With $7M, learn-to-code startup Treehouse eyes high school market

As competition builds among companies teaching people to code online, Portland,Ore.-based Treehouse says it has raised a “war chest” of new funds.

On Tuesday, the company said it had raised $7 million in a Series B round led by Kaplan Ventures and including the Social+Capital Partnership. The new cash brings the company’s total amount raised to $12.35 million.

Like competitors Codecademy, LearnStreet, lynda.com, Udemy and others, Treehouse offers online videos and lessons on web development, programming and other technical skills. With the new funding, CEO and founder Ryan Carson said the company plans to focus on product development and increase its headcount. Treehouse currently employs 55 people, 60 percent of which are involved in course development. While some rivals, including Codecademy and Udemy, build their libraries by letting anyone create lessons, Carson said a big differentiator is Treehouse’s emphasis on having in-house experts create curriculum and teach online.

Another benefit of the new round, said Carson, is the involvement of Kaplan Ventures, the early-stage investing arm of education company Kaplan Venture (which is a subsidiary of the Washington Post Company (s WPO)). He declined to elaborate on what their involvement could mean for Treehouse’s future, saying only that it will help with “key strategic developments.” But given that a big new focus for the company is reaching high school students, one could imagine that Kaplan’s network would come in handy.

“One of the key things we’re trying to do is to get people job-ready right out of high school,” Carson said.

Since January, the company has piloted a program with high school students at schools in three cities and is aiming to roll out to other schools this fall.  In the school where students have progressed the most, Carson estimates that 50 percent of students will be ready for technology jobs paying $30,000 to $40,000 by the end of the program.

The six-month program, which will cost schools $9 per month per student  (discounted from the $25/month it charges customers who come directly to its site), is intended to give schools a way to teach computer science even if they don’t have teachers skilled in that area. Students can watch the videos at home and then work on projects and ask questions in class.  Teachers only need to stay one lesson ahead, Carson said.

To date, the company said it has attracted 26,000 paying customers, most of which are individual customers, not enterprise customers – a key consumer segment for lynda.com and a likely target for other similar startups. But Treehouse is smart to focus on high schools, which are facing increased calls for enhanced computer science education. Startups Codecademy and CodeHS also offer (free) learn-to-code tools for schools, but there’s plenty of room for more. As non-profit Code.org points out, less than 2 percent of students study computer programming and despite the fact that programming jobs are growing at double the pace of other jobs, programming is not offered at 90 percent of U.S. schools.