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Adrián Ridner
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The Latino Entrepreneur Changing Online Education

CEO and co-founder of Study.com spoke with AL DÍA as we take a look at his life and how he got to where he is today.

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Amidst a pandemic, many educators have turned to online learning to help their students learn outside the classroom. Gaining traction in the wake of this growing demand is Study.com, a website that seeks to provide educational material for individuals, teachers, and schools to use.

Adrián Ridner, CEO of Study.com, has led the company since he co-founded it in 2002. Since then, he has been recognized for his work with multiple awards, including the ASU+GSV Innovator of Color Award in 2022 and has been honored in 40 Under 40 by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Ridner recently spoke with AL DÍA to discuss how he and his company became one of the leaders in the rapidly developing industry of online education.

LEARNING THE VALUE OF EDUCATION

Ridner was born in Argentina and like his family and many others, saw a college education as invaluable. Though he knew getting into college was not a given and almost impossible without taking on some sort of debt, Ridner pushed himself forward and became a first-generation college student, earning a degree in computer science.

He credits his father for teaching him the value of hard work. As a child, he and his family moved from Argentina, to the Caribbean, to São Paulo in Brazil, before finally settling in the U.S. Each time they moved, his father would need to take on less and less jobs until he was able to provide for his family with just one.

But even when he achieved the dream of a college education through hard work, the necessity of student loans stuck with him, motivating him to take action. Having experienced firsthand the struggles of financial loans, he wanted to provide another way to learn, one without incurring debt.

“I just knew that there had to be a way that tech could dramatically increase the quality of education and drastically reduce the costs, especially in K-12 and higher ed,” Ridner told AL DÍA in an interview.

EVERY EXPERIENCE IS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

Starting an online education company however, was not Ridner’s first step. His early forays into entrepreneurship began in college running a business on campus with his friend – future co-founder and president of Study.com – Ben Wilson.

Together, the two of them began a business buying used textbooks from college students and selling them to bookstores. This business would fail, but Ridner gained valuable experience for future endeavors, especially ones with vision and scope beyond a single campus.

As Ridner explained how their previous business model failed, he expressed what they had learned and took with them into Study.com. For example, their grassroots and word-of-mouth marketing was useful on this campus, but was not scalable beyond just the one university.

Other issues their service had, like offering their services to college students for free with the plan to add charges later, became more obvious with experience.

“There were a lot of things we did wrong. We were trying to help students save money on the books; we were buying books for hundreds of dollars and selling them back to the bookstore for $40-$50,” Ridner explained.

As their business venture went on, they realized the unsustainability of it; and despite their popularity on campus, they had to cut their losses and move on.

BUILDING STUDY.COM

“One of the things that we wanted to do from the beginning, when we started Study.com, was to make sure that we understood 'How are we going to make sure that we can scale?’" Ridner said.

“The way we set up the platform from day one – really made sure that we didn't repeat the mistake of being too local – and too bound to a particular region. Both the expertise we drew in terms of the professors, the instructors, and the talent to help us build the courses was global; that our platform itself was accessible everywhere,” he added.

While Ridner applied his technical knowledge in building the website, Wilson coordinated with professors, teachers, and animators to create high quality resources for students to use. Ridner credits their differing skills as to why they work so well together, with each complementing and pushing the other forward.

“Having a co-founder and executive team that is really able to work effectively and push each other ends up with better results at the end of the day… we can help more people,” Ridner explained.

There is another aspect Ridner credits Study.com’s success to. Having been founded with no significant investors, the company has had to pull itself up by its bootstraps and make careful usage of its resources.

Rejecting different avenues became common as they worked to avoid being spread too thin. While it was difficult to deny these opportunities, it gave them fiscal discipline, taught them to make data-driven investments, and to learn what worked and what didn’t, iterating their strategies and executions around those results.

Becoming profitable with few resources meant they made better use of the money they did get when they began receiving more funds and scale upwards in size. The trade-off of the independence bootstrapping gave them came at the cost of less room for mistakes, but Ridner has seen their work pay off.

Being mindful of where funds can be raised from  meant putting some of their goals on the back burner, helped make them sustainable early on. This efficiency, Ridner says, is incorporated into the DNA of the company.

PIVOTING WITH THE PANDEMIC

At the start of the pandemic, Ridner found Study.com at the forefront of a suddenly much needed industry. Overnight, everyone had to figure out how to teach people from home. Things that were predicted to happen in 10 or 15 years were happening in the span of months.

The sudden rise in demand Study.com had was not just from individuals, but schools, universities, and even school districts. Ridner credits their high quality resources and scalability for being able to meet the growing market.

“That was great for us,” Ridner told us, speaking about the boom in demand for online resources. “Over a quarter of our subscribers — a quarter to a third — are teachers. So schools and districts went to their teachers and asked ‘How can we help you?'”

“At the height of COVID, many of them raised their hands and said, 'Hey, I'm paying for this thing, because it's great for my classroom and I've been doing it for a year or two now, but could you buy it for the whole school, the whole district?”’ and that certainly helped raise our awareness quite a bit, even within the school systems,” he continued.

AN IDEAL EDUCATION

Over the course of his leadership, Ridner has taken a personal interest in several elements of Study.com. Two things have been of continued focus to him: the different programs they enact to help students and Study.com’s social impact.

Ridner spoke about their Working Scholars program that affect various local areas, granting students the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree at no cost. Of this program's members, 74% of the recipients are the first in their family to go to college, 77% being people of color.

Across their college programs, they have been able to save students $200 million as they seek higher education. For Ridner, another sticking point is to increase diversity in classrooms.

“I don't want any kids to go through, or fill out a loan as I did, when I didn't see myself in my teachers as I first moved to this country,” Ridner explained. “The Latino population is about 24-25% of the student body in the United States, but only 8% of the teachers. And less than 2% of the administrators are Latino.”

“We're pleased that not only we can help on our own, with what we do with Study.com, but we can bring others together to have an even larger impact from a societal perspective. That's just a big part of my focus as we continue to go forward,” Ridner added.

Study.com continues to expand to help teachers and schools provide education for students from K-12 and those seeking degrees from universities, offering lessons to an estimated 30 million students using it each month.

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