Over the past two years, ELB Learning (formerly eLearning Brothers) has acquired 6 companies and, as you can see, has changed its name from eLearning Brothers to ELB Learning.
Last week I had a chance to sit down with the co-founder and CEO, Andrew Scivally, about the path that led him to start eLearning Brothers (alongside his brother), the evolution of the field of learning and development that led to the company’s name change, and his thoughts on the challenges that L&D professionals will need to be prepared to face over the next few years.
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of a company called Endurance Learning. And today, I am joined by ELB Learning Co-founder and CEO. You might not necessarily recognize the name ELB Learning, but it is formerly known as eLearning Brothers. I’m here with Andrew Scivally. Before I get to him, we’re going to talk today about surveying the L&D landscape, present and future, through the lens of one of the industry’s most visionary leaders.
But I do need to mention that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training, whether that is in-person or virtual. So basically you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning objectives. If you want more information, or if you want to even try it out for two weeks for free, go ahead and visit www.soapboxify.com. All right. We have that out of the way.
Brian Washburn: And now I’m very excited to get into this conversation with Andrew. And one of the things that we do to keep our podcasts relatively short– obviously people can go to LinkedIn, they can find information about you from all different places– but we like to have our guests introduce themselves with a six-word biography. And so today, for example, if I had to introduce myself in exactly six words, I’d say, “My answer is always, ‘Yes and…'” How about you, Andrew? How would you introduce yourself or kind of what you do in six words?
Andrew Scivally: Yeah. Thank you, Brian. It would be, “We create better learning experiences globally.”
Brian Washburn: I love that. And we were talking just before we started to hit record and you said, you know, “Are people looking for tips and tricks? Are people looking for big picture stuff?” And I think that today’s conversation is really gonna revolve big picture. But I think that this idea of just creating better learning experiences, and then you use that word “globally”, can be such a really important piece because this is the environment we’re working in. And so I’d love to hear just as we start, what was the original idea behind eLearning Brothers in the first place? Were there actually brothers that were involved?
The History of ELB Learning
Andrew Scivally: Yeah. So it’s my brother – his name is Shawn, and so we both started the business and I’m gonna help you out here too. So my last name is hard, and it actually isn’t pronounced like it’s spelled. It always gets jumbled out there. So it’s Scivally, and we’re going to have a civil discussion, right? And we’re going to be all nice on that. So, Scivally, you know, as a civil discussion.
Anyway, so yeah, I mean it was– for us, it started back in 2009, and there was a big life event that had happened in my brother’s life. And, you know, he ended up with three little girls that were five and under, and he had to take care of them and his wife had passed away. And so that started happening and he moved back to Utah where I was living at the time. And we were kind of talking about it. He needed to figure out how do I work at home and watch these kids? If you send them off to daycare and everything, it’s super expensive. It’s hard to make a salary and pay for daycare and everything else in life.
So, you know, over the months we kind of thought through different things. We were sitting on a bench in front of a movie theater one night and kind of brainstorming stuff. We’re like, “Hey man, Why don’t we just start a company?” And we’ve always kind of wanted to do something like that, and we kind of dabbled in a couple of little things but never fully committed. And we said, “Well, all right. Well, if we did that, what would we do?” The only thing either of us have ever really done in our lives and our careers was around online learning. My background was all in online learning, that was my education, everything. My brother was on the creative multimedia side, building online learning for like the Wendy’s Fast Food Corporation and stuff and then Chase Bank. And, so we said, “Yeah, let’s do that!” And you would think eLearning and brothers, you know, that would be, “Oh, it’s a no brainer, right? That should be our name.” And no, that took a little bit longer to come up with actually.
But that’s where we got started. And my brother did it full-time to start off with, you know, working from home there, and I was still at a bank leading their training and development team. But as it started to grow, for me it was this thing – I could not stop thinking about it. It was like all the time I was thinking about eLearning Brothers, I wanted to be part of it full-time. And I was, you know, honestly– scary jumping into something, fully committing to something, right? And it’s scary, especially when you have a good job, you’re making great money. You go home on the weekends. You don’t worry about anything else. There’s no stress because you’re not paying payroll, right? It’s a bank, they can pay their own stuff. But at a certain point, I’m like man, I’ve got to do this full-time or it’s going to be a “what if,” right? What if I would’ve done it? And so I jumped on full-time with him in 2010. The first month, we made $4,000, split two ways. At the time, I had six kids and $2,000 does not pay for much with six kids and a mortgage.
