Bootstrapped eLearning Brothers Brings Content and Technology Together to help Companies put their Training Online
As a part of our TechBuzz Bootstrap series we are pleased to share the story of American Fork-based eLearning Brothers.
When Shawn and Andrew Scivally started their company, it didn’t occur to them to seek outside funding. “We knew how to build online training,” said Andrew. "We didn’t have any employees yet. We had two laptops, a card table, a basement...with raw insulation on the walls...and a desire to start a business. That is all we needed."
Since that day in 2009, eLearning Brothers has been bootstrapped. Andrew now serves as its CEO, while Shawn is pursuing other projects.
The company offers training tools and content for corporate clients. A company like UPS may need to educate employees on Communication Skills with Customers. eLearning Brothers can help in three ways. First, they offer a catalogue of courses on their proprietary platform covering topics from myriad industries; subjects like cyber security, sales, soft skills, HR and more. Second, the client can use eLearning Brothers platform to serve custom content created by the client themselves, useful in more domain-specific fields. Third, eLearning Brothers can create custom content for clients who need specific curricula, but would rather hire out the content creation.
The eLearning Brothers journey began in 2009 when Shawn Scivally created eLearning games and template designs while working from home and sold online. His brother Andrew stepped in to help on evenings and weekends till he joined full-time in 2010. Between the two of them, they had the skills and knowledge to put together interactive, engaging, and inspiring content to help others build their own courses or enhance existing eLearning courses.
The brothers had previously worked in financial services at JP Morgan Chase, Zions Bank, and Wendy’s Corporation. This corporate experience educated them on corporate e-learning needs and provided opportunities to hone their skills.
In 2010, they decided to get serious and start a business. They named it “eLearning Brothers,” with Shawn in charge of building content, assets, templates and Andrew doing everything else including operations and building the initial website, eLearningtemplates.com.
They hired their first employees with little pay and no benefits. “When I hire for key positions,” says Andrew, “I like to find people who are willing to work for free—at least for a few months,” he said, half joking. “For me it is all about trust, and there are two sides to trust: trust that your employees are honest and will do what they say they will do, and second, trust that they will push the vision forward. The last thing you want is people who cause problems behind your back, cause noise and friction within the company. Dependability is ten times more important than an MBA.”
The brothers bootstrapped the business over the next 10 years. As the business grew, it moved into an office and started to diversify the product line from templates and assets to customized work for clients. From there the product line expanded into courseware and larger content libraries.
“We were unaware of entrepreneurship concepts when we started,” said Andrew. “We just went for it. Every step the way, our growth was organic. Nothing from outside investment. Our attitude throughout the early years was: ‘take what we have, be good stewards of it and move it forward.’” said Andrew Scivally.
Operating the business over the years has had its share of challenges. “There are tough times in business,” says Andrew, “the sheer will that you can do something has to be strong; and holding it together long enough for it to come to pass, that is what you must do.”
Andrew’s hobby of long-distance running has equipped him with stamina and grit that has helped him operate the business. He recently completed the 42-mile Rim to Rim to Rim run. “It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. At one spot, it was getting dark and cold. I was into it 35 miles with 7 miles to go. I was exhausted and low on water and food,” said Andrew. “I told myself, ‘now all I have to do is climb Timpanogos, and I’m done.’" Totally exhausted and considering quitting, Andrew recounts, “I heard a voice in my head say, ‘okay Andrew you can either curl up a die, or just shut up and go.’"
Andrew applies that moment of choice to running a business when there are challenges and hard times. “I chose the latter, ‘shut up a go,'” said Andrew. “For me eLearning brothers in deeply personal. My friends are here. People I care about are here. There were times when it wasn’t clear that it would work, but you don’t have another choice. Shutting the doors is not an option.” said Andrew.
Andrew’s advice for startups:
- Find your vision and know what you really believe in. Its okay if you don’t know that the business is going to work. But you have to think that it is going to work...and do you have some data to support it.
- Find the right talent—and I don’t mean a certain university degree. Make sure you can work well with your team, that they are loyal, and that you can trust them. It all comes down to trust—trust that they know what they are doing and trust that they are with you.
- Take the steps to move forward. As conditions change, adjust. The worst is to be stuck not knowing what to do. You will never know exactly what to do, and that’s okay. Do what you think needs to happen. If you have good people around you—people you can trust—they can help you adjust or pivot as needed.
Scivally is optimistic about the future of eLearning Brothers. The company now has 100 employees and has been growing despite the pandemic. In April 2020, the company acquired Trivantis and Edulence to give it additional course building and learning management tools, and allowing it to serve more clients. Scivally plans more acquisitions in the coming months.
This year’s amazing growth amid COVID is exemplified by the recent eLBX annual conference, which typically attracts 100 or so companies. As the conference moved online this year using the company’s own new technology, including virtual reality, attendance grew to nearly 2,000 attendees that give the conference high marks.
He also plans to hire more sales team members and developers. “We are always looking for individuals with good skills in learning technology sales. We are also working on building a learning experience platform for which will be hiring developers,” said Scivally. “We are looking for rockstars—literally.”