Meet Kim Taylor, The Silicon Alley Star Who Wants To Fix Online Education

By Megan Rose Dickey

Kim Taylor danced for the Milwaukee Bucks Energee!

Kim Taylor danced for the Milwaukee Bucks Energee!

Growing up in Madison, Wisc., Ranku CEO Kim Taylor became a force to be reckoned with on the dance floor, the beams, and the ice. As a girl, she loved dancing and she loved ice hockey. By age of seven, that passion for dancing ultimately led to an interest in gymnastics. 

That mix of school and sports has been a theme throughout Taylor’s life, right up to her current project: Ranku is a tech startup that helps students discover and rank online college degree programs. It’s backed with $500,000 by Mark Cuban, the tech investor who is perhaps best-known as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

Taylor became a very competitive gymnast thanks to the help of her coaches, the parents of Chellsie Marie Memmel. Memmel was a member of the U.S.’s 2008 Olympic women’s gymnastics team.

“I was a very serious gymnast,” Taylor tells Business Insider. “That was my whole life. I also just really liked sports. I was kind of very well known (for the beam). No one could ever beat me at a handstand contest.”

But since her brothers were ice hockey players, Taylor decided to take up ice hockey while continuing to excel at gymnastics. She joined her high school’s boys hockey team as well as a private girls hockey team.

Also on that girls’ team was Ranku co-founder Cecilia Retelle, the now-former senior director of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. When their team went to the national championship, Retelle and Taylor bunked together and have been friends ever since.

The college years and dancing in the NBA

Once she entered college, Taylor snagged a spot as an NBA dancer for the Milwaukee Bucks. That year, the team ended up going to the eastern conference finals.

But that was her first and last year as an NBA dancer. That’s because she realized she wanted to be a sports writer or broadcaster.

After her first year of college, Taylor stopped dancing for the NBA, and transferred from a small Jesuit school in Wisconsin to Arizona State University, to study journalism.

While at ASU, Taylor wrote for The Arizona Republic where she mostly covered football. Her coverage involved a lot of statistics, and that’s when she fell in love with research. Research, she says, is most of what drives her online education startup today.

Given that she essentially grew up in the boys locker room both as an athlete and sports writer, Taylor says, it was good training for the male-dominated tech world.

After college, Taylor switched from the editorial side to advertising. Around 2008, Taylor was working for an online publisher in Chicago where she focused on online education.

At the time, Taylor says, for-profit institutions were exploding because newly unemployed people saw schools as a safe haven, an alternative to an unstable workforce.

“I knew it was a big industry, but no one in Chicago appreciated it,” Taylor says. “So I started thinking that I should look at startups, but I knew nothing about startups.”

So she came up with a checklist. Taylor wanted to join an early-stage startup with no revenue, and no capital.

“I wanted to run revenue,” Taylor says.

And that’s what she ultimately did.

Starring on Bravo’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” reality TV show

Taylor came to Silicon Valley as the fifth employee at a startup that builds Facebook ads for brands.

She joined contingent on fact that they would let her do things her way, she says.

“They didn’t know how to make money and had zero contacts,” Taylor says.

Within her first year at the company, Taylor demonstrated how to reach $1 million in revenue.

Along the way, Taylor found out about Bravo’s new reality TV show “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.”

“It sounded like a complete joke,” Taylor says. “I just wanted to see if I could get on it.”

So she bypassed the standard application process and sent the producers a well-crafted email instead. Two days later, she was invited to join the show.

The show received negative feedback from the moment the first episode aired. People criticized it for not depicting an accurate, authentic view of life in Silicon Valley.

A few episodes into the season, we found out that Taylor had decided to leave the Facebook ads company to start a new fashion startup called Shonova.

By the time she left, she was bringing in $3 million a month in revenue. She would’ve stayed, Taylor says, but the startup’s executives wouldn’t give her a VP title.

She told them, “If you don’t give me my title or give me a raise, I’m out.” As Taylor reflects back on what happened, she wonders if the CEO thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.

“I think a lot of women get held back in their careers,” Taylor says. “I was held back. They didn’t want to give me a title. They didn’t want to push me forward. I always knew I was capable of more.”

The show got canceled before the end of the first season, but Taylor has no regrets.

“It was an amazing thing for me,” Taylor says. “Anything is what you will make of it.”

