By Steve Hendershot
Chicago-based BenchPrep announced today that it has raised $6 million in venture capital from Menlo Park, Calif.-based NEA and San Mateo, Calif.-based Revolution Ventures.BenchPrep creates interactive, electronic versions of textbooks from publishers including McGraw Hill, Princeton Review and Wiley. BenchPrep has about 100 courses from 10 publishers online now, and another 10 publishers have signed on, too. BenchPrep plans to add 400 courses in the next year. The company is hiring product-development engineers and plans to increase its staff to 25 from 18 in the next month.Co-founders Ashish Rangnekar and Ujjwal Gupta launched the business in 2009 as Watermelon Express, intending to build white-label textbook apps. The company, which received seed funding from Chicago-based Lightbank, pivoted a year ago to a model in which publishers list textbooks with BenchPrep’s platform, which is accessible on multiple devices. That model has been a hit with students, as BenchPrep’s 250,000 students are averaging 78 sessions per month. Two-thirds of those students use multiple devices to engage BenchPrep’s content.
The company doesn’t release its revenue, but says revenue has quintupled in the last six months. Mr. Rangnekar estimates the education technology market at $1 trillion and figures there’s plenty of room to grow. And after years of tweaking the business model, he relishes the chance to press forward at full speed.
“All the vibration on the model put a lot of pressure on our product and engineering side. In the last nine months, we’ve achieved a better balance between that and marketing, and other aspects. It’s good to be in a situation where you can focus on growth and higher-order problems,” he said.
One of those next-generation projects is adaptive learning: developing software that can adjust coursework according to how students fare on quizzes, for example. In order to build those features, BenchPrep needed a lot of data; with 250,000 highly engaged users, the data is suddenly rolling in.
“Fun times,” Mr. Rangnekar said.
For more on BenchPrep, check out this “Silicon City” Q&A with Ashish Rangnekar from January.