Koofers building a student audience

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Print this page by Heather B. Hayes

What’s the biggest untapped resource in higher education? The students themselves, says Gio Hunt, CEO of Koofers Inc. The Reston-based firm, begun in 2008, uses the Web to encourage collaboration among students at a variety of colleges. The company offers free access to course materials, practice tests, study guides, digital flashcards, and class and professor ratings.

“It’s really a new direction in terms of using social networking tools like Facebook to help students do better in school,” says Hunt, a former executive with AOL and Sylvan Learning Center.

He notes Koofers’ ap­­­proach has been used for SAT preparation for years. “If a student is sharing with another student — ‘here’s how I understand and interpret the material’ — and the other student can use that as a study guide to better understand the material, then that’s a win. The collaboration is actually helping the student master the material, which is the real goal of education.”

Hunt is not the only one who believes his company is on to something big.  Koofers recently received $5 million in new venture capital. The investors include Revolution LLC, an investment group created by AOL co-founder Steve Case, and QED Investors, which was started by Nigel Morris, the co-founder of Capital One Financial Corp. The new funding will be used to expand the company’s marketing efforts at 400 colleges and universities and enhance its technology platform.
Koofers currently has 16 employees but is hiring. It stands out from a small number of like-minded competitors for one key reason: students can collaborate with others in their class or with students taking the same course at other colleges throughout the country.

So far, Koofers has attracted the attention of nearly 320,000 students attending more than 2,000 colleges and universities. At schools that Koofers has targeted, 30 percent of the student body is using the website.

This rapid growth has exceeded the company’s initial expectations. As a result, officials say the company is beginning to roll out revenue-producing services. They include an online market for new and used textbooks. Koofers gets a small percentage of each transaction.

“We’re still mostly focused on building a very large audience of college students with a very compelling product,” Hunt says. “But once we have that audience, we’re very confident that we’ll be able to monetize this, because it’s such an attractive demographic, and there are so many companies that are trying to market things to these students. We can help them do that, and we can help them do that in a way that also benefits the students that we serve.”

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