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Web pioneer shares secrets of success

By   /   Wednesday, June 16th, 2010  /   Comments Off on Web pioneer shares secrets of success

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Lynda Weinman, the co-founder of Carpinteria-based online learning site, has been on a roll this year.

With 30 million visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of paying members, her fast-growing Web service – which provides online training for creative professionals such as Web designers – outgrew its space in Ventura and has been single-handedly bringing down Carpinteria’s commercial vacancy rates by moving operations there. This month, Weinman was celebrated as the Entrepreneur of the Year before 700 people at the South Coast Business & Technology Awards.

At a gathering of the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum in Santa Barbara on June 16, Weinman said her company is reinventing education. Instead of sitting in a classroom to hear a lecture once, users pay as little as $25 a month to browse a library of 826 courses taught by experts in their fields. Customers can watch whichever, and however many, lessons they choose.

“People come to us knowing what they want to learn and able to create their own learning path,” Weinman said. “Unlike a school or a book where there’s a very linear path laid out for you, this is up to you.”

Weinman said her career success was rooted in a childhood framed by “divorce, drama and demands.” Her parents divorced when she was 3 years old. Growing up in the 1950s, she said, “Most kids didn’t even know what the word divorce meant.”

By junior high, Weinman had become bored with traditional schooling and picked up a book about the “free school” movement, in which students were allowed to pursue topics of their choice. She found an alternative high school like the ones she’d read about, but her family couldn’t afford the tuition.

She told the principal she was brining in $80 a month working at a hotdog stand and asked if she could attend. He agreed. “I was the only student there putting myself through high school – everyone else’s parents were paying,” Weinman said. The experience shaped her view that students do best when working from their own motivations rather than for a grade.

After high school, it was art school, where Weinman again had more freedom to follow what interested her than in a buttoned-down university. After graduation, she picked up the instruction manual for a boyfriend’s Apple II computer in 1982 and taught herself how to use it.

Weinman became engrossed in technology and found herself explaining it to others. That led to consulting, a teaching position at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, buying up the domain and, in 1995, her groundbreaking book “Designing Web Graphics.”

Written for the non-engineer when few similar texts existed, the book became a smash success. Weinman and her husband, co-founder Bruce Heavin, moved to Ojai and started a school teaching Web design.

They put in $20,000 of their own money to start it up and made $1.7 million in revenue the first year. “We’ve never taken any kind of investment,” Weinman said.

After surviving the dot-com crash, now has 160 full-time employees. Weinman said her key to success has been making her passion her work.

“If you do what you love, things fall into place better,” Weinman said.

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