Lessonly’s Automated Learning Tool Helps Optimize Business Processes

In 2012, three Indianapolis entrepreneurs with IT backgrounds and ties to ExactTarget had the idea to create “an easy learning platform,” says Zach McFarlen, Lessonly’s director of brand and messaging.

Co-founder Mike Fitzgerald, who was an ExactTarget executive before the company’s 2013 acquisition by Salesforce (NYSE: CRM), had been looking for a tool to create lessons that could teach his kids. “There was nothing out there that was easy,” McFarlen says. “He wanted a more nimble platform than what was out there in old school, legacy systems. That led to the birth of Lessonly.”

Within the first year of Lessonly’s existence, McFarlen says, a primary use case emerged: as a learning management systems (LMS) tool for businesses trying to train their teams. Lessonly planned to offer its service at a much lower price than competitors and go after high-growth startups and mid-sized businesses with 500 employees or less.

“We took tools usually attributed to bigger, more bloated platforms and filtered everything through the lens of, ‘How does this serve or help the learners?’” McFarlen explains. “Our mission became to be more learner-focused. We want to help people do better work so they can live better lives.”

On most legacy LMS platforms, for instance, he says a new employee would log in and be presented with a long video or course that had to be consumed in one chunk, with no option to advance at the learner’s own pace. “We found the micro-learning style, where you break content down into pieces, helps with retention. You don’t feel like you’re slogging through hours and hours of material.”

Lessonly’s clients collaborate with staff to create custom lessons or courses, and employees can be grouped by division or hire date to streamline delivery. The topics of the lessons vary and can include the employee handbook, sales techniques, how to use new equipment, or anything else a business deems necessary. Clients can also assign due dates and track how many lessons an employee has completed and what their score was.

Lessonly, McFarlen says, is not meant to be a one-time experience. “Ongoing instruction is more the ideal,”he says. “Our clients get the most value when they don’t use it as a one-off tool. We also drip content out on a regular basis. Using Lessonly on an ongoing basis is really what the platform was designed for, even if it’s only once a month.”

These days, the company is capping a year of steady growth, nearly tripling its team to 50 employees; putting to use a $5 million funding round that closed in March and was led by Boston-based OpenView Partners; and looking to 2017, when it plans to launch a Salesforce integration of its app in order to help build out Lessonly’s contextual learning capabilities and increase its appeal to enterprise customers.

“We’re continuing to figure out how to articulate our value to the marketplace,” McFarlen says. Already, Lessonly counts Modcloth, Birchbox, and Gusto among its clients. A recent survey of the company’s customers revealed that 27 percent reported more productivity as a result of Lessonly’s courses and 90 percent said they felt more confident in their skills.

“We think the opportunity is so large,” he adds. “Because learning has been more of a compliance task owned by human resources, businesses don’t always see the benefit as clearly as they could. We need to keep helping businesses understand how big the return on investment is.”

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