Lynda Weinman, Image Credit: JD Lasica
It is possible to “make it big” over time, provided your idea is unique and has a futuristic vision. Such models will face hurdles and setbacks in their inception stages. A few visionaries to name are Jack Ma who founded Alibaba at 35, J K Rowling got her first book published at 33, Lynda Weinman who co-founded Lynda.com at 40 and so on.
The commonality of all these personalities is their unique vision, focus, determination and persistence. Another trait shared by most, if not all of them, is that they were rejected many times or hit rock bottom at some point before basking in success. Let us look closer at how Lynda Weinman made $1.5 Billion from a humble $35 website acquired by LinkedIn which was later acquired by Microsoft.
Unlike many Lynda Weinman didn’t start, her now $1.5 Billion worth Lynda.com, with dollar signs sparkling in her eyes. Her endeavor began as a means to provide free web-designing resources for students in 1995.
Weinman took a self-taught approach to web design in pre-YouTube days. This kind of learning was unusual in an era where watching a video online would take forever.
“I was not techy or geeky, and I figured a lot of things out on my own. A lot of people came to me to ask, ‘How you do this and that?’ I didn’t realize sharing your enthusiasm about something was teaching.” Weinman, told Fast Company.
It all started when Weinman was looking to find books on web design her students could refer to. Bombarded by complicated technical literature that common-folk wouldn’t be able to understand. She concluded that the book didn’t exist. “I went home from the bookstore and wrote the book proposal.” she said.
Looking to write a book for non-techies wasn’t easy as no one was ready to publish it. However, a magazine agreed to publish her book as a monthly series. The series later became the first book of its kind, Designing Web Graphics, published in 1996. Weinman has authored and co-authored many books and articles since then.
The 35$ Website
Weinman took to creating Lynda.com in 1995 through which she communicated with students and readers following the publication of her first book, Designing Web Graphics, in 1996. She had heard of someone with the email id firstname.lastname@example.org and bought a domain with her name “Lynda”. Following the success of her book, Lynda and her husband Bruce offered a design course. Their course sold out, and people from around the world attended it. “To put an ad on a website and have people come from all around the world was shocking to us.” said Weiman. The couple invested $20,000 from royalties to launch their web designing classes that sold out sooner than anticipated. Lynda.com had to turn down many registrations as their classes were overbooked. The business at its peak generated $3.5 Mn in revenue.
However, it wasn’t all rosy for long, hard times followed. The dot com crash and travel restrictions after 9/11 made Weinman think of a possible shutdown. The blow forced them to give up classes, lay off 3/4 of staff and even downsize their home. “Everybody was fighting to keep their head above the water,” she said. “I knew ultimately that people loved the way that we taught and our approach.” “That was when we decided to put everything online.” she added. The only thing that kept them in business was their idea.
Recollecting a saying that Bruce picked up: “Your marketing spend is the price you have to pay for a bad product.’ What matters is, being passionate about your product, so that people love it and they want to share it.” They came up with the idea of charging a monthly subscription of $25 on Lynda.com. With just about 1,000 subscriptions, it was a struggle as only a few signed up.
“One day we started to watch the online subscription business and it was doubling every year.” Lynda.com reached 100k subscriptions in 2006. With over 500 employees; in 2007 the company hired its first CEO.
$35 to $1.5 Bn
Weinman was shocked to learn that LinkedIn was interested in buying Lynda.com. We started with 20 online courses and grew to 6,300 courses with over 267,000 tutorials. “I see so many young people who want to be entrepreneurs right out of college … They’re looking to the exit. I’m proud of what Lynda.com sold for, but I’m way more proud of how many people we helped and lives we changed.” said Weinman.
“We were in the very unusual position of our company being more valuable than the revenue it earned.” she added. At 60, far from retiring, Weinman had reason to go ahead with the acquisition as it made sense. Both sites serve as a trove of resources for people trying to further their careers, a marriage between them was inevitable. The price it came at didn’t hurt. Weinman ranks No. 55 on Forbes’ new list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women.
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