When Lynda Weinman founded lynda.com in 1995 alongside her husband Bruce Heavin, it was a side project, used mainly for personal communication between herself, her students, and readers of her newly-printed book.
But today, the site, an online learning database that helps people master skills in business, technology, software, and more through videos, has more than four million users and recently sold to LinkedIn for $US1.5 billion.
It all started with Weinman’s desire to share her fascination with web design. Back in 1993, she worked as a special-effects animator and taught at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She wanted to give her students a helpful resource for publishing their work online — a brand-new idea at the time — but every manual she came across was technical and dry, The Wall Street Journal reports.
So she wrote her own book, “Designing Web Graphics.” It was a hit, and Weinman started getting emails and questions from readers all over.
Weinman herself is mostly self-taught when it comes to computer science. She first started experimenting with it in the early 80s when a boyfriend asked her to help him with his new computer, according to The Wall Street Journal. Weinman became entranced and started delving deeper into how computers work. “As the computer era gained popularity, I started sharing what I taught myself with others, and after years of this ‘hobby’ realised that I had a gift for simplifying technical instructions and had a true passion for teaching,” she told Tiffany Pham at Forbes.
She purchased lynda.com for $US35 in 1995, and initially used it to communicate with students and readers who had questions about her book. Eventually, her husband had the idea to host an in-person web design class, so he booked a high school computer lab for a week during the school’s spring break and advertised it on the site.
The first class completely sold out, with people flying in from across the globe to attend. “To put an ad on a website and have people come from all around the world was shocking to us,” Weinman told Fast Company.
The success of the first class inspired the pair to offer more courses, which continued to sell out months ahead of time. The couple started an official school in 1997, gaining publicity primarily through Weinman’s book and word of mouth, according to Forbes.
But after the dot-com crash of the late ’90s, Weinman’s business began to slump in 2001. Weinman and Heavin were forced to lay off 75% of their staff — reducing the company from 35 employees to just nine, Fast Company reports. To save money, they ended all their classroom leases and started offering online courses instead.
It’s important to remember that lynda.com‘s new model didn’t launch in today’s YouTube age where video tutorials are the norm. Online video was a relatively new format in the early 2000s, and it took customers a while to adapt to the idea. “It actually hurt our revenue to do it,” Weinman told Fast Company.
But the couple kept at it, and by 2007, lynda.com employed over 500 people and had grown their user base exponentially. Today, the site features over 3,500 courses and thousands of videos on everything from 3D animation to photography. Customers can access Lynda on their own or purchase subscriptions through schools and corporations.
The company also recently made its way into the news — and landed Weinman and Heavin spots on our list of the most inspiring people in Silicon Valley — when it was acquired by LinkedIn for $US1.5 billion in April.
The merger will grant LinkedIn users access to Lynda’s host of skill-building videos, and create a variety of new possibilities for LinkedIn.