What to know about Coursera’s 2021 IPO

Have you found yourself in need of a degree, certification or skill update? Common barriers to solving this problem are the cost of higher education, strict institutional schedules, and balancing work or caretaking duties which limit an individual’s time flexibility. Coursera provides relevant, self-paced, professional and vocational learning for less money than most brick-and-mortar institutions via a customized, online-learning platform.

Coursera started nearly ten years ago offering free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Thousands of people signed up and since then, the number of registered users, called learners, has increased exponentially. Fast forward to now, they offer individual courses, specializations (groups of courses focused on mastery of a skill), certificates, MasterTrack certificates (professional certificates that can be applied towards online degrees), Bachelor’s Degrees and Master’s Degrees. With their March 2021 IPO, they have rapt attention from ed-tech industry investors and analysts.


  • October2011 founded; April 2012 launched own online platform to offer free MOOCs
  • December 2012 reached $1 million in revenue within 9 months of official platform launch
  • Coursera offers 4600+ courses, 500+ specializations, 40+ professional certificates, and 25+ degrees. They have 200+ university and industry partners and 77+ million learners
  • Coursera is available in 28+ countries and offers courses in Arabic, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Nepali, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese
  • 2020 revenues were $293 million
  • Total fundraising as of July 2020 is $464 million via 9 rounds of funding with investors such as NEA, Kleiner Perkins, SEEK Group, Learn Capital, SuRo Capital Corp, and G Squared. July 2020 funding received was $130 million with a post money valuation of $1 billion
  • February 2021 became a B Corp
  • March 2021 $100,000,000 IPO, with a valuation of 2.5 billion

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Coursera’s history

In Fall 2011, Stanford University launched three online, open access computer science courses. Professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered the first one; Professors Andrew Ng and Jennifer Widom offered the second and third. Enrollment exceeded 160,000 students. This success led to the birth of two companies: Professor Thrun founded Udacity; Professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller founded Coursera. Ng and Koller’s stated mission was to “transform lives through learning”. They created an online platform combining education, community and technology and initially only offered free MOOCs.

Ng and Koller, co-CEO’s until 2014, are more than “just” Stanford professors. Koller was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2011, recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012 and elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. Koller served as President from 2015-2016 until she left to found Insitro, which applies machine learning techniques to drive innovation in life sciences.Prior to co-founding Coursera, Ng was Chief Scientist at Baidu, a Chinese language search engine, where he lead world-wide AI strategy and infrastructure.In 2013, he was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. He became Chair of the Coursera Board in 2014.

Its’ first certificate programs, along with financial aid options, began in 2013. In 2014, with former Yale University President Rick Levin took the helm of Coursera and under his leadership, they began charging for completion certificates. The company rolled out their self-paced, on-demand platform and the first specializations became available. They also continued adding courses, certificate programs and degree offerings as they developed partnerships with educational institutions, industry partners and government agencies. The first Master’s Degrees were available in 2015. In 2017, current CEO Jeff Maggioncalda took the helm after successfully serving nearly two decades as founding CEO at Financial Engines Inc, a company co-founded by renowned economist and Nobel Prize winner William Sharpe. Also in 2017, they launched Coursera for Governments and Non-Profits. 2018 brought their first bachelor’s degree and in 2019, they acquired Rhyme, rebranding it as Coursera Labs. Revenues have grown every year with no stalling.



2018 2019



95.6 million

141.8 million 184.4 million

293.5 million

Net Losses

-53.3 million

-43.6 million -46.7 million

-66.8 million

Total # Learners

30.1 million

37.3 million 46.4 million

76.6 million

Total # Degree Earners


n/a 19,220


True to their roots of providing a service to humanity, a huge swath of their course catalog is still available for free. Individuals who don’t need credentials, who want a low-cost way to engage with a new body of knowledge and those who enjoy life-long learning benefit from being able to audit courses. Ng says, “We started Coursera to democratize access to high-quality education.” In the spring of 2020, Coursera again demonstrated its commitment to the common good with initiatives to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. They offer a free contact tracing course via Johns Hopkins. All Coursera for Campus courses were free from March 2020-September 2020. The company became a Delaware public benefit corporation in February 2021.