Though, she’s not sure if she could say the same for some of the other cast members. She didn’t specifically mention these examples, but the season featured plenty of drama, a strap-on sex toy, and other bizarre moments involving some of the other cast members.

From Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley

Just a few weeks out from launching fashion startup Shonova, Taylor pulled the plug. Her real passion had always been in education, so she decided to pursue Ranku, the online education startup that she had first started thinking about back in Chicago.

Even though the application deadline had passed for the new Kaplan Education accelerator powered by TechStars in New York, the program said it would make an exception for her if she could get a team together.

Within two weeks, Taylor convinced Retelle, her childhood friend and former ice hockey teammate, to quit her lucrative job as the senior director of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to join Ranku as a co-founder. Taylor also brought on board an engineer and user interface designer, and convinced her brother to help out, too.

With a team intact, she received her term sheet for a $20,000 investment in Ranku.

Ranku wants to become a destination for people to find the best online degree program from top-notch universities. For Ranku, the “best” school isn’t necessarily the one with the highest ranking on the “U.S. News and World Report” list. Instead, the best schools in Ranku’s lists are the ones that give students great job outcomes.

The three-month accelerator program started this past June. A couple of days before Demo Day, where each startup pitches to an audience of investors, Ranku announced that Mark Cuban would be leading a $500,000 seed round in the startup.

“Mark was coming to town to do press for Shark Tank,” Taylor says. “He pinged me and asked how my startup was doing. I said, ‘cranking’ and he asked me to meet. I knew he wanted me to pitch.”

Aiming to find a place to go where people wouldn’t want to talk to Cuban, Taylor scheduled a meeting at her favorite Green Bay Packers bar (Cuban is a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan).

“No one bothered him,” Taylor says. “No one said anything.”

So she gave him the high-level pitch, but after a few minutes Cuban interrupts her.

“Kim, stop talking,” he said. “I’m in.”

Ranku launched just three months ago, but it’s already cash-flow positive. Going forward, Ranku wants to solve some of the biggest, most complicated issues in education and close the skills gap.

“It’s something that needs to be solved in the private sector,” Taylor says. “That’s how I see it. We start here. This is the logical starting point for online education. New rules are being written. There are no rules about what makes a great versus a terrible online school. No one even understands if and why they’re good. We want to champion idea of measuring the quality of schools by output.”

It goes in line with what President Barack Obama wants for our education system, Taylor says. The only difference is that Taylor and her co-founder Retelle plan to have that done by next quarter.

Photo of the Day – October 3

Current third year veteran Laura during her TopCat rookie season, October 2011

The AFL is returning to Portland

Arena Football League returning to Portland
By FOX 12 Staff
October 2, 2013

Portland-area businessman Terry Emmert joined others in announcing a new Arena Football League team Wednesday.

The team will begin play at The Moda Center in Portland, in the spring of 2014. It will mark Arena Football League’s second attempt in Portland after the Forest Dragons skipped town in 1999.

This time, the team is owned by Emmert, who owns Clackamas-based Emmert International, a company that specializes in ultra-heavy duty transit. Alluding to the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers, Emmert said sports fans in Oregon are used to seeing a “high-energy, fast-paced brand of football.”

“The Arena Football League delivers that kind of excitement in a unique and affordable family setting,” he said.

Portland will play nine home games at The Moda Center, starting in March. Season tickets start at $99.

Arena Football pits two eight-man teams against each other on a 50-yard indoor field. When a ball is thrown into the crowd, the fan gets to keep it.

Though Portland’s AFL team does not have a name yet, it already has a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a website.

Anaheim Ducks Ice Crew Calendar

Philadelphia Wings Angels Auditions

Auditions for the 2014 Philadelphia Wings Angels Dance Team were held last Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.

Four-year veteran Nadia with co-director Dana. This is Dana’s 15th year running the Angels.

Veteran Elisa

New comer Ashley

Veteran Alisyn

Look for the new squad when the Wings return to action this January.

[Angels Auditions Gallery]

San Diego Surfettes Announce Auditions; Former NBA & AFL Dancer Rachel Vicknair to Direct

Rachel Vicknair is the new San Diego Surfettes Director and Choreographer and comes to the Surf with over 5 years of professional sports entertainment experience as a former dancer in the NBA and AFL. She has over 28 total years of dance experience and has danced professionally in commercials, TV, film, variety shows, and promotional tours. She has done feature work in numerous TV projects and feature films and was a cast member of the Style Network show, “The Amandas” in 2012. She also holds the title of 2011 Ms. New Orleans and 2011 Ms. Louisiana State.