Brian Washburn: Minus taxes, right? Yeah. (CHUCKLES)
Andrew Scivally: Oh yeah. I forgot about that. So assuming you pay taxes, Brian, you know?
Brian Washburn: Right!
Andrew Scivally: So anyway, you know, I was like, “Oh crap, what have we done?” But it started to work, and we started off just trying to– I was trying to hustle like projects, right? Just get projects landed. And my brother, he’s more introverted than I am, and he started dinking around building like templates and stuff. He put up a website called http://www.eLearningtemplates.com, and he’s selling templates for like 50 bucks or whatever it was. And I’m like, “Would you stop wasting your time? Making 50 bucks? Like seriously, let’s go land a huge project – $10,000!” However quickly things– we started selling templates and money was coming in and we had $800 on a website, you know, in a week. And we thought that was crazy. And, you know, wake up in the morning and there’s money in your e-commerce account. I’m like, “I’m making money while I sleep? This is like one of those late-night infomercials.”
But we quickly pivoted directly to that, or really completely to that, and started building templates and assets for the largest authoring tools on the market. You know, Lectora, Captivate, Storyline. It was all the presenter tools before that. And it started to work, and we were really the only players doing that. And we got a lot of partnership deals with those tools and were able to grow that. You know, quickly, we made it to the Inc 500 List for Fastest Growing Companies. We hit the Inc 5,000 List six years in a row.
We started doing custom work as well and it kind of grew from that. And we got to a certain point where it was like, “Hey, this template thing is good, but it’s slowing down and it’s kind of– everyone’s doing templates.” And so we had to figure out what was next, and my brother had exited by then. And so I started looking at the market thinking, well, what if we could expand? What if we could own the technology, not just be template makers? And so we started to go out and execute that plan.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. I love that story. And I mean, just the idea of leaving the safety and security of a job is something that anybody who’s listening who is either on their own or has started a company I think can really relate to. And it is scary. And yet it can be really, really rewarding at the same time. Now that’s an amazing history. And yet recently you have shifted and renamed and rebranded the company to be ELB Learning. I’m kind of curious, what have you seen in the industry that led to that shift?
Today’s Learning Industry and the Rebranding of ELearning Brothers
Andrew Scivally: So, it’s been a couple of things for us – some are more internal and then some are external. The internal drivers of that is– well, those drivers are that we’ve acquired six companies in two years.
Brian Washburn: Mhm.
Andrew Scivally: And so as part of that, you know, the name eLearning Brothers isn’t representative of really who we are and what we encompass now.
You know, now we’re a company that has a large product suite of technology like VR gaming, authoring tools, and things like that and learning platforms. But we also have a large services division. And so the name eLearning Brothers, believe me, I love the name, it’s close to my heart. However, as we’ve evolved as a business, it wasn’t the future of the company. And we needed to have a name that was, I guess, just a bigger name that was more encompassing of all the things that we do. And so ELB Learning paid a bit of, I guess, a respect to the past of where it came from, obviously ELB is eLearning Brothers.
Brian Washburn: Mhm.
Andrew Scivally: And then learning was a bigger word, that’s bigger than eLearning, right?
Brian Washburn: Right.
Andrew Scivally: So as we position ourselves for the future, as this new business, that seemed to be a better fit for us.
In the market, if– one thing that we’ve really seen over the past couple of years, especially, is– look, it’s not so much about eLearning anymore, right? It used to be eLearning versus classroom and that was the big debate for years, right?
Brian Washburn: Yep.
Andrew Scivally: And then other debates were like, “Hey, is PowerPoint the best authoring tool for eLearning, or is it Authorware, or Lectora, or Storyline or whatever?” But now we’re at a point where I think it’s like, look, the line’s not– it’s not a clear line. It’s not black and white, like classroom and online anymore, it’s just learning.
Brian Washburn: Mhm.
