A customer-training startup founded by a former Amazon employee is having its 'Zoom moment' during the pandemic as its usage increases by 5 times


Sandi Lin

  • Sandi Lin started Skilljar after spending years nearly four years at Amazon because she wanted to find a way to improve customer interactions. 
  • Her company makes a customizable customer-training platform for software companies and has signed on big clients, like Tableau, Verizon, and Zendesk. 
  • It's seeing demand skyrocket in the remote-work era as companies quickly look to connect with customers digitally, and having what one of its investors calls its "Zoom moment." 
  • Online education and training are effective ways for businesses to engage with their user bases, Lin said, especially in this moment when all customer interaction is online.
  • Click here to read more BI Prime stories.

As a senior product manager at Amazon in customer-facing roles, Sandi Lin always felt like there was a disconnect between her customer interactions and the product training those customers would receive. 

With the belief that she could create a better system, she took a leap of faith and left Amazon in 2013 to start her own company. She's since built Skilljar into a platform that allows companies to customize their own customer-training programs. Skilljar got its start by participating in the Techstars accelerator program in 2013 and has raised $20 million at a $46 million valuation from investors, including T-Mobile founder John Stanton's Trilogy Equity Partners. 

Since its launch, Skilljar has signed on big customers like Tableau, Zendesk, and Verizon. Now it's seeing its demand skyrocket in the coronavirus-related remote-work era as companies are quickly looking to train and connect with customers digitally. The company's growth prompted one investor to describe Skilljar as having its "Zoom moment." 

With all customer interactions moving online for the foreseeable future, Lin said companies were relying more than ever on their customer-training teams to engage with new and existing customers to drive product adoption and customer success. Online classes and training are ways to do that.

"Executives are now relying on their customer-training teams to be the front line," Lin told Business Insider. 

Skilljar provides templates for businesses to build online training programs for their customers, including webinar-style courses, quizzes, and live video training in a self-contained website. It also integrates with tools like Zoom, Webex, Salesforce, Box, and other customer-facing tools that businesses use. 

So when customers go to Tableau's online learning academy or Zendesk's training website, they're powered by Skilljar behind the scenes, though the company's branding is rarely displayed on the page. 

Skilljar has had increased interest and demand amid the pandemic

Lin said she's noticed that customers who already used Skilljar now use it even more — in some cases, companies have done five times the amount of virtual training than normal to accommodate what previously was done in person. Some customers, like Tableau, have opened their virtual training tools to everyone for free, even though the service is normally reserved for paying customers.

It's not just software companies that sell to corporate offices that have to rethink customer education, Lin said. Skilljar's clients include a music-technology company that sells to schools and a student information system company. Across the board, Skilljar's customers are relying on it more than ever. 

April was the company's biggest sales month this year, Lin said. All of its customers with over 100 employees renewed contracts this year, she said, and it's signed on new customers too. The number of active "students" using Skilljar's technology and the number of students signing up for courses on the platform have both more than doubled between January and April.

"COVID-19 has changed how companies think about education in general," Aashish Dhamdhere, Skilljar's vice president of marketing, said. "It wasn't top of mind for a lot of companies and they've suddenly realized that education is a great way of driving customer engagement."

Many of the startup's customers have realized that education can be delivered to customers effectively online and will permanently switch most of their education to a digital format, Lin added.

Skilljar fills a big hole in the customer-training market 

Rajeev Batra, a partner at Mayfield, was an early investor in Skilljar and sees it as having cracked the code on customer-education software. He said most companies buy software and employees don't really know how to use it to do their work more efficiently. No one reads manuals either, so training is key, he added. 

The way most online education works today is not super effective, but Skilljar seems to have gotten it right.

"[Lin] worked on cracking the code of building a really great product that supports different learning modalities, different tools, different tech, different approaches, different content is delivered in different ways and different types of people and audiences learn differently," Batra said. "They built an incredibly interesting and very modern approach to helping these companies actually help their customers learn and use the products."

Other online training companies are more focused on internal employee-facing training versus a customer format, he said, though he could imagine Skilljar eventually expanding outside customer-training tools.

For now, though, Lin said the company was focused on keeping up with its newfound demand.

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected] or Signal at 925-364-4258. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Pathologists debunk 13 coronavirus myths


Tags: Amazon, Verizon, Trends, Lin, Mayfield, john Stanton, Batra, Rajeev Batra, Skilljar, Sandi Lin, Business Insider Skilljar, Aashish Dhamdhere Skilljar

Source:  http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/typepad/alleyinsider/silicon_alley_insider/~3/HnzbMy4DT9w/skilljar-demand-skyrocket-remote-work-sandi-lin-customer-training-2020-6