Chegg is already leading the pack of textbook rental websites, and with new features unveiled today, it’s moving closer to chief executive Dan Rosensweig’s vision of reaching college students every day of the year.
Specifically, the Santa Clara, Calif. startup is launching new features that allow students to select classes and ask for homework help on the Chegg site. These additions use the technology that Chegg acquired when it bought CourseRank and Cramster last year.
With the course selection tool, Chegg users on 600 campuses will be able to search for classes, view student reviews and average grades in each class, and build their schedule in an online calendar. Then, once they’ve figured out their schedule, Chegg will point out which textbooks they’ll need and let them rent those books with just a click. The company says it hopes to expand this feature to 1,000 schools by the end of the year.
In the homework feature (which still carries the Cramster branding), users can post their questions and receive help from other students or from experts. Chegg is also building a database of answers to questions in textbooks.
Even though Chegg is broadening its focus, it looks like the main business goal of these features, especially the course selector, is to encourage students to rent more textbooks. Senior Vice President of Product Gordon Biddle acknowledged that course selection is a key moment for reaching textbook customers, but he said Chegg will be experimenting with different pricing models for Cramster.
Biddle also echoed Rosensweig’s comments about reaching students throughout the year. That increases Chegg’s visibility with students and pushes the site towards Biddle’s goal of becoming a truly ubiquitous presence on campus within a couple of years. (The CEO of competitor BookRenter has argued that building a consumer brand around textbooks is a big challenge, which is why BookRenter focuses on bookstore partnerships.)
“I think it’s not a secret that our business is very rush focused — it’s all about December and it’s all about August,” Biddle said, referring to the beginning months of the two main college semesters. But with the new features, a student can come to Chegg to select courses, then rent books, then keep coming back throughout the semester for homework help, and then it’s time to select courses again.
Chegg investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Insight Venture Partners, Ace Limited, and others.
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