by: George Anders
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is an ambitious guy. He’s been talking for years about building out the world’s “economic graph,” a shorthand way of saying that he wants to make it easier for the planet’s population to define its skills, get connected with the right work opportunities — and prosper. Now, with LinkedIn’s agreement to buy online-training specialist Lynda.com for $1.5 billion, Weiner is making good on his rhetoric.
When I first started writing about LinkedIn in 2012, it seemed obvious that Weiner and company chairman Reed Hoffman had built a castle with some important rooms missing. The site has done a spectacular job of attracting 350 million users, all focused on their careers and professional skills. LinkedIn also has come up with clever ways to monetize that big user base, chiefly by letting recruiters and advertisers buy high-grade access to the account holders they want to target. But LinkedIn until now had been surprisingly passive about addressing its users’ desires to improve their own skills.
In this 2013 piece, I argued that LinkedIn ought to think about acquisitions. In a 2013 interview with Weiner, I asked if online training might be an area of particular interest. He demurred at the time. LinkedIn’s strategy, back then, was to be a platform where other training specialists might have a presence. So Weiner didn’t show much desire at the time to build LinkedIn University himself. Or maybe he was just doing a very good job of concealing his ambitions.
Now Weiner is much more forthcoming. In a blog post today, Weiner vowed that LinkedIn and Lynda.com together can more easily build the economic graph, by providing the “access to knowledge that everyone deserves.” Weiner noted with wry amusement that when he asked one of his lieutenants, Ryan Roslansky, to look into the idea of buying Lynda, Roslansky replied that he was just a day or two away from asking the boss about that exact same prospect.
While Weiner didn’t say much about how the two companies will be integrated, it’s easy to imagine pathways that point LinkedIn’s 350 million members toward Lynda.com tutorials that might be career enhancers. Founded in 1995, Carpenteria, Calif., based Lynda.com boast an enormous library of video classes on job-related digital skills. Computer programmers can learn everything from Java to jQuery. Marketers and designers can get up-to-speed on Google Analytics or Photoshop. Other realms include video editing, photography and animation.
Lynda.com’s revenue totaled about $150 million last year, with individuals accounting for about two-thirds of business, while corporate accounts provided the rest. The company doesn’t disclose a user count, but it’s bound to be a tiny fraction of what’s now a giant addressable market via LinkedIn.
The two companies shouldn’t have much trouble getting their pricing systems aligned. Lynda.com students can try a 10-day free trial, pay $25 a month for shorter memberships, or sign up for a year’s worth of unlimited access, with project-file downloads, for $350. That’s very much in line with LinkedIn’s approach, which offers free basic memberships as well as premium versions that start at $29 a month.
LinkedIn’s pending acquisition probably isn’t such good news for other companies in the e-learning business, particularly Coursera and Udacity, which started out trying to replicate elite universities’ curriculae but lately have switched their focus toward more vocational content. Those companies have seen a LinkedIn presence as good for business, and while there’s no reason for LinkedIn to freeze them out of its ecosystem, the odds are that Lynda.com content will be showcased in ways that exceed what other vendors can expect.
Meanwhile, both Weiner and Lynda.com founder Lynda Weinman are ebullient about the opportunities they are creating. In Weiner’s words, Lynda’s content makes it possible “for anybody to easily and effectively acquire a skill needed to get their first job, get a promotion, land a business deal or advance their career.” For her part, Weinman asserted that “the synergy between the two companies offered a match unlike any other.”
About the Author
I write about innovation, careers and unforgettable personalities.
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