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|Articles - March 2010|
|Friday, February 26, 2010|
William Kelly co-founded Learning.com in 1999 with high hopes that the online education company would revolutionize the way students, teachers and parents communicated with each other.
“The first business plan of Learning.com failed by the summer of 2000,” says the CEO, a 45-year-old Portland native who started his first business — selling ice cream — at age 12.
But rather than go the way of many other dot-coms of the era, Learning.com refocused. The company shifted its technology away from being a means for parents to, say, check on their kids’ homework assignments, to one that improved classroom teaching through the delivery of web-based instructional materials.
A little more than nine years later, Learning.com serves more than 2 million students in 46 states. Its flagship product, a K-8 technology literacy curriculum called EasyTech, has spawned assessment and classroom management tools as well as supplementary programs in math and science. Annual revenue now tops $20 million, and new communication tools, along with an in-the-works parental interface, are keeping Learning.com’s original aims a part of the company’s long-term outlook.
“We took a little roundabout path to get to our original vision,” Kelly says, “but I think we’re back to a much-enhanced, much more realizable version of that original vision.”
A 1987 graduate of Brigham Young University with an MBA from Harvard, Kelly says that Learning.com has been able to capitalize on the evolving education market as it’s expanded to include new technologies and online offerings alongside traditional print materials. A prime differentiator, he says, has been the company’s focus on customer service, which is entirely different for web-based curriculum than for textbooks.
Negotiating a distribution agreement for EasyTech in Texas with the large educational publisher Pearson a few years ago, Kelly says he was continually injecting the idea of customer service.
“I was always getting this quizzical look back,” he says. “Turns out their idea of customer service was an 800 number you call if your books don’t show up.”
For Learning.com, however, customer service means ongoing technical support, new functionality, content updates and more.
“It’s fundamentally different than the way textbook publishers have gone about doing business over the past 100 years,” Kelly says.
Along the same lines, because of the electronic nature of Learning.com’s offerings, the company is able to provide school districts detailed reports on how students and teachers are using content. In a state like Texas, which spends more than $700 million a year on textbooks, such feedback might come in handy not just for maximizing educational results, but for controlling costs as well.
“We’re talking about real money here,” Kelly says, “So to do that in a way that there’s no visibility about how [materials] actually get used is just crazy.”
In addition to its partnership with Pearson, Learning.com has forged fruitful relationships with other partners, including ASUS, a computer notebook manufacturer, and Kendall Hunt Publishing. There’s also EduComp Solutions, an education technology company in India that bought up 51% of Learning.com’s shares for $24.5 million in 2008.
Kelly says the deal was a recapitalization that gave his original investors, some of whom had been in the company for nine years by then, the chance to get out. In the process, Learning.com gained a valuable partner that has provided huge visibility for the company outside of the U.S.
EduComp, Kelly says, “has not been obtrusive” and they have been “phenomenal in terms of supporting our objectives.” The deal has also paved the way for new business for Learning.com in places like Vietnam, the Philippines and India.
All of which, Kelly hopes, will help Learning.com hit the $100 million mark in another five years. Dried-up state budgets have parched new business for Learning.com lately, and despite a flood of stimulus dollars for education, many states and school districts have frozen new spending until they know for sure what they can count on. In response, Learning.com, which already operates on an annual-fee basis, has turned to various new pricing arrangements with customers.
“We’re packaging up multi-year bundles and experimenting with other structures of payment to take advantage of one-time funds,” Kelly says, “because we don’t want to be booted out two years from now.”
Also on the horizon for Learning.com: growing from about 70 employees to 100 in the next two years, adoption of its curricula in more school districts and continued innovation in the classroom.
“At its heart,” Kelly says, “Learning.com is here to help facilitate the transition from the way things are today to the way things ought to be.”
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER
Most of the food Americans consume is trucked in from hundreds of miles away. Eric Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Gro-volution, wants to change that. So this past spring, the Air Force veteran and former greenhouse manager started work on an alternative farming system he claims is more efficient than conventional agriculture, and also shortens the distance between the consumer and the farm.
Friday, August 14, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR
17 airlines make stops at Portland International Airport, but not all are created equal when it comes to customer service.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Renee Spears, founder and owner of Portland-based Rose City Mortgage, is hot to trot to sell pot.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
BY JASON NORRIS
Uncertainty in Greece and China, along with potential interest rate hikes mean investors are looking at the market and nervously questioning where they should be invested.
Thursday, July 09, 2015
The sweltering weather didn't keep the crowds away. Although the numbers were down slightly from last year, the Oregon Food Bank raised $850,636 to fight hunger. About 80,000 people attended despite temperatures in the upper 90s.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN
A New York floral and gift business takes on the iconic Harry & David brand.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with Greg Lambert, president of Mid Oregon Personnel Services.
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Yesterday, a divided National Labor Relations Board dropped another hammer on the employer community. In a long-awaited and much debated move, the Board jettisoned the decades old standard for determining when two independent businesses should be considered joint employers of an individual worker for collective bargaining purposes.
Transforming the culture of Oregon’s educational leadership.
The Board dismissed a petition related to efforts to unionize the Northwestern University football team.
Oregon Sick Leave is here, and changes to the federal white-collar worker regulations are on the way. This workshop will prepare you for both. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to start planning now for the future impact on your operations and finances.
Presented by OEN + CENTRL + YESpdx.
This Roundtable will cover numerous issues under the employer "shared responsibility" rules of the Affordable Care Act, including how to track the "full-time" status of variable-hour employees, temporary or seasonal employees, and employees who experience a change in status or a break in service. Additionally, we will provide a brief overview of Code sections 6055 and 6056, which require most mid-sized and large employers to submit their first information reports to the IRS in early 2016 regarding the health insurance coverage being offered to employees. We invite you to participate in an interactive discussion on how to prepare for the future impact of the shared responsibility rules on your operations and finances.