Thought Industries Rides Edtech Wave, Merges Learning and E-Commerce

Online education is rapidly seeping into other, larger business sectors. LinkedIn’s $1.5 billion acquisition of Lynda.com is a leading example of edtech merging with professional networking and services.

Earlier this month in Boston, textbook retailer and educational finance company Valore acquired Boundless, a maker of digital learning materials for college courses. Meanwhile, big publishers like Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and McGraw-Hill Education are all trying to become education software companies.

Now there’s another example of edtech intersecting with e-commerce and publishing: Boston-based Thought Industries, which got its start in late 2013 and raised an undisclosed amount of private investment last year. The company makes software that helps brands and publishers deliver digital-learning content to their customers—and make more money from it, says CEO and co-founder Barry Kelly.

The software includes authoring tools that let companies build online course outlines, product catalogs, content layouts, and customizable storefronts, using a drag-and-drop interface. The content can be things like how-to videos with captions, interactive text and graphics, slideshows, and guided courses. The idea is to help consumers pursue hobbies or learn new skills—anything from home improvement to electronics to nutrition—and also buy related content, like e-books or other materials.

Thought Industries’ big customers include Reader’s Digest, Penton Media, and health and wellness publisher Rodale. Kelly says his company is currently working with more than 50 brands.

Kelly grew up outside Dublin and spent several years (most of the 2000s) at Berkleemusic.com, helping build and market Berklee Online’s site for music education. From there, he moved into technology and digital product development at America’s Test Kitchen, before joining Thought Industries as CEO.

The big picture is that over the next few years, Kelly says, “for adults pursuing career development or pursuing hobbies and passions, there will be so many ways to learn. There will be more variety and more options. And for organizations, it’s an opportunity to build relationships with customers.”

As for how e-commerce and learning will evolve, he says, stay tuned. “The two things go hand in hand. If you dedicate yourself to that, you’ll want to invest in the best products. We’ll see a tremendous connection between those two experiences,” he says.

Thought Industries has 18 people spread out around the U.S. It’s still early, but the company seems poised to grow on its own. “We’re cash-flow positive, and we’re not looking to raise more money at the moment,” Kelly says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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