Monthly, a fledgling Silicon Valley startup, has tapped celebrities and well-known creators in its bid to break into the e-learning space with its model of immersive, 30-day online classes.
On Tuesday, Monthly (monthly.com) is launching a new batch of six classes, which include both video instruction and hands-on projects. Those are led by producer superstar Kygo (pictured above), teaching end-to-end process on producing a song; YouTube viral creator and inventor Mark Rober, leading a class on design and creation of original machines; chef and Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi, instructing on creating original confections; OneRepublic frontman and songwriter Ryan Tedder — who’s written or co-written songs for artists including Adele, Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney — showcasing how to craft a song and work with an artist to record it; sneakerhead king Dominic Ciambrone, aka “The Shoe Surgeon,” coaching on how to design and craft custom shoes; and choreographer Kyle Hanagami, in a class on dance techniques and how to build an original choreographed routine.
The new courses begin enrollment on Tuesday (Dec. 8) and close on Sunday, Dec. 27. Most cost between $250-$350 per student.
At a high level, the concept is similar to e-learning platforms like MasterClass, which has assembled more than 90 on-demand classes featuring celebrity instructors, as well as other platforms like Skillshare. But Monthly co-founder Max Deutsch said his company’s online classes are different: They’re designed to get students working hands-on in small peer groups on their own projects, with the goal of culminating with an original song, video, artwork, recipe or other creation.
“It’s more closely modeled on an in-person class,” said Deutsch. “You commit to a 30-day experience and you leave with a final, finished product.”
Deustch, who previously founded podcast speed-listening app Rightspeed, co-founded Monthly with entrepreneur Valentin Perez. The idea for the venture sprang from Deutsch’s yearlong self-improvement project “Month to Master,” which included challenging world champion chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen to a game (which Deutsch lost in 10 minutes).
The company (previously called Openmind) has raised a total of $8 million to date. Most of that is from investors including Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger; Ann Miura-Ko, founding partner at seed-stage VC Floodgate (the first investors in Lyft and Twitch); Scott Cook co-founder of Intuit; Spencer Rascoff, co-founder of Zillow; and Social Leverage venture partner Ross Hoffman (a former Twitter and Headspace exec). According to Monthly, the funding gives it a $100 million valuation.
Among Monthly’s new instructor partners is Rober, a former engineer at NASA (who worked on the Curiosity rover) and designer in Apple’s special projects group, who is the guy behind viral YouTube videos including “Building the Perfect Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder” — one of YouTube’s top-trending videos of 2020.
In his class, Rober will cover his engineering design process, leading students through three different designs: mechanical, electrical, and a final build combining both.
“Normally in my videos I show only the final product,” he said. “This is me showing the whole process. People are following along doing their own builds — I feel like that’s the secret sauce to Monthly’s recipe.”
Rober said he’s never done an online class like this before, despite being approached by other e-learning companies. He connected with Monthly through his agents at WME.
“I’m financially incentivized, obviously, but I want to share this with people. This is something I am proud of,” he said. (Monthly declined to disclose deals terms it has with instructors.)
Krieger, who left Instagram in 2018 along with CEO Kevin Systrom, said Monthly has taken a new tack in the learning/self-education space.
“Great startups have a set of entrepreneurs who have an ‘earned secret,’ something that other companies don’t know or believe yet,” Krieger said. Monthly “has the potential to become really, really huge… What really resonated with me was, they were not trying to be ‘practical’ or career-oriented — they’re aiming at people who crave this additional experience. That puts them in a different space.”
Since launching in 2019, Deutsch estimates, Monthly has a completion rate among enrollees on the order of ten times higher than other online education platforms. He attributes that to Monthly’s approach of putting students in 20-person peer groups, which creates a unique social forum throughout the class.
“Our goal is to create this structure where you commit to what you want to do and leave with a community that went through it with you,” Deutsch said.