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How a Stanford edtech startup reimagines the expertise economy

June 3, 2022, 1:21 a.m.

Although the Varsity Blues scandal stigmatized the field of ‘academic coaching’, demand for assistance in applications at all stages of life — from college to graduate school to employment — remains significant. Disparities in information between those accepted and those aspiring to be revealed an opportunity for John Koelliker MBA ’22.

To help people “monetize what they know,” Koelliker founded Leland, an edtech startup that raised a $4M seed round from Contrary in May, following their $1M pre-seed round last July. 

Although academic and professional consulting is a well-established industry, Leland differentiates itself from the competition by serving as an accessible marketplace and supportive community for those seeking and offering coaching services, according to Koelliker. Leland initially started out specializing in MBA admissions, but recently announced its expansion into test prep and career development. It ultimately seeks to make its platform a source of long-term support for its clients.

 “Let’s say you’re someone about to be an undergrad. We can connect you to a leading coach to help you get into college,” said Emma Casey ‘25, a current product management intern at Leland. “A few years down the line, when you’re looking to get your first internship, we can also connect you to a coach that will help you think about what type of roles you want to do. Maybe five years later, we can help you connect to someone that will guide you through the law school application or the MBA application process.” 

Casey says she is particularly excited about the energy that the startup and its community have created, including an active Slack of 350+ people supporting each other’s ambitions and journeys. Victor Charoonsophonsak, a Leland client recently admitted into Stanford’s MBA program, agreed.

“I come from a background where my friends, family, and peers had not attended prestigious MBA programs, so I didn’t know who to reach out to for help,” Charoonsophonsak wrote. “Leland provided me with a community of people who empathized with me and empowered me to pull together my best application possible.” 

While coaching has historically been siloed off for the highly privileged, the people at Leland are looking to make coaching more accessible. Erika Mahterian, an early Leland hire and current Head of Experience, said that her “number one reason for joining the company was that [she] always had a passion for accessibility to education resources and leveling the playing field.” 

Leland currently offers a variety of small group classes, which range in price from $25 to $60. Users pay an hourly rate for individual sessions and can identify their desired price range when identifying a coach. Coaches in the “low” price range charge below $150/hour, while those in the “medium” and “high” ranges charge between $151-$250 and above $250, respectively.

Still, Mahterian said that Leland’s coaching marketplace is a product with “immense potential for equalizing educational and career outcomes.” Grace Chen, a recent MBA admit and Leland customer, said that Leland coaches prioritized her needs over profits. 

“My coach was super direct with feedback and would tell me not to spend that much on services if I didn’t need them,” Chen said. 

Casey said Leland’s plans for the future will include continuing to match people with personalized help through providing their core product — “one-on-one coaching and small group classes.”

Mike Mella, an early project manager at Leland, echoed the importance of the mission for the company’s future. He said one of the most fulfilling parts of his experience has been “watching clients transition into coaches” in a very short timespan.

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