DRAPER — Utah online tech education leader Pluralsight is being acquired by Vista Equity Partners in a deal worth $3.5 billion.
Vista, a private equity firm that specializes in enterprise software investment will pay $20.26 per share for all outstanding Pluralsight stock, a little less than $2 per share more than the stock’s closing value last Friday.
Pluralsight co-founder and CEO Aaron Skonnard said the deal will help drive further growth for the 16-year-old company.
“Today’s announcement is an exciting milestone for Pluralsight as we begin the next phase of our evolution,” Skonnard said in a statement. “Through this partnership with Vista, we will be able to move faster and be more agile, accelerate our strategic vision, and ultimately deliver deeper, more powerful solutions that help companies adapt and thrive in the digital age.
“We’re thrilled that we will be able to leverage Vista’s expertise to further strengthen our market leading position.”
The deal is expected to close mid-2021, at which point Pluralsight stock will be delisted as the company becomes a wholly owned private enterprise.
In a 2017 Deseret News profile, Skonnard recalled his days as a boy learning to code in the basement of his family’s home in Portland, Oregon, on a text-command driven Apple II computer. He said that early experience instilled his passion for elements that would remain at the heart of the company he would go on to help found.
“That’s where I fell in love with two things — learning and technology,” Skonnard said. “And it’s been with me throughout my life. Pluralsight began from that very place, the love of learning and teaching about technology that started with my dad and that Apple computer.”
The earliest iteration of Pluralsight, circa 2004, saw Skonnard and a group of partners traveling around the world and putting on weeklong, in-person classes aimed at keeping information technology professionals on the cutting-edge of innovation.
“When we began, it was a classroom training effort,” Skonnard said. “Early times for the internet, no cloud-based computing, no video distribution at scale. It was early but we loved teaching people so much and we had a business.”
Skonnard and company built a reputation for offering top-notch instruction and in just a few years, the internet became a system robust enough to move what was becoming a rather gargantuan in-person enterprise to a much more efficient online endeavor.
“The idea was to create a way for teachers like us to author content that we could distribute at scale and provide an even better learning experience for clients, without having to fly around the world or charge them thousands of dollars for an in–person class,” Skonnard said.
The company launched with 10 online classes that expanded to 100 in just two years and helped fuel exponential growth. Later, the decision to take on new venture funding to help leverage acquisitions of other tech education companies helped push Pluralsight to the top of the pyramid in its market.
A May 2018 public stock offering raised over $300 million for the company and on a day that saw him ringing the NASDAQ’s opening bell, Skonnard said the tech world’s relentless pace of innovation was a driving force behind the success of Pluralsight’s online education programming.
“Tech is moving faster today than these companies can learn it,” Skonnard said. “So that creates a big skills gap around the world and holds them back from reaching their full potential. And through Pluralsight’s cloud-based learning platform, we make it possible for them to learn these skills quickly, keep up with the pace of change and thrive in the digital age.”
In a letter to employees posted to his LinkedIn account, Skonnard outlined other options the company explored before opting for the buyout path.
“Amid a year of challenge and change, our products, our brand and our outstanding team attracted the interest of a highly respected, technology-focused investment firm that has conviction in our strategic vision,” Skonnard wrote. “The board and I carefully reviewed the opportunities available to our company, including continuing as a standalone public company. We want to be sure that we are best positioned to continue to grow and innovate, and of course, our board and executive leadership team must consider our responsibilities to shareholders.
“Ultimately, we determined that this transaction with Vista is the best path forward.”
Skonnard has also risen as an advocate for expanding computer literacy and tech education efforts in Utah public schools. He and fellow Utah tech sector colleagues helped drive action by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state lawmakers that led to a groundbreaking statewide K-12 computer science program that launched in 2019.
Before the program, just over half of Utah high schools were offering computer science instruction, only 32 schools in Utah (16% of Utah schools with AP programs) offered an AP computer science course in 2017-18 and there were fewer AP exams taken in computer science than in any other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subject area.
“Computer science is now a foundational literacy that is critical to preparing Utah students to succeed in our technology-driven world,” Skonnard said when the program was announced. “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.”
Pluralsight employs over 1,700 and provides products to some 17,000 clients worldwide. The company recently completed construction of a new 350,000-square-foot headquarters on a 30-acre campus, just east of I-15 in Draper.