Product School, a relatively quiet yet potentially powerful education and training company, just announced it raised $25 million in equity investment from Leeds Illuminate, a leading education player and fund focused on “growth prospects in the education, workforce development, and workforce access sectors.”
The financing is still subject to regulatory approval, and on the scale of education investments, $25 million is not record-breaking. But it is significant, especially for a company that’s bootstrapped since 2014. Honestly, in the education and training marketplace, simply growing – even surviving – for seven years is pretty impressive.
But it’s not the size of the deal or even who the investor is that’s most significant in the Product School/Leeds Illuminate agreement. As is often the case, the trends underneath the balance sheets are what merit the most attention.
The first of these trends is what Product School teaches.
As the name conveys, the school trains and certifies product managers – a job portfolio that is seeing a major and wide surge in demand. If you’re not familiar with what a product manager does, it’s a highly flexible position that connects consumer needs and interests with product development and delivery. One expert told Harvard Business Review that a product manager does things like, “conducting customer interviews and user testing, running design sprints, feature prioritization and road map planning, the art of resource allocation, performing market assessments, translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa, pricing and revenue modeling, [and] defining and tracking success metrics.”
Yea, all that.
With consumer needs changing rapidly, accelerated and altered by the pandemic, it’s little surprise that product management skills are highly coveted, which puts those who can teach them in a great position. That’s reflected in Product School saying they’re experiencing “record-high applications to enroll” and that the company has “tripled its growth as demand for Product Managers reaches an all-time high.”
If you missed it, the lesson is that here’s an education provider in the right place at the right time, meeting legitimate market demand.
The other lesson, for investors and those who follow education markets, is that brands matter. If you don’t know Product School, you know the companies they’re working with already.
The funding announcement says the company is training employees at “seven of the top 50 companies on the Fortune 500 list including Walgreens, Walmart and Capital One.” And the school’s website puts front and center that its graduates are getting paychecks from places such as Disney, Google, Netflix and YouTube.
That will get your attention.
Another lesson is that Product School teaches product managers only. They’re not trying to do more than what they do. By focusing, they’ve been able to carve out a reputation and pipeline within their space. In business, that’s a difficult form of discipline. In education, where everyone seems to want to do more and be more, it’s nearly foreign to stay in one place and get really good at doing your thing.
The final and largest trend at play – or least probably at play – in the investment announcement is the comparatively weak competitive appeal of graduate schools to fill this career gap. That a private company can pop up, stick around and grow for seven years and not be squeezed out by the prestige and vanity certification and degree programs at the big schools – that says something. Maybe it says those schools are off the mark on their own products. Maybe they’ve outpriced the market. Or diluted their bands. Or some combination of all three.
On that note, the Product School investment comes just as the graduate programs at those big name schools are under increasing, unflattering scrutiny. About a month ago, for example, The Wall St. Journal pulled together a big feature on graduate schools and degrees. The subhead read, “The Elite Master’s Degrees That Don’t Pay Off.”
“Everything is a product. Product Managers are now sought after across all industries and locations and there has never been a better time in history to build digital products,” Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, the CEO and Founder of Product School said.
But he also told me, “Our company was founded on the basis that traditional degrees and MBA programs simply don’t equip PMs with the real-world skills they require on the job and Product School is excited to unlock value for product teams across the globe to help define the future.”
Sure, Cornell and Stanford and others aren’t likely to be quivering over a $25 million investment in a school that provides training in a single program. But they ought to be paying attention. Others are.