Startup Profile: Q+A with Udemy.com Co-Founder Gagan Biyani

→ by Kim Weisberg < kimskitchensink >
at 5:50pm Jan 24, 2011

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn?  I’m sure many of us have something we’d like to know more about, a skill we’d like to master, or maybe even just a curiosity we’d like to explore.

Enter Udemy.

Udemy’s primary goal is to make it easy for anyone to learn (and teach!) online. Their site makes it possible for you to upload presentations and videos, host live classroom sessions, and write articles in your areas of expertise.

I’ve browsed their offerings and was impressed with the both quality and scope of the content available. If you want to learn about something, chances are you can do it on Udemy.  On the flip side, if you have a burning desire to share your knowledge, it’s easy to start your own class as well. Courses range from “Stocks for Beginners” to ”Pole Dancing Instructional” to “Healthy Cooking Classes.” If those don’t intrigue you, check out the full list of classes at http://www.udemy.com.

For more on how Udemy  plans to disrupt the education industry, continue reading our exclusive interview with co-founder Gagan Biyan.

1. What inspired you to create Udemy?  Beyond simply solving the problem of educators’ physical, location-based constraints (that you discuss on your website), was there a particular course or educator that motivated the development of your site?

Udemy was the creation of my two cofounders, Oktay and Eren. When Oktay and Eren were in Turkey (where they were born and raised) 3 years ago, they were sponsored by the government to build a live learning platform so Web 2.0 entrepreneurs in Europe could teach aspiring entrepreneurs in Turkey. After they completed development, they realized that this tool could be a lot more impactful if it was provided – for free – to anyone in the world. So, they set out to build a site that could let anyone teach anyone and the end result was Udemy.

2. What do you mean when you say you want to “disrupt the education industry”?
We want to democratize online learning by making it possible for anyone to teach and learn over the internet. It currently costs a lot of money to publish an online course or a book that is educational. Furthermore, you have to be a part of an educational institution to publish a course. As such, many of the millions of experts out there cannot or do not provide their knowledge to the world. We seek to disrupt the institutional nature of education by enabling individuals to teach without any tie to a formal institution.

3. Which videos currently on Udemy do you wish had been around when you were in college?
Great question. The courses I wish I had during college are Eric Ries’s Lean Startup course (http://www.udemy.com/the-lean-startup-debunking-myths-of-entrepreneurship/), the Limit Hold ‘Em course (http://www.udemy.com/getting-started-limit-holdem/), and How to Run a Website with WordPress course (http://www.udemy.com/how-to-run-a-website-with-wordpress/).

4. What is the most interesting or unique online course you’ve seen?
The Hot Thai Kitchen course is pretty cool (http://www.udemy.com/hot-thai-kitchen/). So is Larry Hewett’s Multimedia For the Classroom (http://www.udemy.com/multimedia-for-the-classroom/).

5. Are there any subjects you haven’t seen taught on Udemy that you would like to see?
Tons! We’re just at the beginning. I’d love to see some development courses (PHP, Rails) and some more courses on cooking!

6. What makes a successful Udemy video/lesson?
The most successful ones so far have had a good mix of videos, PowerPoints and articles. I’ve found that the courses that resonate the most with students are ones in which the instructor took great care to ensure that it was comprehensive and useful. You can really tell when instructors worked on their courses.

7. You also write for MobileCrunch.  How do you balance contributing to a popular tech blog with running a startup?  Do you ever find a conflict of interest?
To be honest, I don’t write as much for MobileCrunch much anymore (I wish I had more time) – only about 1 article per month. I mainly do it for fun, but I do often have to excuse myself from writing great stories due to conflicts of interest. Furthermore, all of my articles get screened by my editor, Greg Kumparak, who’s awesome. Ultimately, I simply have to make sure there are no conflicts in any of the articles I write.

8. Having grown up in Silicon Valley, did you always plan on a career in the tech world?
Haha – it’s funny how separate the Silicon Valley that the tech community sees and the “real” Silicon Valley are. The reality is I had family and friends in the tech community my entire life, but I wasn’t really in the startup world – in fact, I didn’t know it existed. So, while I did always expect to have a career in the tech world, I didn’t know it would be starting my own venture!

9. What is your vision for the future of Udemy, and/or what is your hope for the future of online education?
For online education, I hope that the future is as Bill Gates recently said, “In 5 years, the best education in the world will be available online.” For Udemy, I can only do my best to ensure Udemy helps accelerate that vision.

10.Do you have any advice for young innovators and entrepreneurs?
As cheesy as it sounds, remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. It’s so easy to throw your hands up in the air in frustration when things seem difficult. Instead, use your creativity to try to solve the problem and think about what you would do if someone had a gun to your head.

About the Author: Kim Weisberg

kimskitchensink • http://www.kimskitchensink.com

Kim Weisberg is a 20-something Bay Area transplant from the San Fernando Valley, and has worked for a wide range of companies from Google to Berkeley Repertory Theatre. She is proud to have been published in such little-known but well-loved places as It All Changed In An Instant and the upcoming Aiming Low Back Burner Recipe Book, and is also a contributer to Berkeleyside. You can catch her ramblings about cooking, home organization, and just about everything else on her blog Kim’s Kitchen Sink: http://kimskitchensink.blogspot.com/.

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