Ranku Acquired By Wiley to Help Colleges Market Online Degrees

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Seattle-based software company Ranku announced today its acquisition by academic publishing company John Wiley & Sons. Ranku offers a recruitment platform using predictive analytics to help colleges increase online degree enrollment.

In 2013, co-founders and childhood friends Kim Taylor and Cecilia Retelle started Ranku out of the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, raising $500,000 in seed funding led by Mark Cuban, GSV and Microsoft Ventures.

They built Ranku as a consumer-facing product at first, developing a search engine for students to find and apply to online programs at universities. About two years ago, Ranku shut down that service to focus on licensing the software to universities, community colleges and state systems, Taylor says.

“I knew how complicated online degree marketing was,” she says. “It was a super intense learning curve for me, someone that was an experienced digital marketer. All of these traditional brick-and-mortar schools are going to go online, and this stuff is really complicated.”

Taylor also realized how expensive it became for schools to buy traffic and convert that into enrollment. Schools spend on average $5,000 to a student to enroll in their online program, she says, so the system of getting acquisitions wasn’t going to work for lower-cost schools going online.

“The system wasn’t going to work for them. We’re going to have to grow in a completely different way than the universities that were currently online.”

Taylor says selling Ranku will allow her to focus less on fundraising and growing the company. She did not comment on the price of the acquisition.

Buy what you need

Taylor thinks of Ranku as middleware for schools, which often have technology stacks made up of several different companies’ softwares all serving different needs. With Ranku, schools can do market research to help develop its courses with real-time reporting on the marketing platform. Some 1,000 undergraduate and graduate online programs have partnered with it, Ranku claims.

“No one was really thinking of how it integrated in this really seamless way with all these other companies,” Taylor says. “But in order to understand online degree analytics you have to have real-time data. So we needed to build our own system that sat on top of all that software.”

The software is modular, so users can buy whatever piece they need, whether it’s a part that helps fix the website or a piece that helps fix admission applications software. Ranku built the applications software using LinkedIn’s API, which means schools can authenticate users through LinkedIn.

Online degrees tend to attract working adults, so they usually have LinkedIn, Taylor says. “We already know a lot about the individual before they apply.”

Taylor says Ranku is trying to position itself in school technology holistically, especially because different departments and teams may all use different tools.

“They need a broader comprehensive plan for making their technical infrastructure all work,” Taylor says.

The Ranku team will remain in its Seattle headquarters and grow within Wiley Education Services. The division includes companies like Deltak, which Wiley acquired in 2012 for $220 million.

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