Find 600,000 Digital Users in 3 Years

An Interview with DataCamp Co-Founder, Martijn Theuwissen

How did DataCamp, creators an interactive online learning platform with data science content, grow their user base to 600,000 in just three years? I sat down with co-Founder Martijn Theuwissen to learn about their approach.

I found they did three things well:

  • Focused on an enthusiast niche to launch the business
  • Utilized a membership model to align incentives with the users
  • Consistently listened to their customers to grow

In their own words, DataCamp is “the first and foremost leader in Data Science Education offering skill-based training, pioneering technical innovation, and partnering with the world’s best educators.” For a monthly fee, subscribers get access to their entire library of premium courses related to data science (for example programming in R or Python, two languages used in data analysis). DataCamp also offers a set of free courses to build the brand. Their free introduction to R course has been taken by over 260,000 students.

Content is of high quality, as all instructors have hands-on experience. They are a mix of professors from leading academic institutions like Duke University, data science experts at companies like RStudio and Continuum Analytics, and key open-source contributors.

DataCamp has not only developed high-quality content; they also created an “interactive coding experience” that allows the reader to practice what they just learned via an in-browser coding interface.

Focused on an enthusiast niche to launch the business

DataCamp originally targeted R programming language enthusiasts. While now the language is rapidly making its way into industry, R was initially popular in academic circles (perhaps because it is open source, i.e., free). A strong community of R advocates emerged. This group regularly blogs and attends conferences on the language.

The DataCamp founders knew there was a need in the market: quality, curated, online data science courses. They knew people were wasting time searching all over the internet for various pieces of content, and the quality of any particular site could vary. DataCamp would be the time-efficient solution for people who want to learn about R.

Furthermore, the existing resources tended to be text-heavy and one-way (e.g., just watch the instructor but get no feedback). A “learning by doing” environment would create a more engaging and fun learning environment.

DataCamp zeroed in on the engaged R audience and built their first offering for them.  They officially launched in 2013 at an R conference.  “It was nice that people were there; you could see exactly what works,” said Theuwissen.

From there, DataCamp spread through R blogs. DataCamp wrote guest posts that added value to the community while also raising awareness about their own product.

Because DataCamp was so focused on the wants and needs of this enthusiast niche, the early customers became advocates and began spreading the word for them.


Utilized a membership model to align incentives with the users

There was a decision to be made about the business model. At first, DataCamp charged per course.  Then, they had the insight to change their model to a subscription-based membership.

The long-term vision was to create the right incentives between DataCamp and its customers. Theuwissen elaborated, “A subscription model requires us to keep the customer engaged. We need to keep creating relevant content.”

They launched a membership model with just a couple of courses behind the paywall. You might ask yourself, “Would people pay for a small number of courses?” The answer was, “Yes.” In fact, the experience was so great, these initial members have become the most loyal brand advocates. This model also put entrepreneurial pressure on the DataCamp team to rapidly expand offerings.

Today, a subscription costs $29/month, or you can prepay for a year at $300 (a $48 savings). You can also sign up for free and take an introductory course and the first lesson from each premium course. Pricing was based on benchmarking against comparable products and services such as Team Treehouse and Code School.

Consistently listened to their customers to grow

 To date, over 25 million exercises have been completed. That’s a lot of data science! DataCamp has been able to keep the momentum going by listening to their customers and giving them what they want.

They have expanded into the Python programming language and will soon release courses on other languages as well, because “this is something our audience asked for,” explained Theuwissen.

They also focus their time and resources well. As Theuwissen described, it, “We pick something, build the best, then move on to the next thing, following very closely what customers want.”

DataCamp has the advantages of their content being evergreen and easily modifiable. Since everything is digital, if customer needs or technology changes, it is relatively easy to update the content so it remains relevant.

The business continues to grow rapidly.  To support this expansion, they are actively recruiting, for both their Brussels and Boston offices.

By relentlessly focusing on the needs of their most passionate customers, DataCamp has experienced rapid growth in its base and is well on its way to the next level.

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