Guild Education, which pairs employees with employer-sponsored learning opportunities, has raised $150 million in a Series E round. The financing event, funded by Bessemer Venture Partners, Cowboy Ventures, D1, Emerson Collective, General Catalyst, GSV, Harrison Metal, ICONIQ, Redpoint and Salesforce Ventures, values the company at $3.75 billion.
With the money, Guild plans to grow its coaching team, expand its learning marketplaces with more short-term certificate opportunities and double down on its outreach with historically Black colleges and universities. The cash comes at a time when lifelong learning -- the concept that students learn and up-skill beyond early adulthood -- is becoming more mainstream of a concept in edtech.
But Guild CEO and co-founder Rachel Carlson, who started the company in 2015 with classmate Brittany Stich, warned that lifelong learning post-pandemic isn’t a simple goal.
“I'm sort of tone deaf to the buzz because I think there are just cyclical, weird spins that happen in Silicon Valley tied to attention span on big critical issues like healthcare, climate and education,” she said. “But the challenge is, and I even hesitate to call it an opportunity because it's really more of the problem, is insane.”
Carlson estimates that there will be 3 million cashiers out of work, 2.5 million women who dropped out of work and 3 million baby boomers who dropped out before retirement age because of lack of skills. Factoring in other disadvantaged populations such as low-income students or rural communities, the founder thinks that the “buzz” around lifelong learning isn’t solving its core issue.
“I'm really worried that America needs to wake up to the problem,” she said.
Guild works with three different stakeholders: employees, employers and colleges. The up-skilling platform partners with large employers, such as Walmart, Chipotle and The Walt Disney Company, as well as low-cost universities, bootcamps and learning providers. Then, it offers a marketplace for students to choose content, giving them optionality to pick which skills will best prepare them for the future.
Guild’s landing page for Walmart advertises the low-cost of school for working adults, emphasizing the company’s education benefit and possible impact it can have on career trajectory. In Walmart’s case, the workers are asked to make a $365 annual contribution toward tuition, or pay $1 a day. At Chipotle, another Guild customer, 100% of tuition is covered by the employer.
A platform like Guild helps employers keep talent in the pipeline and offer a solid benefit: paid education for their employees. The startup connects employers with these learning providers, and then takes a cut of tuition revenue as its core business model.
While Carlson declined to share revenue or profitability, she did confirm that Guild has more than doubled its revenue since COVID began last March. She estimates that more than 4 million Americans have access to Guild through their employer.
The up-skilling world is crowded, with platforms like Udemy, Coursera, Degreed and others all competing to help students get better employment opportunities. Guild sits in a niche spot, by helping those employed, stay employed. Or as Carlson puts it, taking people out of today’s job, for tomorrow's job.
While the competition is steep, the co-founder thinks their angle prepares them well for the lifelong learning movement and changing tides of employment in the country.
“The data that's flowing through our pipes is helping us have a more robust picture of the working adult learner than anyone else in the country,” she said. “We have more of a robust picture about the data that sits on both the education and the employment side of the aisle.”