As co-founder and CEO of DataCamp, Jonathan Cornelissen helped the company grow to over four million students, 100k+ subscribers, and from $0 to $30 million in ARR. Both the team and revenue more than doubled every year, five years in a row. During his tenure as CEO, employee engagement and satisfaction was in the top 15th percentile.
Jonathan also authored an Introduction to R course taken by over 1.3 million students. In a previous life, he obtained a PhD in financial econometrics.
Tell us about the early days of DataCamp.
DataCamp was started in 2013 by Dieter De Mesmaeker, Martijn Theuwissen, and myself in Belgium. As I was wrapping up my PhD in 2012, I was looking for a more engaging learning experience for the students I was teaching the basics of R and statistics. I was surprised to find that there were no engaging learning platforms for statistical programming (what we now call data science). I had struggled to learn R myself and realized that my students would benefit from an engaging, interactive learning platform. Furthermore, it was clear that many people in the industry started switching from proprietary software like SAS and SPSS to open-source software like R and Python. At first, we focused on the statistical programming language R and called the project Rcademy.
Getting things off the ground initially wasn’t easy. We knew that it would take a while to develop the platform and to create the first courses. We only had around $20,000 in savings to start the business though and Belgium is not the easiest place in the world to raise capital for a relatively high-risk endeavor. For more than two years, we mostly bootstrapped the company from Belgium and Chile, while barely taking a salary and raising a small amount of money. In this phase, the focus really was on just staying above water while building the first version of the platform and the first courses.
After the Techstars program in NYC, we were able to start charging for some of the courses and managed to raise $1 million from Accomplice. This is when things started to really take off and DataCamp started growing like a rocket ship on multiple fronts. The new challenge became recruiting a great team and great instructors, while also helping them build high-quality courses.