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August 5, 2019 Issue



Inno-Versity is providing customized and collaborative eLearning to Fortune 500 Companies, Large Universities and Large Nonprofit Organizations



Dr. Jerry Zandstra

Co Founder



Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – August 5, 2019


CEOCFO: Dr. Zandstra, what was the concept when you founded Inno-Versity? What is the focus today?  

Dr. Zandstra: The concept was quite different when we founded the company in 2011. We were primarily focused on doing learning consulting work for small to medium sized manufacturing companies. About five years ago we made a significant change and started focusing much more on eLearning to Fortune 500 companies, large universities and large nonprofit organizations. In 2014 we made that transition and it has changed the whole landscape of our company.


CEOCFO: How do you interact with a client? When might they turn to you?? How do you create a solution?  

Dr. Zandstra: The typical client falls into one of two categories. They are all large customers. Our average customer has more than five thousand employees and more than one billion dollars in revenue. The first type of client is new to eLearning. They know they need to do it. They want to do it. They realize that traditional classroom training is not effective and is expensive. They also know that eLearning is more effective and brings significant cost savings. However, they have never done a digital learning project. Therefore, it is a risk to those companies, especially for people in the C suite who have probably never taken an online class in their lives. We do a needs assessment and we work hard to understand who their learners are, what their education levels are, what they are trying to accomplish, what metrics they want to set up and how they are going to deliver these things.  


The second type of client is someone that is often very experienced in eLearning. They probably have an internal eLearning team and they either lack expertise in a particular area or they are just buried in work. We are sort of the excess capacity for them. That is usually what happens; and most of the time we are solving a pretty complex learning problem. It is usually vital to the company. It is usually not safety training of something that they can buy off the shelf. It is custom. For most of our clients, branding very much matters. Those are the typical two clients.


CEOCFO: When you are doing an assessment of client needs, what might you look at that less experienced people do not take into consideration?

Dr. Zandstra: We tend to talk in terms of our architecture. Think of learning as a structure. When you sit down with a good architect, the architect will ask you, “How many people are in your family, do you like to have large gatherings, what is your social life like, how long do you plan to live here and how much money do you plan to invest.” In a single word, I would say that is design. To get to the proper architectural design for eLearning takes a ton of work. That is the starting point, because there are many individuals who design eLearning. This is an enormous industry and when you are dealing with some of the largest companies in the world, there is a tremendous amount of risk to their internal learning team if they get it wrong. It means that their employees or team members are improperly trained. It is in that design phase. That is why we have hired very high level instructional designers who are degreed and credentialed and we have our own in house staff of artists and animators.


You can make something pretty in eLearning. You can make it interesting to look at, momentarily. However, if the design is flawed and the metrics are not clear, the goal that you are trying to achieve; you will not achieve. Hence, we have invested a lot of money in very high level people, our own internal team. Most of our competitors outsource to India or to China or to the cheapest place, where they can find people who are graphic artists to create whatever they are trying to create and they do not spend time up front. Our kick-off meetings are usually done in person and about one quarter of our work is in Europe. Therefore, we spend time getting face to face with a client to understand and to clarify.


Sometimes they do not know exactly what they are trying to accomplish and a good architect, a good designer, will ask a whole bunch of questions. That is unique to us. Unique to us is also kind of an in house – full house concept. We have brought our team together so that they work collaboratively, rather than someone in another state doing one piece and someone in another country doing another piece. Our competitors sometimes have remote teams that have never spoken and do not work collaboratively. Our product ends up much, much better and a higher quality because we work collaboratively.


CEOCFO: Are you typically creating something that a large part of the organization, a large number of people, might use or might you work on several different pieces for an organization or several different projects that different groups utilize?

Dr. Zandstra: Both. In one instance we work with one of the largest retailers in the United States and we develop online content to train the people that answer their phones. They are seasonal employees. They need about three thousand people that they are going to have for four months, during the holiday season. In that time frame, they are going to generate seventy to eighty percent of their revenue. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that all their seasonal team members understand their brand well and are trained well.  


In the other instance, we work with one of the largest aeronautics firms in the world. We train their people working in supply chain management on how to negotiate, and how to buy well on behalf of their company. Other times it can be something that literally every single person in a thirty thousand employee company has to take. It might be a mandated piece of training, but they want it to their specs and they want it to their brand. Branding is important for most of our clients. These are not usually generic things that they can just buy off of the shelf.


