A Story About Learning

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Last fall General Assembly was little more than an idea and a concrete floor. We held tours of the nascent construction site on a nearly hourly basis for designers, entrepreneurs, and technologists, dodging aluminum beams and stray wires. The tours weren’t about showing off—they were about learning. Specifically, they were about learning how to build the best possible experience for the community of entrepreneurs we were going to serve by gathering feedback and iterating on our plans.

Today, that construction site is a classroom, a lounge, a library, seminar rooms, and work areas. General Assembly is home not only to that initial community of entrepreneurs who toured the space many months ago, but to classes, hackathons, workshops, and the occasional serendipitous encounter.

That fall I was one of four entrepreneurs who signed a lease for approximately 20,000 square feet at 20th and Broadway. With partners Adam Pritzker, Jake Schwartz, and Matthew Brimer, we strived to meet the needs of a booming New York technology and design community with a new kind of collaborative environment. Over the past year, General Assembly has become a campus for technology, design, and entrepreneurship and a social education experience for developers, designers, entrepreneurs, dreamers, and those simply wanting to learn.

We’ve grown tremendously since our launch last January, responding to community feedback and launching new classes and workshops in topics ranging from user experience design to social marketing to network security. We’ve been learning what works and what doesn’t, how to build a vibrant community, and how we can best support the technology ecosystem in New York. And we’ve been learning how to offer awesome classes that not only provide our students with new skills, but open opportunities for them to build their startup’s alpha product, level up at work, or land a better job. As we’ve grown, General Assembly has developed classes that are at once social, application-focused, outcome-oriented, and taught by top practitioners. Developing this framework is key to delivering the outcomes our students want: meaningful education in core skills and best practices in technology, design, and entrepreneurship.

At the same time, the community has continued to grow and is asking for more classes, workshops, and even longer and more rigorous programs. When we launched our first certification program—Front-end Web Development—a few weeks ago, we received over 100 applications for only fifteen available spots. Demand for this kind of education has clearly outstripped supply. And we want to answer the call.

To that end, we have raised $4.25 million from a group of investors led by Maveron and including Jeff Bezos, Yuri Milner, Tom Vander Ark, Alexis Ohanian, Hosain Rahman, and Alex Asseily. Maveron is a best-in-class education investor. Our new board member Amy Errett has deep experience in both education and consumer retail businesses. Amy sits on the board of three other education companies we admire, including Livemocha, Lattimer Education, and Altius Education. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has unparalleled experience building massive and successful online businesses. Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies brings an international perspective, one wrought from a diverse portfolio of technology investments spanning the globe. Tom Vander Ark is the Managing Partner at Learn Capital, was the President of the X-Prize Foundation, and served as Executive Director for Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for nearly a decade. Alexis Ohanian embodies the spirit of community at the core of our experience, and has scaled passionate communities including Reddit, Breadpig, and Hipmunk. And Hosain Rahman and Alex Asseily, who have worked alongside Yves Behar to build Jawbone, bring a unique perspective on product design to the group. Each partner brings something special to the table that will help as we grow our community and educational offering.

So will we open a bunch more campuses? Put all our classes online? Start training executives? We don’t know. Right now we’re singularly focused on continuing to create a great, meaningful experience at our New York campus. That said, we see the bigger picture: there is immense demand for social, application-driven education in technology, design, and entrepreneurship, and we’re committed to addressing this real need.

The past year has been an amazing climb, and we’re thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to take it to the next level.