How MasterClass CEO David Rogier Brought Star Power to Online Learning

Cynthia Littleton
·2 min read

David Rogier got the inspiration to launch MasterClass, the online learning platform, from advice he received as a boy from his grandmother.

Education is something that can never be taken away from a person, she explained to him. Years later, when Rogier had the opportunity to start his own venture after working for some time in venture capital, his mind returned to the lesson he learned from her story of struggling to get accepted to medical school.

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MasterClass debuted in 2015 and has been on a steady uphill climb ever since, founder and CEO Rogier tells Variety podcast “Strictly Business.” The key has been the prominence of the instructors who signed on and the production quality brought to each multi-part course.

“A lot of it was thinking about how do you bring the joy back to learning,” Rogier says. “If you talk to most people about did they like school, the answer is ‘No.’ If you ask people if they like learning, the answer is, ‘Of course.'”

Dustin Hoffman, Serena Williams and author James Patterson were the crucial first notables to say yes. Industry veterans Jay Roach and Bill Guttentag directed some of the first courses, establishing the pacing and tone for instructors. Now the list includes Disney’s Bob Iger; directors Spike Lee, Ron Howard, Jodie Foster and Judd Apatow; actors Helen Mirren and Samuel L. Jackson; and writer David Mamet.

To date, MasterClass has raised more than $225 million in funding from private investors. MasterClass has been mentioned as an acquisition target for media companies, but Rogier indicated he has no interest in selling just yet.

“The growth and traction that we have seen not just this past year, but the year before that was way past our forecasts and estimates,” Rogier said. “Before COVID, we were growing way above what we had forecast. In COVID, there were weeks we were 10 times year-over-year.”

Rogier also touches on some of the intangible aspects of being an entrepreneur, namely having the self-confidence to pursue a vision that no one else can see.

“Early on in a project you’re going to be doing things that people think are impossible or dumb or bad ideas — and that’s OK,” he says.

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

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