By Mark Seaman, Sr. Business Architect, SaaS – AWS
Toby Buckley, Sr. Partner Solutions Architect – AWS
Chad Udell, Co-CEO – SparkLearn
The landscape of the workplace underwent a significant transformation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, altering both the nature of work and its geographical aspects.
Before the pandemic, employees were trained primarily around in-person workshops, seminars, and events, often complemented by eLearning modules. With the prolonged prevalence of remote work across diverse industries, however, there emerged substantial gaps in workplace learning and employee onboarding processes.
In response to these evolving challenges, the SparkLearn product was created to specifically address skill gaps through a user-friendly, on-demand mobile training. The application employs artificial intelligence (AI)-powered recommendations, so learners can access relevant training content when they need it.
This adaptive approach, driven by data and analytics, significantly enhances engagement. Organizations deploying SparkLearn reported a 25% reduction in training failure rates when utilizing their platform.
Working closely with the the AWS SaaS Factory team, SparkLearn navigated business and technical decisions to build a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
“SparkLearn has always been easy to use, and now with our transition to a SaaS model it’s just as easy to purchase. The partnership with the AWS SaaS Factory team was instrumental in helping us focus on a product-led growth strategy. Their business and technical experts helped us work through obstacles and issues that needed resolution prior to launching on the AWS Marketplace.” – Chad Udell, Co-CEO, SparkLearn
We recently discussed SparkLearn’s journey to launch a SaaS business with Chad Udell, Co-CEO at SparkLearn, an AWS Partner that provides your learning audience the info and training content it needs to adapt and grow within your organization.
Key highlights from our conversation included the importance of a product-led growth strategy and leveraging cloud services to focus resources on the end-user experience versus infrastructure.
Q&A with SparkLearn
AWS SaaS Factory: Can you tell us about yourself and your role at SparkLearn?
Chad Udell: For more than two decades, I have been involved in the design and development of digital solutions for a range of clients. In the past 15 years, my concentration has centered on the creation of learning products, predominantly tailored for workplace learning.
In my role as Co-CEO, I am dedicated to shaping the vision of our products and crafting learning experiences that address specific pain points for our customers, ultimately contributing to the success of their businesses.
AWS SaaS Factory: Who are your target customers, and what specific personas might benefit from leveraging your solutions?
Chad Udell: At SparkLearn, we focus on providing the best learning experience for mobile and desk-less workers, so scalability and innovation really matter to us. Our customers typically have employees that are on the go—they are field technicians, sales reps, restaurant workers, and hospitality folks, and yes, soldiers and service members. They need to learn quickly so they can get back to work and provide great service and value for their employers.
AWS SaaS Factory: What are the core features of SparkLearn, and how does it address current workplace learning challenges?
Chad Udell: Learning has received a bad reputation over the years due to bad design decisions chosen by training departments. Boring and lengthy eLearning that takes hours to complete can be drudgery that employees loathe. Our product cuts through that—by using macro-adaptive learning algorithms, the platform delivers curated content directly to the user.
A recent survey with our NATO customer found that 85% of the audience preferred our product over the solutions we were replacing thanks to the personalized content it delivers.
AWS SaaS Factory: What was the primary motivation behind transitioning to a SaaS delivery model, and how does it align with SparkLearn’s overall strategy?
Chad Udell: We observed a massive gap in the workplace learning industry. Very few solutions are available to mid-market businesses or companies. Learning technology products are typically extremely expensive, hard to implement, and integrated with massive human-capital management platforms. This is overkill for 95% or more of businesses.
By developing a SaaS delivery model, it allows us to implement a product-led growth strategy with the flexibility and pricing models to meet our customers’ requirements. This is a big growth opportunity and a chance to disrupt how training is created and delivered.
AWS SaaS Factory: How has the AWS SaaS Factory team supported your business transition to a SaaS delivery model, and what specific contributions have they made to the process?
