When we started DataCamp, we offered a $29/month regular plan (a plan we still offer today) and a $9/month academic student plan. The academic plan had the same exact functionality as the regular plan, but at a much lower price point. This way, we wanted to give students with low available capital to spend the opportunity to learn Data Science through DataCamp as well.
The academic student plan quickly became a success. Professors that wanted to modernize their teaching methods, decided to spend part of their classroom budget on buying DataCamp access for all their students for the semester. The number of subscribers on the $9/month grew steadily, and eventually made up a healthy 10% of our total revenue.
Then, at the end of 2016, we decided to give it all up. We had many long debates on it, but eventually we went with what felt like the right thing to do, so we decided to offer DataCamp to classrooms for free. 10% of our revenue gone…
Some of the key reasons that informed our decision to move ahead with this:
- Education as a Basic Right: Growing up in a country with near-to-free education (Belgium), and moving to a country with nowhere-near-to-free education (USA), you learn to appreciate the value of easy access to education independent of background. With DataCamp we had the ability to provide a similar experience to students worldwide.
- Democratizing Data Science: A key driver behind founding DataCamp was to democratize data science to everyone in the world (read more on why we started DataCamp). We felt that making our academic program free, was a major step towards realizing that part of our mission.
- Students Should Not Be Cash Cows: DataCamp was never founded with the idea to make exorbitant amounts of money from young, cash-strapped students.
Giving up 10% of our revenue was scary. Certainly as a young company with >25 employees that needs to show sustainable and rapid growth towards employees, current investors and future investors. Also, as far as I know, we are one of the few online education providers that offer this type of free service (DuoLingo & Khan I believe have a similar offer for students), and I know of no ed-tech company that ever made a switch similar to ours.
Luckily, it has proven to be a wise business / economic decision as well. It increased our exposure as some of the professors who signed-up for our free classroom account promoted the collaboration with DataCamp via the website of the class, their social media, … and similarly for students. They liked the experience which in turn created a lot of additional word of mouth. Besides the exposure benefit, it also benefited the long term economic value of our learner base. We strongly believe in continuous education and lifelong learning, especially in a fast moving field like Data Science. By bringing a data science enthusiast in contact with DataCamp early in their journey, they stick with DataCamp for a longer time.
Looking back, it was 100% worth it. By making it free, we managed to provide free data science education to over 200,000 students in 180 countries, and supported over 10,000 academic classrooms & professors. These numbers are well beyond our wildest expectations, and excite many of our employees (including myself) to come to work everyday. (A more detailed blog post on these numbers will be launched soon.)
Want to participate yourself? Apply today at DataCamp for the Classroom program.