How Adding a Product-Focused Strategy to its Marketing Mix Has Unlocked Growth at Nerdy

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

When Adam Weber joined Nerdy, one of the leading education technology platforms, as its Chief Marketing Officer, he had just left Dollar Shave Club, whose go-to-market strategy was vastly different from Nerdy’s. Nerdy had seen high growth by utilizing a marketing strategy based on capturing customers via search intent, and Adam and his team built out Nerdy’s two-way communication with its customers with a product-forward strategy that offered users free trials of the company’s enrichment programming, such as its expert-led Star Courses. While demand marketing was still very much a part of Nerdy’s marketing playbook, the product-led strategy that Nerdy adopted helped showcase its breadth of enrichment programming and also helped build trust and credibility with users beyond what they may have typed into a search bar. 

Understanding Nerdy’s customer intent was also a key part of the marketing leading up to Nerdy’s IPO. Rather than simply focusing on financial data to present to potential investors, the Nerdy team sought to tell the narrative of Nerdy’s evolution and future growth to help illustrate the compelling data that Nerdy had in its financial statements. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja speak with Adam about how he modified his playbook when moving from a consumer goods company to a technology platform, and evolved Nerdy’s marketing strategy in the process. They also hear from Adam about how Nerdy built enrichment-focused partnerships with parents and schools alike, while alleviating some of the concerns that came with distance learning during the pandemic. We also learn from Adam about how he’s navigating the impact that COVID-19 has had on marketing measurability. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The importance of marketing narrative to build investor trust when taking a company public.

Given the breadth of financial information that must be rolled out when taking a company public, it’s easy to get lost in focusing on data when putting together prospectuses and other documents for potential investors. While financials and growth data are important for investors, Adam quickly saw that telling a compelling narrative of Nerdy’s past and future growth was just as important to late-stage investors as it had been to those who had invested in Nerdy’s previous private rounds of funding. Because Nerdy had such a strong product and a compelling vision for the future, Adam emphasized  making sure that potential investors understood that narrative just as well as they did the company’s financial data. As Adam explains, “Even at this late-stage institutional phase, what makes the company unique, why we’re different, and how we can grow into the future is a fundamental aspect of [our jobs] as marketers.” 

  • Why Adam prioritized understanding customer decision-making when moving from Dollar Shave Club to Nerdy.

Prior to joining Nerdy, Adam was the chief marketing officer at Dollar Shave Club, where the go-to-market was largely focused on reducing friction around decision-making, and bringing customers to the point of purchase decision as quickly as possible. But at Nerdy, customer decision making was largely based on understanding a customer’s specific needs and optimizing the customized solution out of Nerdy’s suite of products. Rather than focusing on top-of-funnel conversion, Adam’s team spent more time on developing two-way communications with potential and existing customers. Doing so helped build trust between Nerdy and its client base, and ensured that the company was delivering maximum value when customers signed up. While it would have been less complicated to focus on quick commitments, Adam says that the time spent understanding customer decision-making was time well-spent. “You have to know the nuance and decision-making for the category you’re in, and make sure that your go-to-market reflects it.”

  • How Nerdy shifted from a demand-driven, search focused marketing strategy to a product-driven go-to-market strategy.

One of Nerdy’s primary drivers of customer acquisition had been around users searching for online learning services. It had prioritized its marketing experiences around understanding that intent and demand, and customizing web experiences around that. But in recent years, the company has focused on a product-driven go-to market, where potential customers can test out free Nerdy programming, such as its Star Courses, where students are able to take enrichment programming from celebrities and top experts across fields such as astronomy, animation, and history. By having prospective clients engage for free in live classes taught by well-known experts, Nerdy’s customers were able to experience the unique experience Nerdy’s platform can deliver, rather than simply learning about a small slice of Nerdy’s product library. Adam didn’t dispense with the search-driven, demand-led marketing efforts; he and his team just expanded the strategy to lead with Nerdy’s product experience. Doing so allowed Nerdy to build trust and expand the two-way communications with its prospective clients, and nurture relationships over time. 

  • Why Nerdy leaned into enrichment over education alone, and the payoff it had in building ongoing engagement with students and educational institutions.

