This article was originally published in the Q1 2023 Edition of Texas CEO Magazine.
With product and technology roots established in Greece, Schoox set out in 2012 to build a business around its distinctive learning and development (L&D) platform in a place it had never been, the United States. So how did Schoox move from a startup with a bold vision to a strong and rapidly growing organization with now more than 2,000 customers and 20 million learners around the world?
Forming the Foundation
The visits of Schoox Founder and CEO, Lefteris Ntouanoglou, to the U.S. centered on building the network that would be needed to support the business. Incorporating in the U.S. would require strong legal, finance, HR, and other expertise to connect the organization’s two worlds and establish its foundational structures. As Brandon Hudgeons, Schoox COO & VP of Technology, noted, “start-ups have to be excellent in everything and face a choice of raising significant funds to staff these needed supports internally or finding great external partners.”
With few customers, no revenue, and priorities of investing in product improvement and building a sales engine, securing strong external partners for key support areas was the logical path. Across the board, Schoox found experienced and committed partners that enabled them to focus on their product and accelerate their work. This included a sales partnership, a knowledgeable law firm, and Austin-based vcfo, which provided fractional CFO, accounting, and HR expertise that scaled with Schoox at the pace they needed. This support started with their basic needs (AP/payroll/benefits and talent management/compliance) and expanded as Schoox grew to add strategic modeling, support during valuations and due diligence, investor reporting and creating both a business and employer brand.
Forming the foundation of Schoox also entailed establishing a corporate culture that would celebrate and leverage its team’s inherent diversity and invest in its people as deeply as it did in its product. Central in this is their leadership’s belief that providing the best possible benefits and wellness options along with resources such as extensive learning and development paths, external coaching, and leadership programs translates to happy, creative, and consistent contributors that set them apart.
Building Credibility and Navigating Growth
When the time for investor conversations came, Schoox was already being recognized as an agile and welcomed entry in the L&D software space. But beyond a solid product, investors also wanted to see a solid foundation from a legalentities perspective and in the way of sound financials reflected in the company’s balance sheet. Having these and related areas well attended to by vcfo and their other partners instilled credibility and demonstrateserious thought that extended beyond product and technology concerns.
Throughout its growth, Schoox has experienced both typical and unique pains. Being distributed across two continents from the start wasn’t easy, but steadfast focus on product evolution, making the right decisions for customers, and effectively connecting their people and cultures has kept the company on course and made it stronger. From a cash flow perspective, Schoox has also demonstrated remarkable discipline in maintaining capital efficiency to avoid growth pains like those associated with high burn rates. Lefteris added, “there’s been no secret
recipe for navigating our growth… just applying experience and intuition, getting trusted advice from our partners, and leveraging the collective wisdom of our leadership team.”
Reflection + Focus on the Future
Today, Schoox remains a largely independent operation with its founding leadership still in place and is now also bolstered by three investment groups that are helping to fuel its growth. Moving forward, the company intends to continue a near-term focus on the U.S. market and build on its momentum. “We are in a very unique position with a
strong product, nearly 300 employees, and a continually growing customer base that includes some of the biggest brands in the world across a variety of industries,” Lefteris noted.
In reflecting on the company’s ascension, Cristina Silingardi, vcfo Vice President and Consulting CFO to Schoox in its formative years, said that “Schoox serves as an incredible example of having a clear vision and leveraging the power of partnership to bring it to fruition. They surround and run their business with experienced teams that provide them with guidance needed to make smart decisions and support them at every step. Schoox leveraged both our solid finance and accounting team as well our strategic and tactical HR/People Operations team, to create the strong organization, processes, and culture needed to support their visionary plans. It was very important to vcfo and Lefteris that our companies’ values were aligned. We are very proud of Schoox’s success and our part in it.”
The L&D software space is one marked historically by frustration and dissatisfaction with products that never seem to work as promised. Recognizing that sentiment and the replacement mode it vaulted organizations into helped Schoox make headway in a challenging market via a fundamentally different approach to learning and talent development and an understanding that long-term enterprise software success requires an unwavering devotion to people, product, and customer success.
vcfo provides an integrated suite of finance, HR and recruiting support, including outsourcing and consulting solutions that improve operational performance and optimize productivity. Founded in 1996, vcfo pioneered the concept of the “Virtual CFO” with its original core offering of fractional or part-time CFO solutions. For 25 years, we have worked with more than 5,000 clients, evolving our service offerings and geographical footprint to meet new industry and market needs—expanding what we offer, the value we provide and the way we deliver it. At vcfo, our mission is always to make your company stronger.