Online Learning Marketplace Udemy Raises $32M To Scale Up Internationally

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Long time player in the online learning space, Udemy, which has built a skills-based marketplace where individual tutors can sell their skills and learners can get access to courses (both paid and free), has just closed a $32 million Series C funding round, led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from existing investors Insight Venture Partners and MHS Capital.

Udemy raised $1 million in seed funding back in 2010 with its pitch to democratize online learning, pulling in further tranches of cash — including a $12 million in Series B funding at the end of 2012. It’s raised $48 million in total to date.

While traditional academic institutions have been putting courses online, via the MOOCs movement powering the likes of EdX and Coursera, Udemy is a marketplace where any individual with skills to sell can create and upload courses. It also offers tools for tutors to build the courses — making it closer to a startup such as Eliademy than the MOOCs giants.

Udemy’s educational content is also skewed towards the skills workers need to remain employable, rather than the academic course content offered by many MOOCs. The company also targets enterprises — offering itself as a platform for fulfilling staff training requirements.

The latest batch of Udemy’s funding will be used to expand its international reach by putting boots on the ground in markets outside the U.S., according to CEO Dennis Yang, as well as expanding its content library with the aim of pulling in more international students.

“We do already have students in basically every country around the planet. And we have the site localised into 10 languages outside of English,” said Yang. “This is our first physical operation outside the U.S…. so it’s about making sure that we can create that same type of ecosystem that we’ve already created in the U.S.”

The funding will also be directed towards product developments, including continued development of its course creation tools, and ensuring a smooth experience on mobile and other platforms — to underpin Udemy’s on-demand education ethos.

“We want to make the availability of Udemy as wide as possible… making sure that integration with our core experience is as good as possible, not only within mobile but whether it’s with some of the other large consumer web platforms and then moving on beyond mobile — maybe the TV platforms as well in the future,” said Yang.

“Mobile consumption right now has just really exploded, in about the last six to nine months. Mobile consumption at this moment is roughly 30% of our content consumed. So as we continue to see that growing we want to continue to improve the experience.”

Yang told TechCrunch the platform is already getting around 60% of its students from outside the U.S.. It’s that demand that it wants to better serve and nurture as it seeks to scale the business. In the past 12 months the company has grown its revenue by more than 300%.

“Our core vision, which is democratising skills-based education and life-long learning by providing a platform where any expert can teach has not changed [since we founded the company]. We are technically now in our fifth year of existing… We have reached that tipping point at this moment where the network effects have really kicked in,” said Yang. “That’s drawing a lot of students into the marketplace.”

“Just like other marketplace they are known to be hard to start, but at some scale hard to kill,” he added. “When we first started it was very difficult, because if you were a teacher why would you want to teach on Udemy; there were no students. If you were a student why would you want to go to Udemy, because there was nobody teaching there, right. So you really had to just grind it out, and build it brick by brick, inch by inch.”

Now, Udemy has attracted more than three million students to its platform cumulatively, since launch, and 8,000 teachers who have published courses to date. Course content runs to 16,000 courses at present.

Although the majority of people using the platform take free courses (which Udemy doesn’t directly monetize), Yang says around 15% of those that take free courses end up coming back and taking a paid course. For paid courses, Udemy takes 3% of thecourse fee when a tutor bring that student to Udemy. If it’s an existing Udemy student taking a paid course the split is 50:50.

Likely key global markets for Udemy’s platform as it ramps up its international focus include areas of West European, such as the U.K., Germany and Spain, along with Brazil and Japan, Yang added.