Pluralsight picks up Smarterer, focused on skill tests, for $75 million

Smarterer CEO Dave Balter and Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight.
Smarterer CEO Dave Balter and Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight.

You never know which meeting is going to lead to something worthwhile…

Dave Balter, founder and CEO of the online skills testing site Smarterer, was at an edtech conference in Phoenix in April. Balter had about three dozen meetings scheduled over the course of the event, but other people at the conference kept telling him he should meet the CEO of Utah-based Pluralsight, which serves up online training in the tech and creative industries. Balter sent him a quick e-mail “and we squeezed in ten minutes before everyone went to the airport,” he says. A few months later, Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard flew to Boston “and we began active merger discussions,” Balter says.

Today, Pluralsight is announcing that it will acquire Smarterer for $75 million. Not bad for a startup that raised only $4.6 million from investors.

Smarterer created a testing platform that allows anyone to create skills tests or submit test questions. Topics range from Excel to Data Structures and Algorithms to social media. Test-takers can see how much they know, and they can also post badges with their results on their online profiles or resumes. More than 56 million questions have been answered by the site’s users. In February, the company launched Flock, a tool to let employers discover what their employees know well, and what opportunities for better training exist.

Balter says he’ll stick around after the acquisition. “We’ll continue to serve our enterprise customers and freelancer marketplaces, like Elance and,” he writes in an e-mail. “We’ll also continue to power skill assessments for other e-learning providers.”

Smarterer shares an investor with Pluralsight: GSV Advisors. Smarterers other investors include Google Ventures, True Ventures, and HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah.

This is Pluralsight’s fifth acquisition in a little over a year; the company raised a whopping $135 million in new funding back in August. Balter’s previous startup, the digital word-of-mouth firm BzzAgent, was acquired in 2011. Along with Balter, Smarterer’s other co-founders were Jennifer Fremont-Smith and Michael Kowalchik; Fremont-Smith served as CEO until last year.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
Follow Scott on Twitter - Facebook - Google+