Lynda Susan Weinman is a self-taught computer engineer, public speaker, author and founder of online software training website Lynda.com.
The software CEO is a shining example of the democratization of the tech industry, beginning her career by teaching herself computer skills and ultimately landing on Forbes list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. “It was a 20-year overnight success,” Lynda joked in a recent interview with Forbes regarding her company’s $1.5 billion cash and stock sales to professional networking platform LinkedIn.com in 2015.
Neither Lynda or her husband Bruce, who founded Lynda.com with her in 1995, were straight-A students with high SAT scores, went to Ivy League colleges, or studied math and science with the goal of making a lot of money, Weinman explained in a speech at a luncheon for Girls Inc.
After her parents’ difficult divorce, Lynda was forced to move frequently, struggling with self-esteem, psychological scars, and achieving decent grades. “My family was one of limited finances, and all of my parents worked, so I was left alone on afternoons after school to fend for myself,” Lynda recalls. Bruce was equally challenged by the traditional school setting, with his severe dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome causing him to be berated by teachers and depressed for much of his adolescence.
Lynda attributes much of her success to her commitment to never take “no” for an answer. When she came up with the idea to make a web design textbook for non-techies, no one would buy into the idea. “I needed the advance to write the book – I needed to earn money. And so I got a magazine publisher to let me do a monthly series,” she said. Thanks to the series, Lynda was able to publish Designing Web Graphics in 1996. The popularity of her textbook was one of the main reasons that her first web design course, which she put on with her husband at a rented out high school in Ojai, Calif., was sold out and attended by students coming from as far as Vienna, Austria.
Due to her experiences of proving herself and working her way up from a web design expert, to a teacher, and ultimately an owner of her own web design company, Weinman hones in on the importance of market validation in creating a sustainable business that can undergo economic downturns. “There were hard times, like with the dot com crash and the travel restrictions [after 9/11/2001] … but I knew ultimately that people loved the way that we taught and our approach,” said Lynda.
Lynda suggests that a major problem with today’s young entrepreneurs is that they are hyper-focused on the exit. From the get-go, she says she has always made sure to be passionate about what Lynda.com did. While she is proud of what the company sold for, she is more focused on how many people and how many lives were touched by the company’s products.
Lynda only finally agreed to take venture capital funding for the main reason of going public. In January 2013, Lynda.com raised $103 million in funding from Accel Partners and Spectrum Equity. Two years later, the online learning platform raked in $186 million in a round led by TPG Capital. In 2015, when Lynda decided she was ready to take on the next chapter of her life, the company was in a unique position as the only player in its space that was profitable and growing. Since it value exceeded the revenue it earned, Lynda says the company had a lot of value that was never going to be realized unless it went public or was sold.
After Lynda.com, Weinman shifted her focus to the film industry, continuing to pursue her passions including “reinventing learning, filmmaking and the arts.” She is currently the President of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and backs independent filmmakers and documentary filmmakers.
Lynda is a champion of transforming our educational system to “STEAM-based learning” adding Arts to STEM, a popular acronym used in educational circles which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Her endeavors, both business and personal, have helped revamp today’s 200-year-old formal education system, which she views as outdated and restrictive.
Money has never been Lynda or her husband’s primary motivator. “Helping people learn what they were passionate about, at their own pace, without being judged, shamed or pressured into a predetermined direction was what mattered to me. And yes, some of what falls under the trend of STEM helped me get to my passions. But there was something else that mattered more,” said Lynda.