Aileen Lee and Rachel Carlson walk through Guild Education’s early pitch deck

You can’t raise more than $370 million on a good idea alone. But you can raise a seed round worth a few million from Aileen Lee with that and a few other critical ingredients.

Guild Education CEO Rachel Carlson did just that. Aileen Lee, founder and managing partner of Cowboy Ventures, led a $2 million seed round in 2015 before Guild Education even had a real product.

Carlson and her co-founder, Brittany Stich, had been running educational classes on their own while in school at Stanford and saw a massive, scalable opportunity.

If the market size is big enough, it’s really important to put it at the beginning of the deck. Aileen Lee

For those who aren’t familiar with Guild Education, it’s an education and upskilling platform that started by focusing on the 99%. Carlson and Stich realized that the vast majority of upskilling platforms focused on the top third of the labor triangle in the U.S., such as helping a developer get a better developer job or helping an executive be a better executive.

Starting out in a strip mall

Stich and Carlson rented out space in a strip mall and developed a boot camp model with classes focused on how to find a job or how to better communicate your experience on your resume.

“I was nervous to be a non-product founder and I was not particularly technical,” said Carlson. “In hindsight, it’s so fun to look back through our deck because we had an idea about the problem to be solved and a lot of ideas about distribution. We were pretty unsure about what the product was going to be, but we were sure we would find our way to the right product if we stayed obsessive about the problem.”