London-based startup Neol has just raised $5.2m in seed funding — its first external capital — to build out a Web3-enabled learning and talent platform that wants to take on On Deck as much as McKinsey.
What does Neol do?
Neol runs online training schemes. It’s similar to On Deck, although instead of targeting founders and startup operators, it’ll be targeting younger design and creative professionals, as well as mid-level managers involved in corporate innovation. Neol will bring them together to study topics like sustainability, food systems and the future of mobility — you know, the big issues.
The idea is that the $1.5k to 2k that corporate employees will pay to participate in a cohort will help supplement scholarships for people earlier in their careers. Corporates will also be able to financially support cohorts.
On the talent side, Neol wants to work with the community it’s already assembled for learning to provide on-demand consulting services and support to corporates. If, for example, a global fashion brand wants to reimagine its packaging or its supply chain to be more sustainable, it can put the call out to Neol’s community for ideas.
“The McKinseys of the world aren’t well suited to work on those kinds of challenges in a way that this kind of community-powered platform can,” says Neol cofounder Kerem Alper.
What’s Web3 about Neol?
The longer-term plan, Alper says, is to find more ways to put decision-making and ownership in the hands of platform members — a decentralised, “share the wealth” vision that’s core to Web3 companies.
Down the road, that will mean letting community members build their own cohorts and creating a token or a kind of Neol currency. People could be rewarded with tokens for doing things that benefit the platform, like bringing great talent to a consulting project with a corporate or teaching a great class to a cohort.
Alper gives the example of how this might be different from a regular university, where a teacher’s only motivation to keep teaching might be that school’s brand or the quality of the students there.
At a tokenised, Web3 university, that same teacher would actually be rewarded financially for helping build a richer scholarly community, beyond just their salary.
What’s the market like?
- Neol thinks it taps into both the market for e-learning and freelance work, two markets that are set to grow quickly in the coming years. The e-learning market alone is supposed to grow roughly 24% annually until 2028 — which would put it among the world’s fastest-growing sectors.
- And with competition for talent still fierce, companies are looking for creative sources of plug-and-play talent, especially when that’s curated. This is an area where Web3 proponents say Web3 can really shine, especially when it comes to sharing the fruits of that work with a whole community.
Who’s investing in Neol?
- The round was co-led by kyu Collective, a network of creative companies backed by Japan’s second-largest ad agency, and Global Ventures, a VC firm most active in the Middle East and Africa.
- Other investors participating: Tony Xu, CEO of DoorDash, LearnStart, F J Labs, Paribu Ventures.
What’s next for Neol?
- Right now Neol is focused on building out its product, brand and partnerships in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, but also wants to expand into markets in the “Global South”.
Community- and cohort-led learning is hot — just look at how popular On Deck has become in recent years or the funding that’s gone into Scott Galloway’s Section4. And Neol seems to have picked a differentiated niche within that, which could work in its favour.
Alper is adamant that the decentralised and tokenised aspect of the business is key, but more broadly, it remains to be seen whether that’s something that really motivates talent, or whether the organic pull of community alone will be a strong enough retention tool.
Eleanor Warnock is Sifted’s deputy editor and cohost of The Sifted Podcast (listen here). She tweets from @misssaxbys