As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Scivally, Co-Founder and CEO of eLearning Brothers. He has 20 years of experience in the learning technology space, including all aspects of course design and development, as well as leading Learning and Development teams for financial institutions such as JPMorganChase and Zions Bank. He holds a master’s degree in computer education and cognitive systems. Led by Andrew, eLearning Brothers has established an industry-leading brand and been featured in the Inc. 5000 for six consecutive years.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
In a way, I’ve been in the business of learning my whole career. I started out building online training programs for banks. My brother and I started creating eLearning templates in our basements while I was still working a full-time job. Eventually, all I could think about was eLearning Brothers and how to grow our business into a viable income, so I took the leap and made it my sole pursuit. We had a couple of rocky years in the beginning, but here we are a decade later with a thriving, multi-million dollar company and almost 100 employees.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
As a brand new company, the first trade show we went to we showed up in T-shirts with iron-on logos and finger shoes. We looked drastically different from everyone else on the floor. Let’s just say we may not have been the most “professional” looking group but we were memorable.
We ended up turning that into our brand. Training can be perceived as boring, but we wear bright orange and do everything with a splash. It stands out. Our goal is to make our clients “eLearning rockstars,” and it just works. I have learned that you have to be genuine, true to who you are and what you stand for, and people will naturally be drawn to that.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I love podcasts, especially the ones on economics and business. Some of my favorites focus on how other entrepreneurs got started, and their stories. I find a sense of comfort hearing their stories and knowing that I’m not alone. The podcasts on economics don’t necessarily apply to my current business, but they do help me think of different ways to view problems and challenges.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
eLearning was a new industry when we were starting out, but we did have some competition. Other content creators would sell ready-made courses that may or may not fulfill the exact need of a specific company. Our philosophy, from the beginning, was to give our customers the tools they need to be successful. Our pitch is “Be an eLearning rockstar!” At first that was about allowing clients to manipulate our templates to really fit their needs. That philosophy and vision has led us to create a vast content library, endless customization options, and add a full-service of offerings to our portfolio, from off the shelf courses to authoring tools to the end user learning experience platform.
Giving our customers everything they need, not holding back, treating them as partners — it drives our business, influences our company culture, and has helped us build this incredibly loyal following. We’re always looking for that next thing that will help our clients succeed, and that helps us stay innovative and keep the right audience in mind.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Be where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there.
I always remember the reason I went into business. I have an amazing wife and nine children, and everything I do comes back to caring for my family. eLearning Brothers likely could have grown faster if I had spent more time at the office, but would it be worth it? I hear stories of entrepreneurs who are so driven and so obsessed with their current project that they lose all of their relationships in the process. I get that. My business is incredibly important to me, too, but my family and faith aren’t secondary. All of those things have to coexist.
You will always find more to do at the office. It’s important to know when it’s time to quit anyway.
So when I’m at work, I’m focused and I’m all in. And when I’m home, I try to be present and build those memories and relationships that are equally important to me. Be where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
With 9 children the pandemic became very real in March when we started to do home school. As you can imagine, my wife and I suddenly became tutors, IT technicians, taskmasters all while still needing to get our normal things done. During this time we also purchased two companies, and had to suddenly integrate them. I also had employees working remotely for the first time, and they were dealing with their own personal challenges. It was and continues to be a busy time.
I think that it helps to communicate often and to be transparent about what’s happening. Start lining things up in some kind of order and tackling them. It’s going to be hard, but failure isn’t an option. In our case, we just rallied the team both in my family and at work and got down to business.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
For two or three years leading up to 2020, we have been working to bring a couple of other companies under the eLearning Brothers brand. At the beginning of this year, I finally had the right investors, banks, and partners all lined up and then the pandemic hit and rocked the economy. It was incredibly frustrating to think those years of work might all be for nothing.
We were able to turn COVID-19 into an opportunity — not a positive, exactly, but we showed our investors how people needed eLearning more than ever during this crisis, and sales were steady. We were inundated with calls and interest in how we do what we do: train people virtually in an engaging way, without the need for in-person instruction. With persistence and a healthy dose of optimism, I walked our investors through the advantages of acting now, and they responded to that. In the end, we closed the deal, and we’re better for it.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
When we closed our merger in April, I had this vision of what it would be like. I thought I’d be sitting in a boardroom with all of these important people, high-fiving everyone and going out to a fancy celebration dinner. Because of COVID, the reality was my wife and I sitting in our son’s messy bedroom, giving a verbal agreement on a conference call. When it was over, I just sat there by myself and let the reality sink in. It was a huge moment, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
I think that idea of our expectations not matching up with reality is an important metaphor for what we’re experiencing now. This year isn’t what any of us thought it would be. It’s new and different and hard. We’re all doing the work to keep our families and our businesses going, and I remind my employees, my family, and myself that everyone is going through this. Our customers, teachers, friends, neighbors, suppliers, and everyone we interact with is fighting a similar battle. We’re all feeling our way through this pandemic together.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
For us, COVID has ushered in a huge opportunity by bringing a lot of attention to our industry. Before the pandemic, eLearning was sometimes thought of as second-class. It was a tool, but in-person instruction was the go-to. Now, eLearning is a no-brainer. In a lot of ways, our industry has had five years of progress condensed into five months.
I think that the pandemic has been a similar catalyst for a lot of industries. We’ve had to radically alter our behaviors in a very short period of time. A lot of great innovations have come out of that. And now we know that we are all capable of doing some pretty awesome things, hopefully we can keep moving forward. As we return to something like normal operations, let’s take a step back and look at the ways we were doing things before, and only put back the best parts.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Right now, 42% of US workers are at home full time. That’s an incredible number.
I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the standard of doing things in person or not at all. Many workers are demanding that this kind of flexibility continue. The workforce has proved they can handle the responsibility of a different kind of schedule and a different kind of work-life balance. Remote work is definitely here to stay, so we will all keep looking for new and better ways to communicate and interact in the online space.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We aren’t slowing down. We’re looking to the future, and we’ve got a lot of exciting things in the works. For eLearning Brothers, I think the key is to keep our customers in mind. Given the changes in how their teams are living, working and learning, what tools do they need to be successful? We’ll keep driving that innovation and finding new solutions.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Surround yourself with good people, and then put your trust in them. We have not laid off a single employee throughout the crisis and our acquisition. I trust my workers to put in their best effort and find the way forward. If you haven’t already, there’s no time like the present to build the kind of company culture that brings people together and encourages them to take ownership of their work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad used to say, “We work to live, not live to work.” We all need to put food on the table. Everyone has to have a job to pay the bills. However, I don’t let work take over my life and ruin the very thing that I’m trying to take care of.
Too many entrepreneurs focus on their business to the detriment of their families. They say that they are doing all of this hard work for the very people they are losing in the process. There must be balance. We must figure out how to have a life and work.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!