Rachel is originally from New Orleans, LA and possesses a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Performance and Health Promotion with a concentration in Exercise Physiology. She is currently the International Sales Executive for a beauty and skincare company based in Southern California.

[Surfette Audition Registration]

[Surfettes on Facebook]

[Surfettes on Twitter]

Chargers Corral The Cowboys For The Win

It is always a big game when the Dallas Cowboys come to town.  Their fans travel well and Sunday was no exception as the stadium seemed to be evenly split between Cowboys and Charger fans.  In a surprisingly competitive game, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for three touchdowns and over 400 yards, reminding fans of days gone by when Rivers was a top five NFL signal caller.  A fumble by receiver Terrance Williams on the Chargers’ goal line with 2:42 left in the game, sealed the fate for the Cowboys.

Final Score:  Chargers – 30, Cowpokes – 21

For me, it was a glorious day.  A day game, the first of the season, and I was able to photograph the glorious Charger Girls in the golden California sunshine.  Living is Southern California is truly a blessing.  The weather is always nice.   There’s always something interesting to shoot.  And the girls…well…you know.  Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.

We begin this week’s coverage of the Hottest Dance Team in the NFL with the Captains: Ariel, Kara, Katelyn, and Natalie.

There were a number of girls worthy of this week’s Charger Girl of the Day award.  Perhaps it was the great weather.  Or perhaps it was the absence of that big movable stage that had plagued my section the previous two games.  I don’t know, but I got a few more memorable images from one girl in particular.   This week’s Charger Girl of the Day is a seasoned world traveler and is a third year veteran, introducing Kylie.

Continue reading Chargers Corral The Cowboys For The Win

Photo of the Day – October 2

Jessica of the Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders, September 2012

2013 Wizard Girls

Individual bios and photo galleries now online. Click here to learn more about the ladies on the team!

Clockwise from top left: Brittney, Jackie, Leah, and Julia

Another New AFL Franchise! Portland, this time it’s YOU!

Get fired up, Portland dancers. WOOT! The BlazerDancers are no longer the only game in town. (At least, I assume not. Every other team in the league has a dance team. No reason why this one shouldn’t.) More tomorrow, after the press conference.

Arena football returning to Portland

By Tim Becker
October 1, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Arena football is coming back to Portland. KOIN 6 News has learned a press conference is scheduled for Wednesday to announce the sale of an existing AFL team to investors led by a well-known local businessman.

The Arena Football League season began in late March this year, and ended with the Arena Bowl on Aug. 17.

It was around mid-August when rumors of the team possibly moving to Portland first surfaced. At that time, the Trail Blazers were reportedly in negotiations to purchase an AFL team, but nothing materialized then.

The Portland ownership group met with other AFL owners last week. The owners of the new Portland team want to have as many players as possible with Oregon ties, and want to bring affordable professional sports to Portland. A head coach has already been identified.

Because the still-unnamed team will be playing in the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers will be involved in the news conference.

This won’t be the first Arena football franchise in Portland. The Forest Dragons played here for three seasons — 1997, 1998, and 1999 – before relocating to Oklahoma City.

The commissioner of the AFL did not return calls for comment from KOIN 6 News.

Revved up: A game with Walpole resident, Revolution cheerleader Christina Attaway

By Brittney McNamara
The Walpole Times
Sept 30, 2013


Just before halftime, Christina Attaway, a soft-spoken 23 year old, tightened the carbon dioxide tank on the t-shirt gun she held at her side under glaring stadium lights, ready to launch navy blue shirts into the screaming crowd of about 13,000 seated just above her perch in the south tunnel of Gillette Stadium.

Walpole native Attaway won a spot on the Rev Girls team – the brand ambassadors and sometimes-cheerleaders for New England Revolution soccer – from a pool of 20 women for one of 10 open spots, using what she called her outgoing personality and people skills to nab the job. Working the crowd both before and during the game, Attaway’s energy reverberated through the stadium, adding to the atmosphere that she said she’s grown to love.

Though Attaway spends her days working for a Newbury Street graphic design firm, she translates her years of cheer experience into a professional gimmick at night. After cheering with Pop Warner teams in Walpole, Attaway moved on to competitive cheerleading. Though the Rev Girls don’t dance or flip, Attaway uses her well-trained smile and people skills in her new position.

