How an MBA in Entrepreneurship Helped Chad Lowell Build 'the Kayak for Education'
With an ever-expanding universe of digital information at our fingertips, aggregator websites -- which compile data or resources from multiple sites in one place -- have become the fastest and smartest way to find what you're looking for online. If, say, an individual wants to find the best deal on a plane flight, there are sites that can pull and compare prices from across the Web in a matter of seconds. Even the news is aggregated, thanks to sites like the Huffington Post, or apps like Flipboard. But for those hoping to find a similar "one-stop shop" for local and online education courses, there was no such aggregation service -- until Allclasses.com, that is.
"Allclasses is the world's most comprehensive search engine for both online and local offline classes," says Chad Lovell, co-founder and COO of the Boston-based startup. "It is the only all-encompassing site that recognizes the need for life-long learning, and covers the world of academics, professional and personal skills."
In developing Allclasses, Lovell and his team surveyed students to find out how they were finding local and virtual courses. Many said search engines, but complained that the experience was inefficient. It became clear that an aggregator that provides in-depth information about available courses would offer numerous benefits, especially for people unfamiliar with online education, but interested in continued learning for work or pleasure.
"We wanted to create a tool to help people find all of these opportunities," adds Lovell, "so they can make the best decision for themselves about whether the online medium is the best place for them to learn the skills they need or require, or if they should enroll in a local, offline class."
Lovell earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Texas Christian University and worked in that field for a number of years. While employed as an engineer, he began developing ideas for companies he wanted to start, but felt he didn't have the requisite knowledge to make them a reality.
"I was really interested in home automation and energy," says Lovell. "I had a lot of ideas but I had never really gotten a lot of exposure to accounting, finance, and all the other skills I needed to round out what I needed as a businessperson."
Realizing he needed business training if his ideas were ever to take flight, Lovell enrolled in the Sloan School of Business at the Massachusetts Institute of technology and earned an MBA in entrepreneurship and Innovation.
"I thought it would help lead me down the path to starting my own company," he notes. "At the very least, I thought it would help me get into an entrepreneurial role in a company."
Lovell got his wish, and perhaps more. At MIT, he met Stephen Marcus, another student in the entrepreneurship and Innovation program. After collaborating on projects in school, as well as Matchbox, a startup founded by Marcus, they realized how well they worked together. And after selling Matchbox, they started Allclasses.
How it works
Allclasses compiles course information from hundreds of local and online class providers. But with the wealth of available offerings, Lovell and his team have been very strategic in what courses they place in their search engine, and how they place them. To ensure that they're helping people choose the right courses for their individual needs, classes are categorized by field, provider, instruction medium, price, start date, and even the distance from your home.
"The first classes that we wanted to add to the platform were the ones that would be the most relevant to helping people progress professionally," says Lovell.
Today, users can search through millions of virtual and offline courses on the site. Available subjects run the gamut from professional and career development classes to advanced academic study. There's even are entire section devoted to hobbies and crafts.
"Executive education was one of the first verticals that we wanted to have really good coverage in," Lovell says. "We also wanted to have some online options, so we added some of the most popular online classes. Now we are expanding out from there, with our focus being professional and continuing education classes. You will, however, see a lot more activity-based courses added to the platform as we expand."
A look towards the future
Currently, Allclasses is still building its brand and platform, having launched just this year. As far as what the future holds, Lovell has some lofty ideas in mind.
"We'd like to be the Kayak for education," he says. "We want to be the known brand for people who say to themselves 'I want to take a class.' We want to be the trusted place they can go to find exactly what it is they are looking for. You look at all the search engines that have sprung up for travel and restaurants and that is where we want to be for education."
And with the strategic way that Allclasses is handling the on-boarding of courses, not to mention the growing popularity of online courses and life-long learning, Lowell and his team may just make that dream a reality.
Interview with Chad Lovell, co-founder and COO of Allclasses.com, conducted on June 12, 2014