Member Feature: John Koelliker from Leland

Member Feature: John Koelliker from Leland

Member Feature
November 30, 2021

Some of the Leland team, including Co-founders John Koelliker (far right) and Cameron Lehman (second from the left).

Every month we feature some of our Everything Marketplaces community members to help highlight their story, their journey building their marketplace, and get a glimpse at what's ahead.

In this member feature we highlight John Koelliker, who’s the Co-founder & CEO of Leland. Leland is an online marketplace that connects ambitious people with world-class coaches who can help them achieve their educational and career goals, starting with MBA admissions. They’ve quickly built up an incredibly engaged community with their marketplace and are exploring new verticals. 

So what’s your background briefly and what led to the idea for starting Leland?

I have a growth and product management background at people-focused marketplaces like Uber, LinkedIn, and Curated. While I was working as a PM, I also started a little side-hustle as a coach for PM interviews and MBA admissions. This is actually how I met my now Co-founder, Cameron. We had both been spending a lot of time digging into the admissions and coaching space and realized how big of an opportunity there was to make the experience better for both the demand-side (young professionals and aspiring students) and the supply-side (career coaches and admissions consultants). We ran several early tests around this, including a bootcamp, 1:1 coaching, and premium content, which helped us hone in on the marketplace model and several other elements of what Leland is today.

What were some of the first steps that you took to build Leland? What were some of the initial challenges that you faced?

The first thing we did was spec out the various dynamics of the marketplace model including our take rate, how managed/unmanaged it would be, pricing, etc. We studied countless other talent and service marketplaces, talked with experts, and leveraged a lot of the tests we had run previously. After that, we built our MVP using a no-code tool for the logged out experience and a custom web-app for the actual marketplace, which was built by some amazing engineers we had working with us part-time. It was tough to know how robust of an MVP we really needed, but given our past tests and research, we felt confident enough to invest in building a quality product. We also felt like it would be important for establishing trust with customers and coaches to have a product that felt easy to use and we wanted to be able to build on top of whatever product we built. We simultaneously recruited our initial supply-side by tapping into our networks and doing some proactive direct outreach.

What’s the problem that you’re solving for and how has Leland as a marketplace proven to be a great solution?

Getting into the best schools and career paths has never been more competitive, so people are desperate to find help. The problem is initially finding, trusting, and being able to afford help. Admissions consulting firms often take 50-80% of what the customer is being charged, which drives prices up and makes it unaffordable for many people. Even if you can afford $10-15k for coaching, it’s hard to know who the best option is when you can’t read real reviews and there’s no trusted place you can go to when evaluating options. It’s also a highly fragmented and overpriced market today, so customers don’t know how to find the best coaches and coaches also don’t know how to reach customers. We think a marketplace model helps address many of these fundamental issues and pain points.

How have you approached building community with Leland and one that appears to have such a strong sense of purpose that your community is always sharing about it on social?

One of Leland’s cultural values is “Celebrate Stories.” Our platform is all about helping people achieve their goals—whether that’s getting into school, reaching a career milestone, or accomplishing something else. These milestones often come with amazingly rich stories from both our coaches and customers. We see Leland as a platform through which these incredible people can share their stories and feel celebrated. This not only makes them feel supported, but it also makes intimidating application processes feel more approachable and tangible for the next generation.

What was the fundraising journey like and how has that helped accelerate your marketplace?

We think about the investors we partner with as being another core pillar of the Leland community. For our $1.1M Pre-Seed round that we announced in October, we raised from firms, angels, and operators that we’ve known for many years that are located in both the Bay Area and Utah. We feel very fortunate to have had people willing to partner with us, so we’re excited to continue deepening our relationship with them as well as adding new investors to our community over time as we continue to grow. It’s also allowed us to hire faster and invest more into the overall Leland experience.

What’s been the biggest learning so far?

So many learnings! One of the biggest realizations I’ve had so far is how important and strong the creator/expertise economy really is. Since launching, we’ve been overwhelmed with how excited coaches are to share their knowledge, make a side hustle (or coach full-time), and help the next generation. I’m excited to continue playing a role in making the world’s expertise more accessible to people who can really benefit from it.

How big does Leland get and what’s needed to get there?

We see Leland as being a $10B+ business, where everyone goes to achieve their biggest life goals. Our North Star with Leland is to unlock human potential, and we know that the process of helping customers and coaches achieve their full potential is constant. In order to build this size of business, we’ll need a world-class team, amazing coaches, committed investors, and customers who trust us with their most important life goals. We see so much opportunity ahead of us, and know it’s up to us to go out and make it happen.

What’s exciting and ahead for Leland that you can share with us?

When we launched Leland a few months ago, our first category was MBA admissions. It’s gone incredibly well, but we won’t be exclusively focused here for long. We’ve gotten some amazing feedback from customers and coaches, so we’ll be announcing some new categories very soon. Stay tuned for more!

Connect with John in the Everything Marketplaces community.