Andrew Scivally: And everything’s such a hybrid. There’s digital learning. There’s all sorts of different types, and so for us, the word “learning” is where the industry is.
Brian Washburn: Yeah.
Andrew Scivally: No one’s worried anymore like it’s us versus them kind of thing. It’s just learning. And we just got to figure out which one is best at the moment. So.
Brian Washburn: Right. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of debate and some of it can get really nerdy. Whether you’re on Twitter or LinkedIn, people would say, “Well, training versus learning,” Or “What is learning?” And, you know, “Does it have to be formal learning versus informal learning?” So I love just the shift, right? You know what? Let’s take the word out. I mean well, you have learning in there, but let’s take out this concept that gets people bogged down.
Andrew Scivally: Yeah, again, let’s go to a word that’s called “learning,” which is actually the action that we all do, right? We all are learning. And who cares where it comes from?
Brian Washburn: Yep.
Andrew Scivally: Now, I will say just a couple of my preferences – to me, it’s always just been eLearning, there’s no hyphen in there. But I know lots of people care about that.
Brian Washburn: Do you capitalize the E? Do you capitalize the L? And have a lowercase E?
Andrew Scivally: A lowercase E and capital L, of course, that’s how. (CHUCKLES)
Brian Washburn: (Laughing)
Andrew Scivally: But then also, I don’t know necessarily if I agree with this one, but my old boss used to say, “Look, people learn. Animals are trained.” And so he was like, “You train your dog, you don’t train your humans.” And so I always use the word learning, but that was just because that was like, you know, pushed into my brain as I was working with him.
However, again, at the end of the day, those are fun topics and all that, but it’s all about learning. We’re trying to help employees do better jobs and to get more fulfillment out of being experts in their field and being better at their jobs. And to give the company, you know, the benefit that the company needs for paying their salaries and having them be better trained and up-skilled.
Brian Washburn: Now, just having followed eLearning Brothers and now ELB Learning for a while, having seen the booth at conferences, one of the words that I’d really associate with your organization and your brand is “fun”. I’m kind of curious from your perspective, what do you think the role of fun should be in learning?
What Should the Role of “Fun” Be in Learning?
Andrew Scivally: Well for us, we never wanted to be super corporate-y. You know, when we came onto the scene doing conferences, it was like– you’d show up to these learning conferences and they’re so boring. It was dead. There was no energy. Everyone’s like in a polo or a button-up shirt. And I’m like, “Well, you guys just spent thousands of dollars to be at a conference and no one remembers you.”
And so, you know, part of the I guess the ability that we had as a young startup is just to be able to do whatever we wanted to do and not really care about making people mad or going against the grain because we didn’t have anything to lose. And so we went in there and were able to be loud and just be more fun and say, “Hey, look, you know, if you want to build engaging learning, how you ever gonna do that being a stuffy, you know, business?”
So we took that route and it seemed to connect for us. You know, we were all about helping people be rockstars in their jobs and create rockstar content. So I think the fun, you know, it’s like we need to get– be less serious and think we’re all people, we’re trying to help people learn. And if you remember back in the classroom growing up, the teachers that were fun, they were the most impactful, right? The ones that were actually engaging and had a personality and all that. Well, why can’t our learning have a personality and be engaging, right? Online learning should be able to do that too.
Brian Washburn: So, and I’m kind of curious about this because I think this is a really important point. Sometimes people will say, “Well, you know, our brand isn’t fun and it’s actually very professional.” And so how do you or how does your team or how have you seen people navigate clients who say, “You know what? I get it. That’s not quite who we are. We want this to be professional. And so things like that might turn our learners off.” What’s your response to something like that?
Andrew Scivally: Well, where we see this the most– I’ve seen it in two areas. Growing up in the business, we used to see it between images of, like, photographs of characters versus illustrations of characters, right? They didn’t want the cartoony field.
Brian Washburn: Yep.
Andrew Scivally: That was a preference, right? Of businesses. But where we really see it now is around gaming. Some companies are like, “No, we do not do games. Games are not a serious way of learning. They’re childish.” Whatever it is. Others are like, “Gamify the whole thing! Let’s go to town.”
Brian Washburn: Yep.
