Chris had many opportunities to raise money along the way while bootstrapping to a $60 million revenue level. Find out why he chose not to.
Sramana: Chris, let’s start with the beginning of your story. Tell me where you are from and set the stage for your entrepreneurial journey.
Christopher Aker: I was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. We lived on the main land off of a coastal barrier island. I had a traditional American, South Jersey coastal upbringing. We had a lot of summer jobs and a huge amount of people would flock to our town in the summer to enjoy the beach.
My dad was an educator who worked for the local high school. He was involved in bringing the first computer lab into the school. He went on to be the technology curriculum coordinator for the entire district, although at the time he did this, he was an English teacher. He introduced me to computers and we got a Commodore 64 one year for Christmas when I was 10 or 11 years old. It just spoke to me. For the next several years, I just worked on computers. I moved to Apple and eventually to Macintosh. My interest became dormant when I went into high school.
I graduated high school and went to West Virginia University to study mechanical engineering. That lasted for two years and then I shifted to audio engineering. I moved to a school in Orlando, Florida. I received a degree in audio engineering. While I was there, they started a new program called Computers and Digital Media. When I saw this new degree come out, I realized that there was probably a slim chance of me making a sustainable career out of recording music. I decided to give this computer program a shot. My parents were supportive and they helped me through it.
This was in the early 1990s. That program was really good for me and got me back into the mindset of computing. The Internet was in its infancy. I graduated with honors and it was clear to me that this was my thing. I got a job as a teacher there after I graduated and I did that for 2 years. I had all these students who would graduate and go off to San Francisco, New York, and LA. A few of my students went to a company in Nashville and through their referrals, I was able to get a job at the same company.
I moved to Nashville and started my job with this new company that was bringing continuing medical education to medical professionals such as nurses, doctors, and pharma. The traditional way of doing CME [Continuing Medical Education] was to go attend a lecture. They were moving that content online so an entire hospital or organization could offer the service to employees. They could get CMEs quickly online versus taking time off of work to attend a lecture. The company HealthStream is still in business and doing very well.