We love student entrepreneurs who have managed to not only build successful businesses but have done so without dropping out of school. We also love entrepreneurs who have the discipline to get to a strong and sustainable monetization model early on in their evolution. Andrew Grauer scores on all fronts, and there is much to learn from this entrepreneur’s journey.
Sramana Mitra: Andrew, let’s start with your personal beginning. Tell us where you were born, raised, and in what circumstances. What’s the back story of Course Hero?
Andrew Grauer: I’m from the Bay Area of California. I grew up there my whole life. I went to college in Ithaca, New York at Cornell University. After graduating at Cornell, I came back to the Bay Area and continued working on Course Hero here.
Sramana Mitra: You started Course Hero while you were still at Cornell?
Andrew Grauer: Correct. I started it in my sophomore year.
Sramana Mitra: What were the circumstances? What was the thesis of what you were starting?
Andrew Grauer: I actually started this by funding it with about $10,000 from myself, my twin brother David, and my older brother Jared. Jared went to Princeton University for his undergraduate studies. He was at law school at Cornell with me. He really helped me understand how to start a company. I was a first time entrepreneur. I knew very little. I had a lot of questions. How do I legally start a company? What’s the difference between an LLC and an S Corp? Where should I incorporate the company? Why should I incorporate it in Delaware? How do I do accounting? How do I do taxes? That was technically how we got started around late 2006.
Sramana Mitra: What was the premise of the company? What were you trying to achieve?
Andrew Grauer: I was always really excited about the idea of Wikipedia. I thought it was so interesting and so valuable. The idea that you could aggregate, organize, and distribute information appealed to me. That became extremely powerful. You could do it in this crowd source or marketplace model in such a low cost way that you could also give it away at a very low price point. I thought that accessibility to information was incredibly powerful. That was the framework within which I was thinking.
I got to see this amazing knowledge that was being created and digested and they would be siloed into the four walls of the classroom. I thought, “I know this is really valuable not just to other students but even beyond that –cross-school.” That was the premise. How could we get these people to share their knowledge with other people? I knew that that would be very powerful. The rest was figuring out the right incentives to make that happen.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking about?
Andrew Grauer: We incorporated the business in late 2006. We launched the first version of the website in early 2007 and eventually launched the version that exists today in early 2008.
Sramana Mitra: What did you launch with? In today’s parlance, what was the minimum viable product that you launched the company with?
Andrew Grauer: We put the $10,000 to servers, web design, and minimal one-off payments to a web developer to help us get going. A lot of people were really into this idea on-campus. I went around and I talked to some engineers, designers, and to some of my friends in marketing and business programs. We got up to building a club. We eventually got it up to 12 people. We all worked for free. We got this initial product out that was essentially like an academic Wikipedia where you could upload any of your educational material to the website. You could add additional meta tags to it. That would add value to it with information like school, course, teacher, and subject. It goes up to the site and everybody can access it for free. That was the first version of the website.