“I like to talk to people, I like socializing,” she said. “I love being able to share my knowledge, getting the word out there.”

The self described people-person got the job after auditioning in Providence for the part, becoming interested in the position through one of her friends who cheerleads for the New England Patriots. Though she said the Rev Girls are similar to other professional cheerleading teams, Attaway said the difference lies in the fan interaction.

As a Rev Girl, Attaway said her job is to educate people about the team, attract new fans, and connect with existing ones.

“I love the fans. They’re so different from other sports teams,” she said, adding that kids made up a large part of the fan base.

During halftime, Attaway purposely shot a t-shirt to two kids in the front row of a middle section, saying they were too cute to resist. Many of the voices screaming for her attention were small, those of children. Most of the rest came from Attaway’s other favorite fan base, the die-hards in what is called The Fort.

The Fort is a section at the north end of the stadium filled with face-painted, flag-bearing, horn-blowing men and women who show up at every game. These fans help make up the atmosphere that Attaway said she has grown to love.

“They’re awesome,” Attaway said about the Fort fans. “They’re so crazy-passionate about the Revs. It’s just the atmosphere in general, you kind of fall into loving them. It’s so much fun.”

Before the game, Attaway stood in the plaza outside the stadium entrance, greeting fans and taking pictures. She adjusted her light brown hair, smiled and posed for picture after picture with fans of all ages. Despite the hoards of fans vying for her attention, Attaway came up with different comments and conversations for each one.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said of the number of people who want to talk to her. “I definitely like to stop and give everyone attention.”

Chosen as one of eight new Rev Girls, the team supervisor Danielle Rines said she picked Attaway because of her enthusiasm and overall joie de vivre.

“I wanted girls who are positive, genuine, outgoing,” Rines said. “She encompasses all of it.”

Attaway proved Rines right when she stopped on her way into the stadium to talk to a little girl.

“I remember you,” she said to the girl. ” I remember your pretty dress.”

The girl grinned and blushed, her eyes lighting up.

This is the essence of Attaway’s job with the Rev Girls. She takes her excitement for the team, and sends it rippling through the crowd through one-on-one interactions, and through the t-shirt gun.

“I really like it here,” Attaway said, adding she plans to stick around with the team for the foreseeable future. “I’m very happy being a Rev Girl.”

Introducing the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders

Dolphin Cheerleaders Photos

We added a batch of some 60+ photos to our Miami Tampa preseason album. Enjoy.

Nicole landed the cover on the new calendar.


Natalie is a 2 year line captain.

Brooke is enjoying her rookie year.

[Dolphins Cheerleaders Gallery]


Arizona Rattlers Sidewinders Named AFL Dance Team of the Year

Sasha already posted about prep classes and auditions for the 2014 Arizona Rattlers Sidewinders, but I would be remiss If I didn’t mention that the Sidewinders were named the 2013 AFL Dance Team of the Year. (They also earned this honor in 2011).


The Arizona Rattlers Sidewinders dance team has been named as the 2013 Arena Football League Dance Team of the Year.

The Sidewinders put together stellar performances throughout the 2013 season. Highlighting the season were memorable routines such as special Mother’s Day and Father’s Day dances with the dancers’ parents and of course the fan favorite “Football Player” routine.

The Sidewinders are led by Director Angie Baker, who has coached the team for four seasons. She cheered professionally for six years with both the Sidewinders and the Arizona Cardinals, making one Super Bowl appearance and three ArenaBowl appearances, including one as the Dream Team Director.

“This is a huge honor for the team and a testament to the hard work we put in outside of games. We have outstanding leadership within our captains and veterans and a very talented group of rookies that made it happen. It’s been a textbook season and being recognized for something you love to do is icing on the cake,” said Baker. “Thank you to the AFL for this honor and a special thank you to owner Ron Shurts, President Joe Windham, and Head Coach Kevin Guy for providing the opportunity for the dancers to be part of the best sports organization around.”

Not only an integral part of the Rattlers game experience, the Sidewinders also spend time in the community continuing the strong efforts put forth by the organization as a whole to give back to Phoenix and the rest of the Valley.

[AZ Sidewinders]

Photo of the Day – October 1

A Boston Cannons Dancer