When I think which company to talk with next for EDUKWEST, there is always a couple of criteria I apply. My criteria, as you might you after more than four years of interviewing, include to get a startup early on in their life cycle, the impact this startup might make in 6 to 12 months from now, and portraying entrepreneurs to me is definitely about sharing a good story.
The story of OpenClassrooms is definitely one of the most interesting ones I have heard in a long time, and it shows how far a dedicated team can make it with passion and hard work.
I often feel that these shiny stories we hear from Silicon Valley about some 19-year-old that raised x million dollars without having a business model are somewhat misleading what entrepreneurship is (or should be) about, and to an extend also take away from the entrepreneurs who do it differently, more traditionally if you will, i.e who have a business model from the start or who didn’t take on huge investments (or weren’t able to raise a round). I think it’s also good to hear positive and original startup stories from Europe that go beyond the notion that virtually everything in Europe was a clone of some US startup.
Back to OpenClassrooms. The startup was originally known as the Site du Zéro, founded in 1999 by then 11-year-old Mathieu Nebra. Pierre Dubuc joined as co-founder when he was just 14. OpenClassrooms targets the French speaking market worldwide which is today some 250 million people.
It is certainly unusual that you have two so very young founders, probably even more unusual that these two are now, 14 years later, still working on their original idea and pushing their startup forward. The original courses were essentially centered around programming, how to create a website and other tech subjects and attracted high school students on the one hand but also professionals who wanted a career change or who generally wanted to acquire or deepen their knowledge in a certain subject matter.
Since we have seen such and uptake in the Higher Education space with the hugely popularized MOOCs and how to democratize education, OpenClassrooms have seen great interest from both their community as well as educational institutions to cooperate and recently released their first MOOC for the french speaking world.
Pierre shares some interesting numbers and demographics with us as. For their first MOOC they had about 50% from France and 50% from developing countries, mainly African countries, and I think this illustrates quite well how students in the developing world benefit from these new offers. Classicly OpenClassrooms got about ⅔ of their users from France or Canada and ⅓ from the developing world.
I don’t know how many of you had heard of OpenClassrooms before this interview, but being the biggest e-learning platform in the French speaking world, this startup is at least equal of the Courseras and EdXs without investing huge amounts of money into marketing.
As OpenClassrooms have been around for a while they also figured out a business model that works for their audience and community. The current business model has three tiers, one is advertising, two is selling paper and ebooks, and the third tier is a subscription to the platform. You can find detailed numbers about the revenue and how advertising performs compared with selling books and the subscriptions on their website (if you speak French, of course).
It has been a pretty fascinating talk, and you shouldn’t miss out on this interview if you’re interested in e-learning and MOOC platforms, particularly how this dark horse has become the most popular e-learning site of the French speaking world.