Chad Udell: AWS SaaS Factory was instrumental in the development of our SaaS pricing and packaging model, as well as developing our product-led growth go-to-market strategy. They also assisted in the development of our new customer success organization and the realignment of our sales, marketing, engineering and product management teams to drive adoption and reduce churn of our new offering.
AWS SaaS Factory: Can you walk us through the architecture? What AWS services are key?
Chad Udell: The Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) and the AWS Fargate launch type have been an essential part of allowing our product to dynamically scale up and down in response to the needs from our customers. Amazon ECS allows us to scale the application horizontally–creating dedicated ECS tasks for each customer–and increasing the number of tasks per customer in response to high traffic. This dynamic compute environment is backed by Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) to provide persistent, scalable storage.
In addition to the architecture responsible for hosting and running the application, the product relies heavily on AWS CloudFormation to allow us to quickly onboard new customers by automatically creating the necessary AWS resources for their own instance of the application. Within about 10 minutes of a new customer signing up, they are given access to their own fully functional instance of the application–with no human interaction needed from our product team.
Finally, the DevOps team relies on Amazon CloudWatch for streaming of log data and constant monitoring of all our customer instances. With the integration to our alert management system, the on-call DevOps engineer is able to respond to incidents often within minutes limiting (and in some cases avoiding) any impact to the customer. Additionally, the use of Amazon Inspector allows the team to stay on top of new vulnerabilities and rapidly push out updated containers when the DevOps team is notified of a component with a reported vulnerability.
Figure 1 – SparkLearn architectural design.
AWS SaaS Factory: How has the AWS SaaS Factory team helped to address technical challenges you have faced?
Chad Udell: The SaaS Factory team provided a technical contact and a dedicated Solutions Architect focused on helping us move through the Foundational Technical Review (FTR) and the remediations needed to make our product AWS Marketplace ready. This helped from a resourcing perspective on our side, but also provided our engineers and DevOps teams a valuable learning opportunity. We collaborated to identify, fix, and resolve issues that existed in our platform and we’re stronger for it now.
AWS SaaS Factory: Can you share any success stories or specific case studies that illustrate the impact of SparkLearn’s solution on a customer’s business or learning processes?
Chad Udell: King’s Seafood has reshaped its learning program to be mobile-friendly and universally accessible across their unique learning needs—restaurants, management, and more all depend on our platform for onboarding, continued education, and performance support needed to compete in today’s competitive talent market.
AWS SaaS Factory: What’s next for SparkLearn’s solution? What other areas are you considering expanding into or other AWS offerings are you evaluating?
Chad Udell: Heading into 2024, AI and machine learning (ML) is on everyone’s mind. Fortunately, AWS has a great set of offerings we can use. The Amazon SageMaker, Amazon Kendra, and Amazon Bedrock products are particularly interesting to us as a content delivery platform. Being able to host large language models (LLMs) on a virtual private cloud (VPC) to mitigate concerns around security and privacy could be just the catalyst to get next-generation information retrieval and training solutions into those that can use them most.
Of course, we are going back to our learnings from the SaaS Factory team and intend to put any research through a product-led growth process, but in initial outreach, interest and willingness-to-purchase appear to be high amongst new and existing customers.
AWS SaaS Factory: What advice would you offer to other software providers considering a move to a SaaS model, based on your own experiences?
Chad Udell: If scaling beyond bundled services or white-glove, one-off implementations is something you have been putting off, it may be time to reexamine that decision. AWS SaaS Factory can demystify a lot of the concerns that may be holding you back. The AWS technology is, of course, unmatched, and with the teams powering SaaS Factory and AWS Marketplace, their business acumen and go-to market strategy are just as good.
About AWS SaaS Factory
AWS SaaS Factory helps organizations at any stage of the SaaS journey. Whether looking to build new products, migrate existing applications, or optimize SaaS solutions on AWS, we can help.
SparkLearn – AWS Partner Spotlight
SparkLearn is an AWS Partner and AI learning platform that provides your learning audience the info and training content it needs to adapt and grow within your organization.