Princeton Review Founder Launches Noodle, A Search & Recommendation Engine For Education

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Regardless of Android or the fact that 96 percent of its revenues come from advertising, from the beginning Google’s mission statement has been “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s mission changed the Web, and it remains true that, if you know what you’re looking for, there isn’t a more useful search tool. But if you don’t, that’s not always true. Take education, which sees 3.7 billion searches every month. Generally speaking, education-related decisions — like what school to go to, what to study — aren’t made in a snap, but the process nearly always starts with a Google search. Go search for “test prep.” Sure, PageRank serves some helpful results, but the tutor or program that’s right for you may be on page 20.

Knowing that it can take weeks or even months to refine a search and make a decision on all matters education, Noodle Education is today launching what it believes is a better solution: A search and recommendation engine that helps refine the process and suggest educational opportunities based on what’s important to you.

Like Google, Noodle is attempting to organize an enormous amount of data, aggregating information on a wide range of learning options. As it is today, the search and discovery process for education is fragmenting, as you navigate to one resource for test prep, another for pre-K schooling options, another for guidance counselors, and so on. So, Noodle is attempting to create the first education discovery engine that combines aggregated data with socially-enabled search to help find formal and informal educational opportunities — from tutors and schools to study abroad programs and guidance counseling.

Noodle launched in limited beta in late 2011, but today’s full-scale launch reveals a much more advanced resource, which includes 120,000 education providers across nearly a dozen academic verticals. And even so, the user experience is simple: Searchers enter the term they’re looking for, at which point Noodle asks a few questions to add context to the search. Once answered, the engine serves personalized recommendations for “best-fit” educational opportunities.

There’s a lot at stake when making education-related decisions, and it takes time. Plus, people want to get advice from those they trust. To address this, Noodle allows users to save, organize, and share their favorite results, and to connect with friends and other students, for example, by engaging their social graph. Students can create their own profiles within Noodle, and share their lists of top schools with friends and family, and add comments as they refine their search, or subscribe to publicly-guided lists, like Princeton Review’s ranking of top universities.

Today, educational institutions spend inordinate amounts of money on lead generation, which, as one would expect, is largely driven by educational providers. Noodle’s model aims to flip traditional lead generation marketing on its head, so that, instead of institutions reaching out to prospective students or customers, users initiate the dialogue with providers based on Noodle’s recommendations.

Since its limited beta launch, Noodle has also added what it’s calling a Groupon for tutoring, or a form of discounted group buying. Hiring the best tutors can be an expensive proposition, so Noodle allows students to create small groups of their friends, identify the tutor they want to work with, and receive discounted rates. Tutors get to charge the same price per hour, fill up their slots, while three or four students, for example, get to share the cost.

Going forward, Noodle wants to become an end-to-end platform for education providers and students, and it hopes to be able to offer providers the opportunity to integrate their tutoring learning management systems, scheduling, etc. based on a rev-share model. The team also sees potential to power education-related search for other verticals, like real estate.

Noodle is embarking on an ambitious mission, but it seems to already be attracting the funding and leadership that will be able to help see it through. The startup has already raised $3 million in angel funding, and is in the process of closing its Series A round. What’s more, Noodle was founded by John Katzman, who previously founded both The Princeton Review and 2tor, and, in February, Noodle brought on Joe Morgan to serve as its CEO. Morgan is the former president of Blimpie Subs, a founder of Colloquy, and is a former SVP at Kaplan.

As education becomes increasingly competitive both among startups and among students competing for positions in universities and beyond, it’s become more important than ever for them to be able to identify and discover educational opportunities that are right for them. Education needs better search, and, coupling that with a dynamic recommendation engine makes Noodle an appealing destination.

For more, check out Noodle at home here. Video intro below: