Instead of keeping online courses spread out across the spectrum of the Internet, BenchPrep has collaborated with a number of leading education publishers to create a platform for students to find necessary subject prep material in one place.
After nearly a year of developing its platform, BenchPrep launched in July 2011. The company currently has distribution deals with more than 20 publishers, launched more than 100 of those publishers’ courses, and has had over 275,000 students engage with their site.
Prospective students can search through BenchPrep for courses on subjects ranging from high school and undergraduate to graduate and professional courses, including biology, math, or advanced placement courses. There are also college prep courses for the SAT and the ACT; graduate prep courses including the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT; and professional prep courses including bar exams from several states and courses for teachers including the CBEST and the PRAXIS I and II. The company’s partnerships with publishers include Pearson, McGraw Hill, Cengage Learning, O’Reilly, Jones and Bartlett Learning, and Wiley.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel by developing more content,” said co-founder Ashish Rangnekar. “We use the content that already exists and deliver cross-platform, interactive and personalized courses, tutorials and lessons. For students, they get the best of both worlds: best-in-class content from publishers like McGraw Hill and Princeton Review and best-in-class learning technology from BenchPrep.”
The idea of placing all the publishers and courses under one roof came from Rangnekar while studying for the GMAT exam in 2009.
“I used a $20 book which was a frustrating experience but I was able to get really good score,” he said. “I realized that there is a lot of good content out there. Publishers, educators and test prep companies alike have spent a lot of money, time and intellectual capital developing content. However, the content was not being delivered in the right format to the students. Students wanted mobile; they wanted interactivity; they wanted personalization; they wanted a multi-dimensional experience that a static book couldn’t provide.”
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In a short period of time, BenchPrep has been able to provide the solutions to those students’ needs, but Rangnekar said getting BenchPrep to where it is today was anything but easy.
“Back in 2010, it was extremely difficult to convince publishers to get on board,” he said. “Publishers were not really sold on the benefits of mobile learning. And equally important, there was limited clarity about how BenchPrep fit in the education publishing value chain.”
He said the company had to prove itself with smaller publishers, before the larger ones bought in. BenchPrep began to recruit and sign up publishers struggling to maintain their revenue streams in digital publishing.
“Within the first three months we were able to provide them with a steady revenue stream, access to new customers, and usage analytics that they never had before,” Rangnekar said. “The results were phenomenal.”
After proving how vital it had been for smaller publishers, BenchPrep began developing limited contracts with larger publishers and was soon able to establish itself as a viable revenue channel and a distributor of content on new platforms.
“Each one of these large publishers have opened up their content portfolio to us now,” he said. “And today, we are living in a world where publishers are reaching out to us and asking for help to monetize their content. Royalties to publishers have increased three times in the last 12 months and we are signing up two publishers per week.”
He said the company has signed up eight publishers in the past four weeks and that in the next three months there will be courses offered from 10 new publishers. The technology of BenchPrep has also become more advanced by adapting to a student’s progress. BenchPrep has created a library of courses students can select from based on their learning preferences.
“As we identify students’ weaknesses, we can recommend the next best course,” Rangnekar said. “BenchPrep also uses powerful social analytics tool to help students understand where they stand as compared to their competition.”
The success and innovation hasn’t just been noticed by the current and incoming publishers. Investors have taken notice of BenchPrep’s ability to gather a crowd of publishers and students.
The company raised $2.2 million from Lightbank in August 2010, but nearly tripled that number when it announced it raised $6 million in funding from investors NEA and Revolution Ventures.
Rangnekar said the company is now able to handpick publishers who can provide them content that would fill in the gaps in their content library and have recently started signing up textbook publishers for the college and high school markets.