Flute lessons online? This start-up says why not

Laptop displaying Udemy site
Udemy

College gets you a diploma. Udemy helps with the more practical things in life.

That's the driving force behind Dennis Yang's 5-year-old start-up.

Udemy, based in San Francisco, has just closed a $65 million funding round, led by Stripes Group, with participation from existing investors Norwest Venture Partners and Insight Venture Partners. The company has raised $113 million to date.

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Whether it's learning Microsoft Office, how to make sushi or becoming a master flute player, Udemy has more than 30,000 courses taught by 16,000 instructors to help people advance in their career or pick up a hobby. Instructors set the price, and Udemy gets a cut of every transaction. For example, a course on master flute playing costs $89 for over 100 lectures and five hours of video.

"We are a marketplace," Yang said in an interview. "We don't focus on being super-exclusive. There are great teachers around the world, but they aren't all standing in front of the classroom."

Venture investors are pouring money into online education. According to data from CB Insights, investments in education technology companies more than doubled from 2012 to 2014 to $1.87 billion, with more than 350 deals recorded last year.

Even with the funding, Udemy is playing in an increasingly competitive market. LinkedIn recently acquired Lynda.com for $1.5 billion, while Pluralsight and Treehouse are also luring consumers. Curious.com offers a $60 annual subscription for access to 15,000 lessons.

Then there's the MOOC (massive open online course) movement, pioneered by platforms like Udacity and Coursera, to open up academic learning to people across the globe via the Web.

With Udemy, no prior teaching experience is required. Courses focus primarily on practical skills as opposed to astrophysics.

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The 160-employee company has more than 7 million students. Yang says about 2,000 courses are uploaded per month to the website, and he expects the company to use the fresh capital to scale its content library, continue international growth and hire more engineers and developers.

Udemy's sales tripled in the past year, Yang said. About 50 percent of revenue comes from outside the U.S., and the company is focused on expanding in Brazil, Germany and Japan. About two-thirds of its students live outside of the U.S.

"Our mission is to help anyone learn anything," Yang said. "That doesn't mean we're focused purely on the U.S. That doesn't mean that we focus on academia. It means anyone."