Andrew Scivally: You know, there’s a balance between creating content that’s engaging and immersive versus silly and trivial.
Brian Washburn: Mhm.
Andrew Scivally: We’re going for engaging and immersive, and there might be levels of how you want it to look like a cartoon or look more serious. But the underlying principles are still that– look, people like to compete or people like to earn things, or it’s just a better model for retention if you do certain things. People like to be at the top of a leaderboard. I mean, it’s just how it is. People like to take it on mobile or other devices and have this different access.
So usually when we approach and say, “Okay, look. Here’s what we’re trying to do. It can look one way or the other. It doesn’t have to look like a cartoon reel.” Usually, we’re okay. And on the business side, you know, it’s like look, most of us are pretty fun when we’re home with our families. I don’t know why we think we need to be all stuffy and different in the office. But we’re all just people, right? So let’s– can we just act like ourselves? Not take ourselves so seriously?
Brian Washburn: Yeah. I love– and it’s definitely a challenge that we’ve certainly faced. It’s a challenge that I’ve heard a lot of other people talk about. Even people within organizations that are like, “I don’t think that we can get that through. You know, I get it. It’s fun. I don’t think we can get it through the people who are viewing it.”
Andrew Scivally: Show them the ROI. Show why it makes an impact.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. I love what you said in terms of there’s a difference between not taking ourselves too seriously and then just kind of crossing that line and just silly, right? For silly sake. And I think there’s definitely a difference there and there’s ways to make things engaging without making it silly.
Andrew Scivally: Sorry. Sometimes companies will say, “We don’t do games. That’s silly.” Right?
Brian Washburn: Yeah.
Andrew Scivally: And I’m like, “Do you have any games on your iPhone right now? Do you play Candy Crush? Ever done Clash of Clans? Any of that?” There’s no reason why all these companies would be so huge in the gaming world if none of us adults ever played the games.
Brian Washburn: Mhm.
Andrew Scivally: So it’s like, look if you can play games in your own personal time, don’t you think you could use it as a business tool as well?
Brian Washburn: Yeah. There’s so many things to be drawn from the world of the games, and Jane McGonigal has some great books out there just in terms of real-life applications for game elements and obviously Karl Kapp (Editor’s Note: check out the podcast Talking Games and Gamification (for Learning) with Karl Kapp and An L&D-style Easter Egg Hunt (with Karl Kapp)) and lots of other people too. We can do a whole other episode on that, and I want to be respectful of your time. I do have one last big question here. You know, over the next two or three years, what do you think are going to be the biggest challenges that people working in the L&D space will need to confront?
What Are Going to Be the Biggest Challenges Facing the L&D Industry in the Next Few Years?
Andrew Scivally: I think– well, one huge challenge we’re seeing right now is you have a whole new generation of people coming into the workforce, right? And they’re entering into these professional careers. They have grown up with awesome media, awesome websites, awesome ways that they’re getting engaged by people marketing to them and engaging in movies and all this kind of stuff. So we need to up our game.
Like a lot of our learning content looks like crap, right? It’s just not that good. And if we really think we’re going to be engaging across multiple generations of people in the workforce, we have got to make cool stuff. And it’s got to look good. It’s got to be effective. It has to engage people. It needs to use some of the new technology, whether it’s VR, AR, or gaming, or some type of mobile adaptive stuff, whatever it is.
But I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can just keep pushing out Storyline content that’s click next, click next, click next. Even if it’s well-written, who cares? It’s got to– we’ve got a level of this thing up. That’s what we’re trying to push on. Some clients get it, some clients don’t. But I really think that’s one of the biggest challenges is we’ve got to engage these people that are used to watching, you know, Marvel movies for two hours and seeing the coolest stuff ever.
Brian Washburn: Yeah.
Andrew Scivally: And they come and watch our training programs and they’re like, “This is lame.”
Brian Washburn: Well, whether it’s a Marvel movie that’s three hours, right? Or a TikTok, that’s 30 seconds.
Andrew Scivally: Yeah.
Brian Washburn: Even some of that stuff is really, really well-produced. And I mean, yes, there’s a lot of competition out there I think for– not necessarily for attention, but for what people respect in terms of– or expect- in terms of the quality of what they’re going to take in. Especially if they’re going to be told, “Hey, you have to do this.”
