The Pulse @ 1 Market

Riding Salesforce and Amazon's cloud to $1 billion

PluralSigth offices.
Source: PluralSight
This online coding instructor makes six figures, and it's his side job

At's annual cloud computing gala last month called re:Invent, recruiters from on-demand learning company Pluralsight were on the hunt for experts to teach coding.

Pluralsight offers a library of over 5,000 online courses for software developers and IT pros to gain new skills, ranging from learning popular open-source languages and big data tools on Amazon Web Services to mastering the latest in cybersecurity and designing mobile games.

The explosive growth of technology platforms like AWS has driven Pluralsight's expansion, enabling the 12-year-old company to reel in a recent round of $30 million at a valuation exceeding $1 billion, CEO Aaron Skonnard told in an exclusive interview.

Pluralsight, based near Salt Lake City, is using the cash as part of its push beyond individual subscriptions and into big businesses, where a host of new web and infrastructure technologies as well as cyberthreats are forcing developers into a constant state of learning.

"We're covering every technology that we believe companies need to master," said Skonnard. He said Pluralsight has a team that's "at different conferences around the industry every week hunting for the very best experts in the tech space."

Pluralsight last raised money in 2014, a $135 million round led by Insight Venture Partners at a valuation of close to $1 billion. The latest funding was from Insight and another existing investor Iconiq Capital.

The new capital will allow the company to pay off some debt from acquisitions while maintaining a healthy amount of cash on its balance sheet as it hires more enterprise salespeople, Skonnard said. Annual revenue is $100 million to $200 million, and the company is driving toward an initial public offering, he said.

AWS CEO on growth, competitors and Trump

Pluralsight faces plenty of competition. LinkedIn acquired last year for about $1.5 billion, snapping up an extensive video library of content designed to "empower people to develop the skills needed to accelerate their careers," LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said at the time.

Udacity, founded by Google X co-creator Sebastian Thrun, offers what it calls nanodegree programs, while venture-backed start-ups Treehouse and Codeacademy provide online programs specific to coding. Overall, the global e-learning market is expected to grow 11 percent a year and reach close to $31 billion by 2020, according to Technavio.

The top author on Pluralsight made $2 million last year through the company's revenue share model with instructors, Skonnard said. Currently, the most popular courses cover topics like Angular, an open source framework for developing web apps, and Swift, the programming language for Apple.

David Liu, who started teaching Salesforce courses on Pluralsight about a year ago, said he's already made over $100,000 on the platform. That's on top of his full-time job as a technical architect at Google.

Liu, who previously taught with YouTube videos, said he spends 10 to 20 hours a week for about three months putting together a three-hour course and then an hour or so a day responding to questions and inquiries from students. He expects his revenue to increase as he adds new material to the site and continues to make money from existing classes.

"My course is aimed at total beginners — people who want to learn to code but really have no business learning to code whatsoever," Liu said.

A first look inside the new Salesforce Tower

Individuals pay $30 a month for a Pluralsight subscription, giving them access to the entire catalog. For companies, the price starts at $500 per user, though volume discounts are available. The corporate product comes with curation tools and lets companies customize learning paths for their employees.

To find the right experts for all of its technical course, Pluralsight has a team of 50 people in content acquisition who are out recruiting prospects like Liu. Pluralsight had two recruiters at re:Invent, connecting with experts through social media, attending sessions and networking over Italian food at Buddy V's Ristorante in the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.

The event resulted in seven prospective authors, and Pluralsight said it expects one or two to become paid experts.

"It's truly the cream of the crop," Skonnard said.