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Bootstrapping an Online Education Company to $12M: Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Aug 24th 2012

Sramana: Let’s trace the journey of your company. When did you start your first company?

Aaron Skonnard: Coming out of school I worked as a programmer for three years at larger companies. I worked at Microsoft, 3M, and Intel. I worked for those companies as a developer before I found a smaller company in Utah called Axiom Technologies. They no longer exist, but they were the company that built the software for FranklinCovey. While I was working for them, I was exposed to a wide variety of software development challenges. It was during this time that I started to write articles and books. I was learning a lot as a programmer and I wanted to share what I was learning with the world.

I started writing articles for some Microsoft Developer journals, and that is when my career started taking off. I wrote some books for Addison-Wesley. I was then contacted by a company in L.A. that wanted me to come and teach some professional training courses. I thought it sounded like fun, and I made arrangements to do that while I was still working at my primary job. I started going off to teach one-week training courses and I quickly fell in love with it.

Sramana: What kind of courses were you teaching?

Aaron Skonnard: I taught people how to build applications for Windows using Microsoft Win32. I also taught programming languages or advanced frameworks. These were courses meant for developers who were working at large software corporations. Microsoft was our biggest client. We would teach their developers about their technologies. We were hired experts who would come in and help a team of 25 developers ramp up on any particular technology.

Within six months, I decided all I wanted to do was teach. I left my day job, which required me to write code to become a full time professional trainer. I ended up doing that for the next seven years. After a while I decided that where they were going was not where I wanted to go. I got bored with it after a while. If you like to teach it was a fun career, but I was not going to change the world by continuing down that path. I wanted to put a dent in the universe to some degree, so I decided to split off and form Pluralsight.

I started it with a few partners, and all of us had six to ten years of experience in the professional software developer training market. We decided we would offer training better although we did not know how that was going to happen. Our first steps were to develop a better business model, which allowed us to attract top experts since we were able to pay them more money. We created a more efficient model for training.

Sramana: Was this all in-person training?

Aaron Skonnard: Yes. We built our business as a more cost-efficient operation but it was still built as a business that sent a trainer onsite. About three years into that business I was sitting on an airplane heading off to teach a class. I realized that what I had done was not substantially different from what we had done before, and it was not substantially better. It was not revolutionary. It was not going to cause people to take notice of us.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping an Online Education Company to $12M: Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard
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