The company shares their official guiding principles and purpose on Coursera.org, “We believe learning is the source of human progress. It has the power to transform our world from illness to health, from poverty to prosperity, from conflict to peace. It has the power to transform our lives for ourselves, for our families, for our communities. No matter who we are or where we are, learning empowers us to change and grow and redefine what’s possible. That’s why access to the best learning is a right, not a privilege. And that’s why Coursera is here. We partner with the best institutions to bring the best learning to every corner of the world. So that anyone, anywhere has the power to transform their life through learning.”

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Coursera fundraising to know about

Coursera has raised a total of $443.1 million in the following key fundraising rounds:

  • Series A: Date: April 2012; Amount: $16 million; Investors: Kleiner Perkins, NEA; Valuation: n/a
  • Series A: Date: July 2012; Amount: $6 million; Investors: Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers, NEA; Valuation: n/a
  • Series B: Date: July 2013; Amount: $43 million; Investors: GSV Capital, International Finance, Learn Capital; Valuation: n/a
  • Series B: Date: November 2013; Amount: $20 million; Investors: GSV Capital, Learn Capital; Valuation: n/a
  • Series C: Date: August 2015; Amount: $49.5 million; Investors: Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers, Learn Capital, NEA; Valuation: n/a
  • Series C: Date: October 2015; Amount: $11.6 million; Investors: EDBI,Learn Capital,GSV Asset Management; Valuation: n/a
  • Series D: Date: June 2017; Amount: $64 million; Investors: Kleiner Perkins,NEA,Learn Capital,GSV Asset Management,Lampert Foundation; Valuation: $800 million
  • Series E: Date: April 2019; Amount: $103 million; Investors: SEEK Group,Future Fund,NEA; Valuation: $1 billion
  • Series F: Date: July 2020; Amount: $130 million; Investors: Kleiner Perkins,Learn Capital,G Squared,NEA,SuRo Capital; Valuation: $2.5 billion

Path to Coursera IPO

Coursera entered unicorn status in April 2019 with a $1 billion post-money valuation after Series E funding. They have come a long way from open access, online community-building, free MOOCs to being a market leader in offering online, self-paced, on-demand, affordable access to skills and degrees.

Many educational institutions struggled during the pandemic. Being an ed-tech company, the pandemic added to their growth due to their ability to meet the needs of universities and government agencies. According to official statements from Coursera, “We believe that we have a large, underpenetrated addressable opportunity ahead of us to enable the digital transformation of higher education and provide lifelong adult learning at scale.”

To address this opportunity, they aim to increase the number of learners and increase the number of degrees they offer. Their reported degrees segment gross profit has nearly doubled every year since 2017 so this focus makes sense. Notably, all segments of Coursera’s business are growing.The IPO underwriters are: Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC, Citigroup Global Markets Inc., UBS Securities LLC, KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., Raymond James and Associates, Inc., Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Truist Securities, Inc. William Blair & Company, L.L.C., D.A. Davidson & Co., Needham & Company, LLC, Loop Capital Markets LLC and Telsey Advisory Group LLC.

When is the Coursera IPO?

