Walter Lembi was a big thinker—an innovator of the first degree. In the early ’90s, he was looking for a better way to track his real estate investments. Walt, who was always five steps ahead, thought to himself, “Computers are the wave of the future! There has got to be a way to leverage computers and get rid of all these paper files!” So he went to the computer store in San Mateo, California, and purchased his first Mac.
Immediately frustrated with trying to figure out how to use his new computer, Walt searched the yellow pages for “Computer Training” and found a training center on Market Street. He then dragged two of his kids to an “Introduction to Mac” class. Within the first 30 minutes of sitting in a sterile environment with a boring instructor who was reading from a manual, Walt thought to himself, “There has got to be a better way. Computer training should be exciting, taught by individuals who are passionate about helping beginners get comfortable using new technology.”
So, like many great entrepreneurs, Walt created Learnit to solve his own challenge, which in this case, was a more efficient way to manage his real estate portfolio.
A training disruption
From the get-go, the vision for Learnit was to make computer training fun, affordable, and delivered in a welcoming environment, or as Walt would say, “Learnit needs to be a cool place where people want to hang out.”
Learnit's first tagline was “Teaching the Magic of Computers”; how ’90s is that? We started with Windows 3.1 and Office 95 modular, 90-minute classes, affordable at only $20/class. Our competitors thought we were crazy, that there was no way you could learn how to use a computer in short 90-minute classes. The industry norm at the time was for classes to be 2-3 days in duration.
Learnit’s modular approach disrupted the computer training market in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995. For many of our students, this was their first experience with the internet.
Damon Lembi joins the team
Two weeks before Learnit’s grand opening in June of 1995, Walt’s oldest son, Damon, finished his college and baseball career at Arizona State University. Having spent his entire life on a baseball field from Burlingame to South Korea (with his claim to fame hitting a home run in the 1995 College World Series), Damon was nervous about entering the job market with little work experience. So, he started as a receptionist at Learnit. Today Damon still claims to have answered more incoming front desk calls than anyone in Learnit’s history.
With interest in saving on instructor costs, Damon studied up on Act! 2.0, MS Word, and fundamental Excel classes to teach at Learnit. Between helping to set up computers in classrooms, handling all sales opportunities, and teaching the basic classes, Damon was able to see firsthand what it took to be successful in all the different roles at Learnit.
In late 1998, when Walt was looking for a new CEO of Learnit, Damon threw his hat in the ring and was awarded the position. Riding the wave of the dot com boom and the inevitable bust by 2002, Walt proudly stated to Damon, “Kid, these past 3.5 years you received an education money couldn’t buy you in any MBA program.”
Damon’s business philosophy is quite simple:
Fast forward 26 years—we have a great collection of amazing stories, special friendships that will last forever, heartaches (Walt passed away in 2010), and an incredible network of Learnit alumni. Learnit has never wavered on our mission of supporting our team members and helping our learners and their organizations grow through world-class instructor-led training.