Get to Know Andrew Scivally
Brian Washburn: Now I do want to be respectful of your time. I know that we’re a little bit over. I do have a speed round. Do you have a few minutes for a few last questions?
Andrew Scivally: I’m good.
Brian Washburn: All right. Perfect. So first question, would you rather attend an in-person course or complete a course online?
Andrew Scivally: (CHUCKLES)
Brian Washburn: (Laughing)
Andrew Scivally: In-person because if I stay online I’m probably doing other stuff and I shouldn’t be.
Brian Washburn: Well, and that, I think that is one of the biggest challenges with– whether it’s eLearning or virtual training or anything like that- is the propensity of people to multitask. When you’re in person you’re kind of in a room, right? So everybody’s kind of there, attention’s right there.
Andrew Scivally: Well, and the relationships, right? Like, at least for me at this point in my career, it’s about building those relationships. It’s hard to build relationships in an online course.
Brian Washburn: Very true. How about: would you rather give a presentation or attend a presentation?
Andrew Scivally: Attend! Giving presentations makes me nervous.
Brian Washburn: (Laughing) Would you rather have a new shirt to wear every day for the rest of your life or only be able to wear the same orange t-shirt for the rest of your life?
Andrew Scivally: A new shirt because I love change.
Brian Washburn: All right. What did you say?
Andrew Scivally: It can be multiple shades of orange, like a different shade of orange.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) That’s true. Would you rather use PowerPoint or Google Slides?
Andrew Scivally: Google Slides, every day.
Brian Washburn: What’s your favorite thing about your job?
Andrew Scivally: Woo! I love building stuff. So just being able to, like, look at all the different challenges and say, “Well, how do you build out a sales team?” Or “How do you build out a new product?” I just liked that creative part of building it.
Brian Washburn: What is the best piece of advice that someone ever gave you?
Andrew Scivally: I think a phrase– I don’t know where my dad got it from- but he used to say this. He would say, “Look, we work to live. We don’t live to work.” And you know, I’ve thought about that through the years. And, at the end of the day, we all work because we need money to live. I mean, that’s really what’s driving it. And, the minute that we live to work, it seems like we maybe are getting our priorities switched around a little bit.
Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff happening here, but I also have nine kids at home and a wife of you know– how long have we been married now? 24 years, something like that. So it’s a balance, right? Like I don’t want to– I don’t live just to work here and lose other things in my life. This is a conduit by which I can take care of other responsibilities in my life and others’ lives. We have a lot of employees here. And so I think that’s the advice I’ve always kind of looked at it and said, “All right, well, look, this is just a job. It’s a game, really. There are things that are a bit more important than this.”
Brian Washburn: Yeah, I love that piece of advice. The last question I have for you is do you have any shameless plugs for us?
Andrew Scivally: (CHUCKLES) Well, I think the biggest thing is ELB Learning, we are all about creating better learning experiences. That’s just where we focus. But what’s really unique right now is that we do have these products around gaming and VR and video coaching that people can use to build out some really cool learning.
And so, I think if you’re trying to get into those areas, and whether it’s micro-mobile learning, or you’re trying to do gaming and get into the VR stuff, or you’re trying to figure out sales training where they’re practicing rehearsing things. If you want to build some really cool stuff on your own, these are the products that we’ve been acquiring and pulling together. And, of course, I’m biased but I think they’re really good.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I think that there is years of a reputation that you can stand behind that says that people have enjoyed using the resources that ELB Learning has provided. Andrew Scivally.
Andrew Scivally: There you go!
Brian Washburn: I apologize for not seeing your name poorly before. Thank you so much for giving me some time.
Thank you everyone else for taking some time to listen to this conversation. If you know of somebody who might find today’s conversation with Andrew to be important, go ahead and pass along the link to this podcast. If you want to be sure you’re notified of a new podcast whenever it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts. Even better would be if you were to give us a like or a review. That’s how other people will find us, and it will just take you a minute. If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can pick up a copy of my book – there’s a shameless plug for you – What’s your formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training at http://www.amazon.com. And until next time, happy training everyone.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.