October 8, 2012
Startup Spotlight

Vernon startup hits gold with Learn To Program

Photo / Pablo Robles
Photo / Pablo Robles
The team behind Learn To Program includes, from left, Kevin Hernandez, course producer; CEO Mark Lassoff; and Brett Lassoff, technical writer. 
Adam Lanza, co-founder, Invenio Music (www.inveniomusic.com)
Dan Kupper, co-founder, Invenio Music (www.inveniomusic.com)

About a year ago, after working as a freelance corporate technical trainer for two years, Mark Lassoff created a business called Learn To Program with about $5,000 out of his own pocket for computers, some office space and other legal and professional costs.

What a difference a year makes.

Learn To Program (www.learntoprogram.tv) provides training for web, software and eLearning developers. Classes are available in a self-paced online format or in a traditional classroom setting. The classes are geared toward beginners who have never programmed before and training for corporate groups is provided on-site at Learn To Program's headquarters in Vernon.

In the past year, the company has enrolled more than 5,500 students in its online courses, 47 countries and all 50 states. It also has secured dozens of corporate customers ranging from Discover Card Services to Lockheed Martin.

The result? More than $250,000 in revenue.

Some of the largest corporate training companies in the country are using Learn To Program courses, including Netcom Learning and Sterling Ledet Training. Courses are also being used in secondary schools as far away as Dubai.

Recently, the company signed a contract to have its material included in the Safari Online Library, one of the largest online libraries of training books and video materials with well over a million subscribers.

Lassoff says the genesis of the idea came from what he and many others see as an impending shortage of qualified, well-trained STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) employees.

"Most secondary schools are still emphasizing the classic sciences of biology, chemistry and physics," Lassoff said. "Only about 225 students in Connecticut took the AP computer science exam last year; in short, we're simply not producing programmers at the rate that they will be needed."

For those who want to go into programming, Learn To Program provides several options.

"For about the same price as a technical book from Amazon, potential programmers can enroll in one of our courses and learn web development, mobile development or traditional programming skills," says Lassoff. "Our online courses include hours of video, lab exercises and dozens of code examples. Most importantly, the instructor is accessible for assistance with lab exercises and questions."

Lassoff feels accessibility is the number one benefit that online courses have over the traditional classroom environment.

Learn To Program had one student who took courses while working for four months on a cargo ship, one who takes courses from home in Nicaragua, and even another — a flight attendant and wants to have a web design business on the side — takes courses while she overnights in different cities.

"You simply can't have the level of accessibility with traditional classroom courses," Lassoff said. "In a classroom, if you miss something, you missed it. With our courses, you can simply review the video again and again until you understand the concept. Your instructor is available in the forums and via email to help you along."

Lassoff expects his company to double in revenue and hire two or three more employees in the next six months.

"We want to teach more people programming than any other company in the world."

• • •

Invenio Music (www.inveniomusic.com)

Invenio Music is the brainchild of Trinity College friends and soccer teammates, Adam Lanza (Class of 2010) and Dan Kupper ('09). It developed out of a mutual desire to create a platform that independent and aspiring artists could use to not only achieve exposure, but also ultimately success.

The two entrepreneurs shared a vision to develop a music social network that combined elements of American Idol and YouTube with stars being born from social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook.

"We asked ourselves, 'What if there was a place that offered incentive to artists to submit their material, and in return they would receive prizes, exposure, and real market feedback?'" recalled Lanza. "Our musically-engaged community provides great market feedback to our artists, in addition to song evaluations given to every artist's submission. This feedback can serve as an invaluable tool for artists."

Invenio (InvenioMusic.com) is a social media website that incorporates music. Much like Facebook, users are able to create profile pages with their own personal information, pictures, etc. Users can browse the site, check out new music and vote on their favorites, or make a comment on any particular song. In addition, users can upload their own song into one of the active competitions (which range from original songs to cover songs, to Hip Hop songs, to DJ competitions and many more) and have a chance to win cash prizes up to $500, feature stories, Internet exposure, real market feedback, and attention from Invenio's affiliate studios/labels and music blogs.

"Artists submit a song into a competition; if they advance through and win, they receive a number of different prizes and a great deal of exposure," Kupper said. "If an artist doesn't advance, they can use the market feedback from the community of users to rework their song and submit it into the next competition."

Invenio is approaching 1,000 active users and has run four major competitions to date; two original song competitions, one cover song competition, and a DJ competition. The winner of the DJ competition will be DJ'ing at Invenio's launch party in New York City in October.

Invenio is affiliated with Stadiumred Studios in New York City and partners with FreshNewTracks.com — a popular national music blog.

Kupper and Lanza said the biggest challenge to date was getting their website up and running — a process that took more than a year.

"Having a working and running social media website is no small task, and seeing our idea come to fruition by executing the first competition was very exciting," Lanza said. "We got a chance to see our business model work. Artists submitted songs and the community voted, rated and commented on those songs — and from this process we found three great winners."

One of the winners was Connecticut-based indie-rock band Echo and Drake, which won in the original song category.

So where does Invenio go from here?

"We want to become the premier music platform that aspiring artists turn to in order to achieve exposure and success," Kupper said. "We would love to host music festivals and eventually sign artists in the future as well. We want to be an active music social network where artists and fans alike can spend time, listen to new music, and compete in front of an online music community."

John A. Lahtinen is a freelance writer/editor based in Farmington. Follow him on Twitter @jlahts.

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