The Basics: Why would you want to get into a market that's already been invaded by several industry leaders and plenty of start-ups? Because the opportunities have only just begun to boom. E-learning is the hot service among organizations seeking to train employees and improve financial performance. Web-enabled courses can range from specific training about companies' core competencies to generic topics like management.
Background Required: An educational or high-tech background is important if you want to start a successful e-learning company, but the most significant factors that lead to success are business experience, management skills and the ability to offer quality customer service. If you make your first priority hiring a quality team of employees with educational or high-tech backgrounds, you've learned your lesson well.
Who: Jonathan Estes, 39, CEO (co-founded with Vance Remick, 58, and David Hadden, 36, president)
What: New Course Inc. , Chapel Hill, North Carolina
When It Started: 1996
What It Does:
provides educational services to help companies transition from face-to-face training to
Why It Rocks: With 20 employees, New Course Inc. continues to grow steadily.
"Online learning allows a company to train a whole group of people on a computer, instead of having them sit in a class with an instructor. They can log on anywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to participate," says Estes. "Companies aren't limited by distance, space or time with e-learning."
billion: 2003 sales in the e-learning market
SOURCE: The Yankee Group
Estes acknowledges that hundreds of players, including five or six large, well-funded companies, are already playing the game, but he says that plenty of "unique technology is still wide open."
Estes is currently developing a software product called ProCourse that helps customers get the most from training by identifying employees' skills-development needs and providing access to training resources. Estes claims the product will cut employee training time and the attrition rates for fast-growing companies.
Another way to differentiate yourself: Many existing companies are coming at the market "from a high-technology perspective, but they're leaving education behind," says Estes. "However, if someone comes at this space with a strong education component, where adult learning principles are applied to the e-learning level, he or she will rise to the top."