Srin Madipalli is a tech entrepreneur who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy--a disease that confines him to a wheelchair.
When getting ready to launch his startup--which can be described as an Airbnb of sorts for people with disabilities, allowing users to book accessible lodging in real-time--Madipalli needed quick and cheap access to coding lessons. So he turned to One Month, a New York City based startup that bills itself as the "online school for entrepreneurs." The three-year-old startup offers classes and tools to help new startup founders get their websites up and running in just 30 days.
On Tuesday, One Month announced it would be offering courses to teams of between two and five people, for the price of $100 per month (twice as much as its standard courses for individuals). Groups can choose from three new classes, on product management, innovation, and MVP (minimum viable product). The company says it saw a need to shift its focus onto teams when clients would often purchase single-person classes, and then train multiple groups of people through the same account.
One Month is the brainchild of co-founders Mattan Griffel and Chris Castiglione, both former teachers at General Assembly, the education technology company that's raised nearly $120 million in venture capital funding, and counts more than 25,000 alumni.
Among other things, Griffel helped students learn to code themselves at a time when open-sourced curricula were not yet available. Back then, he would recommend tools such as Lynda.com (acquired by LinkedIn last year for $1.5 billion), or a free e-book that serves as an introduction to the coding language Ruby on Rails.
"Companies are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring outside consultants to train staff," Griffel adds, nodding to American Express as one example. "Startups don't have access to that [capital], but they still need to train people."
"Nobody knew how big education would be," Griffel recalls. To his point, the education technology (EdTech) market is expected to double over the next four years, from $43.27 billion in 2015 to $93.76 billion by 2020, according to data from Research and Markets. Meanwhile, VC investment in EdTech hit a record high of $2.98 billion across 442 deals in 2015.
Griffel wanted to offer a new solution--one for entrepreneurs, specifically, that was inexpensive, fast, and didn't promise to cultivate "job skills" as much as it did to help founders build the tools they need to start counting revenue. "I kept hearing people around me who had these amazing ideas, but not the resources or the tools to build the ideas," he said.
A familiar business model
For a $50 membership fee, users can learn the basics of computer programming, or how to develop a prototype. Spending $500 per month will allow them to live-stream a "premium" course with an instructor. Novices are also invited to take a 30-day startup boot camp, teaching things like how to set up payroll or negotiate contracts, for example.
The company brought in revenues of $1 million in 2015. To date, it's raised $2.5 million in VC funding (after going through startup incubator Y Combinator in 2013).
One advantage of working in the online education space is seeing relatively "high margins," because the teachers, and most of the operational costs, are often paid upfront, according to Griffel. "A lot of the work is front-loaded," he explains. "We pay a smaller amount ongoing to update the materials and to interact with the students."
On the platform, students can interact through Slack channels, community forums, and videos. Teachers, in return, take compensation on a per-project basis. Although Griffel declined to share the salary range, he notes that teachers are paid the "market rate."
Operating in a crowded market
One Month faces considerable competition from solutions like General Assembly, Flatiron School, or Codeacademy (the latter of which offers coding courses to professionals for free, and has served more than 25 million students worldwide since launching in 2011). General Assembly, albeit pricey -- a standard three or six month course can cost between $10,000 and $20,000 -- has been very successful in landing students high-paying jobs with major tech companies, including Google.
Still, Griffel insists that his target demographic is different enough to make the startup stand apart; according to a company data set, nearly half (41 percent) of its students identify as entrepreneurs. Only around 21 percent of students are focused on "developing job skills," while 50 percent claim they want to be able to "build a product."
Griffel also contends that the educational technology market appears much more crowded than it actually is. "There are lots of options in education. People think of it as a crowded space but it's because the boundaries of different products haven't been defined," Griffel adds. "For someone who can afford $10,000 for a three-month program, General Assembly is a great option."
Though, of course, not everyone can.
Already primed to succeed?
It's worth pointing out that entrepreneurs who've found success through the platform could have a prior degree from a institution of higher education to thank for it, more-so than they do One Month's business model. A data set from January of 2014 showed that nearly half (41 percent) of students had completed college, and that nearly 20 percent of students had further completed graduate school.
One might also reasonably question the extent to which a thirty-day crash course is really sufficient for learning the ins-and-outs of coding.
"Obviously, you can't become an expert at something in a month," Griffel admits, but he says that perfection isn't the aim of the site. "We're trying to serve a different need [by] going after people who want to start a business."
If a student has garnered the necessary knowledge to get their website up and running, well then, One Month's curriculum has been a success, he says.
Today, Srin Madipalli, co-founder and CEO at London-based Accomable, says the company counts 10,000 registered users on its website, with more than 2,000 properties available for rent. It has 7 full-time staffers, and recently opened an office in Austin, Tex., as it attempts to grow in the U.S. market. A seed funding round is likely to close in the coming weeks, he adds.
An MBA from Oxford notwithstanding, Madipalli says that One Month gave him the boost he needed to get his company up and running.
"I like how accessible, affordable and skills focused something like One Month is," he says.