From being Knee-Deep in Debt Here is How Udemy Has Grown into a Billion Dollar Company and Lessons From its 10 year Journey


Most people have taken at least one course on an online learning platform either to get more knowledge in an area or to learn about an entirely new subject. One of the more popular online learning platforms is Udemy which is owned by Udemy Inc. The company recently announced its 10 years in operation.

Udemy was founded in 2010 by Eren Bali, Gagan Biyani and Oktay Caglar. Since then the company has grown from little more than an idea to a $2 billion company. How did it grow to that extent, especially in light of its very rough start?

A little background is in order.

All of Udemy’s founders are emigrants to the US who had other jobs they worked at when they started the company. At an incubator organized by Founding Institute, Gagan Biyani met the other two founders, bonded over their immigrant backgrounds, and agreed to establish the edtech.

From Being in Debt, Here is How Udemy Has Grown into a Billion Dollar Company

For the first six months, all staff of the company, comprising more or less of the founders, worked without pay. This was because neither of the existing founders had financial resources that could be pumped into the business.

What can businesses learn from Udemy’s growth chronicle?

Within a few months of its launch, 1,000 instructors had signed up on the platform, creating more than 2,000 courses. About 10,000 users had already registered to take their online courses.

Innovation and attention to its market has always been a part of Udemy’s journey. The company’s model has consistently made courses available to people at lower prices than some of its counterpart.

Most startups have difficulty in getting funding and Udemy was not different. After its first year in operation, the startup was knee-deep in debt up to $30,000.

According to Gagan Biyani, Udemy applied to Y Combinator for funding three times and was rejected every time because of its debt profile. The company was undervalued by more than 100 investors who did not want to take a chance on the e-learning platform provider.

While Udemy was at its seed stage, the founders decided to create a board. This decision was a company-defining one for the startup, however, Biyani admits that the company made what is perhaps its biggest mistake during the Series A funding round.

With most people still not investing in the edtech even after it had begun to show signs of steady growth, the fundraising was done on rough terms and according to Biyani, “early rounds on tough terms lead to future rounds on tough terms.”

As at January 2020, Wikipedia reports that Udemy has more than 50 million students, with 57,000 instructors teaching in over 65 languages. There have been over 295 million course enrollments while there are 5000 enterprise customers and 80% of Fortune 100 companies use Udemy for upskilling of their employees.

Over the last years, the founders have exited the company and Udemy currently is running with its 4th CEO, Gregg Cocchari. Udemy has grown from the struggling startup it was to a $2 billion valuated company with a lot of impact and diverse business offerings.

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