The new operating system for higher education
Judging by headlines and tweets, hating on higher education is a popular trend. Journalists, students, pundits, VCs — all would have you believe that Covid has accelerated the death of an already dying industry and going to university will be a minority interest in the future. Narrative violation: demand for higher education is growing rapidly and an industry that is already $2 trillion dollars is going to grow at least 50% in the next 10 years, driven primarily by demand from non-Western countries.
Armed with this information, Joshua Broggi, founder and CEO of Woolf University, developed a contrarian opinion: the real problem with higher education is there simply isn’t enough of it. Supply is constrained by archaic, high friction practices that restrict growth and prevent innovation. The only way for supply to meet demand is to transform the creation of it, which is where Woolf comes in. Woolf is building a new operating system for higher education, starting with accreditation, aka the creation of supply, and building up to a marketplace for degrees and courses that benefits both providers and students. The future, built by Woolf, is one in which students will be able to create unique degree pathways, solo academics will be able to start their own degree programs and degrees cost a fraction of what they now do.
How we crossed paths
I was introduced to Joshua Broggi by Matt Clifford. Matt is the co-founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, cares deeply about how to build the future we want to live in and is one of the best thinkers I know on higher education’s strengths and weaknesses. He knows that Connect loves ambitious founders who have a product-first approach to changing industries and thought Woolf would be a great fit.
From that first intro, we fell hard and fast for Woolf. Joshua’s vision, the scale of the problem, the potential to transform a prehistoric industry and future vectors of value were all hugely compelling. We ran one of our fastest IC’s ever, leaned in and led a $2m round alongside angel investors close to Connect, including Matt Clifford, Ian Hogarth, Tony Jamous, Taavet Hinrikus+Sten Tamkivi and Tiny VC.
How Woolf fits our investment thesis
Woolf’s products come in layers, starting with accreditation, building up to a platform and ultimately enabling unique degree pathways.
1) Accreditation: Accreditation is important. It provides guidelines for the inputs and outcomes a degree program must meet, is necessary for financial aid, enables students to transfer courses between universities and is an important job requirement in many industries. Unfortunately, the accreditation process is currently a manual, offline one that takes years and up to a few million dollars to complete. Universities have a full-time staff of compliance experts who manage accreditation on an ongoing basis and the high friction process deters new higher education providers from starting. Woolf’s first offering is software that has turned the accreditation process into code, making it as easy to ensure you are meeting required guidelines as it is to add payments to your website.
2) Platform: Once an institution is accredited, they join the Woolf University platform. As part of Woolf, an institution can choose to make its courses private or publicly available on the platform; in the latter case, students from other institutions can discover the courses and enrol, which increases choice for the student and revenue for institutions. At scale, this creates a marketplace for higher education that benefits both supply and demand.
3) Unique Degree Pathways: Eventually, Woolf will facilitate students and academics creating entirely new degree pathways that are automatically accredited as every unit of the platform is checked for compliance, both individually and in combination.
Crafted with Love
Joshua cares deeply about educators and enabling them to do what they do best, teach, with as little bureaucracy as possible. He also understands that the experience is ultimately a consumer one, as thousands and eventually millions of students will be taking courses on the Woolf platform. He’s a product-first thinker who has assembled a team of engineers and designers to build a world-class user experience for educators and students alike.
The early data on user love was one of the drivers of our investment. We spoke to current and potential customers of Woolf and they were all in violent agreement: Woolf is transformative in the startup journey for higher education institutions. Some of the customers had been waiting years for accreditation, or had been saving up for years in order to afford it. They were all impressed by what Woolf enabled, not just in the speed of accreditation, but also in the quality of the product experience for academics and students, which they described as “best in class”.
Higher education is a $2 trillion dollar industry with demand that is projected to grow by an increase of 25k students per day over the next 10 years. Accredited degrees in the future will be offered by traditional universities, bootcamps, corporations and solo academics, all enabled and empowered by the Woolf platform.
Our take on what the future holds
Woolf has the potential to transform how higher education is created and consumed, who delivers that education and what courses students can get degrees in. Turning accreditation from a process that takes years and millions of dollars into one that takes a day and $10k a year is akin to the transformation AWS enabled for startups. By radically lowering the time and cost to start a company, AWS has enabled millions of entrepreneurs that would otherwise be denied the opportunity. Woolf is doing the same for higher education, enabling not just traditional institutions to quickly start new degree programs, but also whole new categories of educators to provide accredited courses and degrees. Eventually, the platform effects Woolf creates will allow even solo academics to start degree programs, by not just removing the accreditation barrier, but also facilitating the recruitment of students to those programs. And students and academics will be able to create degrees that don’t even exist yet by combining courses across institutions on the Woolf platform, all instantly accredited by Woolf’s backend.
Woolf’s mission is to increase the world’s IQ by accelerating the pace of innovation in higher education, and I’m excited and honored to be working with Joshua to help him achieve it.