Sramana Mitra: Explain to me the value proposition of your concept.
Andrew Grauer: The best way to understand it is to think about tutoring. The first version of this was a content version of tutoring – getting supplemental help for people to learn and succeed effectively in their specific course at their school. We really started out at Cornell and then extended to a number of other schools. We thought about it a lot like Airbnb – letting people rent space anywhere in the world that has an address and is recognizable by the Google Maps API. We wanted some thing where you can upload your educational resources and tag it to any course at any school in the world.
Sramana Mitra: I see. Who were you trying to target at that point? When you were just launching, what was your market penetration strategy?
Andrew Grauer: It was really going one school at a time. It was trying to reach out to students to be the supplier or resources to our site. It was very difficult. This went on for a year and a half. We go talk to people and try to get them involved and say, “Give your materials to the site. Help teach other people.” The advertising revenue on it was really small. We’d be making between zero to a few hundred dollars per month.
Then in late January 2008, we launched CourseHero.com which was the same approach to solving the problem of students wanting to get help to succeed and learn more effectively in their courses. You need to contribute your own materials to get access to everybody else’s. Now, there’s a huge change. It worked really well. Sometime after that, we said, “If you don’t want to contribute your own resources to get access to the site, you can pay for a subscription.” That was the first time we really started making meaningful amount of dollars. We had to drive as fast as possible to become a sustainable business because we were very resource-strapped.
Sramana Mitra: Between the times when you launched this service with advertising versus when the subscription model kicks in, how much time was that?
Andrew Grauer: About a year and a half. We incorporated the site in October 2006. We got the initial version of the free website out in 2007. Then, we got the CourseHero.com site to launch in January 2008.
Sramana Mitra: You were a senior at that time at Cornell?
Andrew Grauer: By that time, I would have been a senior. I took a semester off to work on this full time. I also took an extra semester on top of that to finish up a number of courses that I wanted to complete. I fully graduated from Cornell in Spring of 2010 even though I started in Fall of 2005.