A startup launching Tuesday sells online classes by big name celebrities.
Aspiring actors already look to Dustin Hoffman for how to perform in front of cameras. Now they can get a more formal acting lesson from the Oscar Award winner.
MasterClass, a startup premiering Tuesday, sells online courses about a variety of topics taught by experts and, in some cases, celebrities like Hoffman and tennis star Serena Williams. The company is debuting with only a handful of courses, but expects to add more soon.
In the last few years, online courses have gained traction with students because of the convenience of learning from home and their lower cost. Companies like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy have all attracted big followings for their classes, which are led by both well-known academics as well as little-known professionals.
MasterClass’s founders, David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen, came up with their take on the phenomenon as a way to help people learn from some of the most qualified people in their respective fields. The classes themselves are little different than most others online except for who is behind the proverbial lectern.
“We wanted to do something in education,” Rogier told Fortune. “Then we were like, ‘Okay, if we could make our ideal class, who would we want to take classes from?’”
Courses, which cost $90, are broken into about 20 to 24 chapters, which students can access from their smartphone, tablets or computers. They can complete the classes at their own pace and connect with fellow students online as they work through the material.
Beyond the basic courses, Rogier and Rasmussen provide additional materials for students. For a class about writing led by author James Patterson, for instance, students get a draft of one of his books so they can practice with editing. Meanwhile, those trying to hone their tennis games can upload a video of their backhand so Williams can give them feedback. How many of them she’ll actually watch and critique is unclear.
MasterClasses’ founders said that these celebrity experts were surprisingly receptive to the idea of teaching online courses. Filming takes around three days of their time and, if they chose, additional time to give online feedback.
“Tech and online education is also now more mainstream,” Rogier said in talking about why celebrities are participating. “We are changing the approach to it, and I think that’s exciting to them.”
Of course, celebrities are no strangers to lending their image and teaching skills to the masses — for a fee. Stars of the VHS era routinely taped how-to videos about how to hit a forehand, aerobic exercises, and cook.
In recent years, many celebrities have also dabbled in tech products to enhance their image including music artist Will.i.am’s foray into wearable technology and reality TV star Kim Kardashian’s hit video game.
Rogier and Rasmussen confirmed that the celebrity teachers are paid for their work, although they declined to share the details. And given how wealthy many of these celebrities already are, that pay may well include equity in the company instead of just a few bucks for each course that the public buys.
Usher, the hip-hop singer who has a MasterClass course under production, has invested an undisclosed amount in the company.
In addition to the three classes available Tuesday taught by Hoffman, Williams, and Patterson, MasterClass plans courses by Usher and photographer Annie Leibovitz.
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