Learning his Lessonly

Max Yoder brings Silicon Valley to the Midwest

Maximillian Tortoriello

You might say that Max Yoder (B.A. ’10) has learned his lessons.

When he entered Indiana University, Yoder knew there was a variety of subjects to major in that would help him on his career path: business, communications, sociology. But he needed a little of each.

“What I really wanted to do in my college career was be a better thinker, be a stronger writer, and be a more eloquent speaker. And liberal arts is the way to accomplish those things,” Yoder says. “I wanted to learn about people and how they communicate, and also the foundations of business.”

He completed an individualized major in brand management and advertising that allowed him to sample from many disciplines, including psychology, journalism, telecom, and more. He has taken that multidisciplinary approach and applied it to his latest endeavor, Lessonly, an Indianapolis-based tech company that makes team learning software.

“We’re building learning software for teams, helping employees share best practices and trusted techniques with one another,” Yoder says. “We’re simplifying the process of capturing, sharing, and updating work knowledge.”

Started in July 2012, the company has grown significantly in just five years. In late 2014, Lessonly had 10 employees and had just received $1.1 million in venture capital. Today, the company has grown to 80 employees with 900,000 active users and more than 425 clients.

Not only that, in 2015 the company was named Tech Startup of the Year by TechPoint’s Mira Awards, which honor the best of tech in Indiana.

Yoder helped found his company Lessonly in 2012.

“There’s no magic to building a business,” Yoder says. “It’s a process like anything else, and if you follow the steps to that process, your likelihood of getting the venture off the ground and finding traction goes up.”

That said, Yoder’s first attempt at running a business did not go as well. After saving up his money after college, Yoder and his partners launched Quipol, a polling tool to help online publishers engage with their audience.

“I ran that business for a year and a half. Didn’t make a dime,” Yoder says. “But I do not regret the experience at all. Lessonly wouldn’t be what it is today had I not made those mistakes with Quipol.”

That startup also taught Yoder the importance of taking breaks and led to the creation of the First Fund. In addition to his duties as co-founder and CEO of Lessonly, Yoder serves as the founding director of this nonprofit organization, which works to provide first-graders with scholarships, mentorship, and financial planning.

"There's no magic to building a business," Yoder says. "It's a process like anything else."

The First Fund awards scholarships to first-grade students by creating a 529 savings plan in the student’s name with an initial capital investment of $1,000. The organization then works with the child’s parents or guardians to help them add to and grow the fund.

“As the child ages, we’ll give those parents and their children guidance on the time to be applying to scholarships and grants — basically be a guide post to them on the path to college,” Yoder says.

With all his success, Yoder has taken that little bit of everything that IU offered and turned it into a career and a way to give back to others.

“The things I learned at school certainly have a lot to do with everything that I do today,” he says.

Jennifer Garrett

Jennifer Garrett is a freelance writer and editor living in the Boston area. With more than 15 years of experience, her work has covered a wide range of subjects, from topics in higher education to the real estate and mortgage industries. Connect with her on LinkedIn or reach her at jgarrett@gmail.com.