Chegg – Internet Study Hall – Banking on the Future

If you’ve been following Chegg as I have, you’ve seen a company grow and nimbly stretch in many different directions in attempts to innovate. Chegg has evolved from a classifieds website into a textbook-rentals giant. When Chegg entered the textbook rental market, well . . . there was no market and they shaped the game. Sure, it could be argued that Book Renter (Rafter) and Campus Book Rentals were on the scene and rentals were occurring on campus, but it was nothing like we see today and Chegg deserves a lot of the credit for the ubiquity of rentals now.

As the Chegg engine grew and more competitors entered the rentals marketplace, company decision-makers knew that they need to be something more than just a rentals company. The market was begging for a solution to eBooks. While I don’t think eBooks are necessary right now (they represent just 3-5% of textbooks sales in higher education), it is clear that a digital strategy (beyond eBooks) is necessary going forward. Chegg made some serious investments into digital, and as I have discussed in my earlier reviews, the results are pretty impressive.

What is just as impressive is how the company is starting to put together the “social graph” they have been discussing for over a year. This endeavor began as Chegg started making several acquisitions, including Cramster, Student of Fortune, NoteHall, and Zinch. It seemed they were buying ambitious one-offs focused on additional learning materials, and the overall picture of how they would integrate users into a single interface or provide a single product was a bit unclear.

Earlier this year Chegg showed the fruits of their acquisitive and integrative labor in the form of the new Chegg website that allows students to plan classes, get homework help, interact with classmates and peers using the same materials, and of course rent textbooks. So the question here was really one of “We built it, will they come? Is this a product that students desire or is it technology folly for marketing and programming departments?” It seems that the answer is that students do want this, overwhelmingly so.

According to a recent survey released by Chegg (source: PR Newswire), students are collaborating both in person and online and interested in doing so even more. Some numbers:

Students are collaborating both in person and online.

  •  47% plan to or are considering using an online study group in the upcoming school year.
  • 40% would be very or extremely likely to use an online study group.
  • 51% would be likely or extremely likely to chat online with an expert in real time to answer questions.
  • The number of students planning to use online tutoring or homework help this school year is expected to double from last year.
  • The number of students who might try online tutoring or homework help next year will increase 5X.

The need for education-focused technology tools is exploding.

  •  64% would be very likely or extremely likely to use an online assistant that automatically compiles study materials for each class.
  •  45% would be very or extremely likely to use online courses.
  •  44% would be very likely or extremely likely to use an app store for finding learning tools.
  •  39% said online study guides are very helpful.

Interactive content is the next frontier in education.

  •  67% said they would be very or extremely likely to use video tutorials that explain difficult concepts.
  •  62% would be very or extremely likely to use audio lectures of their class supplemented with lecture notes and highlights.
  •  32% said interactive simulations of concepts are very helpful.

Chegg is banking on these numbers turning into sales, memberships, and revenue. If so, the social graph will be complete and Chegg will have demonstrated its ability to generate revenue in a year-round model, something that others have tried to do in the past but failed.

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