A year and change since Poets&Quants first reported on Section4 – an online business education platform created by New York University Stern School of Business marketing professor, media personality, and entrepreneur Scott Galloway – the company is building out its next phase. It’s rebranded to Section, launched a new series of certificates, and is going after the lucrative enterprise market for training employees for skills needed in a digitized economy.
You can think of Section like a MasterClass of business education. Subscribers can take as many courses, workshops, bootcamps, and other content as they can manage for $995 per year ($83 per month). They also get access to the platform’s coaching, its growing student and alumni network, and other services now in development.
Galloway founded the company in 2019 to make elite business education more accessible to the vast majority of people who either could never afford it or who, for a variety of reasons, could never get in. The online education platform claims to provide 80% of the value of an MBA at 10% of the cost at 1% of the friction.
FROM ‘SECTION 4’ TO ‘SECTION’
When we last checked in on the platform in March 2022, it had just over 15,000 alumni, making it the fastest growing online business school in the world.
“I’m very righteous or very indignant about this: Higher ed is the tip of the spear for our society. It produces our presidents, our leaders, our CEOs of nonprofits. Do we want it to be populated by two cohorts: The children of rich kids who are 77 times more likely to get into an elite university or the freakishly remarkable?” Galloway told Poets&Quants at the time.
“Or do we want remarkable opportunities presented to just good kids?”
In March, the company rebranded from “Section4” to “Section” to better reflect its mission to be “the business school of the next decade,” says Rachel Fields, the company’s director of brand.
When Galloway founded the company, he wanted to help people learn the skills required to compete with the big four tech companies of the day: Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook. Today, it’s about the broader tech powered economy.
“If you think about strictly legacy firms and traditional industries, they’re all becoming software powered, data powered, and now AI powered. We want to teach people in business the playbooks and skills and strategies they need to be competitive in this digital economy,” Section CEO Gregory Shove tells Poets&Quants.
As part of the rebranding, the company rolled out a new visual design to differentiate itself in a crowded education market as it scales up to 25,000 students and grows its enterprise business.
FIVE NEW CERTIFICATE PROGRAMS
Last September, Section launched five certificate programs in Business Core, Strategic Leader, Marketing Strategist, Product Strategist, and Digital Strategist. Each combines a curated selection of Section’s one- to two-week sprints and half-day workshops. Courses can be taken live or on demand, and each course concludes with a project that applies the strategy to a real challenge at work. Students walk away with a certificate and a strategic recommendation they can implement right away. Certificates are designed to be completed in about nine months.
Section plans to launch a sixth certificate in strategic communications within the next month or two. More than 370 students have completed certificates since they launched this fall.
“I think this is a promising number because we’re quite early in the evolution of the certificates, and students typically take between two and three courses per year. Certificates are four to five courses, so this would indicate a faster speed of obtaining that knowledge,” says Taylor Malmsheimer, VP of Strategy and Customer Experience at Section. “We’ve definitely seen enough promise that we are thinking about how to continue to build upon what we have, package it into things like bootcamps or accelerators and things like that.”
As the company continues to build out its curriculum, the certificates met two needs it recognized in its student customers: Having a clear pathway through Section’s sprints, workshops and other content that aligned with their professional goals while articulating the value of the education in the market, says Malmsheimer.
A PLATFORM FOR CAREER TRANSITIONS
Section hopes to move15,000 students through these certificate programs in the next year. So, students who are motivated to complete a certificate in one year can earn one for less than $1,000, based on the price of Section’s yearly subscription.
“Our mission has always been to create a radically more diverse group of future leaders, which is why these programs are accessible and affordable,” says Shove. “Comparable leadership programs cost $5,000 to $10,000, whereas our programs cost $995 per year through Section4 membership.”
The broader trend Section is targeting is the idea of career transformation, getting you from one place to another, Shove tells P&Q. Consider the value proposition of the big brand business schools: While some students are training for specific roles in banking, VC, or consulting, most students are looking for more general jobs in business and are getting a more general business education. They’re largely paying for the school brand and its vast alumni network.
Section, on the other hand, is targeting students who aren’t in the market for an MBA, either because of cost, professional goals, or other barriers to entry.
