St. Paul startup CourseBeyond has introduced a new platform for teaching professionals, industry experts, and organizations to offer virtual learning programs on the fly.
The SaaS enables them to create, package and promote their educational content with live integrated media formats, discussion boards and payment processing.
“CourseBeyond is about managing the teaching process faster and easier than ever before,” says co founder Conor O’Phelan.
Their epiphany came last November as O’Phelan, together with his brother and co-founder Timmer, were building custom software for various small businesses. Throughout that process, they saw a pattern with clients who needed comprehensive e-learning modules delivered via micro sites and landing pages.
Six months later, that perceived demand became real as CourseBeyond was generating revenue from day one, while still largely beta. Their first customer was offering healthcare oriented e-learning and selling courses out the gate, earning money for both parties through the pay as you go model. There is no freemium version of CourseBeyond, although O’Phelan considers the service to be risk free since customers only pay the 5% of transaction costs + $10/user (or 20% of overall class fee’s — whichever is less) if they are actually enrolling participants.
“We took a leap of faith, we had six weeks to get an MVP out from when we agreed to build it as a standalone and since we were going to own this and re-sell it, we spent an immense amount of time understanding what already existed — Coursera, Moodle, Blackboard, Udemy.”
The UX design is lightweight and straightforward for comprehensive management of start to finish modular learning. Teachers can create multiple content pages for all facets of asset delivery.
“What makes a great class we thought?” O’Phelan asks when describing their fundamental approach. “Discussion. We flipped the discussion on its head and created a much more lively interactive and engaging experience through vertical scrolling , visual comments, great filters and group conversations.” Since everything on the site is trackable and measurable, CourseBeyond provides metrics around who is logging in, reading what, and commenting where.
“When you create a course, a big aspect is marketing it,” he says. Users can create custom URL’s, affiliate links, surveys and white label signup template to point potential participants to once their course is ready.
While CourseBeyond is very fresh, the product is a culmination of entrepreneurial learnings. “I’m into empathy,” O’Phelan says, “My first startup in 2009 (vonate.org – now defunct) taught me a lot about how not to do something, I’m much more attuned to the early adopters now, the empathy that it takes to understand their needs.”
Co founder Timmer O’Phelan is freelance developer who “found his way” after graduating from MCAD and relocating to Austin, Texas. Conor is a Boston College history major initially from St. Paul who organically fell into UX, although he “always knew that he wanted to do his own thing and is comfortable with risk.”
Considering the space between them, CourseBeyond was in a position to determine where to incorporate and headquarter the company upon formation.
“Texas would probably be better for us financially given their favorable business climate, but I’m into this community and consciously deciding to stay here is how we support that.”