everything in the experience. We think that the only way to reinvent business education online is to own every step of the value chain. So, we develop the curriculum. We work with the talent to either create curriculum or to significantly modify their curriculum for our format. We train all the TAs, deploy the TAs and pay them, and we train all the community members within every step. We don’t believe in the model that Coursera and others are taking because we believe it ends up with a poor student experience. We don’t pay schools like Coursera or other platforms, we pay the talent.