Amid a pandemic, many educators have turned to online learning to help their students learn outside of the classroom. Gaining momentum in the wake of this growing demand is study.coma website that aims to provide educational materials for individuals, teachers and schools.
Adrián Ridner, CEO of Study.com, has led the company since he co-founded it in 2002. Since then, he has been recognized for his work with numerous awards, including the ASU+GSV Innovator of Color Award in 2022 and was honored in 40 Under 40 by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
Ridner recently sat down with AL DÍA to discuss how he and his company have become one of the leaders in the booming online education industry.
Ridner was born in Argentina and, like his family and many others, considered a college education invaluable. Despite knowing that getting into college wasn’t a given and nearly impossible without going into debt, Ridner moved forward and became a first-generation student, earning a degree in computer science.
He credits his father for teaching him the value of hard work. As a child, he and his family moved from Argentina, in the Caribbean, to São Paulo in Brazil, before finally settling in the United States. Each time they moved, her father had to do fewer and fewer jobs until he could support his family with just one.
But even when he achieved the dream of a college education through hard work, the need for student loans stayed with him, motivating him to action. Having experienced the difficulties of financial loans firsthand, he wanted to offer another way to learn, one without incurring debt.
“I just knew there had to be a way that technology could dramatically increase the quality of education and dramatically reduce costs, especially in grades K-12 and above,” Ridner told AL DÍA in an interview.
Starting an online education business wasn’t Ridner’s first step, however. His first forays into entrepreneurship began in college running an on-campus business with his friend – future co-founder and president of Study.com – Ben Wilson.
Together they started a business by buying used textbooks from students and selling them to bookstores. This venture would fail, but Ridner gained valuable experience for future projects, especially those whose vision and scope extend beyond a single campus.
As Ridner explained how their old business model failed, he expressed what they learned and took with them to Study.com. For example, their grassroots and word-of-mouth marketing was helpful on this campus, but was not scalable beyond a single university.
Other issues their service had, such as offering their services to students for free with the plan to add fees later, became more apparent with experience.
“There were a lot of things we did wrong. We were trying to help students save money on books; we were buying books for hundreds of dollars and reselling them to the bookstore for $40 to $50,” Ridner explained.
As their business continued, they realized it was unsustainable; and despite their popularity on campus, they had to cut their losses and move on.
“One of the things we wanted to do from the beginning, when we started Study.com, was to make sure we understood ‘How are we going to make sure we can scale?'” Ridner said.
“The way we set up the platform from day one – really ensured that we didn’t repeat the mistake of being too local – and too tied to a particular region. The expertise we attracted in terms of professors, instructors and talent to help us build the courses was global; that our platform itself was accessible everywhere,” he added.
As Ridner applied his technical knowledge to creating the website, Wilson coordinated with professors, teachers, and facilitators to create high-quality resources for students to use. Ridner credits their different skill sets as the reason they work so well together, each complementing and pushing the other forward.
“Having a co-founder and management team that can really work effectively and push each other leads to better results in the end…we can help more people,” Ridner explained.
There is another aspect to which Ridner attributes the success of Study.com. Having been founded without significant investors, the company had to recover and make careful use of its resources.
Rejection from different avenues became common as they worked to avoid being too spread out. While it’s hard to turn down these opportunities, it gave them budget discipline, taught them how to make data-driven investments, and learn what worked and what didn’t, by iterating their strategies. and their performances around these results.
Becoming profitable with few resources means they put the money they got to better use when they started getting more funds and growing in size. The trade-off of independence the startup gave them came at the cost of less margin for error, but Ridner saw their hard work pay off.
Being aware of where funds can be raised meant putting some of their goals on the back burner, which helped make them sustainable from the start. That efficiency, says Ridner, is built into the company’s DNA.
Early in the pandemic, Ridner found Study.com at the forefront of a suddenly indispensable industry. Overnight, everyone had to figure out how to teach people back home. Things that were supposed to happen in 10 or 15 years were happening in a matter of months.
The sudden surge in demand for Study.com came not just from individuals, but also from schools, universities, and even school districts. Ridner credits their high-quality resources and scalability for their ability to meet market growth.
“It was great for us,” Ridner told us, speaking of the explosion in demand for online resources. “More than a quarter of our subscribers – between a quarter and a third – are teachers. So when schools and districts went to their teachers and asked, “How can we help you?”
“During the height of COVID, a lot of them raised their hands and said, ‘Hey, I’m paying for this stuff, because it’s great for my class and I’ve been doing it for a year or two now, but could you buy it for the whole school, the whole district?’ and that certainly helped raise a little bit of awareness, even within the school systems,” he continued.
During his tenure, Ridner took a personal interest in several elements of Study.com. Two things have always held him back: the various programs they put in place to help students and the social impact of Study.com.
Ridner talked about their Active researchers program that affect various local areas, offering students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree at no cost. Of these programs, 74% of recipients are the first in their families to go to college, with 77% being people of color.
Across their college programs, they were able to save students $200 million while pursuing higher education. For Ridner, another sticking point is increasing diversity in classrooms.
“I don’t want kids passing through or filling out a loan like I did, when I didn’t see myself in my teachers when I first moved to this country,” Ridner explained. “The Latino population makes up about 24-25% of the student body in the United States, but only 8% of teachers. And less than 2% of directors are Latinos.
“We are excited that not only can we help on our own, with what we are doing with Study.com, but that we can bring others together to have an even greater impact from a societal perspective. That’s just a big part of my focus as we continue to move forward,” Ridner added.
Study.com continues to grow to help teachers and schools educate K-12 students and those seeking college degrees, offering lessons to approximately 30 million students who use it. each month.