EdTech

5 Questions with Ranku CEO Kim Taylor

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In case you missed it, online college manager Ranku was recently acquired by Wiley. Having just gone though the process of starting, growing and now selling an edtech company, we were fortunate to have Ranku CEO Kim Taylor answer 5 Questions with us. Here are our questions and her answers:

Q: Congratulations on the big news and acquisition of your company. As someone who’s just been through it, what’s an edtech acquisition like? Did anything surprise you?

Thank you! It was incredibly eye opening. Almost everything was a surprise and we didn’t use an investment bank. Oddly enough, no one teaches how to sell your company though my friend Justin Kan has an excellent blog post about it that I kept handy during the process.

Fundraising is checkers. Selling is chess. I can say I learned more from success than past failures on what it takes to get something over the finish line.

Q: There’s been some debate – including some heated exchanges at recent education and edtech events – about the online program manager business model. In fact, another OPM leader shared his views here at ETC in defense of the shared revenue approach. As a leader in the OPM space, what are your thoughts on the debate about revenue sharing versus fee for service or other alternatives?

I don’t think that’s the right debate. The universities that adapt to a student-centric culture and accept the most transfer credits will win.

On the OPM front, one side doesn’t have to lose for the other to win. They are both needed. Just to clarify we don’t currently do revenue share since we work with large state systems and community colleges.

What’s most important are the goals of the university (or in our case state systems) and finding the most pragmatic way to achieve them. Success and scale means different things to different institutions. Some want 100 online students, some want 1,000 and others want 100,000 online students. Some have already put their degrees online, some need to build them from scratch.

Q: Is the online market for college education in its infancy or reaching maturity?

It’s definitely in its infancy, but it’s larger and growing faster than many realize. You won’t find the answers you’re looking for in IPEDs data. Every time I read an online degree study based on IPEDs a piece of me dies inside.

Its misleading for campus-based students who take online course(s) to be counted as online students. This is the new normal. Five years from now 90% of students will be what we currently call hybrid students. Counting campus-based students who took an online course as an online student has created a false sense of success for many institutions. These schools feel that they understand how to recruit online students, when they haven’t actually done any recruiting. Online degree students are a different species than campus-based students taking online courses.

Right now the whole online market is moving. I think it’s 5-10 years from maturity.

I’ve spent the last eight years working on online degree recruitment for 30 of the largest schools by online enrollment (for profit, non-profit and OPMs). I have a different perspective than others looking in from the outside since I was working with them on their strategies and software. The space is still evolving so quickly that I don’t think anyone truly understands it well enough to call themselves an expert.

The largest universities by online degree enrollment do their recruitment in-house and focus heavily on the undergraduate market (e.g. Liberty University with 90,000+ online students is operating on a different plane than schools that get more press).

My current theory is that five years from now there will be thousands of universities who put their own programs online. They won’t be attractive OPM clients because they’re not scalable. They will serve a few hundred online degree students, mostly regional students, and they will be fine with that.

Q: Your company was acquired by Wiley. What is it or was it about Wiley that made them an attractive fit and partner?

The executive team is comprised of entrepreneurs who sold companies to Wiley and are still there running the company day to day. We really wanted someone who was deep in the online degree space with a holistic view of higher ed, but not a pure OPM play. It was a great fit. We have a lot we can learn from them.

Secondly, the 208 year history of the company is fascinating. The company began when Thomas Jefferson was President.

Q: Successful edtech companies are rare and successful exits are even more rare. It’s a credit to you in many ways. So, what’s next for you?

I hope to see more of them! There is always a market for businesses that solve real problems.

It’s really a testament to our team of designers and engineers who wow me daily with their ability to solve complex problems others won’t touch.

My co-founder and I (and the Ranku team) will continue growing the Ranku business in Seattle with Wiley’s resources and guidance. We are just getting started and we are hiring!

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