David Rogier MBA ’11: “Everyone Should Have Access to Genius”

How the CEO and cofounder of MasterClass reinvented online learning.

July 23, 2020

David Rogier could teach a MasterClass in tenacity. Growing up with a stutter, his parents taught him to love learning and to be fearless regardless of his challenges. So when he created MasterClass, he already knew something about pushing through.

Rogier called and cold-emailed some of the most famous people in the world in pursuit of just one yes that would launch the company. The call came, and then another and another. From the start, Rogier had hoped to level the educational playing field and now with talent like Steph Curry, Steve Martin, and Annie Leibovitz on board, he’s done it.

— Todd Holland

Full Transcript

David Rogier: Imagine how cool it would be if we could go back in time and take classes from the greats. From Plato, from Maya Angelou, from Gandhi, from the Wright brothers, from Einstein. Even if half of what they said was wrong, how much would we have improved as humanity to be able to take what they have learned and be able to build off that? I’ve been curious since like day one in my life. I got in trouble in school when I was a kid asking lots of questions. I think it’s a desire to want to understand how the world works and a realization that like life is fragile and short, and I want to take advantage of it.

So, I stutter. I’ve always stuttered. Um, it was much worse as, as a kid. And, I mean, I was teased in school about it. My parents refused to let me use that as an (laughs) excuse for anything. My parents would always insist that when they had friends over I would sit with them at the dinner table and I had to participate in the conversation. So, it was always encouraged.

At the GSB, I learned about careers and areas of business that I didn’t know existed. That was really great in expanding my worldview. I think one of the biggest things I got out of the GSB was I learned what my comparative advantage was. And I learned how to think, in ways. So, the story of MasterClass is one I never expected. After going to the GSB I tried all different ideas, I thought of all different ideas. And somebody gave me a great constraint. She said, “Choose an idea that even if it fails, you were going to be proud of it.” That was an awesome constraint for me. So, all the ideas go out the window except for education.

MasterClass is a set of online classes from the absolute best in the world. How to figure out how to go get the best in the world to actually teach? I didn’t know how to do it. And so, I mean, I literally cold-emailed, I cold-called. So the year’s going by, we aren’t getting any yeses from instructors. There were dark days in there or, you know, projected belief, but, you know, unsure. And then all the sudden I get a call (laughs). After we got the first two or three, it just started to be like a chain reaction. We ended up launching with five instructors. It was James Patterson, Dustin Hoffman, Serena Williams, Usher, and Annie Leibovitz. Education is the silver bullet. The only thing we know as a species that improves life is education. If somebody who never got exposure to the best in the world, all of the sudden now can learn from the best. That can only be good for the world.

There are dark days where you start to wonder if the critics were actually right, and then there are days that are the highest of highs and days you’ve never expected. I don’t want to be on my deathbed, in hopefully a long time, and think I didn’t try to make the world a bit, a tiny bit better. I don’t think MasterClass would be what it is today if I hadn’t gone to the GSB. The things I learned there, I still apply. It’s forced me to believe more in myself. Yeah. And believe that I could have more impact than I ever thought I could have. Yeah.

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