The following simple email message was in my in-box today. There were no pictures, big logo’s, or branding messages. I added Eren’s picture to my blog but it wasn’t in his message. Just a short simple story telling us about how his life experience compelled him to create Udemy, and the perseverance it took to grow it. How he went to a one-room school in Turkey with little opportunity to learn, but his life was changed by acquiring advanced knowledge of math over the internet. About his desire to bring education to all over the internet and, after an initial failure in Turkey, how he moved to Silicon Valley and found funding after 50 VC pitches. Now they’ve closed a $12M series B round of capital and are growing rapidly.
I had the opportunity to see one of Eren’s very early pitches a couple of years ago at a tech meet-up in Palo Alto. It was far from smooth and there were a lot of missing ingredients, but there was no mistaking the possibility of magic. A fresh approach to an awakening and gigantic market, with a passionate team that just wouldn’t accept failure. I became a supporter that day. I use their products and promote them to others. I follow their success. They’re in a wildly shifting market right now, surrounded by a plethora of big competitors, but they continue to advance.
Eren’s story captures the essence of entrepreneurial creativity–A perfect reminder, especially around the holidays, of the impact each of us can have on the world around us if we move unceasingly and courageously toward our dreams.
I’m Eren Bali, the CEO and Co-founder of Udemy. I want to thank you for making Udemy such an amazing community.
Recently, a lot of people have asked me why I started the company. The answer lies in my personal story, and I wanted to share it with you today.
I was born in a small village in Turkey. My primary school was a one room schoolhouse where a single teacher tried her best to teach 5 different grades at the same time. That meant we were often left to try and learn from books on our own. As a kid, I was interested and somewhat talented in subjects like mathematics and science, but there was very little room for me to advance my skills.
One day my parents bought my two sisters and me a computer and Internet access for a few months. At the time none of us had any idea how it would change our lives. But once I started using the Internet, I knew I had found a new way to learn.
That’s where I discovered several math forums where people were exchanging problems to work on and a few websites with problem sets used in the Math Olympiads. Even though these forums were clunky and disorganized, they had a huge impact on my life. Long story short, by teaching myself math online, I eventually won a gold medal in the National Math Olympiads in Turkey and a silver medal in the International Math Olympiads.
Later on during college I studied computer science and mathematics. It was there that I met my good friend, and Udemy co-founder, Oktay Caglar. Together we started experimenting with the possibilities offered by the Internet.
So with the power of the Internet, combined with our own challenging educational experiences, we imagined a world where anyone could learn anything — from any expert in the world. It didn’t take us long to realize how much this idea could change people’s lives.
But the journey wasn’t easy.
We first created a product with Udemy’s vision 6 years ago in Turkey. We failed. So we packed our bags and moved to Silicon Valley to give it another shot. We were rejected by more than 50 investors before we launched the company in the Valley. But through it all, we didn’t give up because we believed in the power of the Internet to change how people learn.
We learned from the challenges we faced and eventually our hard work paid off.
It’s on that note that I want to share some exciting news with you. As a result of Udemy’s amazing growth, we just raised $12 million in Series B funding.
As a small thank you, I wanted to share a collection of Udemy courses that I wish I had access to while growing up in Turkey. I hope you enjoy them.
Thank you for making Udemy what is it today.