Guild Education is a startup that provides employer-sponsored educational opportunities for adult learners. It has reached a valuation of $3.75 billion. The latest valuation results from its Series E financing round, which raised $150 million for the company. The platform partners with large employers such as Walmart to provide up-skilling tools for employees.
Rachel Carlson and Brittany Stich started Guild Education in 2015. They were classmates at Stanford Graduate School of Business. They had a mission of unlocking access to high-quality education opportunities for working adults. In recognition of the company’s social impact, Guild is certified as a B corporation.
Guild Education Part of Crowded Space
Although the online space has many with competitors, such as Coursera, Udemy, and Degreed, Guild Education targets a unique market. Its focus on up-skilling adult learners that are often working blue collar jobs gives Guild Education a competitive edge. The buzz around lifelong learning and up-skilling throughout adulthood has taken on increased mainstream importance. Guild focuses especially on demographics that could benefit the most from the opportunities.
A majority of students using Guild Education are underrepresented minorities. Many also come from low-income backgrounds or rural communities. Guild is working to expand outreach with historically Black colleges and universities. Carlson estimates that over 3 million baby boomers have dropped out of the workforce before retirement age because of a lack of skills. Guild’s educational marketplace offers a wide range of content for adult learners to pick coursework that will best prepare them for better job opportunities.
Partnerships with Employers
Large employers have partnerships with Guild Education to provide debt-free or highly affordable learning opportunities for their employees. Chipotle partners with Guild to cover 100% of tuition costs upfront at certain accredited universities. Over 75 types of degrees qualify for full coverage under the program. Similarly, Walmart provides tuition benefits to its employees. Walmart only asks employees to pay $365 annually toward tuition, or contribute $1 a day. Other corporations that have partnered with Guild include Walt Disney, Lowe’s, and Discover Financial Services.
The IRS allows employers to offer up to $5,250 annually of tax-free education to assist employees. If employers offer benefits exceeding $5,250, they will have to pay tax on the excess amount. The qualification criteria for employers is simply that the benefits “are provided by reason of their employment relationship.”
Since the onset of the pandemic last March, Guild’s revenue has more than doubled. CEO Rachel Carlson estimates that over 4 million Americans have employer-sponsored access to Guild’s platform.
Series E Round for Guild Education
Participants in Guild Education’s latest Series E financing round included D1 Capital, General Catalyst, Emerson Collective, Bessemer Venture Partners, GSV, Cowboy Ventures, Harrison Metal, ICONIQ, Redpoint, and Salesforce Ventures. Guild hopes to allocate the newly raised funds towards expanding its selection of learning opportunities. Specifically, Guild intends to offer a broader selection of short-term certificate programs.
Others in the business community have been attracted to the startup’s growth potential as well as its mission to address a critical societal issue. Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express who now is a managing director at the venture capital firm General Catalyst, joined Guild’s board of directors in 2019.
“The role of education in combating income inequality and arming individuals who feel disempowered in society should not be underestimated,” said Ken Chenault. “Rachel’s extensive work in higher education with low income students gave her the unique insight that much of the American dream is unlocked with access to quality education, which can be transformational. Guild gives corporations the unique opportunity to provide this access to their employees, while increasing talent retention and delivering value to the enterprise. Guild is a company not just with a mission, but also a strong business model and an ability to deliver in ways that will benefit both corporations and society more broadly.”
A Female-Founded Company
Guild Education is one of only a handful of female-founded companies to achieve unicorn status, or a valuation of over $1 billion. Before founding Guild Education, Rachel worked on improving higher education access through an organization she founded with her father. The organization focused on coaching community college students and helping them find jobs. Rachel’s co-founder, Brittany Stich, also had prior experience in curriculum development and workplace training before creating Guild.
The startup has come a long way since it was founded in 2015. Guild Education raised a $8.5 million Series A round in 2016. The Denver-based company attained unicorn status in 2019 following its $157 million Series D fundraising round.
Carlson attributes part of the company’s success to the effective data analysis. “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 stated. “We have more of a robust picture about the data that sits on both the education and the employment side of the aisle.”