A subject that is often marginalized in the pantheon of education scripts may well be the journey high school students take to be accepted into institutions of higher learning across the United States. a 22% rebound from the previous year according to CNBC.
A byproduct of the increase in applicants is even greater competition for acceptance into top universities. Harvard and Stanford, for example, saw their acceptance percentages shrink to 3% in the last year alone.
Increased competition for fewer places in top universities is also playing a role in the growth of the tutoring market globally. The U.S. tutoring market is expected to reach $8.37 billion by 2025, with global figures reaching $201.8 billion by 2026. These projected numbers indicate a growing trend of students and professionals seeking services to improve university placement and career opportunities.
Despite the availability of simple online delivery platforms, such as video courses and digital downloads, some companies are recognizing the great value of one-on-one coaching methods, especially for people from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds.
John Koelliker, co-founder of Leland, a marketplace for coaching, courses and community, is committed to developing 1:1 coaching models with a focus on inclusivity. Fresh off of a $4 million seed round, Leland, with support from Koelliker, is now rolling out new coaching categories on its platform with hundreds of coaches from a variety of professional backgrounds, schools, price levels and experience levels.
By partnering with early-stage and market investors including Contrary, FJ Labs, Peterson Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Next Play Ventures, and other supporting angel investments, Koelliker and his team are helping the economy of the expertise. Leland’s efforts unlock human potential for students and those seeking career advancement using a combination of mentor-driven knowledge sharing and one-on-one relationship building.
With a Stanford MBA under his belt and former project manager positions at LinkedIn and Uber, Koelliker is well-equipped to lead the next leg of Leland’s journey. Going into the interview, he enthusiastically sums up Leland’s growth potential. “Imagine an Airbnb for professional mentors,” he says.
Rod Berger: What issues have you seen in today’s education admissions and career readiness market that made you want to start Leland?
John Koelliker: Getting into top schools and companies has never been more competitive. Harvard’s acceptance rate has dropped to 3.19% and Google receives over 3 million applications each year. Of course, Harvard and Google aren’t the only good options, but they illustrate just how competitive the market is.
Those who can afford it turn to help – often paying $15-20,000+ for expensive admissions consultants or career bootcamps to increase their chances of breaking in. It is always difficult for them to find the right coach because there is no central platform to compare options. , read real reviews or make sure their consultant isn’t a bad actor, but at least they have some form of help.
Those who cannot afford this prohibitively expensive option apply only to education and jobs or rely on limited (and often misguided) advice from friends and family. High school college counselors aren’t much help either, especially with student-to-college counselor ratios of 750:1.
Digging deeper, I discovered a few important things: 1. Coaching prices are high today because coaching firms take 70-80% of what they charge clients, 2. Experts are ready to offer cheaper services, but these are hard to find today, 3. the market is much bigger than expected and could be 10 times bigger if made more accessible to the average person.
Shepherd: What are the wider implications of these issues?
Koelliker: This drives the wealthiest students into the top schools (for example, 38 of the top schools admit more of the top 1% than the bottom 60%). Top schools have stronger alumni networks and better career opportunities, helping their graduates land the best jobs outside of college. Those without the resources to get application help go to less competitive schools with weaker alumni networks and fewer career opportunities. The opportunity gap continues to widen.
It’s hard to know who to blame in this situation. I don’t blame people with resources for paying for help – this is a very important step. But I feel for those who cannot afford to pay. I’m also concerned that by moving away from standardized tests, schools will no longer give weight to essays and other lengthy parts of the application, which are much easier to complete with professional help.
Shepherd: What makes Leland different from traditional admissions or career coaching firms?
Koelliker: Leland operates as a true marketplace, like Airbnb, where customers can browse coaches of varying price points, school specialties, work experiences, racial identities, sexual orientations, and geographies. Once they find a Coach that matches their budget, background and goals, clients arrange free introductory calls with Coaches and book time through the platform, from which Leland only takes 10% to 20% fee.
All Leland coaches are carefully selected and receive training and resources to provide a high quality coaching experience. Clients are encouraged to leave reviews of trainers, making it easier for future clients to find the right fit. Leland also offers a free community, free content, and free events with coaches that customers can leverage to further their goals.
Shepherd: What about your background that has positioned you well to solve these problems?
Koelliker: I’ve spent my entire career building marketplaces that connect people: Uber, LinkedIn, and Curated (e-commerce marketplace). It taught me how to start the supply and demand flywheel and create features and processes that support quality human interaction at scale.
In parallel, I created a successful coaching business by helping people access the best MBA programs. I ran it for three years. After that, I experimented with 1:1 coaching, larger-scale cohort-based classes, small group classes, and written content. This small company allowed me to test many early hypotheses about Leland before I started.
These experiences gave me a unique insight into the opportunity and a unique set of skills to seize it.
Shepherd: How many people use admissions consultants or career coaches? How big is this market?
Koelliker: Admissions coaching is estimated by experts to be at least $10 billion worldwide. This market is very opaque and difficult to size, in part because people don’t like to talk about what they spend on admissions assistance. However, this is likely due to the $16 billion online tutoring industry, $10 billion test prep market, and other untracked data on graduate coaching and international admissions.
The career coaching market is simpler and is estimated at $15 billion. According to PwC research, the coaching industry was the second fastest growing industry in the world.
The percentage of students from top universities who have used professional help with applications is estimated to be between 50% and 70% for the most competitive universities. Unfortunately, the sources on this are not as concrete because the data is so difficult to extract from students.
Conclusion: The size of this market is much larger than most people realize and is growing faster as competition for top schools and companies increases.
Shepherd: Who coaches on Leland? Can anyone register?
Koelliker: Coaches on Leland come from all professional backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, geographies, schools, companies, and more. Coaches go through an application process and then we check to ensure quality. Since its launch, we have been overwhelmed with interest from coaches. They love being able to give back, set their own prices, take on as many clients as they want, and work at their own pace (90% of our coaches say helping people achieve their dreams is a top reason for register and 80% mention secondary agitation as a strong motivator).
The expertise and creator economy is booming right now. One in three Americans has a side business, and one in four plans to start one. Leland is building a platform for people with expertise to share and monetize it. Our mission is to unleash human potential by making global expertise more accessible. We believe the next wave of the expertise economy will be to enable more intimate (1:1 or small group) sharing of expertise.
Shepherd: What is the vision here? How is the world different in 10 years because of Leland?
Koelliker: Leland wants to create a world where everyone has access to the help they need to achieve their goals and unlock their potential. We believe that help should be personalized and affordable.
In the same way that Google organized global information and made it searchable, Leland aims to organize global expertise and make it accessible in more personalized ways. For example, if you’re trying to learn to play guitar, would it be more effective to watch a video of a famous rock star or work 1:1 with a local guitar teacher? Sure, the rock star is fun to watch, but the local teacher can give you personalized feedback that dramatically improves results.
Expertise in itself can be valuable, but expertise and personalization are life changing.
Leland builds the market that fuels the expertise economy.
The term agency is often used when referring to one’s sense of independence. Yet the transition from high school to college can be experienced as anything but liberating. Koelliker is betting that this generation understands the power of free will and will pay for it. An impressive head turn indicates that others are also betting on him.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.