As Adam built out the product-led go-to-market strategy, he and his team quickly learned that demand was growing for Nerdy’s enrichment courses, in addition to its suite of 1-on-1 tutoring, and small and large group classes. As school leaders focused their resources and energy on keeping schools open, extracurricular programs were frequently put on hold or canceled altogether.. This created a gap for Nerdy to fill by expanding its existing enrichment programming such as its Star Courses to blend fun and learning together while enriching students outside of their traditional classroom lessons. Nerdy also partnered directly with schools to help expand their breadth of enrichment courses outside of a standard curriculum by offering a wider selection of programming. 

“One of the advantages of online is the availability of selection. It’s really hard for your local YMCA or school to deliver a broad option base of summer camps or afterschool programs. When you’re online, and have a purposeful platform like we do, that becomes possible,” says Adam. 

  • Permanent changes that marketers will have to adapt to as a result of the pandemic. 

As one of the leading online learning platforms, Nerdy saw increased demand during the pandemic. Even so, Adam cautions that marketers will have to adapt their measurement capabilities to better understand their audiences even after the pandemic. Because there’s far less visibility into a user’s journey with the recent privacy law reforms, Adam and his team utilize triangulation to understand customer decision-making from a variety of angles to understand how every dollar spent impacts a company’s bottom line. While tracking a user online will still be critical, other metrics will provide crucial insight into understanding and calculating marketing spend. As Adam explains, “[It’s] also understanding brand health metrics, it’s understanding survey data, and in multiple ways, understanding what’s happening underneath the hood so that you can get better and optimize.” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: How Nerdy Built Trust with Investors, Parents, and Students While Navigating an Ever-Changing Education Landscape

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Making the Grade with Nerdy

As we congratulate TCV portfolio company Nerdy on its first day trading as a public company (NYSE: NRDY), we wanted to take a look back at what has been a remarkable growth and innovation story in the online education market. 

We first met Nerdy founder and CEO Chuck Cohn in St Louis in 2014.  At the time, Nerdy (doing business then as its flagship brand Varsity Tutors) had 90 employees and no physical offices, operating effectively as a fully-remote company.  Sensing an opportunity to disrupt the legacy tutoring market, Chuck had incubated Nerdy as a college student at nearby Washington University in St Louis a few years prior. Over time, it morphed from Chuck’s “side hustle” into his full-time mission.  All the while, Chuck had not taken traditional institutional venture capital, choosing instead to bootstrap the business while driving high-revenue growth.

We were immediately impressed by Chuck’s vision for Nerdy and his views on disrupting the legacy tutoring market.  Historically, tutoring was a cottage industry – one that was very fragmented and in the billions of dollars in size in the United States.  The professional side of the market was physical center-based businesses (in the mall next to the grocery store) that generally had franchise models characterized by high prices and questionable outcomes and satisfaction.  And of course there were individual tutors (think former teachers or college students) that used Craigslist, parent’s group lists, bulletin boards, or local relationships in schools to find students. Chuck believed there was a way to empower individual tutors and match them with students that they were uniquely qualified to help. 

Chuck’s model sought to more deeply understand the skills of a tutor and the needs of a student and facilitate connections between expert tutors and parents and students across thousands of subject areas regardless of geography.  Chuck’s emphasis on quality and product innovation proved prescient as online learning steadily gained importance.  As online learning grew, Chuck decided that in order to scale his platform it made sense to bring on an institutional partner for the first time.  We were honored to have the opportunity to partner with Chuck, leading a funding round in November 2015. Chuck chose to partner with TCV given our combined expertise in consumer business models as well as our focus on education technology. 

Since our initial investment, Nerdy has grown significantly, assembling what we believe to be an  all-star management team.  The addition of Ian Clarkson and Heidi Robinson opened up a new product center of gravity in Seattle, and added the “been there, done that before” capabilities required to scale a business. We’ve had the opportunity to connect executives from the TCV network to assist in the mission, most notably Erik Blachford (TCV Venture Partner and former Expedia CEO) who joined as an early Board member, and Adam Weber who joined as CMO after leading marketing at Dollar Shave Club (another prior TCV portfolio company). 

As COVID swept the globe, Nerdy’s offerings took on a heightened importance, forcing parents to contend with serious issues like learning loss and isolation. Nerdy and other digital providers stepped in with personalized solutions.  The unwavering focus on building the best product has enabled Nerdy to become a comprehensive learning destination with over 3,000 subject areas for education and enrichment while maintaining very high levels of student satisfaction.  We think this is the winning strategy over the long term.

We congratulate the entire Nerdy organization on a momentous occasion and look forward to working with the team in continuing to transform how people learn! 

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any of the data or statements by the author and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This blog post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified above are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.