Khosla-backed LearnStreet takes on Codecademy with new learn-to-code site

Yet another startup wants to try its hand at teaching beginners to code online. But to separate itself from the pack of learn-to-program platforms already available, LearnStreet is aligning itself with the “Maker Movement,” describing coding as a craft for self-expression, not just a skill for professional advancement.

Launched in public beta Wednesday, the Palo Alto-based startup was incubated at Khosla Ventures and has received $1 million in seed funding from the venture capital firm. In addition to being its lead investor, Vinod Khosla is a member of the company’s board.

Recognizing the rise of the digital economy and perhaps inspired by high-profile startup success stories, more people are looking for lessons in Python, Ruby and other languages of the Web.  And, plenty of startups, including Codecademy, Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity and Treehouse, are meeting that demand.

Sanjay Desai, one of LearnStreet’s founding members and EVP of products and marketing, is well aware that the company is entering a crowded space. But he said that, LearnStreet’s goal isn’t to be a place for those who want knowledge, but a hub for those who want to build something.  In a sense, he added, LearnStreet wants to do for coding what Instagram did for photography.

“We think about LearnStreet as equipping people with coding as a different tool to express themselves,” he said. “We think of this in terms of the Maker Movement – helping you hone a craft and let you express that craft.”

Getting started is very simple – similar to Codecademy, users can start learning to program without signing in. But Desai said they made an extra effort to support newbie coders with live chat and Twitter capabilities. On other platforms, he said, users drop off because learning to code is challenging and they can’t get quick assistance when they have questions. But LearnStreet instructors are available nearly 24-7, he said, to answer questions via email and Twitter. So far, the site offers about 30 lessons on JavaScript, Python and Ruby, which were all created in-house.

In addition to the courses, Desai said, LearnStreet provides a “Code Garage” that offers a range of kit-like projects (40 so far) that let students learn by doing and create their own games, calculators and other tools. Just like the Maker Movement has inspired people to manufacture their own tangible goods with 3-D printers, for example, he said LearnStreet hopes to enable them to make digital ones.

Considering the number of competitors it has in the learn-to-code space, LearnStreet certainly has its work cut out for it. But its Maker Movement-like messaging could certainly help attract new users who might not want to learn coding for professional reasons but are still interested in digital projects. And, the extra support it provides beginners – with Twitter and chat assistance – is definitely another selling point. But, as with other startups teaching programming online, success comes down to the quality of its classes and whether it can show that students are actually learning.

“The thinking here is that it’s trying to get you to a place where you can build something and get that sense of achievement that will inspire you to do more,” Desai said.

Image by graja via Shutterstock.