Earlier this year at LeadsCon Las Vegas 2009, I found myself having a quick conversation with John Green, co-founder CTO of LearnHub. Despite our introductory chat occurring during the after-party, I remember making a mental note to speak with him later about what sounded like a unique and interesting business from entrepreneur with relevant prior experience. At some point later, I remembered that mental note, but I thought that I must have forgotten the company name and/or URL, as I didn’t think the site matched the mental note I had made. After spending some time on the phone with John recently, I did indeed remember the site correctly, but the mistake I made initially was to confuse LearnHub for something else, something less interesting. The reason I believe is that while the homepage clearly explains what the site has to offer, it goes about it an understated manner. In other words, it is easy to think of it as one of many that are playing in the presumably crowded field of college preparation. My conversation with John and learning more about the origins of the people behind LearnHub convinced me that LearnHub is anything but a me too.
The two founders of LearnHub, the husband and wife team of John Green and Malgosia Green, worked together at Affinity Labs prior to founding LearnHub. While Affinity Labs is known for its community approach to generating tremendous organic growth, lead generation provided the revenues, and that monetization engine is what John built. Capturing data for a single buyer isn’t all that complex, but managing that process for hundreds of buyers, each of whom has different requirements – not just the fields but what they call those fields and how they want the data delivered – takes a relatively simple task and makes it logarithmically more difficult one. And all of those are just backend processing functions. Any good platform also includes administrative interfaces so that non-technology users can interact with the system, which includes not just reporting functions so that the business can know where it stands at any given moment but also fraud settings and budgeting functions. A testament to the platform, it ultimately became the platform for all of Monster Learning, e.g., FastWeb, after their acquisition of Affinity Labs in 2006.
John and Malgosia didn’t have plans to leave Affinity Labs, especially since they did so prior to its acquisition, but they found themselves on unexpectedly on the radar of Shantanu Prakash, the founder of Educomp Solutions Limited, India’s largest education company. The three of them began speaking, and those conversations along with their entrepreneurial bent formed the genesis of LearnHub. Today, the company is just over a year old, and while the founders are based in Toronto, they run a non-traditional multi-national company. Their primary investor is in India, software development and sales is in Toronto (with an additional sales office in the US); marketing, counseling, and community management is housed in India. That last part might not seem intuitive, but it is at the heart of their business. They began with a premise that there is a business in international lead generation for education – not the more obvious angle of trying to generate leads from non-US students for one of the handful of for-profit institutions with localized online programs. The bigger market and the one they wanted to make more efficient is that of foreign students traveling to the United States to obtain degrees. India is LearnHub’s largest market, for many reason, but it is the largest of the more than 50 countries from which they have generated leads.
Drawing from their their Affinity Labs days, LearnHub has focused solely on organic traffic generation; that is why the site has gone deep into standardized testing and community functions designed to attract foreign students looking to study abroad. For those thinking they should get into this market, you might pause at the operational challenges involved. The usual suspects of lead buyers aren’t the ones looking for these leads. Almost 90% of LearnHub’s buyers hadn’t purchased leads prior to working withe company, and when dealing with a school, they are dealing with a different department, a different set of people and a different budget. That doesn’t include the work involved in getting an interested and qualified student enrolled. It’s not as simple as them beginning an online course; those don’t require visas. And, it makes their business all that more interesting that they have been able to become arguably the largest specializing in lead generation from one country to another. It also gives them a leg up for when it comes time to expand into other areas such as in-country lead generation and the promotion of related services, for their current clients are a complex customer in need of many additional services. All in all a great accomplishment with a lot less capital than the better known but less robust StudyPlaces.com (backed by Kleiner Perkins and Sherpalo Ventures), and it’s always great to see a company not just taking a me too approach to online lead generation.
For the not so subtle plug, come see LearnHub at LeadsCon East 2009, August 17 – 18, 2009.