Everyone at eLearning Brothers (#331 on the 2014 Inc. 5000), a $2.5 million developer of assets for online training programs, calls each other "Brother" or "Sister." For co-founders Andrew and Shawn Scivally those monikers are literal. (A third Scivally brother, Justin, also works in the American Fork, Utah-based company.) The business was born out of tragedy but is now making a positive difference for customers who, as Andrew Scivally says, are becoming "e-learning rock stars."
Shawn: In 2008, my wife passed away unexpectedly, leaving me with three daughters, ages 5, 4, and 2. At the time I was living in Ohio, working in Wendy's corporate office on online training. But my whole family and support system was in Utah. It was time to move back home and start life over.
Andrew: Shawn and I were sitting on a bench outside a movie theater and saying, "What now? We've always wanted to do something together. This is our chance." I was also in the industry, starting online training programs for banks. So e-learning was the natural industry choice. We thought we would do custom projects. I was like, "let's land projects, projects, projects." But I was still working full-time during the day, when you have to be selling. And Shawn doesn't like to talk to people. He just wanted to sit in the basement, building games and cool interactive stuff.
Shawn: I built a bunch of templates for online training and put them on a website. And people started buying them. We made $1000 in one month. So that became the focus of the company. Customers pay an annual membership fee and get access to 25,000 different templates: the broadest offering in the world. You can download quizzes, interactions, player skins, layouts, cutout people, anything that is designed for e-learning. Our customers are everyone from freelancers building courses to large companies with hundreds of professionals creating their own in-house training programs.
Andrew: In 2010 I left my job and started working on the business full-time. I had six children and about a million dollars in mortgage debt. It was rocky for the first year or two. There were times we didn't take home paychecks. Then it started picking up steam. We began getting requests for custom work, and in 2012 we started accepting those jobs. The first project was from Tupperware. Now custom is half the business. Right now, we are working with NASA to develop some of their e-learning.
Shawn: In our industry, especially when we started nine years ago, we would show up at conferences and trade shows, and every vendor would be in a suit, tie, or maybe a polo shirt. We showed up in T-shirts and wore shorts and five-finger shoes. I came up with the orange color theme. We stuck out as a company that goes against the norm.
Andrew: When people think about eLearning Brothers they think visual explosiveness. Corporate training is boring. People don't want to click next, next, next and read text on a screen. Everyone wants something fresh and new.
Our goal is to continue to be the largest e-learning template library on the planet. We will continue to build templates for all the big e-learning tools out there, and we'll find all the new ones and build templates for those guys as well.
Shawn: I did find love again and got married. She had a beautiful daughter that fit right into my family. We recently had a little boy. Everything is super exciting.
As told to Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan.