Q&A with Eren Bali, CEO and Co-Founder of Udemy
Undoubtedly, many of you are familiar with Udemy, one of largest providers of online learning platforms enabling any instructor to build an online course. EdTech Times had the opportunity to interview Eren Bali, one of Udemy’s co-founders and CEO.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Eren Bali, Oktay Caglar
Founded: February 2010
Category: Education Technology
LinkedIn company page: http://www.linkedin.com/company/udemy
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/udemy
Co-Founder Twitter: https://twitter.com/erenbali
Co-founder Twitter: https://twitter.com/caglaroktay
Other social media: https://www.udemy.com/blog/
Check out the video on what Udemy is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F8fa-oZQ44&list=UUzw4hbQIePVtyJQzE_F8QDg&feature=c4-overview
And here are the Udemy for Android app screenshots:
ETT: What motivated you to start a company, or build a product, in this particular space of video lessons? What was the specific gap you were aiming to address?
EB: I was born in a small provincial town in eastern Turkey called Malatya. I spent my early education in a one-room schoolhouse, where one teacher taught all 5-grade levels. Access to education was very limited in my hometown. I would often see my friends walk 10 miles to school everyday, sometimes even in the snow. These kids were so determined to go to school to learn and better their lives. However, the opportunity to go to school wasn’t available to everyone in my village. I was most inspired not by the miserable situation my friends and I faced, but by the fact that technology could have a transformative impact on education access. Today, a lot of the kids in my village have smartphones, and access to the Internet. These kids can now access a world of knowledge, and they can learn things they couldn’t imagine before. I continue to be inspired by advances in technology, and I am excited to be part of a future, where anyone can learn anything. I believe the future of education is going to be mostly online, and accessible instantly to the whole world.
ETT: What is the main drive behind your company’s and platform’s success? Are you taking a different approach to the business model, product model than others in the education technology industry?
EB: From day one, we were insistent on creating a destination where anyone could learn virtually anything. We realized that a marketplace model was the most realistic way to achieve this ambitious goal at scale. We wanted to make it really easy for experts to teach courses, exchange ideas, and learn from one another, while at the same time receiving an amazing support experience. In addition, it was important for us to create a sustainable ecosystem that would allow instructors to monetize, and digitize their expertise. Having a steadfast focus on our goals without succumbing to external distractions eventually made us the de-facto destination to teach a course online.
ETT: Who are you targeting primarily – what is your core user base?
EB: Udemy helps anyone learn practically anything. Students come to Udemy to learn new skills, brush up on existing skills, or to further a passion.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
EB: While a freshman in college, I built an online music player from scratch similar to Winamp. Many of us didn’t own portable computers back then, therefore, we often had to work in the college computer labs or if we were working part-time, we would use the computers at work. Back then building an online music player was the only way to preserve your music experience across different computers. This led me to believe that most desktop software would eventually move online, and so I focused on building online applications. Since then, my co-founder, Oktay and I have built many different online applications. In 2007, we started building a live teaching tool, which seeded the idea behind our current Udemy marketplace.
ETT: Please tell us what we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your next milestones?
EB: We are working on a number of very exciting initiatives. We are particularly fired up by the opportunity of expanding our educational content to other platforms (e.g. TV, phone, tablet). We are also launching our new Android app this month, which will connect millions of students to thousands of online courses on the go. In addition, we are continuing to focus on our international footprint by expanding both our user, and content base. Udemy’s site is currently localized into 11 languages, and we continue to add course content in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Turkish, Italian, Russian, Korean, Japanese and Chinese, every day.
We are also focusing on adding new content verticals to our platform, and increasing the breadth of our existing content areas. In addition to this, we are building a lot of tools that will help our instructors create more interactive, and engaging courses. Interactive coding challenges, more robust assessments, written assignments, a powerful community for peer discussions; are all projects that you can expect to see from Udemy this year.
ETT: Do you see Udemy as being the disruptive force right now, or do you think it’s now an established company? If Udemy is still the disruptor, do you foresee it to remain as such in next few years?
EB: We are still very much the disruptor today. Choosing an open marketplace approach instead of self-producing our own content was considered a radical move in the education space. Since then, people have realized the value of this model.
We are moving to a world where teaching will not be the responsibility of a small group of people, but rather, teaching will reside with a large universe of experts from around the world. Similarly, learning will no longer be limited to schools and brick classrooms. Udemy’s job is to create the right marketplace and platform to foster this trend.
ETT: Where do you see the education technology market going in the next 6-12 months? Next few years?
EB: We see three major trends shaping the education technology market in the next months. Mobile learning, big data, personalization, and competency-based learning are all trends to be on the lookout for in 2014. Millions more people now have the freedom to build skills and learn on their own terms, even without access to a computer. We expect the majority of learning to shift to mobile devices in a few years. Big data is another trend that will give us greater insights into student learning behaviors, and teaching methods. Learning analytics will allow us to personalize the educational experience for different types of students. Another big trend is competency-based interactive on-demand learning. It works well in certain markets and we expect it to grow further.
ETT: What keeps you up at night?
EB: Too much coffee. I am far more positive than most people about what’s happening in the world of education, and I am very optimistic about the future of learning.
The opportunity to speak with Eren has been an incredible one for us at EdTech Times, and we encourage you to check out Udemy if you have not already done so:
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.