Sandi Lin is the CEO and founder of Skilljar, which provides businesses with an online course delivery platform. Skilljar’s platform is the easiest way for businesses to train their customers and partners. Instructors simply upload course content, customize with company branding, and publish to the web – no developers or technical knowledge needed.
BusinessInterviews.com: Who should be using Skilljar?
Sandi: Skilljar is best suited for organizations who train external customers and partners. We see training courses used in many ways, from marketing to onboarding to ongoing success. Businesses using our platform are typically looking to deliver training through a modern and easy-to-use solution that’s integrated with their existing software applications.
We are powering courses in a diverse set of industries, including enterprise software, financial services, and professional development. In terms of instructional design, we are optimized for self-paced, on-demand video training.
BusinessInterviews.com: You’re a CEO in a climate where only 3% of tech startups are founded by women. What key advantages or disadvantages does being a woman in a male dominated industry provide you with?
Sandi: My biggest fear regarding this issue is the systematic bias against women founders when it comes to fundraising. There have been many studies, including a recent HBS/MIT report that all else being equal, male entrepreneurs are 60 percent more likely than females to receive funding. This is on top of other difficulties like networking into male-dominated social circles and dealing with inappropriate behavior.
On the other hand, being a rare female CEO means my company is more memorable and unique, which is helpful when there are thousands of startups competing for attention. Heightened awareness of gender issues in tech also means that there are many people who want to support and help women-led businesses.
BusinessInterviews.com: Startups typically need to pivot and evolve their business model over time, especially as customers start to use the product. Can you provide some advice or lessons learned to entrepreneurs on pivoting while keeping your business moving forward at the same time?
Sandi: Progress in startups is non-linear, and sometimes what feels like moving backwards is actually the best thing for the business going forward. We pivoted six months into our company, and while it was difficult to go back to the drawing board, I’m also grateful that we only spent six months, not six years. We’ve since made smaller iterations on target market and business model, and I expect we will continue to make more. Startups are inherently full of unknowns, otherwise it wouldn’t be both risky and rewarding!
BusinessInterviews.com: You successfully raised a $1.1M seed round from great investors in November 2013. What advice would you pass onto our readers when it comes to seeking and securing funding?
Sandi: The most challenging part of early stage fundraising is creating a sense of urgency and momentum among your potential investors. Investors generally have every reason to wait, as they learn more about your business without taking on risk. While every situation is different, the key is finding a lead investor who has the credibility and connections to bring others to the table and push towards a timely decision. Participating in TechStars was also important for us, as we were able to meet dozens of investors simultaneously.
BusinessInterviews.com: What inspired you to recently add interactive quizzes to the Skilljar platform?
Sandi: Our instructors have been asking about quizzing since day 1. Quizzes are a great way to engage trainees, assess their understanding of the material, and provide reports on learning effectiveness. We’ve always known that quizzing would be an important part of our feature set, and are thrilled that it’s finally launched.
BusinessInterviews.com: What did you learn while working as a Senior Manager at Amazon.com that you’ve been able to apply to running your own business?
Sandi: Amazon has a leadership principle called ‘Customer Obsession,’ and we’ve carried over that obsession into the experiences of our instructors and trainees. Happy customers are our best advocates, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. The flip side is, we have to be very rigorous about prioritization and consciously let go of ‘nice-to-haves.’ I’m a perfectionist, especially when it comes to product, so this is an ongoing challenge.
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