Coursera filed their IPO paperwork with the SEC on 3/5/2021. They went public on 3/31/2021. Prior to the IPO, the largest investors in the company who aren’t working there were:

  • New Enterprise Associates 13, Limited Partnership, 18.3%
  • G Squared, 15.9%
  • KPCB Holdings, Inc. ,9.2%
  • Future Fund Investment Company No. 4 Pty Ltd., 7.9%

CEO Maggioncalda released a note to email subscribers on March 31, 2021 saying, “Today, Coursera is taking a step forward by becoming a publicly-traded company on the NYSE. As a public B Corp, we are committed to using our resources to further our vision of creating a world where anyone, anywhere has the power to transform their life through learnings. Today and always, every member of Coursera, along with our partner community of more than 200 university and industry educators, aspires to continue reducing barriers to world-class education so we can all collaborate, learn and advance together. Thank you for being a part of this community of problem-solvers, leaders, and change-markers – and for showing the world how to learn without limits.”

What investors should know

All investing involves risks. Let’s explore some of the specific risks one might need to consider with Coursera’s IPO.

If you want to receive annual dividends from your investments, be aware Coursera does not intend to pay dividends and will instead reinvest all earnings towards their future, long-term growth. Also, despite revenue and learner growth, Coursera has never posted a net profit.

The ed-tech industry is a relatively new industry. Do a gut-check and see how investing in a new industry aligns with your goals. The global adult education market is poised for growth due to the digitization of the world economy. According to HolonIQ, an intelligence firm focused on the education market, the 2019 higher education market worldwide was $2.2 trillion. The global online degree segment of this market was $36 billion in 2019 and is expected to double by 2025.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loan debt in the United States was the second largest component of household debt, at $1.55trillion as of September 2020. Debt is a barrier to individuals’ access to education. According to the United Nations, 1.6billion students in 190 countries, approximately 94% of all students in the world, experienced schools at least temporarily closed physically due to theCOVID-19pandemic. Some brick and mortar institutions, already financially struggling pre-pandemic, now face the difficult decision to close.

Coursera expects the ed-tech industry in the future to be characterized by online,job-relevanteducation. According to an estimate by the World Bank, there were more than 200 million college students around the world as of October 2017, many of whom did not have necessaryjob-relevantskills. Coursera’s strengths as a company include: an efficient learner acquisition model, flexible technology platform, large partner network, responsive course catalog providingin-demandskills, ability to distribute content and credentials to a global audience, and the availability of rich user data analytics. Coursera’s weaknesses on the learner side could affect their growth: users worry about plagiarism, forum moderation, and the peer-grading system used in some courses. Addressing learner concerns may be important in the future.

This industry is adapting and changing in ways people cannot always predict. Because of the growth expected in this industry, it is reasonable to expect new competitors and for current competitors to modify their business models and offerings to remain relevant. Currently, Coursera has five categories of competitors:

  1. Direct to consumer, online education companies. Examples: edX Inc., FutureLearn Limited, and Udemy, Inc.
  2. Companies providing tech solutions & services to universities offering online learning programs. Examples: 2U, Inc., Eruditus Learning Solutions Pte. Ltd., Noodle Partners, Inc. and upGrad Education Private Limited.
  3. Corporate training companies. Examples: A Cloud Guru Ltd., Degreed, Inc., LinkedIN Corporation, Pluralsight, Inc. and Udacity.
  4. Providers of free educational resources. Examples: Khan Academy, Inc., The Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., and Google LLC via YouTube Services.
  5. Internal online degree programs developed in-house by universities. Example: a local university starting an online degree program as an alternative means of delivery for an existing program.

Bottom line

No one is exempt from risk. What needs to be understood is whether Coursera can grow in the current market. Globally there are millions of professionals and students who need additional skills. Flexible learning opportunities provide greater access to learning and culturally, online degrees and certifications have become more acceptable – especially in industries where companies seek specific skills rather than using the possession of a degree as a gatekeeping mechanism. This allowed Coursera to gain additional partners and learners even during the global COVID-19 pandemic. If Coursera can continue increasing not just their number of learners, but specifically their paid credential seekers, there’s a potential for gain.

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Julie Pierce Onos is a Massachusetts-based writer and Organization Development expert. She loves the stories that numbers tell us about business, relationships and health. You can connect with her on Twitter at @juliepierceonos.

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