Silicon Valley is less of a place and more a state of mind, one that often borrows and applies ideas and successful concepts from one industry to another.
It is also fond of analogies. In the most recent cohort of startups graduating from Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s famed start-up business accelerator program, at least seven companies billed themselves as a “Shopify for X.”
One of them is Virtually, a New York-based startup that describes itself as a “Shopify for Online Schools.” The company just closed $1.75 million in a seed round led by Tiger Global, an investment firm that typically invests in later-stage deals. Other investors include Eric Ries, Li Fan, Avolk Kohli and Andreas Klinger.
Shopify helps people set up their own online stores by bringing together payment, marketing, shipping, customer engagement and other functionalities critical to running an ecommerce operation. Virtually’s founder and CEO, Ish Baid, is trying to apply that concept to help people run their own online schools. The startup pieces together calendar, communication, payment and other tools needed to manage students instructors and otherwise operate an online educational program.
So far, 25 schools are using the platform, according to Baid. None of them are of the traditional or accredited type. Instead, the company targets entrepreneurs who want to teach specific trades and skills, like podcasting, or skills specific to industry jobs. Programs running classes on Virtually include Acadium, an online apprenticeship network, and Freelance Fridays, a membership community of freelancers. Synthesis School, a program spun out of Elon Musk’s private school Ad Astra, is also a customer.
Don’t expect Virtually to warm up to traditional schools and academia—or vice versa. “We believe college professors, while great academics and researchers, aren’t the best equipped to deliver relevant job training,” charges Baid, a former engineer at Facebook.
“Our vision is to decouple education from traditional institutions and put it in the hands of those with relevant experience and a passion for teaching,” he adds. “We feel like the best people to be teaching job skills are people from the industry.”
Companies using Virtually pay nothing for their first 10 students, but pay $3 per month for every student after that. Baid says that the programs running on his platform currently reach about 1,000 students.
Virtually was not the only graduate in its Y Combinator class to brand itself as a Shopify for education. There is also Epihub, which describes itself as a “Shopify for anyone teaching online.” It offers many similar features as Virtually, including scheduling and payment tools, though it is geared more for individual teachers and coaches. Epihub says it has over 50 instructors using its service.
Many other companies already let instructors run their own classes and programs. Among them are Skillshare, Teachable, Thinktific and Udemy.