“We just think that’s increasingly inefficient in this economy. So we package (content) and narrow in on a role, and get you either that first job in that role or accelerate you into management or into leadership inside of that function,” Shove says. “I just think that’s the way the world is going, and it’s what the student wants. They want more transformation and more ROI on their time and money.”
A PIVOT FROM B-SCHOOL FACULTY TO INDUSTRY LEADERS
When first launched, Section’s instructors were a mix of faculty from top-tier business schools, like founder Scott Galloway, and industry leaders. It has shifted now mostly to expert executives, practitioners at VP or C-level roles at top companies from whom Section can extract an actionable concept or model to offer students. Malmsheimer estimates between 85 and 90%of its instructors are these kinds of executives.
To name drop, these include but are not limited to people like:
- Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix who teaches workshops on building product roadmaps and measuring product success;
- Jennie Tung, leader of Bain Academy, who leads a 3-hour workshop on problem solving with the tagline: “Think Like A Strategy Consultant;”
- Google chief strategist Neil Hoyne on how to win your best-fit customers;
- Meta Global Head of Marketing Nicole Alexander on demonstrating the financial impact of your idea; and
- Sarah Norman, sales and data leader at TikTok, teaching data storytelling.
“These are instructors who are teaching a skill that’s applicable to many different kinds of situations, at many different kinds of companies, who have done it before. It’s not just the theory, they’ve actually implemented these concepts and know the ins and outs,” Malmsheimer says. “I think it’s been a very successful model for us, because that’s who students want to learn from.”
Section works with these practitioners to distill their experience and knowledge into actionable skills that can be delivered to students. It controls everything in the experience, from the curriculum to the delivery format, to the on-staff TAs to help students through the process. Rather than paying schools to adapt their content, like other ed tech platforms, it pays the talent.
Section’s big milestone goal remains reaching 100,000 annual students, which is a significant alumni network. To get there, the company has spent the last year investing in its curriculum, growing its available courses from around 10 to almost 40. It’s also developed a wider variety of formats, including shorter and tighter formats as well as certificates in a wider range of topics.
“I think we can much more confidently say that this is the kind of business curriculum of the next decade, and that’s what we’re delivering on,” Malmsheimer says.
WHAT DOES SECTION SIGNAL TO EMPLOYERS?
The question – not just for Section but for any player in an ever-more-crowded market of digital education – is does a Section certificate, sprint, or workshop lead to recognition in the job market?
“It’s a bar we have to get over every day because there are a lot of upskilling solutions out there, and in a tougher economy, those budgets for upskilling are tighter for sure,” Shove says.
There are two types of customers Section is targeting: The first is the enterprising professional who wants to build their career, but who aren’t in the market for a more traditional MBA – whether that be because of time, money, or inability to get their foot in the door. Section students are on average a bit older than the traditional residential MBA student, between 35 and 40, and are typically looking to move from, say, managers to directors, or directors to VPs, and so on.
“Today, we focus on general management, leadership, product and marketing, but we’ll add others over time,” Shove says. “The big picture hasn’t changed for us, and that is how do we get more people who are willing but might have been overlooked historically into those roles of influence, leadership, and decision making?We think about people of color and from underrepresented communities, and we have clients who are building programs on our platform for diverse leadership programs.”
As it’s still a relatively new platform, it’s hard to measure how impactful a signal a Section certificate or sprint course is to employers, either on a resume or when seeking a promotion or raise. That signal remains one of the most valuable offerings of a big brand business school. However, one metric Section is tracking is how many students report using the knowledge learned in their current work, and 92% of students reported that they have done so.
A second important target is enterprise customers, companies who want an upskilling program developed specifically for their employees.
“We’re just beginning to talk to companies about basically creating their own certificates, their own custom learning programs based on our curriculum,” Shove says. “That, to me, is a really important milestone because I think the future of business education is that employer brand. For those top 10 business schools, their brands signal, but for everyone outside of that, you might be better off having an employer-signaled credential.
“I’m looking forward to those conversations and hoping we can get two to three of those programs off the ground in the next 12 months. I think the Googles of the world, the Netflixes of the world, those kinds of employer brands are so powerful. Their credential matters.”
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