Noodle.com, a discovery and rating platform for educational products, services and institutions, has cut its marketing and editorial teams by as much as 80 percent, effectively gutting the departments. The company laid off between 10 and 20 people across the two departments, which collectively had a staff in the “low 20s,” confirmed John Katzman, Noodle’s CEO.
Katzman has long been considered a pioneer in the education industry. He is a founder of the Princeton Review and the company that became 2U; he founded Noodle in 2010 and simultaneously ran that company and 2U before leaving the latter in 2012.
Noodle is the parent company to Noodle.com, Noodle Markets and Noodle Partners, all of which are based in New York City. The three together employ roughly 80 people. Markets tackles educational procurement for school, while Partners helps colleges and universities start online programs. The layoffs do not affect either Markets or Partners, which Katzman said are still hiring “at a brisk clip.”
He said that Noodle.com’s editorial and marketing teams had performed well but that the company had a fundamental technological problem. “We’re bringing down overall burn until we get the product right,” Katzman said. “The feeling is that the site itself, especially the user interface, is not where we’d like it, and we’ve been at this for some time. The people who use the site will tell you it’s OK right now.”
The company will continue hiring data scientists and engineers to improve Noodle.com, Katzman said. He regretted the path that had taken the product and the company to this point.
“I take responsibility for what’s happening. The company wasn’t properly focused. I gave a talk about the ‘pudgy startup’ a while ago. I said the lean startup methodology might be a problem because most education companies are underfunded and therefore take on too small of a problem with no room to scale up. I’m eating those words. This was an overfunded startup that I’ve been too patient with. It’s an important milestone to recognize that we were trying to do too much. We will now just focus on making the product good.”
With the restructuring and product changes, Katzman said that the company will focus on solving what he sees as a central problem in education.
“If you’re a parent or a student trying to find the right preschool, college, French tutor, negotiating seminar, learning disability specialist, lacrosse coach, wine tasting course or anything else, the process is confusing, stressful, inefficient and often unsuccessful. If you’re an education provider trying to reach parents and students, you’re marketing efforts are extensive and inefficient. We think we can add coherence and transparency to the education marketplace. As it turns out, it’s a hard problem.”
He remained vague about how long it would take before his patience with Noodle.com would run out but indicated that he wanted growth to speed up soon.
“We have made progress over the years,” Katzman said. “But we need to improve the pace of growth. I don’t have a specific timeframe but I think we all want to see the pace of change be quicker than it’s been even as we acknowledge that this is a hard problem.”
Katzman has hopes that new product features will boost growth and that, in a few months, the site will be more than a search engine. “The site will be more of a solution for the whole process, more social and more fun. It will be what I’ve had in mind since I started it.”
With Noodle.com, he wants to have the same degree of success as he did with the Princeton Review. “Over the years,” Katzman said, “I’ve run several companies that I felt have been by far the best user experience in their areas. I want to feel that Noodle.com is the way that every single person should find the best way to pursue learning.”