The real story behind the Cohort Based Courses hype

By Chez Spigelman

Are you sick of reading or hearing about CBC’s? Have the self styled Twitter thought leaders (guilty!) over bombarded your feed with that accursed acronym? You’re not alone. But contrary to what may have been your first impression, CBC’s are not just a marketing term, boring old school snappily reinvented, a way for plebeians to come across as visionaries. They have a short, but sensible, history.

In May, 2016, Erik Torenberg, the first employee at Product Hunt, launched a new startup, On Deck. In it’s first iteration, it was a community/networking type club for ambitious, Silicon Valley based entrepreneurs. Over the years, it expanded geographically, launching in other cities. Until bada bada bing, COVID hit.

In one of the more fortuitous consequences of the pandemic, On Deck, which by this time had structured the cohorts of entrepreneurs coming through the ranks into Fellowships, moved gracefully in to a fully remote, online only model. And boy did it work. ODF3, the third cohort, became ODF’s 4, 5 and 6, each course taking lasting approximately three months. They expanded into other verticals: fellowships for writers, podcasters, no coders, investors and more. Soon enough, the VC’s came calling, and in March On Deck raised $20M from top tier VC’s at a reported $250M valuation. At last count, On Deck run 19 fellowships and have more than 5700 current and past students in their community.

In the meantime, Gagan Biyani, a cofounder of Udemy, and Wes Kao, cofounder of Seth Godin’s altMBA, partnered up to build Maven, a platform for creators to create cohort based courses. In all honesty, Maven’s actual product/service is still being iterated upon – in a recent thread, Biyani outlined how he first confirmed there was traction and built the distribution channels before he built the product. Regardless, Maven has made a splash and has attracted a variety of influencer and thought leaders to create CBC’s on their platform. In May they announced a $20m raised led by a16z.

Concurrently, a range of platforms that compete with Maven have arisen, each trying to differentiate themselves in meaningful ways. Airschool allow creators to host both on demand and cohort based courses in the same place. Graphy cater to the Indian market. And Pathwright offer a holistic, premium teaching experience. Additionally, individual creators have launched a variety of CBC’s – we’ve documented more than 150 in our Directory, including some that have been around before Maven and On deck came along, such as David Perell’s Write of Passage and Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain.

All in all, the movement is real, it’s not just hype. Some question whether CBC’s are a real innovation, or whether they’re just regular courses rebranded. We believe there is a marked difference, and we’ve also outlined why the time is right, right now. Whether the market is rational or not is immaterial – the market demands CBC’s and it’s CBC’s the market will get.

At NextCohort, our vision is to become the Internet’s home for all things CBC's. Independent, verified reviews. A Directory, to discover new and trending courses. And a Blog, full of posts like the one you’re reading right now, to educate and inform you on this great new age of online education.

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Chez Spigelman

Chez is a finance professional who dabbles in technology. He is a cofounder of NextCohort.

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