Be bold and fearless is just one of the eight guiding principles that Chip Paucek, Co-Founder and CEO of 2U, Inc., mentioned in the latest installment of TU Incubator’s Founder Stories. Being fearless was especially appropriate given the University of Maryland’s UM Ventures (Fearless Ideas) partnership for this event.

Chip was introduced by Frank Bonsal III, Director of Venture Creation at Towson University. Frank has known Chip for many years, going all the way back to Chip’s time in the early ‘90s as a co-founder of Standard Deviants, an educational television and video series. Frank even had an opportunity to invest in the early days of 2U and passed on the Series A in early 2009 among quite a few other institutional investors (but that’s another story).

Founded in 2008, 2U partners with top colleges and universities to build the world’s best online graduate programs and short courses. They eliminate the back row in higher education, which is why their hashtag is #NoBackRow.

Education is a huge opportunity. And, right from the start, Chip said he wants 2U to be a global leader in education. Across the world, spending on education is greater than retail. But education is a difficult market and edtech companies tend to have smaller market capitalization than in other industries, but Chip believes edtech is starting to breakout.

Universities are some of the oldest institutions in the world. They have a lot of brand power and one of their fears includes a loss of identity. The challenge for 2U was how to deliver quality online programs and yet engage the students in such a way that they remain passionate about their university.

Fortunately, there are universities that also believe in the goal of reimagining education. The University of Southern California, University of North Carolina, and Georgetown University were 2U’s founding partners—and continue to be prime partners. Over the last ten years, 2U has grown from those first three universities to 34 university partners offering over 50 graduate programs and over 80 short courses.

As someone who has moved multiple times in pursuit of graduate degrees, I find the value proposition of “why move to go to grad school” very appealing.

Here are other takeaways from Chip’s talk:

  • Having live classes was a key decision they got right
  • Provide support to students
  • Speed is a strategy advantage
  • Culture is key
  • It’s about the team — not me
  • Scale with quality
  • People are more important than process
  • Bootstrap as long as you can

“Chip provided actionable insights into how and when 2U decided to scale and where he saw opportunities in the market. These are conversations that we (and all) startups have on an ongoing basis and I have no doubt that this new perspective will play a role in how we think about growth moving forward.”
—Owen Willis, Director of Strategy and Operations at Osmosis Education

During the Q&A, Chip was asked about the key metrics he pays the most attention to. The answer was RETENTION. 2U-powered programs have an average retention rate of 83%. What he said next, I think, is reflective of 2U’s “No Back Row” philosophy.

  • “If the student stays, the STUDENT WINS”
  • “If the student stays, the UNIVERSITY WINS”
  • “If the student stays, 2U WINS”

I feel confident in saying that TU Incubator’s edtech-focused member companies would agree with Chip, that student success is fundamental to the success of their companies.

This blog post is titled Be Bold and Fearless, one of 2U’s eight guiding principles which unite each of the company’s employees. Filling out the list of 2U’s principles are:

  • Cherish each opportunity
  • Give a damn
  • Strive for excellence
  • Be candid, honest and open
  • Have fun
  • Make service your mission
  • Don’t let the skeptic win

After Chip’s talk, Steve Pennington, Managing Director Business & Industry Sector Development, Maryland Department of Commerce, presented Chip with a citation recognizing 2U’s ten-year anniversary and the invaluable contribution the company has made to the state of Maryland.

Finally, Chip had one request of all the attendees — 2U IS HIRING. Spread the word. From what we heard and saw, it looks like a great place to work, if for no other reason than there is no back row.