Maven, co-founded by Udemy’s Gagan Biyani and AltMBA’s Wes Kao, began in 2020 with a startup idea that perfectly combined two booming sectors: the creator economy and edtech. The startup sold cohort-based classes, led by creators and influencers, to students. The small-group classes were created by instructors and powered by classmates, a bet on the idea that anyone with expertise could be a teacher.
Now, two years after launching, and with $25 million in known funding from investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, Naval Ravikant, Sahil Lavingia, Li Jin, Arlan Hamilton and more, Maven is pivoting its offering away from that original pitch.
The startup’s co-founders tell TechCrunch that it will now begin focusing less on courses built by creators who have multiple revenue streams and commitments to balance, and more on courses built by star employees within tech organizations. It’s a shift that comes after Maven students completed over 300 cohorts, leading up to $9 million in course sales after 18 months.
“We had the hypothesis that a creator with a big audience will have a great course and be able to fill it and we were surprised that this hypothesis was wrong,” Kao said in an interview with TechCrunch. “Just because somebody is a creator doesn’t mean that they will run a successful course. Instead, we were seeing tons of smaller instructors who were subject matter experts in their field and didn’t necessarily have big audiences, who wanted to put in the hustle and put in the effort…doing really well on the platform.”
Biyani added: “Maven needed to be a place where students could come and take courses and find courses from experts, and not necessarily creators.”
The co-founders’ realization, which they say came from organic behavior on the platform, addresses some of the concerns that first existed when the edtech world began leaning into the creator economy. Around a year ago, two vocal sides began forming: some feared that turning creators into educators could bring in a rush of unqualified teachers with no understanding of true pedagogy, while others think that the true democratization of education requires a disruption of who is traditionally given the right to educate.
Campuswire, for example, pivots to only offer live-cohort classes taught by professors. Udemy, which Biyani co-founded, along with others in the original wave of online learning solutions, similarly bet on a more traditional definition of a teacher.
Maven’s change isn’t necessarily a complete reversal to tradition. Certified experts, as Maven describes them, can be designers, marketers, product managers, accountants, lawyers, VCs, coaches and advisors. Technically, all these roles can also overlap into the creator category, with Kao saying creators can still teach on the platform. She positioned this as more of a broadening of definition than shrinking. Kao is continuing to offer her two-week cohort-based class on how to be better at teaching cohort-based classes.
“Maven has always been in the more serious education category, but maybe you could argue that we're going further in that direction,” Biyani said. “Having more expert-led and less creators means less entertainment and [more] things that help you level up in your career.”
Along with focusing on more experienced educators, Maven announced a student portal that will house all the information, including a syllabus, materials and a way to search through other classes. There's a student-facing homepage before someone takes a course, and then a different home page once enrolled. It's the startup's own take on a learning management system (LMS). The platform will have more than 100 classes for students to choose from. Up until this point, Maven has never offered more than 15 courses at a time.
“This kind of marks the moment for us where we have a product now that delivers on the promise that we originally said we were going to do,” Biyani said.