Ad Udemy, Gregg Coccari came out of retirement to take online … – The Business Journals


A little over three years ago, Gregg Coccari decided to leave the world of retirement and step into the role of CEO for Udemy, an online learning platform. The company was founded 12 years ago with the goal of providing people access to world-class education no matter where they live. Today, Coccari and his team are at the helm of something revolutionary. As of June 30, 71,000 Udemy instructors have educated more than 54 million people. The publicly traded company publishes 5,000 new courses every month in over 75 languages. We talked with Coccari to find out what it has been like for him to be a part of this global education effort.       
Having served as a CEO of multiple companies, it’s clear that leadership is in your blood. As a young person, what did you think you’d grow up to do for work? I had no idea! It actually took me a very long time to figure it out – longer than most. I graduated from college and a lot of people in my class knew what they wanted to do. They were interviewed for jobs on Wall Street and all that, and I had no idea. I was probably in my late 20s when I started to feel like I wanted to run my own company. I wanted to run something myself and that’s when I went back to business school.
Was education something that interested you? I come from an education family. My mother and father were teachers, my sister and her husband are teachers, my son taught third grade for a couple of years, and I have two uncles who were college professors. 
So, that family history and those roots are really important to you in your current position at Udemy? Yes, of course! Before I took the role at Udemy, I was actually retired for a couple of years. I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back to work. I had a very high bar about what I was willing to do, and I was having fun. Then I got the call from Udemy, and it was such an interesting business. My family background in education and that Udemy has this amazing global marketplace — these are some of the reasons why I wanted to be here. It is very exciting to be around.
It really must be, having pulled you out of retirement. Do you start working as soon as you get up? Yeah, that’s true. The world of Zoom has been interesting, not being in the office. I can just put on a shirt, grab a cup of coffee, and start working. I’m very efficient in the morning, so I tend to start as soon as I hit the floor. I think my new routine is busier. Because you’re working in your house, the day just stretches. I find that I might start at 7 a.m. but at 8 p.m., I’m answering emails. So, it’s gotten busier and less social. I’m a social creature, and I have missed the office, walking around, and talking to people. We have this wonderful culture – a wonderful group of people – all these idealists that are here to change the world.
Can you talk more about that culture? We are fundamentally a mission-based company and that’s what really draws people to Udemy. We were founded by a young man who grew up in a small village in central Turkey, and he didn’t have access to good education. He talked his parents into getting a computer and internet access and it changed his life. That’s where the whole thing started — he wanted to give everyone in the world access to education. And today, we are doing exactly that, but just on a much bigger scale. We have all of these wonderful people working with us — people from 69 countries and they all come for the mission.
What was Udemy’s growth like during the pandemic? I imagine growth skyrocketed. What adjustments did you have to make to do that? The company has always had nice growth. But when the pandemic hit, our website traffic spiked dramatically — it more than doubled. Before, we had about 18 million unique visitors a month. At one point, it spiked up to 42 million during the pandemic. Today, it has settled to be about 30 million a month. We had not built our site for that kind of scale and actually had to rebuild it in the middle of the spike. We had a wonderful team of engineers and people that did it, but we had to adapt and be resilient during that time.
Our business grew dramatically — both on our consumer side and our business enterprise side. Companies were going remote and if they did in-person training and couldn’t do that, they started looking for digital solutions to upskill and reskill their people. We also had to hire a lot more people. When I started with the company, we had about 380 employees and today we have 1,400 globally. It has truly become a global business — 70% of our revenue is outside of the U.S.
How do you see the company changing in the next couple of years? I think we will continue getting bigger and bigger — we have this huge opportunity to educate people across the globe, and we are becoming more global every day. We have a partner in Japan, which is one of our fastest-growing markets. We have a partner in South Korea, and just started selling our enterprise solutions in mainland China. We are just going to become more and more global.
Do you think you’ll ever go back to retirement? That’s a good question. I’m having too much fun right now! I love what we do here. It’s so much fun working with these young, smart, people that want to change the world. It keeps me young. I really don’t have trouble getting up every morning and doing this.
It really sounds like you are using your skills that you’ve honed over the years to lead things. Well, I don’t have youth, so I’m hoping the experience is helpful at this point! Having a lot of energy has always been my superpower.
What’s one thing that you’re learning right now and why is that important? Resiliency. I’ve always been fairly resilient, but this time has been unique. I don’t like particularly like sitting in front of a camera all day and I’ve had to learn that. I’m starting to go back to the office now, and I’m happy to be around people again. But at the same time, I’m having to learn how to work with people face to face again.
Is there any specific that inspires you or drives you? Our mission. We hear everyday about people in small villages that took two courses from Udemy for $6, got a job, and now their life is changed. That’s what drives us. We have instructors, real world experts that want to teach and share their knowledge — the combination of what theydo and what we do is quite powerful.  
Brooke Strickland is a Vancouver, Washington-based writer. 
About Coccari 
About Udemy
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