Udacity Pulls $105 Million in New Funding as Focus Shifts


Online education platform Udacity has raised another $105 million in its most recent round of funding to expand its offerings, which include short-term "nanodegrees" in high-demand areas.

The international media company Bertelsmann led the round, which has already invested in the company. Its CEO, Kay Krafft, also joined Udacity's board. Other repeat backers included Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, and Drive Capital. New investors included Baillie Gifford of Scotland, Emerson Collective, and Google Ventures.

Cat Zakrzewski of Tech Crunch quoted Udacity's president and COO, Vish Makhijani, on Udacity's vision:

Our mission at Udacity is to democratize education making it affordable and accessible to billions of people around the globe to get the jobs they want to improve their lives. While we have made great strides, we have a long way to go in reaching our goal.

In total, Udacity has received $163 million in funding, report Leena Rao and Dan Primack of Fortune. Udacity's revenue is growing nearly 30% month over month, according to its founder Sebastian Thrun, and though he was reluctant to share more financial information, one source estimates Udacity's annual revenue at about $24 million.

Much of the new funding will go to education programs outside the US, including China and the Middle East.

Thrun reinforced their approach by saying, "There is so much demand internationally."

Udacity was created by Thurn, a Google roboticist and Stanford professor, in 2012. His original goal was to provide online college courses at a lower price than traditional higher education to democratize access to education. However, his college partnerships fell through, and the company turned instead to those already in the workforce who want to learn or improve technical skills. Currently, Udacity has 11,000 paying students.

Last year, the company created its first degree program, called the "nanodegree," to provide training to those hoping to enter technical fields. There are nine nanodegrees available, including training for those interested in becoming a front-end web developer, Android developer, or data analyst, among other careers, writes Jillian D'Onfro of Business Insider. Nanodegrees are continuing to grow and improve: they now come with career services and recently became available for students in India. Only 2% of students finished Udacity's college classes, but 90% of students have completed nanodegrees. Feedback and mentoring may be contributing to the difference in completion rates.

Thrun has had to change his business model in the years since the company's founding, but has found success despite the initial struggles, writes Deborah Gage of the Wall Street Journal. The company began turning a profit earlier this year. Thrun said:

The enthusiasm for change was so loud that [the media] mistook change for the final model. But iteration triumphs. We're now at the stage where we're much closer to the final model.

The company has partnered with technology companies like Facebook, Cisco, and Google to create courses like "Intro to Data Analysis" and "A/B Testing."

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