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Bootstrapping an Online Education Company to $12M: Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard (Part 7)

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 29th 2012

Sramana: You mentioned earlier that you have bootstrapped your online training offerings via your on-site training courses. Has bootstrapping been your funding model or have you taken outside funding?

Aaron Skonnard: We are a bootstrapped company. We started this company with $5,000 from each of the partners and we have not taken any money. Last year, we did $6 million. We are on track to exceed $12 million this year.

Sramana: Where do you see yourselves going in the future?

Aaron Skonnard: I really believe that 10 years down the road we need our kids to understand how to program. Technology is a core part of our future society. We are investing our resources into developing free courses for kids ages 8 to 15 as well as high school kids. We want to help them prepare for a next career.

Sramana: If I were in your shoes, I would look at community colleges. They are aligned with your core as they are often retraining people into new careers.

Aaron Skonnard: That is good advice. That is a natural next step. One other thing I should mention is that we sponsor any user group all over the world. We give the user group leader a yearly subscription to our product and we also give them 25 cards that they can pass out at their meetings which provides one month of free access to our service. There is a standing offer that anyone who is unemployed in the user group can request a free one-month subscription to our service. This has helped people all over the world get new jobs.

We know of one case where a man was out of work and got a code from his user group leader. He got a code and started to learn Silverlight technology. About a month later, he got a job at Microsoft on the Silverlight team. That is a great success story. We really believe in giving back.

Sramana: What is your geographical distribution of users?

Aaron Skonnard: The United States is the most dominant. The U.K. is second followed by Canada, Australia, Germany, and France. India, Scandinavia, Brazil, and China follow after that.

Sramana: One thing I have learned is that there is a tremendous need for high quality online education, especially in the community colleges. There are not enough instructors who can teach these things. Content gets standardized.

Aaron Skonnard: It really feels like the trend is shifting now towards companies like ours. Five years ago, there was a lot of skepticism. Those views are largely changed today. Most folks try our service and do not want to go back to how things used to be. We do not believe that becoming an accredited University is a necessity.

Sramana: Once you are accredited, you cannot resell your product through other accredited schools. My philosophy is that becoming the trusted content provider is key. Let other people teach using your content. That is a better model.

Aaron Skonnard: The day we stopped doing classroom training was a key date for us. That was just over a year ago. That has opened doors for us in terms of reseller agreements. Classroom training companies now see us as a content provider, not a competitor. They use us to augment their classroom environment. That is a new channel of revenue that we are developing this year.

Sramana: This is a great story. Thanks for taking the time to share.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Bootstrapping an Online Education Company to $12M: Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard
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