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Ellen DeGeneres, Trevor Noah set to highlight Pluralsight user summit

SHARE Ellen DeGeneres, Trevor Noah set to highlight Pluralsight user summit
Pluralsight’s headquarters in Farmington are pictured on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.

FILE - Pluralsight’s headquarters in Farmington are pictured on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

FARMINGTON — Talk show icons Ellen DeGeneres and Trevor Noah, along with a host of industry speakers, are set to help Utah tech education giant Pluralsight engage 3,000-plus expected attendees at the company’s user summit that launches Tuesday.

Ahead of the annual three-day event, company co-founder and CEO Aaron Skonnard took the Deseret News on a tour, via interview, of the year past.

It was one in which the Farmington-based firm, developer of a cloud-based technology learning platform for software developers, IT specialists and creative professionals, logged a slew of accomplishments and at least one very challenging encounter.

Besides breaking ground on an enormous new world headquarters, in the year since that last Pluralsight LIVE event, the company made a key acquisition, saw its first anniversary as a public company come and go, notched a win in an effort to bolster tech education in Utah schools and is keeping its collective game face on following a negative stock swing following after a recent quarterly financial report.

Skonnard is stoked for the annual user summit that, besides DeGeneres and Noah, brings a slew of notables to the stage at the Grand America Hotel, including free climber extraordinaire Alex Honnold; “Mythbusters” co-host and special effects guru Adam Savage; and Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and president of social change organization Emerson Collective and widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

“This is probably our best event yet, with a killer lineup,” Skonnard said. “We’ll be bringing together a global community of leaders with our customers, course authors, big partners as well as our investors.”

Pluralsight blew out of the gates in its May 2018 initial public stock offering, opening the markets 34 percent over its IPO pricing and bringing in over $300 million in fresh capital. On the one year IPO anniversary, the stock was trading well over $30 per share. But a July quarterly earnings report, one that reflected a 41% revenue bump and 71% increase in earnings per share, also included a stat showing Pluralsight billings down some 20 percent. On a July 31 earnings call, Skonnard owned the performance slip, recognizing a staffing issue on the company’s sales force and outlined a path forward to address it.

“While we generated strong revenue and (earnings per share) in Q2, we experienced sales execution challenges, which impacted our billings,” Skonnard said. “I’d like to share what we learned and what we’re doing to strengthen and improve execution moving forward. We hired over 100 new sales reps in the last 12 months, which may seem like a lot, but that was not enough capacity in the system to sustain our high-growth expectations as we entered the year.”

At the end of regular trading the day the earnings report was released, July 31, Pluralsight stock was trading at $30.69 per share. It skidded down nearly 40 percent the following day and has been hovering in the $15-$16 per share range for the last week.

Skonnard told the Deseret News he viewed the accountability that comes with being a public entity as a positive and was optimistic about Pluralsight’s ability to both weather the market reaction and keep the company on a positive trajectory.

“We’re learning a lot, we’re becoming more disciplined, and there are a tremendous amount of positive outcomes,” Skonnard said. “Our Q2 earnings call wasn’t everything we wanted it to be, but it’s been great to watch our company go through it. It’s produced a tremendous amount of strength ... growth comes from going through these moments.”

And, in spite of the wobble in billing data, Pluralsight appears set to continue to grow both its customer list and product offerings. A key acquisition in May of software development productivity innovator Gitprime for $170 million was widely seen as a complementary addition to Pluralsight’s suite of tech skills assessment and development tools.

“The integration of GitPrime with our leading technology skills platform is a win for our customers and will greatly expand the Pluralsight platform to provide even more value to technology leaders and developers,” Skonnard said following the acquisition announcement.

Skonnard said companies across the world, in spite of what type of business they’re in, have a collective need to keep their teams of tech professionals up to speed with tools to measure what their strengths and weaknesses are and the classes to address areas that are found wanting. And those companies are spending a lot of money to accomplish those goals.

“There’s definitely a big trend where in-classroom, asynchronous learning is shifting to the cloud,” Skonnard said. “There’s a $130 billion market around that, globally. Large enterprise customers are realizing that the tech skills space is much more strategic to their futures ... and we’re sort of emerging now as this vertical solution.”

Pluralsight’s growth can also be seen in the company’s expanding footprint in Utah with a new world headquarters that broke ground last fall starting to take shape. The 350,000-square-foot facility will be the largest single-tenant office building in the state, according to the company. And the siting, on 30 acres just east of I-15 in Draper, will accommodate up to 1 million square feet of new space for the company and play home to a potential future roster of 5,000 employees.

Skonnard also notched a recent win in his philanthropic pursuits to expand access to tech education in communities across the world and in Utah.

In January, Skonnard and four fellow Utah tech founders dropped a $5 million challenge on the Utah Legislature to fund a plan to make computer science classes available to all Utah public school students. Skonnard, along with InsideSales CEO Dave Elkington, DOMO CEO Josh James, Vivint SmartHome CEO Todd Pedersen and Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith, each committed $1 million in personal funds with which they’d match state funding, dollar for dollar, up to $5 million.

Even though the $3.15 million in one-time funding approved by legislators left a potential $2 million in matching money on the table, Skonnard and his colleagues were ultimately successful and the state revealed the Utah Computer Science Plan earlier this month.

“Computer science is now a foundational literacy that is critical to preparing Utah students to succeed in our technology-driven world,” Skonnard said in a statement following the announcement. “Every school in Utah must teach computer science, and every student must have equality of opportunity to learn computer science regardless of whether they pursue a career in technology.

”With the approval of our state master plan, we now have a roadmap to achieve that outcome, and we are one step closer to delivering on Gov. (Gary) Herbert’s goal of ensuring every K-12 student in Utah has the opportunity to learn computer science by 2022.”

The full agenda for Pluralsight LIVE 2019 is available at www.pluralsight.com/live.