Niche’s one-stop shop for college searchers raises a $35M Series C

Natasha Mascarenhas

Despite the implications of its name, edtech platform Niche took nearly a decade-and-a-half to find its place within the world of the college search process.

The company started as College Prowler, selling informational books, which looked like a hybrid between CliffsNotes and a Zagat guide, about colleges. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies and amassed millions in revenue, but then had to face the economic crisis of 2008 and figure out a new go-to-market strategy.

Today, and a few pivots later, Niche partners with college campuses and schools to provide information to prospective students. The focus is the same as in 2002, according to founder Luke Skurman, as it tries to make the college search process more clear and student-focused.

Think of Niche as a focused platform for students to review their college options without having to track multiple browser tabs and messy spreadsheets. It allows users to compare metrics like historic acceptance rate, cost and post-graduate earnings for each school, as well as topics like majors and campus life. Niche uses the data to grade each school, and it lists reviews and similar schools. Beyond a college by college look, Niche has ranking lists spanning topics like best dorms and most diverse colleges.

Skurman noted that, historically, April is a month when students make decisions about where to commit for college and squeeze in a visit before they put down their deposit.

“In the world we’re living in right now, that’s not possible,” he said. “Many colleges are trying to find new vendors and new solutions to help them for the fall 2021 to help them market.”

Beyond coronavirus’s impact, the founder noted that colleges should consider digital tours as a way to be “equitable and inclusive, because we recognize that a lot of families don’t have the means to be able to visit all these campuses across the country.”

Despite rocky days in the past, Niche went from zero to 1,400 clients in the past three years. In 2019, Niche increased its ARR more than 100% and client base by more than 60% year-over-year. Niche was cash-flow positive for the majority of the year.

The digitization of the college admissions experience brought similar growth to CampusReel, a startup that virtualizes tours for colleges through student-generated videos.

“Traditional visit days are essentially no longer options,” said Nick Freud, founder of CampusReel. “So colleges are scrambling to find a solution even if they can’t completely replace how you capture the look and the feel and the culture of a campus in a virtual setting.” Freud said that he’s seeing colleges start to supplement their marketing materials with video and student-generated content. He claims that CampusReel has tools to allow a college to post a profile in less than 15 minutes.

Optimal, another college rankings and review company, similarly offers information to students about schools. The platform has less of a data focus than Niche, and focuses more on reviews and lists. Optimal also connects students to coding schools and online bootcamps.

It’s this broad growth amid consumer-facing platforms for college searchers, coupled with a potential market of 40,000 schools, that led Niche to raise a $35 million Series C, it announced today. The round was led by Radian Capital, with additional participation from Salesforce Ventures. Existing investors Allen & Company LLC and Tim Armstrong participated, as well.

Niche’s new capital comes as the way schools do business changes by the day. With new cash in the bank, we’ll see see how a company born from adaptation fares in the coming months.