CEOCFO: Where does being interesting come into play? How does that fit in with accomplishing the learning part?  

Dr. Zandstra: You have to capture the learner’s attention. You do that by thoughtful instructional design and excellent art and animation. You can have great design or lousy art and animation or you can have really pretty, great art and animation and lousy design and people will know that quickly. By creating fantastic content that is instructionally well designed and visually compelling, we find that learners want to learn; that they look forward to the learning opportunity. It is not quite entertaining, but it is right on the edge of being entertaining. In other words, they would choose to take it. We turn it into a game where they have to make choices and those choices have real life expectations. If we can do that, we have helped our clients continue to build into what we call a “culture of learning.”

Creating a culture of learning is a bit of a nebulous concept. However, when we create a culture of learning in a company, part of it means you are not forcing learning on them. They are choosing to learn. That retailer that I described a moment ago told me recently that, “The content that you created, the design and the quality of the art; our people look forward to these.” This is a person that has been in the corporate world for thirty years! She said, “I have never seen that before!” She said, “Our people actually seek it out!” When the learner seeks out training, you have created a culture of learning. However, you can only do that if the learning is engaging, interesting, and well-designed.


CEOCFO: Do you do much outreach for new clients or do people know who you are at this point? 

Dr. Zandstra: We do. We have created a database of about twenty five thousand companies globally, with about one hundred and ten thousand contacts inside those companies. We created original content-thought pieces really-on learning design, art, processes, learning culture and a bunch of other things interesting to our potential client base. We regularly communicate with that client base who are all involved in human resources, learning, training and development. We do use some outside marketing firms that help us expand our audience, too. That is also why we have a large number of Fortune 500 companies with us.


CEOCFO: Are you able to handle all the business that might come your way? Are you able to ramp up? 

Dr. Zandstra: Yes. My business partner and I decided early on that we had to have a couple of categories of team members. We have a number of people that are full time. They are always there; we always have plenty of work for them. Then, we needed to find some people that were part time, but could flex up to full time or even overtime if we needed to. We intentionally sought out people that said, “I do not want to work forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, but I am willing to work twenty hours a week, but for three months I can go up to fifty hours if I need to.” This is because we are project based. We need to be flexible. Therefore, we can flex up and flex up by design. 


CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach over time? What have you learned since you started the eLearning? 

Dr. Zandstra: Certainly, that instructional design matters. Certainly, the art matters. Those two things. Then, I think, understanding our clients better and actually understand what they are afraid of, coming to understand the risks that they are taking. Many times, eLearning is new to their company. If they are a learning team member and they fail, some people get trained improperly that can put team members, the learning group, and the company at risk.


It is really empathy, looking at our clients as if we were in their shoes. What would we want? What would we need? We want to be on time, we want to be on budget, we want to hit metrics; what else? It is really trying to deeply understand our clients, their needs and most of the time, their fears. We have learned a lot of that over the last eight or nine years.


CEOCFO: How do you focus your time? 

Dr. Zandstra: I try very hard to work “on” the company and I am very careful to stay away from working “in” the company. That is because the people we hire are so good at what they do that I cannot do their job better. I could not do what any of our team members do. If I replaced any of our team members, the quality would go down.


A big part of it is coaching and caring. I certainly spend time problem solving. A big part of my role is strategy around, “How do we have thriving people inside our company? What does it mean for our team members to thrive, not just at work, but in their lives?” We take a personal interest in the lives of our team members and our clients; how do we help them thrive. Thriving is a big, big important word for us. I try to focus a good deal of my time on what our team needs and what our clients need to help all of them thrive.


CEOCFO: Why choose Inno-Versity? 

Dr. Zandstra: If you have a complex digital learning problem, there is no one better in the world than Inno-Versity. We have been named multiple times to the top ten content creating companies in the world. We are full house. We are in house. Our teams are highly qualified and we give it our all. I’m sure that competitors also try to give it their all. It all depends on how much “all” do you have. We have developed team that has incredible skills. Therefore, if you have a complex learning problem with significant risks that is vitally important to the future of your company, there is no one better than Inno-Versity.



“If you have a complex learning problem with significant risks that is vitally important to the future of your company, there is no one better than Inno-Versity.”- Dr. Jerry Zandstra





Dr. Jerry Zandstra







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