After 17 years, online learning veteran raises $103M (is an IPO ahead?)

If you haven’t paid much attention to before, you’re going to want to keep your eye on it now.  The online learning company, which has helped more than two million people learn software, business and creative skills through video courses, on Tuesday announced that it has raised $103 million in its first (yes, first) outside financing round.
That’s a lot of money for any company to raise – but especially for one that has been around for the past 17 years and profitable for the last 15.  It’s yet more evidence that the online learning sector is burning up — and it may signal that is positioning itself for an IPO or acquisition by a company with deep pockets.
The company, started by husband and wife team (or rather, wife and husband team) Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin, was launched in 1995 to give professionals, students and hobbyists better tools – not just books and manuals – to learn computer skills. Over the years, it’s grown to include video-based courses on everything from how to use Adobe Photoshop (s ADBE) and WordPress to how to lead productive meetings and become a thought leader.
In the past year or so, startups like Codecademy, Treehouse, LearnStreet, creativeLIVE and others have launched to help people learn programming, business and other skills online. But Weinman said that’s new funding wasn’t motivated by the appearance of new rivals.
“We’re not taking this investment in reaction to competitors,” said Weinman. “We think this industry of online education is in its infancy and there will be lots of approaches. We’re very confident in our approach.”
And it has good reason for that confidence – in the last year, the company said it earned more than $100 million in revenues from subscription fees from individuals and enterprise clients, which include top Fortune 50 companies, universities and government agencies.
CEO Eric Robison emphasized that the company doesn’t need the funding but said the timing is right for the company to expand internationally, scale its web platform and move into new content areas.
The company could do that in-house – and it recently added a new CTO to get its expansion plans off the ground.  But, now it also has the resources to buy up other startups competing in the space.
As I’ve noted before, has been relatively quiet while other upstarts have brought new approaches to learning to the web. But it looks like the company’s ready to make some noise.
“We’ve been very focused on running our business,” said Robison. “This is the year we get out there with more visibility.”