As Blake Garrett was bouncing around ideas for a new business in 2012, he had some sense of what he wanted to build.
It was going to be a mobile education app, inspired in part by his previous stint at Ernst & Young, where he helped start a mentorship program for high-school students in Austin. It would focus on vocational and occupational training, not academic subjects, that would help people advance their careers.
“We knew we wanted to go with licensing and certification courses that most people have to take regularly,” recalls Garrett. He ended up starting with mobile education—almost literally—in the form of a driver’s education app.
Fast forward eight years, that startup, Aceable, is driving its way into other fields—fueled this week by a $50 million Series C investment round led by private equity firm HGGC.
Driver’s ed is a market where existing programs and services are largely underwhelming (if not wholly forgettable), and where licensing requirements differ state by state. Yet there is also perpetual demand across nearly all ages, especially among teenagers, for whom driving is a kind of rite of passage into adulthood. “Mobility is tied to economic opportunity,” he adds, noting that most jobs, at least before the pandemic, required commuting.
Starting with a single, 32-hour driver’s ed course in Texas, Aceable has since expanded its mobile-app footprint to 36 states. (It covers the laws and safety guidelines unique to each state’s curriculum, and not the actual behind-the-wheel test, of course.) More than 13 million learners have used its app, the company reports. It has added courses for defensive driving, too, which are often required for those who commit vehicular infractions.
Business has slowed in the aftermath of the pandemic, which has kept people largely in homes and led them to cut back on commute and travel. (“And if people aren’t driving, they’re not getting speeding tickets,” Garrett quips.) So while the pandemic has led to usage spikes for many other digital educational services, that hasn’t been the case for Aceable.
But the company has since expanded into another industry—one that is growing as a result of the pandemic. In 2017, Aceable began offering courses for real estate certifications. At the time, “we thought this was the ideal market opportunity to help people achieve their financial dream, as real estate doesn’t require a college education,” says Garrett.
More than 45,000 realtors have earned their license after taking the company’s courses, and demand is growing. As the pandemic has normalized remote from work, and as more companies have said they will no longer require people to come into an office, workers have begun moving to regions farther away from headquarters, looking for homes. Boosted by low mortgage interest rates, the real estate market has been surprisingly strong in 2020.
Most of Aceable’s revenue comes directly from students who pay to take its courses. It also sells to organizations who pay for their members or employees to use its services. Garrett did not disclose revenue details, but he says the company is already profitable.
To date, Aceable has raised more than $107 million from private investors. This latest infusion will accelerate its efforts to grow its real-estate education business, he adds, and also to expand into other verticals. Possibilities include healthcare, safety and hazard occupational training, offers Garrett.
To support these efforts, the company is looking to purchase others. “Growth through acquisitions is definitely a big objective in 2021,” says Garrett, who adds that HGGC’s experience with mergers and acquisitions will be an asset.