For a brief moment last fall, Kim Taylor was one of the tech industry’s most high-profile entrepreneurs — and one of its most pilloried.
As a cast member of the Bravo reality show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley,” Taylor put her life on public display with the help of producer Randi (Mark’s Sister) Zuckerberg. Viewers followed along as Taylor worked to build her fashion startup, Shonova, and many noted with derision that the cast seemed to spend more time partying and looking pretty than actually building their companies. (Taylor, nothing if not a good sport, disputed that characterization in a December interview with me, saying: “I assure you that I don’t sleep.”)
Now Taylor has embraced another tried-and-true startup maneuver: The pivot. In an email Tuesday, she announced that she was shelving Shonova to tackle a meatier subject, online education.
“We’re calling it Ranku (Japanese for rank),” she wrote. “We’ve been a company for 2 weeks.” But that hasn’t stopped respected accelerator TechStars from enrolling the four-person startup in its latest class, an education-focused cohort in New York City sponsored with testing giant Kaplan.
I could get all “Conspiracy Theory” here and note that Kaplan is majority owned by the Washington Post and that Post CEO Donald Graham is a pal of Mark Zuckerberg’s. But let’s give Taylor the benefit of the doubt. She said she’s been noodling on the idea for Ranku since 2009, and her co-founder (and childhood friend) Cecilia Retelle is the former head of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Their new company, the pair said, aims to help “non-profit universities with full online degree programs compete with the University of Phoenix.” Taylor touts her prior experience at an ad-tech startup that worked with Kaplan and the University of Phoenix, along with competitors like 2U and Deltak. While she promises more details about Ranku in the future, there’s no doubt online education is an increasingly hot space.