Issue 229,  published October 8, 2019

Education Market?

This isn’t explicitly a podcast story, but you can sort it under the broader on-demand audio bucket…

Last week, an “audio-first online education” startup called Knowable initiated a press push announcing that it has raised $3.75 million seed round. Product-wise, Knowable is structured as a platform that sells users long-form courses around a series of topics at $100 per course. Its offerings are currently clustered around tech person-oriented stuff like launching startups and self-improvement stuff like “speaking with confidence,” but there’s also a course in there about starting podcasts. I suppose you have to start somewhere. (Here’s Techcrunch with a deeper dive.)

Knowable’s funding round was led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Connie Chan, who published a blog post last November that sought to lay out a comparative analysis between the American podcast market and what she defined as China’s “paid podcast” market, which felt like an extension of an assumption held by a Marketplace piece that September on what it calls China’s FOMO industry — the assumption being, it’s appropriate to compare what goes on in the American podcast market with China’s paid audio market…

… which I don’t think should be the case, as I argued in this interview column from May, because paid audio market comparisons between the US and China should account for something like Audible, quite literally a paid subscription on-demand audio platform.

Anyway, something else that’s interesting about this Knowable story is the way the startup partly defines its value-defining strategy by cobbling together the online education market and “audio renaissance” narratives. When I spoke with founders Warren Schaeffer and Alex Benzer over the phone recently, they evoked the fact that the current global e-learning market is estimated to be around $190 billion and is projected to grow to $300 billion by 2025, argued that the US market doesn’t appear to have many audio-first options, and theorized that podcasting’s rising popularity suggests an opportunity to plug a gap that may well exist.

Which may or may not be an accurate assessment, depending on how you view the scope of competitors. For what it’s worth, I use Audible as an “audio-first online education” tool quite a bit already, and there are more than a few podcasts that fill various education needs on my end. (Shout-out to NPR’s Life Kit. I’m not sure if its real estate series directly helped me in my recent home buying adventures, but it did make me feel like I was preparing for something.)

The longer-term value counter-argument, I suppose, is the possibility of successful platform-oriented execution over time. Presumably, by monitoring behaviors on its platform, the Knowable team may figure out good feedback loops that’ll help them better serve and grow its base of paid audiences.

Or they might not.