It was a privilege to be interviewed by Shuja Rhaman, a MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I would like to share this interview with you to inspire all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there. This interview underscores how I started and founded 360training, the challenges I have faced and are still facing, how the business grew from $250K initial investment to a yearly revenue of $25M, some of the business strategies that I have used and the company’s future plans.
Make Me a Millionaire
“Vision without execution is hallucination,” says Ed Sattar, Founder and CEO of 360training.com Inc. Ed founded 360training, an e-learning company in 1998 to offer compliance courses in an online format to real estate agents for their continuing education needs. Ed, himself comes from real-estate background and felt the pain-points of sitting in classroom settings to fulfill compliance requirements. His initial strategy was single product (platform) and single market. The new technology worked well, Internet adoption was exploding, and the market cared for online education. He saw clear white space. He invested $250K in his initial startup, took no outside investment and still maintains 90% equity. 360training.com in its 14 years journey expanded horizontally into several related verticals to offer prep and compliance education online such as financial services, power and utilities, occupations safety, etc. Today the company boasts yearly revenues of $25M & employs 250 people in 3 countries (run its own back office customer service and IT operations in Pakistan and Philippines).
360training enjoyed first mover advantage into the real-estate education market. Ed Sattar’s strategy to protect its position from competitors was rooted in his focus on channel, where he created a large value added reseller network (by contracting local brick and mortar education providers in major cities) augmenting their business by offering white label online education portals “as a service” that allowed him to leverage local known brands and tap into their customer base thus helping 360training to expand swiftly across the nation.
End consumers buy from 360 because of convenience – on-demand, self-study and online courses. The company was able to take its users from ignorance phase to becoming advocates by partnering with local schools to create awareness and then providing superior customer service & convenience to turn them into advocates.
“If I were to go back in time and allowed to fix one mistake in my business, I would go deep into one market rather than expand horizontally into several markets too quick,” says Ed Sattar. Expanding on his other leanings and challenges, he mentioned that recruiting the right senior executive who would fit in high growth startup environment while bringing mature processes to current operations is one of the toughest challenges he continues to face.
Business operations include sales, marketing, IT, product (content) development, regulatory and customer service departments. The company also contracts subject matter experts on revenue sharing models who author courses for the company. It sells direct to consumers through its B2C websites and also through reseller networks. Resellers are given a private label branded ecommerce enabled storefronts, and learning management system to deliver content. Directed search became key marketing strategy for the company from the beginning. B2C portals and reseller network both helped the company grow exponentially. Search engine optimization and web marketing are still important tactics to attract millions of visitors to its own and reseller’s websites. They plan to focus more on this model by providing discussion boards and social media tools to create additional viral network effect to promote their content and services.
The company’s exit strategy is to be acquired by a strategic buyer. The company offers an attractive revenue model, owns thousands of high value content assets & proven ecommerce and content delivery platform, and enjoys a dominant position in the compliance education market through high traffic web properties and reseller network.