The white-labeled education services business is scaling rapidly, and institutions of all sizes are building online programs. Learning House operates in the small, regional college and university segment, and has built a nice business.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised and in what kind of background?
Todd Zipper: I was born in New York. I went to University of Pennsylvania for my undergraduate and studied History and Economics. Like many people from Penn in the mid 90s, I made my way to Wall Street – to the Equity Research Department of Solomon Brothers, which eventually became Citi Group.
As part of that process, on the weekend, I started to participate in a mentoring organisation called Minds Matter in New York City. A couple of things happened there. One was, I fell in love with the process of operations, management, and leadership not even realising what was going on and just being a young kid and excited to build things. I started to get this feeling that I wanted to be on the other side of the screen. In addition to that, our product was helping underprivileged, very smart kids in New York city—from sending them to summer programs on scholarships to getting into college. I started to get the understanding of the business of education even though what we were doing was all non-profit. Eventually, I moved into a position through the leadership ranks there and eventually, co-running the organisation, which now has 13 chapters across the country.
That changed me and I wanted to be the CEO of a company one day, but I still didn’t know what that meant. Two, I wanted to do it in education because I had a passion for that. I knew that for me to live my most authentic self, I wanted to do it in an area that really resonated. I thought that if I combined those two things, I think it would be the perfect match that will give me tons of energy and motivation. Fast forward many years, I eventually made my way back to business school.
Then I made my way into Kaplan, which at that time in 2003 was one of the leading for-profit companies. They were doing things internationally and domestically in K-12 and higher education. They had just bought a few companies that were then going to become part of what was then called the Distance Demonstration Project, which was experimenting around online education in the early 2000. Very quickly, I joined there. I went to go work for the former New York City School’s Chancellor. He was building one of the first online graduate school education in the country, which eventually became Kaplan University Online. I was thrown right into the deep end. My first job was the Director of Operations.
That started off my career in education around 2003-2004. I made my way into a few different jobs and eventually did some stuff in finance. I eventually became the Director of New Product Development, which was focused on building new programs for the university, which at that time had one program.