MasterClass Raises $15 Million For Online Classes Taught By Celebrities

MasterClass, a San Francisco-based online education platform that’s luring some of the most talented professionals in their respective fields to teach, has raised $15 million in Series B funding led by New Enterprise Associates.

Javelin Venture Partners also joined the round, which follows a previously undisclosed $4.5 million Series A led by Javelin. Other investors in the company include Bloomberg Beta, Novel TMT Ventures, Advancit Capital, Harrison Metal, WME Ventures, Downey Ventures, and numerous individual investors, including Casper CEO Philip Krim.

What investors are backing is certainly interesting.

MasterClass, which charges $90 for each “MasterClass,” currently features five options, including five hours of acting class that are taught by Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman; two hours of advanced tennis techniques taught by tennis great Serena Williams; 22 lessons on writing taught by bestselling author James Patterson; and 16 video lessons by entertainer Usher on the art of performance.

The newest “master class” is an acting class by Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (perhaps for those who’ve already seen Dustin Hoffman’s tricks and are eager to learn more). It debuts today, to be followed soon with singing lessons by the Grammy-award-winning singer Christina Aguilera.

MasterClass cofounders Aaron Rasmussen and David Rogier — who met on a “friend date” years ago — say the idea for MasterClass sprang from a small dinner that featured as its guest of honor the computing pioneer Alan Kay.

Says Rasmussen, “It was one of the most perspective-altering conversations we’d ever had . . . and it only happened for 10 people.” Later, the two started to think more seriously about whether a person could be placed into an intimate conversation – a “teaching moment” – with some of the most skilled people in the world.

With exactly one connection to Hollywood types – Rogier was friends with Dustin Hoffman’s daughter — the friends began making calls from a borrowed office space in 2013; not long after, Jay Roach (of “Meet the Parents” fame) was filming Dustin Hoffman for MasterClass. Soon after came James Patterson, whose class was filmed by a two-time award-winning director named Bill Guttentag. And so on. (In fact, the New York Times reported on the networking prowess of Rogier in particular last fall.)

Asked about the financial arrangement between the startups and its famous participants, Rasmussen and Rogier offer simply that “if a class is successful, they are successful.” They also note that some of the talent gravitating to the platform, including Spacey and Usher, are also investors in the company.

They also decline to say how many people have now taken a class, or how many have signed up for more than one class, saying only that they have “substantially more” registered users than the 30,000 cited in a September report about the startup.

Their new funding should help, either way. The pair, who currently employ 22 people, say they hope to film between 10 and 15 more classes in 2016, even if those classes aren’t available until next year owing to post-production.

They plan to keep the price point reasonable, too. “David and I are serious about democratizing access to genius,” says Rasmussen.

He notes that throughout history, so-called masters have taught apprentices, “but it’s been two people or maybe a handful at most, and typically people who were chosen based on their social status or political connections.”

MasterClass meanwhile is giving today’s masters a way to memorialize what they’ve learned, while also giving them a venue to share stories, insights, and advice with anyone in possession of a computer, $90, and several hours to spare.