Pluralsight CEO and co-founder Aaron Skonnard is mulling on the just-announced acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft when we speak by phone.
“LinkedIn buys Lynda, Microsoft buys LinkedIn, so there’s less focus on Lynda because they’re really going to go after Salesforce.com and Siebel,” he ponders aloud. “They’ve really been struggling to be cool again,” he says of Microsoft, “and they’ve been through a lot of attempts with [deals such as] Yammer and Nokia. People at Lynda are probably not going to be feeling great about this. It doesn’t bode well…”
Lynda is relevant to Skonnard because his company Pluralsight is another leading force in online education, even if the two companies’ models are a little different. Pluralsight trades on being the “unlimited online developer” with an army of freelance specialists all over the world offering video training courses for software developers, IT admins and creative professionals, all of which are served from Pluralsight’s web platform.
The main opportunity is addressing the global tech skills gap, Skonnard says, referring to the anomalous situation where the world is crying out for ICT skills but a vacuum still exists. Pluralsight evens the playing field by letting anybody from anywhere – beginner or advanced techie, business or individual – learn at their own chosen speeds and with their own personal schedules. As the name suggests, the vision is one of pluralism and there is free coding for kids and some teachers. Users get a mentor to interact with and Pluralsight takes a cut from each transaction.
Of course, tech education has been around almost as long as tech itself but Skonnard argues persuasively that the old models of classroom lessons, courses and book learning can’t cope with the rapid evolution of tools and the human need for personal counsel as well as ever-changing courseware.
“The technology landscape changes so fast that they’re constantly playing catch-up,” he says. He even has personal experience here, having taught XML and having overseen the switch from being an in situ classroom service to that virtual, pluralist model.
So this is a ‘Tinder for skills’, right? Understandably, Skonnard prefers comparing the service to Uber than the dating site but he also notes the business-to-business traction Pluralsight has achieved: the company claims 500,000 business customers, including Aviva, ASOS, Microsoft, Telefonica, Tesco and Barclay’s.
Pluralsight is Utah-headquartered but Skonnard emphasises how international the company is, covering about 150 countries where technology skills “have become the lingua franca and almost everybody speaks English”, or at least enough to learn, he says. Closed captions are available for those that don’t.
Pluralsight differs from much of the technology world in that, despite being a private company, it has been profitable for the last 10 years. The company also has strong funding, having raised over $162m which helped support a string of acquisitions to bolster courseware and breadth. Yet another unicorn with a round one billion-dollar valuation, Pluralsight claims to have over $100 million in annual revenue, so is an IPO in its sights?
“We’re definitely interested,” he says, adding that making an appearance on the stock markets could bring “credibility”. But he also notes an eternal truth, that “once you become a public company you’re pretty much always for sale”. How big is the opportunity?
“Multibillion”, he says, but he insists that there’s another gratifying lure, too: “To help the world in a significant way.”
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