Educational platform Treehouse is announcing today that it has raised $7 million in Series B financing from Kaplan Ventures, with participation from its existing investor, The Social+Capital Partnership. The round follows the $600K in seed financing it raised in October 2011 from Kevin Rose, Reid Hoffman, David Sze and Mark Suster, among others, which was followed by its $4.75 million Series A in April of last year. Treehouse has raised more than $12 million to date.
Treehouse launched in late 2011 on an ambitious mission: To help anyone learn to code and design for iOS, Android and the web, regardless of their technical know-how. By combining the video-based approach of Lynda.com and learn-to-code platforms like Codecademy, Treehouse aimed to create an educational platform that leverages video, quizzes, a splash of gamification and project-based learning to help aspiring app developers and engineers learn the trade.
By charging students between $29 and $49 for access to its library of video content, realtime practice engine, in-depth interviews with experts and workshops, Treehouse was quick to reach profitability, and by September, more than 12,000 people (ages 7 to 50) were paying for its platform. Since then, its user base has grown to more than 25,000 active students.
In conjunction with its new capital, the startup is also announcing today that it is in the process of launching its first high school pilot program, which aims to train high school seniors to be job-ready for engineering positions without needing a university degree. The program will run for six months and cost $9/month, per student.
Treehouse’s move into high school follows on the heels of its “College Scholarship Program,” announced last fall, in which it offered 5,000 “Gold” accounts to college students in the U.S. for free — for a full two years. Because Gold plans typically run $50/month, this worked out to $3 million worth of free Treehouse education — the equivalent of what students would have had to pay out of pocket.
Treehouse Founder and CEO Ryan Carson told us at the time its motivation was, essentially, a response to the absurd cost of higher education — a cost that is expected to continue rising. To combat this unsustainable cost, Treehouse set out to offer students of all ages a comparable quality of education, without those costly student loans.
The startup’s push to reach both high school and college students is part of its effort to prove that a university degree isn’t in fact required for success in the job market; instead, the founder believes that smart, interactive online education can be just as effective.
But, in an increasingly crowded world of video-based education and learn-to-code platforms, good intentions alone can’t propel a startup to long-term success. Carson says that he thinks Treehouse will be able to differentiate itself from the competition over the long-term by focusing on cultivating a full-time teaching staff made up of experienced professionals — rather than relying on crowdsourced content to drive its lessons. That, and privileging project-based learning through live coding in the browser and a “learn by doing” approach to technical education, he hopes will be able to give it a leg up over veteran players like Lynda.com.
As to why his firm elected to invest in the education startup for a second time, Chamath Palihapitiya said:
Treehouse is already the biggest computer science school in the world and has the potential to be one of the most important … They’re creating an education model that massively reduces debt, increases job readiness and drives value in today’s economy. This is exactly what America needs right now.