By Amy Cuevas Schroeder
Starting a company with a friend might sound like risky business, but for Katie Kapler and Nihal Parthasarathi, it’s a safe bet.
The two 26-year-old New Yorkers recently launched CourseHorse, a curated search engine for reputable classes ranging from yoga to cooking to business development.
And reputable is the key word here.
The CourseHorse team has carefully vetted the dozens of schools featured on their site—ranging from General Assembly to The Columbia School of Mixology—and taken a number of the classes.
While in startup mode, CourseHorse serves New York and Los Angeles only, but as the company grows, so too will its listings for courses around the country and, eventually, the world.
Here Katie and Nihal talk about taking a healthy approach to running a startup.
DIYBA: What’s the CourseHorse startup story?
Nihal: I was on a consulting project for a test-prep provider, and while conducting a focus group with high school parents, I heard one of them ask, “Is there a place I can go to find all the SAT classes in my area?”
Afterward I called Katie, and we started researching, e-mailing local schools, polling our friends, family and enough of their friends and family.
In a nutshell, we quit our jobs, jumped into the NYU Venture Competition [for NYU students and alumni], and a few months later, we launched the site and won $75,000 to get the company started.
What’s your ultimate vision for CourseHorse?
Katie: Our long-term goal is to become the Amazon for education all over the world. We hope to index the world’s educational opportunities, bring transparency to a fragmented space and, ultimately, increase the number of people who make lifelong learning part of their everyday lives.
You’re business partners and close friends. What do each of you bring to the CourseHorse table?
Katie: When you start a company with a friend, there are really only two ways things are going to go down—you’re either going to become next of kin, or someone is going to rip the other one’s head off.
Luckily for Nihal, starting a company only brought us closer. We complement each other very well—I’ve got experience with product and partnership development and tend to be a bit more of an all-over-the-place creative; whereas, Nihal is the much more organized and operational mind that turns my manic solutions into scalable, refined processes.
What are your favorite CourseHorse classes?
Katie: This is going to sound geeky, but I really enjoyed a Photoshop course that I took through Career Centers. It was one of those things that I had picked up on my own but really was overdue to get the fundamentals down pat. The class packed a ton of information into eight hours throughout the day, and I can go back as many times to retake the class as I want.
Nihal: I’m going to go in a different, less geeky, direction and recommend a cheese and wine class at Murray’s. Our team had a blast, and I’d recommend it for any group of friends, family or coworkers.
You operate CourseHorse out of the NYU-Poly Incubator in Manhattan. Is it difficult to get into the program?
Katie: I think we’d characterize it as a dedicated co-working space rather than a structured accelerator program like Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator or DreamIt. The entrepreneurs who work in the space have to be at a specific stage of their companies, rather than at the very nascent stages, which creates a focused environment.
Nihal: We went on a long tour of all the available spaces in New York, and the NYU-Poly atmosphere was the best fit. Everyone is working heads-down on creating something. We’re all in similar phases of our business, which means we’re there first and foremost to get work done.
Some of the other spaces we visited—and this can be a great strength for them, depending on the audience—were a bit more about the networking aspect, rather than the focused work environment we were looking for.
I spend a bit too much time on the ping-pong table, but aside from that, it’s been great.
What’s the coolest thing about founding CourseHorse and about being an entrepreneur in general?
Katie & Nihal: There’s nothing like waking up every day to build something. We think human beings are happiest when they’re actively engaged in the creation of something incredible.
The coolest part about CourseHorse is that what we’re building genuinely has a tremendous positive impact on the world—we’re helping people discover and embrace lifelong learning, and it’s very easy to be passionate about it.
What’s your typical day like?
Katie: Most of my mornings start with a review of the week’s feature releases for the website—our development team meets to tackle issues, answer questions and understand whether we’ll be on target.
Twice a week we discuss our longer product pipeline to discuss upcoming features and how best to implement and organize them. At midday, we have our daily standup where everyone gets five minutes to talk through their goals for the day.
I typically reserve afternoons for external conversations—either with partners we’re working with or customers I’m speaking to. We try to reach out to every single customer because we have so much to learn from them.
After work, I hit the gym or go for a run before dinner, and then late evenings are spent developing the product specifications for upcoming features—detailing the functionality, design and business rules so that the development team knows exactly how to implement the feature.